So, this week, I had on my heart to piggyback on what I talked about last week as we dealt with the steps we are to take when our brother sins against us. In that teaching, I spoke a little about forgiveness, but I felt led to spend a little more time on this subject today—namely, how to forgive others who have hurt and offended us.
You see, a lot of times we hear sermons telling us what to do, but not necessarily how to do it. It is certainly that way with the subject of forgiveness too. Sure, we hear how important it is to forgive, but we rarely hear practical ways in which to do it.
However, let me first say that even though we do have some practical instructions in the Bible on how to forgive, they are not laid out like “3 Steps to Forgiveness” or “7 Keys to Forgiving Others.” No, for the most part, forgiveness is simply an instruction given to us without a lot of explanation behind it. And the reason I believe this is the case is because forgiveness is not a complicated thing; it is a commanded thing. Let’s look at some Scriptures that teach us this …
ORDERS FROM HEADQUARTERS
A few years ago, we spent a lot of time looking at John 13:34, but I want us to look again at what this oh so important Bible verse says: Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”
Now I want you to notice that this is not the new suggestion or the new ideal. No, this is the new commandment of the New Covenant!
So, I believe the fact that Jesus called love (which is certainly to involve forgiveness) a “commandment” is a great place to start in discovering how to forgive one another. Why? It is because a commandment does not necessarily involve emotions or feelings. In other words, a command is something we do whether we feel like it or not.
You see, a “command” is most commonly defined as “to give someone an order.” A common usage of this is with a commanding officer in say, a military leader, giving orders to those under himself.
Now those of you who have served in the military would agree to this point, but more times than not, when you were given orders to do something, you didn’t feel like doing what they told you to do. Particularly, when you were in basic training and those drill sergeants gave you orders like “drop and give me twenty” or “go run 5 miles!”, nothing in your flesh or your soul wanted to do it. But guess what? You did it anyways! And why? Because you were given orders by your authorities.
One very important lesson I have learned in this regard is that when it comes to submitting to your authorities, you are not submitting when your authority figures tell you to do something that you like or agree with and then you do it. No, you only truly submit to your authorities when they tell you to do something, and you don’t agree with it or you dislike what they are telling you to do, and you do it anyways. This is when true submission to authority occurs.
So, when it comes to this new “commandment” of loving and forgiving one another, it has nothing to do with what we feel, what we think or what we want; it all has to do with simply following orders. Love is the orders from headquarters!
LOVE IS SPIRITUAL
You know, as a general rule, the world believes that love is a feeling. They’ll use terminology like “I just fell in love with them” or “I just fell out of love”—indicating that love is a feeling and not a decision. But this is wrong!
What do they say when they “fall out of love”? “I just don’t feel for you the way I used to feel about you.” This, again, indicates that love is a feeling or an emotion. No! When someone says they have fallen out of love with someone, really what they are saying is that they have “fallen out of feelings.”
It is actually impossible to “fall out of” true love. Why? Because love is an act of your will! It is not a feeling! No, real love never ENDS (First Corinthians 13:8)! It changes not! Yes, agape is a spiritual thing! Therefore, it is eternal and unchanging!
Aren’t we taught that God is Spirit (John 4:24)? And we are also taught that God is love, right (First John 4:8)? So, this means that Love is a spiritual thing! You know, we are a spirit too. We are a spirit, we have a soul and we live in a body, and it is vital that we understand what the Lord accomplished in us through the new birth.
You see, Galatians 5:22-23 teaches us that the fruit of the Spirit begins with love and includes joy, peace etc.
Now the word “Spirit” here is given a capital “S” because the translators believe that the Holy Spirit is who is being referred to here. I differ on the other hand—because the context suggests the flesh of man versus the spirit of man. Therefore, I believe the fruit of the Spirit (while certainly is the nature of the Holy Spirit and are produced by Him in the life of those who are led by Him) is the fruit of our new, recreated spirit that we were born again with.
But whether or not you believe that these fruit are the fruit of our reborn spirit or the fruit of the Holy Spirit, either way, this means we already have this fruit within us. Amen?
Yes, I already have love in my heart for in Romans 5:5, the Apostle Paul says that the love of God has already been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Amen! So, my point is that love is already in there! We are not trying to get more love from the outside in; we are simply working out our salvation to get more love from the inside out! Amen!
