The world is unjust. Injustice will happen. Sometimes to you, sometimes to those you care about. When it happens to you, it is hard and sometimes very difficult to find the Grace to forgive, but forgiveness is freeing. In forgiveness, we can find freedom to move on with our lives. God can give us the Grace to forgive an offense, even when it isn’t made right.
When you have personally suffered a wrong, one of the best things you can do for your life and your future is to find forgiveness for that wrong. Unforgiven wrongs do not hurt the person who committed the wrong, they only hurt yourself. God loves us too much to see us continue in unforgiveness and for this reason, He spoke about forgiveness in His Word frequently.
Paul wrote this letter to a church. He wanted the believers to experience the freedom that this kind of life brings. Every one of us would like to be a part of a Church where these things are practiced and it begins with us and our ability to treat others in this way. In this passage, we aren’t forgiving because the person has made it right and restitution has been made or even because the person who wronged us has asked for our forgiveness. Rather, we are forgiving them because of the great forgiveness that we have received.
This quote is found in the Gospels in both a general teaching to the disciples and a response to a question from Peter. The disciples, like many of us, seemed to have believed that there should be limits on human forgiveness. When someone has done something wrong to us over and over again, surely we eventually are justified in holding a grudge. According to Christ, if they express repentance, we are to continually forgive them. Why?
This verse, which occurs before the one above is a good context for 4:32. We’re removing these harmful things from our life, not just because of the damage they could do to others in the local church, but also for the harm we do to ourselves when we live a life of bitterness, wrath, anger and these other forms of malice. By putting these things aside or away, we have the proper perspective to love one another and forgive one another.
When you are the one wronged, this process is straightforward. You know exactly what was done to you and the way that impacted you and how you felt about it. When you are working through the process of forgiveness, it is your bitterness, your anger and your hurt that you have to be able to set aside in order to reach the point of being ready to forgive. This is something that, with the help of God, we can all reach. We can remember our sin and Christ’ forgiveness and turn our hurt over to Him, in order to forgive and be free from the burden of bitterness.
When we take on another’s offense or wrong we are taking on a burden that we have no control over the outcome. It is much more difficult to find forgiveness for someone who committed an offense against someone we care about. Instead of us identifying our own pain, we are looking at the pain of others and getting worked up into a place of malice over our perception of their pain. When you are the one wronged, God can give you the grace to find forgiveness, but when you take on the wrong of another, you are instead waiting for either the wrong to be corrected or the person wronged to give us the permission to let the hurt go. Essentially, we are taking God out of the situation.
While we should care for those suffering an injustice and support them, when we take their offense and make it our own, we have trapped ourselves in a maze with no clear exit. Bitterness is common where there is no forgiveness and can destroy the life of anyone who lets it. If you are choosing an offense over an injustice done to another, you need to realize that is a very dangerous path. Over the course of my life, I’ve seen situations where people were sent to prison, fired from their job, treated horribly by others and ripped off by people they trusted with their finances, as well as other great wrongs that none of us would want to suffer.
In looking back over these horrible situations, the great irony is that the person who suffered through these things often comes out better than the friends or family members who take on that offense. Those in prison might eventually get out, but if you build your own prison of bitterness over your loved one being sent there in the first place, you may serve a lifetime sentence. People fired can get a new job, but the anger over being fired can ruin future happiness, even after the person fired goes on to have a long and successful career.
If you find yourself in these circumstances or see this kind of bitterness destroying the life of someone you love, there is hope for forgiveness, but you have to choose a path out. It isn’t worth it to continue in unforgiveness. Even if the injustice still stands, you have to put it into proper perspective. We have to release our ownership of the wrong being righted. It isn’t our battle to fight. Instead, the only clear path out is by giving it over to God.
You can still love your friend. You can care deeply for them and the pain caused by the injustice. You can pray for everything to be made right and for the Lord to act according to His character, but you don’t want to end up in the dead end of “owning” their offense. You can’t afford the damage the bitterness will do to you and your spiritual life. Not to mention how it damages your ability to be a true encouragement to your friend and your community. Release yourself with God’s help from the prison of unforgiveness.