Teaching Values: Forgiveness

by Jeff Asher

According to Webster to "forgive" is to "excuse for a fault or offense; to renounce anger or resentment against, to absolve from payment: pardon, pass over, clear, acquit, absolve, cancel, waive, exculpate." In the Bible the word "forgive" is a compound of two Greek words. The first, APO, is a prefix meaning "off," i.e. away (from something near), in various senses (of place, time, or relation); it usually denotes separation, departure, cessation, completion, reversal, etc. The latter, HEIMI, signifies to send or send forth, in various applications. This is the word often translated "remit" or "remission." It takes its significance from the scapegoat on the Day of Atonement which bore the sins of Israel "away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness…unto a land not inhabited" (Leviticus 16:21-22).

Biblical Principles Concerning Forgiveness

In the first place forgiveness is something that every Christian must practice. We are commanded to do so (Mark 11:25-26; Colossians 3:13). If we lack the capacity to forgive, we will find ourselves far short on the day of judgment (Matthew 6:14-15). It has been correctly observed that "charity" or true religion (I Corinthians 13:1) "begins at home" (cf. I Timothy 5:4). Since forgiveness is certainly an integral part of the practice of Christianity where better to observe and learn the exercise thereof than in the family circle?

Believers must possess an inexhaustible capacity to forgive. The Lord taught this to Peter who asked, "How oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him" (Matthew 18:21). We generally apply Peter's words to other disciples. However, remember that Peter's brother in the flesh, Andrew, was a disciple (Matthew 10:2). Isn't this the case with most of us? Our spouse, our children, our parents and siblings are often "our brethren". Thus, when Jesus said, "Not…until seven times, but until seventy times seven" (Matthew 18:22), He meant your "brother" at home as well.

In order for forgiveness to be truly efficacious it must be complete or total (I John 1:9). This is the basis of our confidence in Christ, "the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth us from all sin." God pardons us and forgets it. He buries it in the depths of the sea and removes it from us as far as east is from west (Micah 7:19; Psalm 103:12). Concerning our relations with others the wise man said, "He that covereth a transgression seeketh love; but he that repeateth a matter separateth very friends" (Proverbs 17:9). The ASV supplies "harpeth on" instead of "repeateth". Signifying that it is not so much the revealing of a secret or personal matter (cf. Matthew 18:15; Proverbs 25:9-10), but the continual bringing up of an old injury or wrong suffered. This is what Paul had in mind when he used the word translated "implacable" and "trucebreakers" (Romans 1:31; II Timothy 3:3). The truly forgiving man has a very poor memory when it comes to the sins he has forgiven.

Therefore, to be the kind of person with which the Lord is pleased we must be "ready" or "willing" to forgive. This is God's disposition toward us (Psalms 86:5). It was clearly demonstrated by the Lord, even as He was hanged at Calvary (Luke 23:34). With respect to the treatment we show those who harm and hurt us we must do good, show mercy and forgive, and that, abundantly (Luke 6:36-38).

In order for forgiveness to be truly effectual it must be of such a nature that our love for the offender is re-affirmed and his contrite heart is comforted (II Corinthians 2:7-10). The process of forgiveness begins in rebuke that results in repentance (Luke 17:3-4) but it is not complete until there is a restoration, renewal and rekindling of affection. Jesus restored Peter (John 21:15-19), and He urged us to follow His example in order to "gain your brother" (Matthew 18:15-17).

A Biblical Example of Forgiveness

Perhaps, the greatest example of a forgiving man, after Jesus, is Joseph. His story demonstrates that the ability to forgive is something every man must acquire if he is to be a truly happy individual and successful in his family relations. I can think of no man who suffered more evil at the hands of his own flesh and blood than did he. His brothers were jealous of him because of his righteous character and the favor he enjoyed with his father, Jacob, and the Father, God. Their jealousy caused them to hate him and, eventually, to seek his murder. Their wickedness was thwarted by the Providence of God, but still he was sold into slavery, imprisoned and forsaken by his family on account of their lies to conceal their deeds (Genesis 37-50).

Joseph, because he was a man who embodied the principles of forgiveness, did not grow bitter and resentful against his brethren. Rather, when they were reunited his love for them was strong and his desire to help them undiminished. In dealing with them covertly he took great pains to discover their character and learn their intentions. Once it was apparent to him that they were remorseful for their wickedness and transformed by repentance, he made himself known to them and announced his intent to bless them everyone.

What a remarkable man Joseph was. Lesser men would have seized the moment for revenge, doing so they would have destroyed themselves and their family. Yet, Joseph because he could forgive literally saved the lives of his brothers and their families laying the foundation for a great nation. But, beyond this, he was instrumental in restoring his brothers to God's service saving their souls and those of untold others.

A Parable on Family & Forgiveness

Jesus often likened the kingdom to a family (Matthew 12:46-50). He chose this figure in order to illustrate the close and tender feelings that ought to exist between its citizens, as well as, the incredible love the Father in heaven has for all of us. One of the most impressive of the kingdom parables on forgiving is based on the family figure (Luke 15:11-32).

In the parable there are three principle characters: the father, an older son and a younger son. You remember that the younger son demanded his share of the inheritance and upon receiving it ran away and wasted it in a far country. Meanwhile the elder son stayed home and worked the farm.

When the younger son came to his senses he went home, ready to confess his wrongs and be treated as a servant in his father's house. However, while he was a great way off his father seeing him ran out to meet him and with warm embrace restored the son to his rightful place in the family circle.

The elder brother was resentful and jealous of the attention that this prodigal received, pouting he refused to join the joyous festivities. In answer to the complaints against the younger brother (all of which were true), the father said, "It was right that we should make merry and be glad."

You see this father knew, as did Joseph, that in order to find joy and happiness in life every family must practice forgiveness or else be doomed to live estranged from those that are dearest to us in this world and from Him who taught us to forgive, in the world to come. Let us learn to forgive.