“If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”
The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”
from Luke 17
Now, let's for a moment lay aside the part of the repentance - because much of what we have to forgive is stuff people never repent of. There are other verses that tell us to forgive that do not mention repentance! Look at the last part. What did the apostles ask for when they were taught this hard-to-digest truth? Faith! In order to forgive we need faith - and possibly an INCREASED faith. Forgiveness doesn't just happen in a vacant heart. It comes from a heart of faith. A faith that trusts God to deal justly with our grievances and sufferings. How could Jesus endure scorn, shame, abuse, and rejection without stewing in anger and resentment (like most of us would!)? Read in 1 Peter:
To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
“He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth.”
When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
from Chapter 2
From this passage we gather that Jesus is our example and calls us to trust His Father when treated unjustly. This goes directly against the grain of human nature. We read from Luke 17 last night as a family, and Caleb, who is 10, said, "This doesn't make any sense!" And we said, "Exactly. Much of what the Bible teaches goes against what we would naturally think is fair and best." So, how do we forgive? We entrust ourselves to Him who judges justly and release others from the debt we feel they owe to us. In fact, it goes a lot further than that, but that is a good starting point. It requires faith - that's why the apostles said, 'Lord, increase our faith!' - because up until this time, going on what the law seemed to indicate, there wasn't a whole lot of instruction about forgiveness. I noted that in the 10 commandments there isn't one saying we must forgive. This is something that was radically different about Jesus' teaching. They were used to 'an eye for an eye' and 'a tooth for a tooth'. Kind of like the pound of flesh in the Merchant of Venice! And I think much of our Western identity is founded on those exacting principles, and hardly any of it on Christian grace and forgiveness. Let's learn to reject the cultural values that are directly opposed to what Scripture teaches!
The second element I believe is essential for one to forgive is humility. Philippians 2 instructs us to in humility consider others better than ourselves. Romans 12 tells us to not think of ourselves more highly than we ought. I am not meaning to propogate a 'worm theology' that diminishes our great worth and dignity in the eyes of God. I am meaning to propogate a lowliness of heart and mind and spirit when it comes to our interactions and relationship to others. We must revel in the great esteem we have because God loved us enough to send His Son to redeem us! But if we revel rightly in this great truth, it will also result in great humility before our fellow brothers and sisters! That God needed to send His Son to rescue me from the filth of my sin and wretchedness should make me a lot softer, kinder, more forgiving of the slights done to me/against me by those I rub shoulders with! At the root of unforgiveness is pride - plain and simple. Perhaps that is why the Amish are so good at it - because the highest sin they disdain is that of pride! When we refuse to forgive we are really saying, "I am better than my offender. They owe me. I cannot relinquish them from my condemnation. I am in the place of judge and jury. I withhold my self, love, mercy, kindness and grace from this person because it is my right. I am on the throne!"
Faith and humility are starting points. To forgive we must recognize that in myself I am nothing, have nothing, can do nothing, can be nothing. Only by God's grace do I take my next breath. If I deny these truths I may slip into unforgiveness because I think I am master of my own life.
There is much more to be said. But I'll let that sit for now.