But so many have a hard time believing this because they feel that they do not have love because they don’t “feel” love. In other words, because they don’t have the emotions of love and there is selfishness, anger, etc. in there, they believe that they are void of love. But this is when we must believe what the Word says more than what our feelings and our heads are telling us. Amen!
And, as it is with everything spiritual in nature such as love, we are not led by our feelings.
We wouldn’t say “Well, I don’t feel like reading my Bible anymore” and then just cater to that, would we? No, we have enough sense to know that is wrong. Nor would we believe that because we don’t feel like praising God that we evidently do not need to press through those feelings that cater to our flesh.
Saints, what I am saying is—do not wait until you feel like operating in these spiritual things before you practice them. Know that they are fruits of the spirit and spiritual things are not based on feelings.
Now the reason I bring this out is because I have been around long enough to see that most believers that even desire to forgive others are waiting for the feelings and emotions to come all over them. In other words, they are waiting to feel like forgiving before they actually act on this commandment to forgive.
Saints, I’m here to tell you that if you are waiting for all of these “lovey dovey” emotions to come all over you and overtake you, you are going to be waiting a long time! As you have heard me say before, I believe you are walking in love the most when you feel like strangling somebody, but as an act of your will, you decide to bless them instead. In other words, love is being exercised the most when our feelings are completely contrary, but we act on the decision to love. Amen!
As we have seen, love is a fruit of the Spirit—meaning, it is spiritual in nature. It’s not something that is tied into our flesh or our soul. Therefore, it doesn’t involve our feelings (a product of the flesh) or our emotions (a product of the soul). Love is spiritual thing—meaning, it is an action that comes as a result of our will.
Church, if we are going to be a “spiritual” man or woman, we are going to have to learn to live out of the part of us that is willing by faith (i.e. the spirit) and not yield to the part of us that is weak by feelings (i.e. the flesh). Amen!
Being spiritual is a decision! It's an action—an act of our will (for the spirit is willing). To act on our feelings and emotions is carnal; to act on what we know is true and, by faith, will to do those things, is spiritual.
Let me give you a good Scriptural example of this:
In Titus 2:3-4, the Apostle Paul told Pastor Titus that the older women were to, among other things, admonish the young women to love their husbands and to love their children.
So, were these older women to admonish the younger women to “feel” more like loving their husbands and their children? No! You do not admonish someone to have certain emotions and feelings. What these older women were being admonished to do was to teach the younger women how to love their husbands and children—which, of course, would be actions and deeds of love. Amen!
You see, love and forgiveness are more of an action than they are an emotion. And if we can be taught how to love, then we should know that it is an act of our own volition. If it were an emotion, then it would be out of our control because we are always going to have ups and downs in our emotions. But since love is a commandment, we know that it is in our control because the Lord would not have told us to do something that it wasn’t in our control to do. Amen!
So, let’s begin talking specifically about that aspect of love the Lord wanted to look at today—forgiveness—by going over to Colossians chapter 3.
In Colossians 3:13, the Apostle Paul, in the midst of His exhortations to put on all of these virtues related to love, says, “bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.”
Now I looked these words “forgiving and forgave” up and noticed something very significant about forgiveness: The word “forgive” comes from the Greek word charis which is commonly translated “grace.” Now the word “grace” means to give something freely, with no strings attached. If you are giving someone “grace,” you are giving them something they don’t necessarily deserve, nor have they done anything to earn it. Therefore, a common definition for “forgiveness” when considering the word “grace” is to freely forgive.
Now let me include this important point in here: Since we see the word “forgiveness” is so closely associated with grace, then our ability to forgive is tied together with us receiving the grace of God ourselves. And I believe that those who truly have come to embrace God’s grace for them will themselves be gracious—which will result in them being more apt to forgive.
You see, this is one of the reasons we emphasize the grace of God at our church; it is because it empowers one to be more gracious and loving. Amen!
But I make this point of the word “forgive” coming from the word charis because oftentimes the mentality that people have, which causes them to have a harder time forgiving people, is that the person that offended them doesn’t deserve to be forgiven—maybe they haven’t even been repentant and asked for forgiveness.
