Forgiveness is a central component to our Christianity. This post will introduce the concept and lay groundwork for the following posts where I will deal with Forgiveness: When We are Wrong; and Forgiveness When Someone Else has Wronged Us.
Let’s begin with a definition, should be easy, eh?
Webster: “to cease to feel resentment against (an offender); to give up resentment of or claim to requital (requital defined as ‘something given in return, compensation, or retaliation’); to grant relief from payment of a debt”
Charles Stanley: “letting go of both resentment and the right to return hurt.”
Timothy Keller: “Forgiveness means giving up the right to seek repayment from the one who harmed you. “
My Definition: “Forgiveness is refusing to hold an offender hostage to past or present actions or attitudes that the forgiver finds costly, painful, or offensive”
- Granting forgiveness has no dependency on the offender’s (that is: the person who has offended you) actions, attitudes, or responses; although they might influence the forgiver.
- By granting forgiveness the forgiver gives up all rights to future retaliation or reimbursement for claims based on past or present actions by the forgiven.
- It is 100% in the forgiver’s purview to grant or deny forgiveness.
- Forgiveness, by itself, does little to remove the conflict and should always be independent of the conflict.
- Forgiveness always involves a sacrifice on the part of the forgiver; that is, he gives something up as part of his forgiving the other.
- Forgiveness is often granted in the hope for future fellowship and full reconciliation.
- The person who receives the most benefit is the person who does the forgiving. Unforgiveness is like “drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die” (attributed to several sources – but not this writer).
Let’s dig into some of these.
- Granting forgiveness has no dependency on the offender’s actions, attitudes, or responses; although they might influence the forgiver
Dependency is the key word here. If I tell someone that I will forgive them “IF” they do something; that is not a release, it’s just an example of holding the other person hostage.
As we asserted above, forgiveness involves a sacrifice; that is, to give up all rights to future retaliation or reimbursement for their injury. By adding the “if” to our response, we prove that we continue to expect some level of payment; and this is NOT forgiveness.
While our forgiveness of others is not dependent on the offender’s actions or attitudes, they might influence them. For example, while in the midst of his crucifixion and rejection by the very people he came to save, Jesus asks his Father to “forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Jesus made allowance for the fact that they were unaware of what they were doing in his request to God to forgive them.
- Forgiveness, by itself, does little to remove the conflict and should always be independent of the conflict
Let’s define “conflict” as a break in fellowship. Remember, our primary goal with each other and God is fellowship and so we are focused on things that cause a rift in fellowship. I can have fellowship with someone even when I have not forgiven a past offence. For example, my best mate may borrow a hundred quid from me and never be able to hold down a job or earn enough money to pay me back. I still keep the debt active in case he wins the lottery and so the debt is not forgiven. However, we can still have fun and fellowship together – even if I don’t loan him any more money.
On the other hand, I can forgive someone and continue to have a break in fellowship.
Several years ago, I had a close friend who chose a sinful lifestyle. I spent months, and enlisted the aid of several Christian brothers, to help him understand that his choices were harming him, his family, and those of us around him. He explained why he was making his choices and I sympathized with him. However, I was ultimately forced to break fellowship with him due to the fact that his witness to the world was corrupted, his family was suffering, and I was tainted by association. Yes, I had forgiven him in my heart. If he had changed his lifestyle, I would have accepted him back into fellowship without hesitation or reparation. Unfortunately, in spite of the fact that he had been forgiven, he chose to continue his blatant sinful lifestyle and fellowship was never restored.
One more example of how forgiveness and conflict are independent; this time with an example from God’s word in 1 John 1. We’ll return to this section again and again in our review of fellowship and forgiveness, but for now I want to focus on verses 6 & 7. Allow me to paraphrase from the Amplified. You can read the full text here:
‘We cannot have fellowship with God and at the same time walk in the darkness of sin. However, if we live each day in conformity with God’s precepts, we will have true and unbroken fellowship with God’
As children of Christ, we are forgiven for past, present, and future sins; but if we continue to “walk in the darkness of sin”, we will have a break in fellowship with God – even while we are forgiven for those sins! Forgiveness and Fellowship are independent or each other.
Fellowship is our goal because we were created to have fellowship with God and each other.
Forgiveness is for the person doing the forgiving.
We can forgive and lose fellowship; or we might not forgive and have fellowship: the two are independent.