An article contributed by 'J'

A teacher once told each of her students to bring a clear plastic bag and a sack of potatoes to school.

For every person they refuse to forgive in their life's experience, they chose a potato, wrote on it the name and date, and put it in the plastic bag.

They were told to carry this bag with them everywhere for one week, putting it beside their bed at night, on the car seat when driving, on their lap when riding, next to their desk during classes.

Some of their bags became quite heavy. The hassle of lugging this around with them made it clear what a weight they were carrying spiritually, and how they had to pay attention to it all the time, to not forget or keep leaving it in embarrassing places.

Naturally, the potatoes became moldy, smelly, and began to sprout "eyes".

Too often we think of forgiveness as a gift to the other person, and it clearly is for ourselves! To forgive unloads what would otherwise become a heavy, rotting burden.

John G.

Forgiveness is probably not something we spend a lot of time thinking about. To most of us, it involves saying you're sorry, and then moving on. In some cases, the person who refuses to forgive will harbor feelings like resentment or anger.

I admit that I have struggled sometimes with forgiveness, but that is because I know that unless I can find a way to resolve my feelings, there will always be a part of me that hurts. You carry a burden that turns to bitterness and resentment. It's like picking a scab: every time you revisit the wound in your heart, and inflict more pain by fostering your anger, you re-open the wound. A lack of forgiveness may cause us to be harsh toward others, guilt-ridden and resentful. Like the bag of potatoes in the story, our grudge only turns into a rotten, smelly burden that we carry around, unwilling to part with.

I have come to understand that my happiness does not depend on the other person saying they are sorry, or even realizing that they have hurt me. It depends on my deciding how long I want to let what they did hurt me. I might not have been able to stop them at the time, but I can take control by not allowing what they did to hurt me anymore. Forgiveness also means forgiving myself. Maybe I could have said, done or acted differently and then maybe the outcome would have been different. I have to stop blaming myself. But always, there are more excuses not to forgive: The person isn't truly sorry. They didn't ask for forgiveness. They did it too many times. They did it again. The offence was too great. They didn't accept responsibility. I really don't like the person. They did it deliberately. I'm sure you can think of many more.

What Forgiveness Does Not Mean:

It does not mean that I pretend it doesn't matter (that would be lying - Psalm 15:1-2). It does not mean that I cease to hurt. (Proverbs 14:13) At the same time, to continue to hurt does not mean that we haven't forgiven (ceasing to hurt is not automatic). It does not mean that I forget (we can't forget, but the desire for revenge can cease - Psalm 4:4). It does not mean that the relationship is the same as before (it may never be).

What Forgiveness Means:

i) the act of ceasing to feel resentment against an offender

ii) the granting of relief from the payment of a debt (Webster's)

Three things involved in forgiveness: an injury, a debt resulting from it, cancellation of the debt.

The act of forgiving requires that we look honestly at our injury, how it has affected us in the past, and how it may continue to affect us in the future.

When we have forgiven, we:

Think compassionate thoughts, bless rather that insult, see the person apart from the action, have the joy and peace of Jesus return.

Eph. 4:32

But become kind to one another, tenderly compassionate, freely forgiving one another just as God also by Christ freely forgave YOU.

Matt. 18:21-30

21 Then Peter came up and said to him: “Lord, how many times is my brother to sin against me and am I to forgive him? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him: “I say to you, not, Up to seven times, but, Up to seventy-seven times.

23 “That is why the kingdom of the heavens has become like a man, a king, that wanted to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he started to settle them, there was brought in a man who owed him ten thousand talents [=60,000,000 de·nar'i·i]. 25 But because he did not have the means to pay [it] back, his master ordered him and his wife and his children and all the things he had to be sold and payment to be made. 26 Therefore the slave fell down and began to do obeisance to him, saying, ‘Be patient with me and I will pay back everything to you.’ 27 Moved to pity at this, the master of that slave let him off and canceled his debt. 28 But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves that was owing him a hundred de·nar'i·i; and, grabbing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back whatever you owe.’ 29 Therefore his fellow slave fell down and began to entreat him, saying, ‘Be patient with me and I will pay you back.’ 30 However, he was not willing, but went off and had him thrown into prison until he should pay back what was owing.

Col. 3:12-13

12 Accordingly, as God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, clothe yourselves with the tender affections of compassion, kindness, lowliness of mind, mildness, and long-suffering. 13 Continue putting up with one another and forgiving one another freely if anyone has a cause for complaint against another. Even as Jehovah freely forgave YOU, so do YOU also.

Forgiveness is something we cannot earn, but we can lose it if we do not forgive others from the heart. Forgiveness brings reconciliation with God.

Jesus links human forgiveness with divine forgiveness. When we look to God for examples, we find that God’s forgiveness depends on ours.

Jesus submits in the Lord’s Prayer that we forgive as we are forgiven.

Matt 6:12,14-15

12 and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

14 “For if YOU forgive men their trespasses, YOUR heavenly Father will also forgive YOU; 15 whereas if YOU do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will YOUR Father forgive YOUR trespasses.

Mark 11:25

25 And when YOU stand praying, forgive whatever YOU have against anyone; in order that YOUR Father who is in the heavens may also forgive YOU YOUR trespasses.

We should forgive so that God will forgive us.

Matt. 5:23-25

23 “If, then, you are bringing your gift to the altar and you there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar, and go away; first make your peace with your brother, and then, when you have come back, offer up your gift.

25 “Be about settling matters quickly with the one complaining against you at law, while you are with him on the way there, that somehow the complainant may not turn you over to the judge, and the judge to the court attendant, and you get thrown into prison.

