In Global Harvest Church, Maryland, Lagos, we have been on a journey this month, learning ‘The pursuit of peace’ as commanded in Hebrews 12:14. This pursuit requires a conscious and careful watchfulness over our hearts to avoid any ‘Root of bitterness’. When the root of bitterness is allowed, it bears fruits of resentment, hatred, malice, immorality, separation and divorce, jealousy and envy, violence and murder. The pursuit of peace is a journey in the opposite direction and it begins with Forgiveness. Where there is real and total forgiveness, bitterness cannot develop roots into the soil of our hearts.
What then is forgiveness? The word conjures different ideas in different minds but as always, the Bible remains our reference point. Firstly, Forgiveness is not forgetting. The choice of God not to refer to our wrongs anymore and erase its record against us does not mean a loss of memory by the Almighty God. I’m Matthew 18: 21 – 35 (TPT), we see the story of a servant who owed his master a billion dollars and couldn’t pay. His master out of compassion forgave the debt. Unfortunately, his fellow servant owed him twenty thousand dollars and he wouldn’t forgive him but got him arrested and locked up. This led to a repudiation of the forgiveness of a billion dollar debt by his master when he heard of the servant’s wickedness against a fellow servant. He forgave earlier but did not forget. Forgiveness is not forgetting but rather a choice not to be negatively affected by the circumstances anymore.
Forgiveness is not giving the offender perpetual room to hurt. This error has led to endless abuses and at times the loss of life. Thinking forgiveness means staying in a toxic relationship, many women and some men too have lost their lives to abusive spouses. Toxic friendships and controlling relationships are equally not worthy of our permission for perpetuation. You can forgive people who look down, talk down and despise you without allowing them to continue hurting you. You can forgive and still confront, forgive and distant, forgive and protect, forgive and defend yourself. God does not want us bearing grudges but however expects that we make all efforts to reconcile. Reconciliation is not possible with perpetuation of wrong. It will only lead to increased resentment and bitterness.
Forgiveness is not fairness and justice. Those who always fight for their rights will never rise above human ability. Justice demands retribution. Having been betrayed and sold to slavery by his brothers, justice should have demanded the imprisonment or death of Joseph’s brothers. Rather than that, Joseph provided food, shelter and generational security to his siblings. In what is a great semblance of the New covenant work of Grace, they received mercy they did not deserve and abundant favour they did not merit. Forgiveness is an act of God’s grace and does not wait for the penitence of the offender. The Lord Jesus asked the father to forgive those murderers who crucified Him. If the Lord had sought justice, salvation would never have been theirs. So also did Stephen offer forgiveness to those who stoned him to death. This was a death to which Saul of Tarsus consented to. Saul’s offence against Stephen if not forgiven, could have led to his eternal damnation and not his growing spiritually to become a great Apostle.
Biblical forgiveness is giving others the same grace of forgiveness that Christ gave us through His finished work of Grace. It is choosing to let go of the right to vengeance by faith, trusting the grace of God to take us beyond the pains of offence. It’s a choice to move beyond the past to embrace a new future. It is a declaration in faith in spite of contrary feelings that we forgive. It is backing the declaration with prayer and acts of kindness.