Luke 6:37 “Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”
If we do not forgive, our thoughts will inevitably be drawn to the person towards whom we harbor resentment, our focus will be kept off of Christ, and therefore our hearts will turn from God, and this is sinning. So how can he forgive us, if by our resentments, our thoughts are always drawn away from him? Unless we forgive, we will go on sinning, all our efforts will be in vain to keep our eyes on him, and without this focus, we will only sin.
Unforgiveness is also a sin, and how can we be forgiven sinners, unless we repent of this sin?
Yet our forgiveness is to be as God forgives, and though God forgives sometimes even if there is no repentance (Num. 14:20, Lk. 23:34, cf. Acts 17:60), yet this is the exception, and not the rule:
2 Corinthians 2:7 Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him…
This would imply that up until that time, they ought not to forgive, before he repented. This also it seems is said of God:
Mark 4:12 … so that, “‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!'”
Implying here that until they turn, they are not forgiven.
Yet we see that Jesus prayed “Father forgive them” on the cross, as Stephen did in praying “Do not hold this sin to their charge.” But this may well be forgiveness for that particular sin, because they still remained as unforgiven sinners, even though that one sin had been forgiven:
Numbers 14:20-21 The Lord replied, “I have forgiven them, as you asked. Nevertheless…”
So then it would seem that the approach to follow is, if the person sinning against you is a Christian, apply Mt. 18:5-17, up until the point where they repent, in which case there is forgiveness (as in 1 Cor.), and if they remain unrepentant, to then pray for them (implying no grudges), bless them, and do good to them, but prayer would then include praying for their repentance, and their forgiveness, and the opportunity to give our forgiveness as well.
John 20:23 If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.
Now if we forgave all sins of all unbelievers, then everyone without exception is forgiven (“If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven”), but we know that not every sin is forgiven now, for that would mean everyone is now free from God’s wrath, and without condemnation.
Yet we don’t have to be mind-readers to know if there is real repentance:
Luke 17:4 “If [your brother] sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”
Just this word, saying “I repent” (we may note: not “I’m sorry”!) is enough, and then we should forgive, as we have been forgiven, but not, it seems, until then, and yet by God’s grace, not harbor any grudge or ill will…
“Scripturally, this is a little bit of a mixed bag because there are other verses that don’t mention the repentance issue and talk only about forgiveness. It does seem, though, that the Luke 17 passage qualifies those other verses such that repentance is an important requirement. It doesn’t seem to be that God has commanded us to forgive everybody without qualification, because we see these occasions when the qualification is made. (Incidentally, even God doesn’t forgive everyone without qualification.)” (Greg Koukl)
“One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones. It came back with a rush: the huge room with its harsh overhead lights; the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor; the shame of walking naked past this man. . . .
The place was Ravensbruck and the man who was making his way forward had been a guard—one of the most cruel guards.
Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out: “A fine message, Fraulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!”
And I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand. He would not remember me, of course—how could he remember one prisoner among those thousands of women?
But I remembered him and the leather crop swinging from his belt. I was face-to-face with one of my captors and my blood seemed to freeze.
“You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk,” he was saying. “I was a guard there.” No, he did not remember me.
“But since that time,” he went on, “I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fraulein,”—again the hand came out—”will you forgive me?”
And I stood there—I whose sins had again and again to be forgiven—and could not forgive. Betsie had died in that place—could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?
It could not have been many seconds that he stood there—hand held out—but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.
For I had to do it—I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. . . .
I knew it not only as a commandment of God, but as a daily experience. Since the end of the war I had had a home in Holland for victims of Nazi brutality. Those who were able to forgive their former enemies were able also to return to the outside world and rebuild their lives, no matter what the physical scars. Those who nursed their bitterness remained invalids. It was as simple and as horrible as that.
I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness.
. . . And woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.
“I forgive you, brother!” I cried. “With all my heart.”
For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.
(Corrie ten Boom, from “The Hiding Place”)
“Selina wept for days. Her face was a study in tragedy. Her heart was filled with hatred toward the murderers of her husband. Thoughts of vindication festered in her mind. When friends visited her some months later, she shook her head and said, ‘I’ve been in God’s university. Slowly and steadily, he began to work in my heart. First, I simply had to be willing to forgive the murderers. Forgiveness starts with a decision of the will. The emotions follow much later. One day, after giving God permission to take it away, I realized that the hatred was gone.’ Selina had won a battle, but it was not long before she became aware of another hurdle. God was asking her to not only forgive her enemies but love them. ‘Lord, you’re asking too much,’ she cried out to him. But little by little, step by step, she came to the point where she realized that she could love her enemies. God asked her to love, and he enabled her to love. ‘But I still wasn’t quite ready to graduate from God’s university. The process was not over. God told me that he wanted me to praise and thank him for what had happened.’ It was impossible. How could anyone expect her to do that? ‘Still, I wanted to be obedient and grow in the Lord. With my mouth, I started to thank the Lord, even though my heart was crying at the same time. My heart was not ready, but I obeyed with my mouth. And God, as before, started to work in my soul.’ ” (from the testimony of a pastor’s wife in a country overseas – not her real name)
Pastor Richard Wurmbrand had many classic stories that he told from his years in prison. While the majority of these were well received, others were more difficult to comprehend such as the following:
A new prisoner was shoved in a cell in Romania. At first no one recognized him. He was shorn, dirty and thin, just like the rest of us. But then someone exclaimed, ” This is Captain Popescu!” The name was well known. He had been one of the worse torturers of Christians. We asked him how he came to be among us. In tears he said, “One day as I sat in my office, a boy of about twelve entered with a flower in his hand. He gave his name and exclaimed, ‘Captain, you are the one who arrested my mother. Today is her birthday. I always used to bring her a flower on this day. I can’t do so this time because of you, so I decided to bring a flower to the mother of your children. Take this flower to your wife and tell her of my love. My own mother is a Christian who taught us to love our enemies, to reward evil with good.’ After that I embraced the boy and knew that I could not torture anymore. I was no longer any good as a Communist police officer. That’s why they threw me in with you.”
