We live in community. We are constantly connecting with people in various ways. And connection, relationships, open the door to the possibility of hurt feelings. We will do things, intentionally or not, that hurt others, and they, intentionally or not, will hurt us. This is why forgiveness is vital.
We are going to be offended, falsely accused, abused, stepped on, looked over, rejected, misunderstood or forgotten. We know we need to forgive, but sometimes that feels impossible. It’s especially difficult when Jesus tells us to forgive seventy times seven or to forgive beyond counting.
I have found four things that have helped me when it comes to forgiving offenses.
Right-size the offense.
Often, my own baggage and insecurities make the offense much bigger than it really is. If my wife tells me where to park, it can trigger past wounds from of being controlled and I can get more upset than I need to—she was just pointing out a good parking spot, nothing to get upset over. It’s like our enemy, the devil, is walking around with a gas can just ready to pour fuel on a small spark to create a raging inferno. Once I get a true idea of the offense, which is often much smaller than I thought, forgiveness becomes a lot easier. Although to be clear, I don’t need to forgive my wife for pointing out a good parking spot; I should be thanking her.
Resolve to understand.
If you’re like me, you’re quick to judge others’ actions by what you see and your own actions by what you intend. If I criticize my kids’ homework, though it may hurt them, my intention was for them to be the best they can be. However, if someone criticizes my work, I don’t look for their intentions; I am too occupied with being hurt. When I slow down and try to understand where the other person is coming from, to listen graciously, it can help me see if I need to forgive and to do so easier.
Remember what I’ve been forgiven.
Jesus tells the classic story of an unmerciful servant. A man owed a king a million dollars and couldn’t repay it. He cried to the king for mercy and the king forgave his debt. That man immediately went out and found a fellow man who owed him ten dollars. He grabbed him and threatened him and forced him to repay the debt. When the king heard about it, he was furious and threw the wicked man in prison.
The point is the man should have forgiven his brother the small debt based on the fact that he, himself, had been forgiven a huge debt.
The truth is that we have been forgiven a mammoth debt of sin. When Christ died, He paid for all our sins. How can we go out and be unforgiving of our brother when they have sinned against us in a relatively small way? When I remember the debt that I have been forgiven, I am compelled and motivated to forgive others.
Rely on the Great Forgiver.
Jesus has never asked us to live the Christian life in our own strength. Colossians says, “Just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in Him!”
How did we receive Christ Jesus as Lord? We did it by faith, by complete and utter dependence on Him, by surrendering to His strength and power. And we are to continue to live in Him. That includes forgiveness.
Yes, we need to make the decision to forgive; our hearts need to agree with God on this, but His Spirit will empower us to live the kind of obedient lives that He calls us to live. He will actually forgive through us.
Brothers, we’re going to be offended and hurt. By God’s grace, may we be quick to forgive so that we can live in the freedom that forgiveness offers.