Now I would venture to say that most of us, if the person that hurt us came to us and said something to the effect of— “You know, I was wrong. I am so sorry. Please forgive me” that we would forgive them. But what makes forgiveness a little more difficult is when the person who hurt us doesn’t show any signs of being repentant and no remorse for what they did—which is, unfortunately, what happens most of the time.
But that is when this true meaning of forgiveness becomes so important because now I know I am called to forgive freely whether I feel they deserve it or not. I am “for-giving”—that is, I am giving them grace in advance of them deserving it or asking for it.
Then notice what Paul goes on to say in the rest of verse 13 that “if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.”
You realize that if everything you and I did to sin against the Lord and everything we did to put Jesus on that Cross could be weighed, there would not a be enough scales on the planet that could measure the greatness of that sin? We have truly been forgiven much! And you also realize that with the vast majority of these sins that Christ forgave us of, we are unaware of them and have not confessed them to Him? Absolutely!
Let me ask you this question: Do you think the Lord forgives us of the things we do wrong and are unaware of? In other words, does God give us mercy even for the things we do not confess to Him? You better hope so!
I know there are people in the church out there who believe that we have to specifically confess our sins in order to be forgiven of them, but that is not what First John 1:9 was teaching. Do you realize if that were true, then we are all in trouble because there is no way that we can specifically confess every single sin we’ve ever committed?
So, it is apparent that Christ has freely forgiven us of things we never sought forgiveness from— and aren’t you glad for that?
Well, when Paul said, “even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do” the words “even as” literally mean “to the degree that.” So, we are told to forgive one another to the degree that Christ has forgiven us.
So, this tells me that if Jesus forgave me of this magnitude of sin that I committed that put Him on the Cross, then I am expected to forgive others to the same degree. This is why Paul said at the end of Colossians 3:13 “so you also must do.”
So, forgiveness is a commandment, and it is expected of us! It is our duty!
FORGIVE BY FAITH
There is a Scripture that reiterates this point and it is found in Luke 17:1-10:
In the beginning of Luke chapter 17, Jesus begins to talk to His disciples about offenses and how we must do whatever is in our power not to cause others to stumble (verses 1-2). Then He tells His disciples to take heed to themselves that they live a life of forgiveness no matter how many times someone sins against them (verses 3-4).
Well, it is interesting to note the reaction that this call to forgiveness generated in His disciples: In verse 5 we are told: “And the apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith.’”
Now what does “increasing our faith” have to do with forgiveness? In other words, why would they ask the Lord to increase their faith immediately after He tells them to keep forgiving that sinning brother who keeps sinning against them?
Apparently, it is because we forgive by faith. In other words, if we are called to raise our standard of forgiving one another, then we also need an increase of faith to forgive them by.
You see, saints, we don’t forgive because we feel like forgiving or even because we feel like we have been forgiven; we forgive because of our faith in God and through our faith in God.
You know, I’ve dealt with people who think they have not forgiven because they have all of the feelings and emotions that scream on the inside of them telling them that they hate that person. But those thoughts and emotions are not necessarily proof that you haven’t forgiven them.
You see, people just want to feel like they’ve forgiven, but that it is not what a spiritual person does. A person who has decided to walk in the spirit does not go by how they feel; they are only moved by their faith. And because they have made the choice to forgive by faith, that is all they need. As it is with receiving anything from God, they don’t need the feelings to confirm it.
This call to forgive by faith is reiterated by the Lord in verses 7-10:
In this lesson, Jesus gives us the example of a servant who, when he comes in from his day’s work, is not afforded the opportunity to sit down and eat, but first must serve his master and then he can serve himself. Jesus then gives the point of this story that this servant is not rewarded nor even thanked for serving his master because he simply did what was his duty to do.
The point that Jesus was making by giving this example in context is that we don’t forgive our brothers and sisters in Christ because we feel like it or because of any benefit that we get out of it. No, our primary motivation for forgiving (next to loving God and loving the person) is because it is simply our duty as Christians! We do it because it is the right thing to do! Amen!
HOW TO FORGIVE
So, this is the first step to forgiveness—understanding that we are expected to forgive, that it is a command, and it is our duty to do so.
But I understand and the Lord understands that this is not easy to do. I’ve had people who have been hurt that, while they honestly want to obey the Lord, do not know how to forgive because the offense was so great.
