Recently we’ve been looking at the various attributes that make up the concept of living in love, deconstructing what it looks like to demonstrate Christ-like love to others. We previously looked at kindness and patience, and today I’d like to discuss one of the most difficult attributes: forgiveness. In addition to being the foundation for our salvation, Scripture is replete with references commanding us to be a forgiving. In I Corinthians 13:5, it says that love keeps no record of wrongs. In other words, love is forgiving; it does not hold past offenses against another. Ephesians 4:32 tells us to forgive one another, just as Christ forgave us. If we want to live lives that look like Jesus, we must be forgiving people. Why then is it so difficult to do so, and what would it look like if we would truly model Christ’s forgiveness in our own lives?
To ask forgiveness of someone else means we must admit that we are sorry for behaving in the way we did towards them. If we are prideful, we will resent the insinuation that we are in the wrong. Pride often leads to anger, and anger to bitterness. Once we reach this stage, forgiveness can indeed be very hard to achieve. You don’t feel like humbling yourself and the other party now wants nothing to do with you. That’s why it is vital to heed the instruction in Ephesians 4:26 to not let the sun go down on your anger. Don’t let the day end with anger in your heart or it will fester all night, robbing you of sleep and depriving you of joy when you awaken. If you have wronged someone, seek forgiveness immediately. It is uncomfortable to do so, but it is far more difficult later. By remaining conscious of your words and actions, you can begin by asking forgiveness for small things. This will be easier and it will begin to develop the habit of forgiveness in your life. If you feel anger, make sure it doesn’t set up shop in your heart. Dispense of it immediately; nothing soothes anger quicker than forgiving someone of their trespass, even if they deliberately hurt you and refuse to apologize. You have no control over the actions of others, but you have full charge over your own reaction. Choosing to forgive disperses tension and anger, and allows you live a less stressful life.
If we are the ones who have been offended and now seek the forgiveness of someone else, we probably are hurt and retain some resentment against them until they apologize. Sometimes someone forgives us and we accept ever so gently by telling ourselves (or the other person!) that we forgive them, but we’ll never forget. That’s not forgiveness; that’s merely glossing over the problem and allowing it to be a problem in the future. When someone asks our forgiveness, we are to accept it and move on. We can no longer harbor animosity toward them; it is up to us to open our clenched fists and lay our hurt down at the feet of Jesus. He will take it from us, allowing us to move on unencumbered by the burden of malice. Always accept forgiveness from someone; doing so will benefit you both and allow your relationship to grow.
Anger is the opposite of love; therefore you cannot live in love and be angry at the same time. Ask God to take away your anger so you can begin living in love. Don’t be afraid to take the initiative in forgiving someone even if they don’t deserve it. You don’t deserve to be forgiven either, but Christ did it anyway. When someone asks you to forgive them, have the grace to do so. Jesus said we were to repeatedly forgive others (Matthew 18:21-22). Remember Christ placed no limits on His forgiveness, so neither should we. Begin by asking for forgiveness in the small things until you’ve developed the proper habit and spirit. Nothing reflects Christ more vividly than a forgiving heart. Asking for forgiveness demonstrates humility and gentleness. Giving forgiveness shows mercy and consideration. Taken together you can easily see how love is indeed forgiveness. A heart that practices forgiveness is a heart that Jesus can use to change the world. Forgive others as Christ forgave you; confess your shortcomings to those you have hurt. Live in love.