There is an old saying, “Refusing to forgive is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”
The point is obvious. When we let bitterness, hurt, and past pain rent a room in our heart, we pay the price, and it is often a steep one! I met a pastor’s wife who had been deeply hurt by a church her husband had served. When I heard the story, I could see why it had been a season of significant pain and sorrow…but it had happened two decades ago.
Her husband had forgiven. He had let it go. He had moved on!
She had not.
He did not let unforgiveness move into his life and become a permanent guest. He walked in grace, even when it was a hard walk. He decided to evict bitterness from his heart and let the fresh wind of forgiveness refresh his soul. Sadly, his wife had grown more angry, hurt, and bitter with the passing years.
This woman chewed on her resentment like glass and there was vengeance in her eyes every time she brought up how badly they had been treated by “that church”…and it seemed to come up almost every time she opened her mouth.
One Sunday I had the audacity to preach about forgiveness. Mostly I quoted the words of Jesus, the Apostle Paul, and other texts of the Bible. She came up to me after the sermon with thinly veiled rage. After explaining why the biblical call to forgiveness did not apply to her, she clenched her teeth and growled, “I will never forgive them!” Unfortunately, she was true to her word.
Many Christians believe their circumstances exempt them from forgiving. In their mind, the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:12-15) and in the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:21-35) simply don’t apply to them.
Let me give three brief reasons why it is always wise to forgive.
1) When we forgive we show the presence, heart, and grace of Jesus to people who do not deserve it. The truth is, no one deserves forgiveness. We did not deserve the grace God offered in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, but God gave it freely. When we forgive others, Jesus is present and this is always a good thing.
2) We declare to heaven and earth that we understand the greatness of the grace we have received in Jesus. Not only does forgiveness show the presence of Jesus, it reveals something about us. When I realize that I have been forgiven an infinite debt against an infinite God, I want to forgive. I am compelled. I feel selfish when I don’t forgive. Every time I forgive someone else, God looks at me and sees a child who understands His grace in a new and deeper way.
3) We set ourselves free from the prison of unforgiveness. Like the pastor’s wife I mentioned earlier, we can choose to stay a prisoner of bitterness, anger, and past hurt. Or, we can forgive and discover that this act of grace unlocks the shackles of hatred and vengeance and opens the door of a dark and lonely place called unforgiveness. We are healed and released from bondage when we forgive.
Forgiveness is never easy. It costs. If you are not sure, ask the greatest forgiver in the history of the world, Jesus. He paid an infinite price. Now we get to show that we understand the greatness of His gift by forgiving those who sin against us. This might be one of the greatest opportunities to act, live, and look like Jesus.
To dig deeper into this topic, see the sermon I preached recently on forgiveness: Click on Week 2 of our Seeds of Truth Series videos.