Why You Ought to Be Forgiving
Can you be forgiving? What are the benefits?
TO BE forgiving is not always easy. Often because of the cruelty of other people, or their carelessness, or poor judgment, much pain, injury or embarrassment must be endured. One could quite easily harbor resentment and feel justified in doing so, but the Bible recommends that we be forgiving. Why?
There are many reasons. One very important reason is that we are in need of God’s forgiveness. The Bible tells us that we “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” that we are constantly in need of his forgiveness. (Rom. 3:23; 6:23) “If errors were what you watch, O Jah, O Jehovah, who could stand?” asks the psalmist. But he adds: “There is the true forgiveness with you.”—Ps. 130:3, 4; 19:12; 32:1.
GETTING GOD’S FORGIVENESS
To be in line to receive that forgiveness we must forgive others. Thus Jesus Christ, the Son of God, in the model prayer that he gave to his followers, made God’s forgiveness of us dependent upon our having forgiven others. Yes, note that Jesus did not say we were to pray that God forgive us our debts as we intended to forgive others but “as we also have forgiven our debtors.”—Matt. 6:12.
Jesus well knew that as imperfect, forgetful humans we are only too ready to promise that we will forgive others so as to get forgiveness ourselves. But then we may forget or refuse to forgive others because it is not always an easy thing to do. Jesus made the same point in his Sermon on the Mount when he said: “Happy are the merciful,” those practicing mercy, “since they will be shown mercy”—by God, of course, and often also by man.—Matt. 5:7; Eph. 4:1, 2, 32; Col. 3:12, 13.
And what a wretched position we would be in if our heavenly Father refused to extend mercy to us! Yet God gave his own Son as a sacrifice so that He could, in keeping with his justice, forgive repentant sinners who exercise faith, even as we read: “By means of him we have the release by ransom through the blood of that one, yes, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his undeserved kindness.” (Eph. 1:7) But he extends that forgiveness to us only if we freely forgive others for their trespasses against us.
Jesus underscored the discrepancy between our indebtedness to God and another person’s indebtedness to us in an illustration. This he gave right after he told the apostle Peter that he must forgive, not only up to seven times, but, “Up to seventy-seven times.”—Matt. 18:21, 22.
In this parable or illustration he told of a king who forgave or canceled the $10 million debt of one of his slaves. But that slave was unwilling even to grant time for a fellow slave who owed him only $17 to make repayment! In fact, he had him thrown into jail! Upon hearing of this, the king canceled the mercy extended to the unforgiving slave and ordered him to be thrown into prison until he had paid all that he owed. Pointing out the moral, Jesus then said: “In like manner my heavenly Father will also deal with you if you do not forgive each one his brother from your hearts.”—Matt. 18:23-35.
Thus Jesus in his parable underscored not only the need of our forgiving others but also the great difference between what others owe us and what we owe God. Yes, what others may be said to owe us by reason of their trespassing against us, compared with what we owe God by reason of trespassing against his laws, might be likened to the difference between $17 and $10 million. If God can be that forgiving, should this, then, not prompt us to be even more forgiving than we have been?
A PRACTICAL REASON FOR FORGIVENESS
Another reason why the Bible recommends that we be forgiving is that we love ourselves. As the apostle Paul so well stated it: “No man ever hated his own flesh; but he feeds and cherishes it,” which care is an expression of man’s love for himself.—Eph. 5:29; Matt. 22:39.
Since we do love ourselves, we would not want to burden ourselves needlessly, would we? Yet that is what we are doing when we nurse grudges and refuse to be forgiving, for as one person wrote: “A grudge is too heavy a load for any man to carry.”
Wisely God’s Word counsels us: “Let the sun not set with you in a provoked state.” (Eph. 4:26) A deliberate effort should be made to write off the wrong and restore the fractured relationship as soon as possible, the very day the rupture takes place, if possible.
FORGIVENESS VITAL IN MARRIAGE
Especially in marriage is it wise to be forgiving. Putting off forgiveness or refusing to forgive can lead to separation and divorce, often followed by feelings of guilt and loneliness. Pride may make a wife or a husband insist on a divorce or a separation, but one’s pride makes very poor company.
A renowned writer recently said that he was prepared to report on what it is like to be divorced after fourteen years of marriage. “It’s the bunk!” he says. “The disadvantages of being without marital ties, particularly in middle life, far outweigh the delights. You learn for the first time how loud silence can be in the stilly clamor of an empty home. The loneliness and silence close in when the rattle of one’s key in the front door initiates no answering sound. It is in this moment that one learns that the bark of a dog, the meow of a cat or the chirrup of a bird is no substitute for a human voice. . . . Friends do not close the awful gap that was once filled by someone called wife or husband. It just isn’t the same.” Putting forgiveness ahead of pride might have saved this marriage.
