Bible Reading: Matthew 5:23-26
If you are... offering a sacrifice to God, and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, ...go and be reconciled to that person—Matthew 5:23-24.
“Allison said she was sorry for talking behind my back,” Brooke fumed. “But she laughed like she thought the whole thing was stupid. And then she turned around that afternoon and did the same thing again. What am I supposed to do with that?”
Let’s clarify. If you want to understand what forgiveness is, you also need to know what forgiveness isn’t. Check these facts:
Forgiveness isn’t conditional or earned. You can’t say, “If you clean up your life, I’ll forgive you.” If you attach strings, you aren’t showing true forgiveness.
Forgiveness doesn’t wait around for the person who hurt you to say “sorry.” Forgiveness takes the initiative. If God had waited for you to repent and ask his forgiveness, you would still be lost. And if you won’t forgive until a person first asks for your forgiveness, you are letting that person control your life.
Forgiveness isn’t a feeling. Sometimes you don’t feel like forgiving, but when you forgive someone in faith—knowing you have done what God wants you to do you often feel better afterward. But forgiveness starts with an act of the will. Forgiveness isn’t pretending a situation never happened. Some people just go on with life, acting like there was never a problem. If that’s how you deal with a hurtful situation, don’t be surprised if it happens again.
Forgiveness isn’t pretending wrong is right. Forgiving someone doesn’t mean you think that what happened is right. You can forgive the offender and still challenge him or her to quit hurting you.
Forgiveness isn’t saying, “Let’s forget about it.” Face it: You don’t forget about it. Instead, the hurt turns into resentment. Forgetting doesn’t result in forgiveness. It works the other way around: Forgiveness results in forgetting.
Forgiveness doesn’t erase consequences. Someone who does wrong could still face a loss of reputation, financial loss, emotional loss, loss of sleep, or any number of consequences. A person who does wrong has a responsibility and a legal responsibility and a responsibility toward God. If you forgive someone, that means you have dealt with it on a personal level, but that person still has to answer to God and to human authorities.
You might fear that forgiving and seeking forgiveness will make you weak. But ignoring a hurt is the weakling’s way out. Trying to heal a relationship through forgiveness is a real sign of your strong character.
REFLECT: In what ways have you misunderstood forgiveness?
PRAY: Talk to God about anyone you need to forgive but haven’t because you misunderstood what forgiveness is and isn’t.