The Christian ‘F Word’
The ‘F word’ (forgiveness) can be used by some people as a means to end all dissent and silence all criticism. It has frequently become a politically correct term that people are afraid to disagree with for fear of being condemned. This is not a Biblical understanding of forgiveness or reconciliation.
- Forgiveness is not a word that should be used to silence all criticism or to deny wronged people justice.
- Forgiveness is not an open door for hurting and abused people to be further injured.
- Forgiveness is not to be a tool for controlling and manipulative narcissists to use against others.
- Forgiveness does not mean we throw our common sense out of the window and let anything happen.
- Forgiveness does not mean we stop feeling wronged or hurt.
What is forgiveness?
The root meaning of ‘forgive‘ is to send away. When people wrong us, they are morally in our debt. In one sense they owe us big time. When we forgive someone, we refuse to collect payment for the wrong that has been done to us. Those who do not forgive are seeking to get even or to make the other person pay for what has been done wrongly. When we forgive we hand the debt people owe us to God that He may deal with that issue. We send it away from us to Him.
A story Jesus told about forgiveness
This involved a king and two servants. The first servant owed an incredibly large debt to the king which it was impossible to pay. The king forgave the servant’s debt by cancelling what was owed. This meant that the servant no longer had to repay. The second servant owed a small amount to the first. The first servant got the second by the throat and demanded payment in full. The second servant begged for more time to pay the debt but the first would have none of that and placed his fellow servant in prison. When the king heard this, he was angry because the servant whom he had forgiven did not show the same degree of forgiveness too. Because of the unwillingness of the first servant to forgive the king reinstated the debt 1(Matthew 18:23-35) 23 Therefore the Kingdom of Heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he had begun to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 But because he couldn’t pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, with his wife, his children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 The servant therefore fell down and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, have patience with me, and I will repay you all!’ 27 The lord of that servant, being moved with compassion, released him and forgave him the debt. 28 “But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him one hundred denarii, and he grabbed him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’ 29 “So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will repay you!’ 30 He would not, but went and cast him into prison until he should pay back that which was due. 31 So when his fellow servants saw what was done, they were exceedingly sorry, and came and told their lord all that was done. 32 Then his lord called him in and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. 33 Shouldn’t you also have had mercy on your fellow servant, even as I had mercy on you?’ 34 His lord was angry, and delivered him to the tormentors until he should pay all that was due to him. 35 So my heavenly Father will also do to you, if you don’t each forgive your brother from your hearts for his misdeeds.”.
Forgiveness will save our lives
As Christians, we have been forgiven a debt we cannot repay by God and therefore we should forgive others who have wronged us. Indeed, if we are unwilling to cancel their debts God will not cancel our debts 2(Matthew 6:14, 15) 14 “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you don’t forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.. Often we still feel the hurt of the wrong done to us. We can also feel angry at the injustice of the injury we have suffered. Forgiveness is not refusing to be hurt or angry rather it is refusing to exact payment for what has hurt us or is making us angry.
Danger, danger, danger!
Many have wrongly applied these Biblical principles to their own hurt and to the unnecessary distress of others.
What should we do with people who have wronged us but they neither acknowledge the sin nor ask for forgiveness?
Remember that confession of sin and repentance is a condition for God forgiving the sins of men. Are we, therefore, being held to a higher expectation than God 3(1 John 1:9) 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us the sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.?
There are several important principles in this situation that we need to live by.
- Firstly, we cannot handle taking vengeance; only God can handle this. That is why He says that vengeance is His and He will repay 4(Romans 12:19) 19 Don’t seek revenge yourselves, beloved, but give place to God’s wrath. For it is written, “Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay, says the Lord.”.
- Also, Jesus has commanded that we pray for our enemies and do good to those who have wronged us 5(Matthew 5:43-48) 44 But I tell you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who mistreat you and persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? 47 If you only greet your friends, what more do you do than others? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? 48 Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect..
- The aim is to bring people to a place where they confess their sin and seek forgiveness. If they refuse we bring others to witness what is going on. If they continue to refuse correction we are to withdraw from them 6(Matthew 18:15-17) 15 “If your brother sins against you, go, show him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained back your brother. 16 But if he doesn’t listen, take one or two more with you, that at the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the assembly. If he refuses to hear the assembly also, let him be to you as a Gentile or a tax collector..
- Nowhere in the Bible does it say that we should deny our pain and sense of injustice. We are not ignoring people’s sin rather we are casting away the debt and looking to God to take this up and do what is right and just in the situation. We may still feel angry and anger is not wrong in itself. It is only wrong when it drives us to do or speak in an ungodly way 7(Ephesians 4:26) 26 “Be angry, and don’t sin.”.
Forgiveness but not necessarily reconciliation
In the case of someone who refuses to acknowledge the wrong they are doing it is highly likely they will continue to seek to repeat this wrong. It is right and proper that we protect ourselves from people who are not trustworthy and would hurt us if they can. This is not us taking vengeance against them or making them pay. We cannot be reconciled to anyone who will not confess their sin and seek forgiveness. Even God is not able to be reconciled to those who continue to wrong Him.
Very foolish advice has been given to people who have been in abusive situations in the name of forgiving. It is not right that they continue to suffer injury and wrong at the hands of those who will not turn from the wrong they are doing. Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. We forgive people who wrong us but can only be reconciled to those who meet the Biblical principles of reconciliation, an acknowledgment of wrong-doing and a willingness to change.
- Has the issue of forgiveness ever been used as a weapon against you?
- Have you ever had to withdraw from someone who was a danger to you physical, emotionally, psychologically or socially?
- How can we be reconciled to others and when is it right to not try?