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When we feel sorely sinned against, our first impulse is to strike back, to exact revenge. But Jesus advises, “...love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:43-45).
The key to the process of forgiveness is to be proactive: The Apostle Paul instructs us: "Do not repay anyone evil for evil…as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge…On the contrary: 'If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink…' " (Romans 12:17-20, NIV).
Consider the example of the Apostle Paul admonishing the Corinthian church to forgive a member who had earlier been expelled from the congregation for his sins. "The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him" (2 Corinthians 2:6-8, NIV).
It's so easy to react according to our emotions, human reasoning and the divisive influence of Satan, who wants to see us permanently antagonistic toward and estranged from one another.
"And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him so your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses" (Mark 11:25-26).
We must keep in mind that the blood of Christ was shed: "for the forgiveness of sins" (Matthew 26:28, NIV) — our sins as well as the sins of others. Forgiving does not condone wrongdoing, or suggest the offender should get off scot-free. But it does call for sympathetic understanding of the pressures that led to the transgression, plus a willingness to help.
The importance of forgiveness is shown in the model prayer Jesus Christ gave us: "...Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors" (Matthew 6:12). "Forgive" here means literally "to send forth, send away" (Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, 1984, "forgive").
Although Jesus Christ was deeply hurt by His enemies and friends, He did not let pride or self-pity sway Him. His concern was for others, wanting to save them from their own unfortunate mistakes and sins. He never ceased loving those who treated Him spitefully. And He expects the same of us.
Sometimes it's tough to forgive and maybe the offender isn't sorry, but remember, it was "While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). As Jesus Christ was crucified, one of His last acts was expressing love and mercy toward others. "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34).
If Jesus, who did not sin even once, could forgive others—including those who tortured and killed Him without remorse— surely we who have sinned and do sin can learn to forgive those who sin against us.
The Good News magazine (Mar-Apr 1999)