Jesus had much to say about forgiveness. In Matthew 6:14-15 he stated: "For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins."
This seems pretty straightforward. We must forgive if we want to be forgiven but I think most of us have given this more lip-service than actual application. We feel we have fulfilled the command when we say, "I forgive so and so" even though we continue to think about it and tell others how wronged we have been.
Paul says in Col. 3:13: "Bear with one another and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you."
Whoa!! How has God forgiven me? Well, Ps. 103:12 says: "As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us." And Jer. 31:34 says he won't remember them: "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more. And he tells us to be merciful and to pray for our enemies. Luke 6:36: "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful."
Matthew 5:44: "But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."
In attempting to understand what unforgiveness entails and how to release forgiveness in situations in my life, I came across the book Total Forgiveness by R. T. Kendall which I also wrote about a few days ago. (See blogpost here.) It has been totally messing with my concept of forgiveness! I thought I had forgiven. I had even maybe slipped into a little pride when I thought I no longer held the offense against the offender--pleased with myself that I had forgiven. But R. T. has been causing me to see forgiveness in a whole new light.
In Total Forgiveness, he gives several steps to totally forgive a person. As you read them you may be surprised how much more extensive God's idea of forgiving is than ours is. (I have quoted much and paraphrased some. In the book he also elaborates each point.)
1. Make a deliberate and irrevocable choice not to tell anyone what they did. (He says if you must for therapeutic reasons (confession), you may tell one person who you trust to never reveal the confession.)...This isn't necessarily easy, but when our motive is to hurt another person by telling on them, there is sin on our part.
2. Be pleasant to them should you be around them. Do not say or do anything that would make them anxious. Put them at ease.
3. If conversation ensues, say that which would set them free from guilt. Guilt is most painful and we can easily punish people by sending them on a "guilt trip."...We get some satisfaction when we think they feel really, really bad. That defuses us and eases our anger somewhat. But if we want to be valiant and utterly magnanimous--thus showing true godliness--we will say whatever is the equivalent of Joseph's words: "Do not be angry with yourselves." (Gen.45:5)
4. Let them feel good about themselves. Not only does this mean never reminding them of their wrong and your hurt, but it also means helping them through any guilt they may have.
5. Protect them from their greatest fear. (My interpretation: make it clear from your actions you do not intend to expose any deep dark secrets.)
6. Keep it up today, tomorrow, this year and next. Total forgiveness is a life long commitment...If we say we have no sin--that we are incapable of the same old bitterness--we are deceived (1 John 1:8). . . Read Luke 6:37 everyday, "Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven."
7. Pray for them. Pray that God will forgive them--that is, overlook what they have done and bless and prosper them as though they had never sinned at all. . . As John Calvin said this is "exceedingly difficult." (Especially, when we see God answering the prayer!!)
I obviously have some work to do! Just getting my head around this new way of seeing forgiveness is big, let alone putting it into practice!!
I believe another step that will help in this (in addition to reading Luke 6:37 everyday) is to see the person as Jesus sees them. He prayed in Luke 23:34: "Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing." I believe this is true of all of us. If we really saw the consequences of what we were doing we wouldn't do the hurtful things that seem to come so easily for us. I am commiting to learning this and to choosing to forgive as Jesus did.