In Jesus’ sermon on the mount, he reminds us if we need forgiveness we should reconcile before offering a gift at the alter.

Luke 6:37

37 “Moreover, stop judging, and YOU will by no means be judged; and stop condemning, and YOU will by no means be condemned. Keep on releasing, and YOU will be released.

In asking us to avoid judgment by not judging others, Jesus says if we forgive we will be forgiven. These verses imply that God’s actions toward us depends on our action towards others. If we forgive, God will forgive.

Luke 17:4

4 Even if he sins seven times a day against you and he comes back to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.

The point here is to forgive every single time.

Another point made in the bible is to forgive thoroughly. In looking back at Matt 18, concerning the slave that owes his king, the debt was so large, that the ruler prepares to sell off what his servant owns. Bankruptcy seems a fair solution to the problem because of the debt.

From what I could find out, we do not know exactly the amount that this would equal, and I found this illustration:

“Records indicate that one thousand talents probably equals around 12 million denarii – each denarius representing the payment for one day’s work. If you took ten thousand talents to equal $4.75/hour wage that would equal around $4,560,000,000. Working 5 days a week without any vacation, you’d need over 46,000 years to pay off the debt.”

The slave pleads mercy, promising to pay it back if he’s just given the time. The king forgives him because he is merciful. He knows he’ll never be repaid.

A co-worker owes the slave the small sum of a single denarius, one day’s wages (approx $38.00 using the above as a reference.) But the slave would not forgive that small debt.

32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘Wicked slave, I canceled all that debt for you, when you entreated me. 33 Ought you not, in turn, to have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I also had mercy on you?’ 34 With that his master, provoked to wrath, delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay back all that was owing. 35 In like manner my heavenly Father will also deal with YOU if YOU do not forgive each one his brother from YOUR hearts.

Our sins are like the slave’s, so great that we could never make up for them, but God is merciful. This is how we can lose our forgiveness, if we refuse to forgive.

There are many, many more examples of forgiveness. As we take a long look at the scriptures that God has given us in this area, one simple, yet profound truth comes to mind: When I forgive those people in my past who have wronged me, I don’t necessarily do it for them (although it might make them feel better). I do it for me.

Why Forgiveness Matters

1. Unforgiveness will hurt no one more than myself.

R.V.G. Tasker said: “Probably more characters are spoiled by the nursing of grudges and the harbouring of grievances than by anything else.”

Gracilla Martinex tells how she learned to forgive when her 15 year old son, recently having become a Christian, was executed under Cuba's Batista regime. “Don’t hate them,” the boy had urged that morning as they huddled in their last embrace. “Forgive them, Mamacita. Forgive them, or they will be the victors.” But she could not. “In my heart,” she recalls, “I vowed revenge. I would get even.”

For 10 years, Graciella Martinez carried the burden of that hatred, fuelling it with plots and plans for retaliation. At a workshop on forgiveness, she said: “I only forgave when I saw how destructive my hate was, how it consumed my energies, crippled my friendships and disabled any good that I wanted to do. I wanted to be freed from the prison I had erected in my life. I saw, finally, the truth of my son’s last words, that when we return hatred to those who hate us, we fall into playing their game according to their rules – and do them the great favour of hurting ourselves.”

Romans 12:17 (WE)

When people do wrong things to you, do not do wrong things to them also. But try to do good things for all people.

2. Unforgiveness will often hurt others.

Too often, unforgiveness will affect those around us and may well be passed on to the next generation. This can happen in families and on a larger scale in countries. The terrible toll of unforgiveness has been all too obvious in countries such as Northern Ireland, Yugoslavia, and East Africa. As Ghandi said, if everyone were to follow the “eye for an eye” principal of justice, the whole world would go blind.

3. Unforgiveness may deny healing to another.

Forgiveness recognizes the wrongdoer as a person. Yes, they have done wrong, but that is not all there is to that person: he still has value. He has injured himself by doing wrong and is in special need of help, and only the person he has wronged can give that help. Forgiveness can only come if we are more concerned about another’s wellbeing than our own.

4. Unforgiveness affects my relationship with God

Like the slave that owed the debt, we have been forgiven an infinite debt that we owe to God, which we could never hope to pay ourselves. God treats it very seriously if we do not, in return, forgive others. In Matthew, Jesus condemns the proud, uncharitable, unforgiving, jealous spirit. God cannot bless us unless we keep the channels of forgiveness open.

5. Unforgiveness is readily exploited Satan

2 Cor. 2:11 (MSG)

After all, we don't want to unwittingly give Satan an opening for yet more mischief--we're not oblivious to his sly ways!

E.M. Bounds in his book Satan, says “The readiest way to keep Satan out is to keep the spirit of forgiveness in.”

6. Forgiveness demonstrates Christ’s presence

John 13:35 (MSG)

This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples--when they see the love you have for each other."

One of the ways love is expressed is in forgiveness.

7. It shows our own experience of God’s forgiveness.

Corrie Ten Boom said in her book, The Hiding Place, “We never touch the ocean of God’s love so much as when we love our enemies. It is a joy to accept forgiveness, but it is almost a greater joy to give forgiveness.”

We know how we feel when others forgive us, let us share that joy by forgiving others. Then even the angels and heaven can rejoice,

Luke 15:10 (WE)

I tell you, the angels of God will be glad like that when one bad person stops doing wrong things.


Copyright (C) 2002, Timothy B. Kline, Pathways Online
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