Captain Popescu may have been ruined as a Communist officer, but through the actions of a small boy who was armed with love, he witnessed Christ’s love and eternal hope. We live in a world that cannot comprehend such love.
After Pastor Wurmbrand preached in one particular church and shared illustrations like the one above, he was asked to leave. The church proclaimed: “We have had enough of you. You preach only love for everyone. We expected from you some prophetic outcry against the Communists. We are fed up with how much you insist we love them.”
We have received letters at The Voice of the Martyrs with similar comments. One reads: You write too much about love for your enemies…. Write that the persecutors will be tormented day and night in the lake of Fire.” But how is the person who wrote this letter, or any of us, any better than a persecutor? Is he or she a worse sinner? Did Christ not also die for the ones who drove the nails into His hands?
(By Todd Nettleton and Steve Cleary, Voice of the Martyrs USA)
Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. (Luke 6:28)
Almost every demand from Christ seems impractical. If we, however, want to follow the Lord, then there is no other way. More than once I experienced this from the KGB prisons. The response of the world to the tormentors of the KGB is hatred, and every hour, the KGB gives more reasons to hate them. But I soon noticed that if I hated them as well, I would be eaten up from within. I have seen fellow prisoners so filled with hatred that they lost their mind and so destroyed their personality. And that’s exactly what the KGB wants.
How should we as Christians control these feelings? Christ commanded us to cast out hatred by love. That is not easy. This demand by Christ seems impractical. But there is no other way. “Pray for those who mistreat you.” Such a prayer may save them, but in any case it will save us.
From “Bound to be Free”, Sovereign World Publishing, Gospel Light Publications, 2300 Knoll Dr., Ventura, CA 93003
“Every passion is more easily subdued before it has been long accustomed to possession of the heart; every idea is obliterated with less difficulty, as it has been more slightly impressed, and less frequently renewed. He who has often brooded over his wrongs, pleased himself with schemes of malignity, and glutted his pride with fancied supplications of humbled enmity, will not easily open his bosom to amity and reconciliation, or indulge the gentle sentiments of benevolence and peace.”
“It is easiest to forgive while there is yet little to be forgiven. A single injury may be soon dismissed from the memory; but a long succession of ill offices by degrees associates itself with every idea; a long contest involves so many circumstances, that every place and action will recall it to the mind; and fresh remembrance of vexation must still enkindle rage, and irritate revenge.”
“A wise man will make haste to forgive, because he knows the true value of time, and will not allow it to pass away in unnecessary pain. He that willingly suffers the corrosions of inveterate hatred, and gives up his days and nights to the gloom of malice and perturbations of strategem, cannot surely be said to consult his ease. Resentment is an union of sorrow with malignity: a combination of a passion which all endeavour to avoid, with a passion which all concur to detest. The man who retires to meditate mischief and to exasperate his own rage–whose thoughts are employed only on means of distress and contrivances of ruin–whose mind never pauses from the remembrance of his own sufferings but to indulge some hope of enjoying the calamities of another–may justly be numbered among the most miserable of human beings, among those who are guilty without reward, who have neither the gladness of prosperity nor the calm of innocence.”
“Whoever considers the weakness both of himself and others will not long want persuasives to forgiveness. We know not to what degree of malignity any injury is to be imputed, or how much its guilt, if we were to inspect the mind of him that committed it, would be extenuated by mistake, precipitance, or negligence; we cannot be certain how much more we feel than was intended to be inflicted, or how much we increase the mischief to ourselves by voluntary aggravation. We may charge to design the effects of accident; we may think the blow violent only because we have made ourselves delicate and tender; we are on every side in danger of errour and of guilt, which we are certain to avoid only by speedy forgiveness.”
“Of him that hopes to be forgiven, it is indispensably required that he forgive. It is therefore superfluous to urge any other motive. On this great duty eternity is suspended; and to him that refuses to practice it, the throne of mercy is inaccessible, and the Saviour of the world has been born in vain.”