Well, as Jesus’ disciples obviously understood, we will need faith to forgive sometimes. It might be too much for us to handle—releasing someone from the pain that they caused us. This is when our faith in God becomes key.
The Lord recently showed me that one of the ways that we forgive by faith is through our prayer life. What do I mean by that?
Have you ever noticed that in some of our greatest exhortations to forgive others that the forgiving is being done while in prayer?
For example, in Mark 11:22-26, where Jesus was teaching on how God’s faith works (i.e. speaking to the mountain, believing that the things we say will be done, believing we receive when we pray, etc.), He continues in verse 25 by saying, “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him…”
So here, Jesus was talking about making sure that we forgive while we stand praying. In other words, forgiveness is something we do in our prayer time. It is not just something we do on our own all of the time. In many of these cases, we need to involve the Lord’s help through prayer to remove the residue of unforgiveness.
But in this passage of Scripture in Mark chapter 11 I want you to notice again that praying in faith (speaking to the mountain, believing we receive when we pray, etc.) is joined to together with forgiveness. Do you think the Lord had a lapse in memory here and forgot what He was talking about in verses 23-24? I think not! Obviously, the Lord wants us to understand the association between the prayer of faith and the prayer of forgiveness because they are similar in nature.
You see, when you stand praying and you need to forgive someone, you treat that unforgiveness like you would that mountain. You speak to it! You use your authority to tell it that it has no right to stay in your life, and you take the mountain of offense and get rid of it! Then, when you’ve spoken to the mountain, you believe you receive when you pray. You don’t wait until you feel like its gone. You don’t base the effectiveness of your prayer on whether the unforgiveness seems like it has been removed. No, you believe it because you spoke to it.
We see our Lord Jesus Christ praying to His Father when He needed to forgive, when hanging on the Cross, said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”
Amid His agony and pain (things far outweighing the hurt that we feel), Jesus addresses His Heavenly Father and asks Him to forgive those who had put Him on that Cross due to their ignorance. So, the Master practiced what He preached by including forgiveness in His own prayer life.
So, what I am seeing here is that there is apparently a connection between the process of forgiveness and our own personal prayer lives. But I believe the point of understanding this is that we obviously need the Lord’s help in forgiving. It is hard to do this on our own—particularly when the offenses are so great. Yes, some of it is us simply choosing to forgive and following the orders from our Heavenly headquarters. But others, where our soul has been torn to shreds, will require faith to forgive them. And this is why the Lord taught us to forgive while we stand praying and by faith because this is where we get the help to legitimately release people in our hearts.
You see, in order to get the grace that we need to love the way we are called to, we need to walk in truth. And a part of walking in truth is not hiding our feelings. We need to be real with God and put everything on the table.
So, by first understanding that we forgive because it is our duty to forgive, we are to take those things before the Lord and say, “Lord, I choose to forgive them for the thing they did to me. I have no rights anymore and you have called me to forgive. So, I forgive them and ask you to forgive them as well. I ask for your richest blessings upon them and that you would pour out your goodness upon them.”
This should not surprise us because how did the Lord teach us to respond to the pains and offenses of our enemies? He said, in Luke 6:27-28 to love them. How? By doing good to those who hate us, blessing those who curse us, and by praying for those who spitefully use us.
It is no surprise then that so many people have a hard time releasing people in their hearts. Why? Because they are not doing it God’s way; they are doing it their own way—trying their best to forgive but failing to truly release that person in their hearts.
When we do it God’s way—which is, by faith taking it before the Lord when we stand, praying and confessing before Him our willingness to release them for the hurt they caused us, and sincerely praying for them—we are given the grace to truly forgive and release them.
This is where God’s supernatural ability to forgive gets activated in our life! It is where we are truly able to release them and the anointing to forgive is released in our lives! Hallelujah!
So, in conclusion, forgiveness is a commandment and we are called to forgive others to the degree that we ourselves have been forgiven. It is us giving the grace to others that we have received ourselves. But it will require faith to do so—our faith in God and our faith through God. In other words, we need to put the same principles of faith that move any mountain in our lives to work in removing the mountain of offense, bitterness, and unforgiveness from our lives.
Church, I wholeheartedly believe that if we put these things into practice, we can forgive anybody of anything. So, let’s do it! Amen!