Over the centuries there have been thousands of books, articles, sermons, lectures, hymns, treatises, you name it, on the subject of the Bible and of Theology. Here's some more to add to the pile!
“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
I don’t know about you, but I find the idea of forgiveness to be difficult. Sometimes it comes pretty easily, usually more as a result of my own forgetfulness leading me to not remember there was ever an offense to begin with. But other times hurt and bitterness can just fester in my heart, and I find it difficult to let go. So I turn to the Scriptures to help me. What does the Bible say about forgiving others? The first thing to note is that we MUST be forgiving. The New Testament doesn’t really leave any wiggle-room on this. We are commanded more than once to forgive others, such as what is seen in Ephesians 4:32. So we know that we must forgive, but how do we do it?
That’s what this little 3-day devotional is all about. A practical application of what the Bible teaches us about Christians forgiving others. Each day examines 3 main points, and frankly (as you will see) this only really scratches the surface with regards to what the Bible teaches us about forgiveness. However, I hope that having these three in the backs of our minds will help us take steps to becoming more forgiving of one another, and thereby create a greater unity within the Body.
The three points are this: Christian Forgiveness is-
- Rooted in Eternity
- Stretched to Infinity
- Shared in Humility
We begin our study in thinking about how Christian Forgiveness is rooted in eternity, and our start point for this is a word study! Anyone who is a statistics geek will really get a kick out of this. If you’re not, hang in there. It’ll seem like we’re really falling down the rabbit hole, but I assure you things will come back around!
Who doesn’t love a good word study, am I right? It’s super easy to crack open a bible and a concordance (or I guess in this day-and-age, a Google search window), search out all the times “forgive” is found in the Bible, and then build a comprehensive theology of what the Bible has to say about forgiveness. This is what I did. Opened up good ol’ BibleGateway.com and typed “forgiv” (intentionally with no “e” so I got all the instances of “forgiving”) into the search bar and got 114 results, meaning in the ESV translation, some variant of “forgive” shows up in 114 verses (sometimes multiple times per verse)! Then I added in four additional references using “forgave” as the search term, but also removed three that were references to section titles, which are editorial additions, not inspired Scripture. All-in, you’re still left with 115 uses of “forgive,” or some variant thereof. In other words, the Bible has a great deal to say about forgiveness, it seems! Bear in mind as well that this is just the word “forgive,” and not necessarily the concept. A further search on synonymous words or phrases may well produce even more biblical data to pull from. However, this result is sufficient to illustrate my point.
Of those 116 results, 92 were exclusively references to God’s forgiveness of people. That left just 23 verses in all the Bible that speak about human beings forgiving other humans. Four of these are Old Testament uses that have some unique contexts, specific to the situation, that don’t necessarily have a direct, one-to-one application to Christians forgiving others (Joseph’s brothers pleading he forgive them, Pharaoh asking Moses to forgive him, Abigail pleading for David’s forgiveness, and a prophetic declaration by Isaiah to Judah and Jerusalem concerning the rest of Israel). That leaves us with just 19 verses about Christians forgiving people.
There’s so much that can be gleaned by zooming in closer and closer on this data, adding in synonymous references, and analyzing every passage in context. For now I just want to make one simple point. We have 19 verses that talk about Christians forgiving others. Of these 19, we find only 5 that don’t reference God’s forgiveness of the person doing the forgiving in the very same verse. Stated another way, 12 out of the 19 times the Bible makes reference to Christians forgiving others (that’s 63%, or two-thirds of the total references), in the very same verse God’s forgiveness of the person is referenced as well. So we may look at how few the actual references to Christians forgiving others are in the Scriptures and think that the Bible doesn’t give us a whole lot to go off of on what it means to forgive others as a Christ, but the truth is very much the opposite.
There very first point in learning how to forgive others is to understand that forgiveness is rooted in Eternity, that is to say, the Christian’s forgiveness of others stems from an understanding of, and is really an overflow of, God’s forgiveness of sinners in Jesus Christ. Taken in this light, then, what looks like a mere 19 references to human forgiveness in the Bible becomes once more over 100 verses, and thus over 100 passages and contexts, speaking to us about the character and quality of our forgiveness as we need to add back in all of those references to God forgiving people.
Without diving into all of the many attributes and dimensions of this, I’ll close this first point off with a very simple step in practical application. If you want to learn how to forgive other people, spend time contemplating just how much God has forgiven you! This is the whole point of Jesus’ teaching in Luke 7, when the woman who was known to be a “sinner” comes and starts cleaning Jesus’ feet with her hair and her tears and the Pharisee that Jesus was eating with took offence. Jesus launches into a parable about two people who are forgiven a debt, one small and one large, and asks the Pharisee which of the two would be more grateful, and love the moneylender more? The Pharisee answers that obviously it would be the one whose debt was larger. Jesus then responds in v.47 - "Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven - for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little."
When we contemplate the scope of the debt which the Lord has forgiven us in Christ (i.e. Every. Single. Sin. EVER!), this should immediately increase our love and affection for the Lord, and that love should then overflow and manifest itself as a love for others, making forgiveness so much easier. When struggling to forgive someone who has wronged you, it does well to remember at that moment how much you have wronged the Lord and been forgiven. Christian forgiveness finds its roots in the forgiveness offered to us by our Eternal God.