An actress, divorced and living by herself in London, had achieved the pinnacle of financial success. She was “free.” But she said: “It’s when I come home after the theater and close the door, and know that not a soul really cares what I am doing or what is happening to me, physically or spiritually, that I understand the snare of this so-called freedom.” Is it possible that putting forgiveness ahead of pride would have saved that marriage?
IGNORANCE A FACTOR
Often offenses against us are due to ignorance, which may, in turn, be due to the environment of an individual and his rearing. If we take this into consideration it will help us to be forgiving.
A true-life experience well illustrates this point. A waitress was having problems with a cook who seemed to scream and curse at every little happening. The cook’s crude behavior was extremely trying, although she was completely oblivious to this fact. Her upbringing had never taught her to behave differently. One day the waitress spilled a dish of peas and the cook embarrassed her before all the customers. What should she do? Quit? The waitress appealed to one of Jehovah’s witnesses who was studying the Bible with her, for Scriptural guidance. She was told to speak to the cook, in the spirit of Matthew 18:15, and to be loving and forgiving.
The following week when the Witness went to conduct her Bible study she was also anxious to learn the results the waitress had with her cook. “Anne, the Bible way really works!” is the greeting she was given at the door. “Ever since I talked to you about how to handle my problem the cook has been just wonderful to me. She is the best friend I have over there. She invites me out to the kitchen for a piece of pie with her and goes out of her way to be nice to me, giving my orders special attention. I’m so glad I listened to you and didn’t yell back at her.” The cook appreciated the forgiving nature and the loving approach of the waitress.
At times ignorance leads people to commit very wicked deeds. The element of ignorance entered in to the murder of Jesus Christ. So the apostle Peter, seeing opportunity for a change in those people, said to his Jewish listeners: “I know that you acted in ignorance, just as your rulers also did.” (Acts 3:17) He called on them to repent and receive forgiveness for their sins. Many of these did. And as many as did so became brothers and sisters in the Christian congregation, in fact, the spiritual brothers of Christ!
EMPATHY AND LOVE THE KEYS
Empathy and love are qualities that will help us to be more forgiving toward those who transgress against us. Empathy is that quality by which we are able to enter into the thinking and feelings of others, placing ourselves in their shoes as it were.
When we put ourselves in the other person’s place, it helps us to be forgiving. It enables us to see more clearly how to apply the principle stated by Jesus: “Just as you want men to do to you, do the same way to them.” (Luke 6:31) Would we want others to bear a grudge against us because of some misdeed on our part? Of course not. We want others to forgive us, and we appreciate their doing so.
Unselfish, principled love helps one to see clearly the wisdom of forgiveness. In the first place it prompts us to forgive another, and then the forgiving may result in love for us by the one forgiven. As a wise king long ago said: “The one covering over transgression is seeking love.” (Prov. 17:9) Solomon was here referring to those lesser transgressions that persons, from day to day, tend to commit against one another.
The relationship between love and forgiveness is also called to our attention by the apostles Peter and Paul. In counseling his fellow Christians, Peter wrote: “Above all things, have intense love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.” Paul wrote: “Clothe yourselves with love.” “Even as Jehovah freely forgave you, so do you also.” (1 Pet. 4:8; Col. 3:12-14) To the extent that there is love, a husband or wife will forgive the other those mistakes for which Jehovah freely forgives us; a friend will forgive his erring companion and the Christian minister will forgive those who treat him rudely.
Why is love forgiving? Why does love “not keep account of the injury”? Because, as Paul shows in his description of love, “love is long-suffering and kind. Love is not jealous, . . . does not look for its own interests, . . . hopes all things, endures all things.” Surely all these facets of love explain why love is forgiving!—1 Cor. 13:4-7.
However, let it be noted that forgiveness is a mercy. It cannot be demanded by the erring one as a right, even as humankind cannot demand mercy from God.
“FROM YOUR HEARTS” AND “FREELY”
Our forgiving of others is not to be a mere perfunctory, superficial forgiveness. Since forgiving is prompted by love, it must be sincere, genuine, heartfelt. Discerningly Jesus stressed that forgiving must be “from your hearts.” (Matt. 18:35) Similarly, the apostle Paul underscored that forgiving was to be done, not reluctantly, not begrudgingly, but “freely.” He urges us to be “forgiving one another freely.”—Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:13.
In fact, our forgiving of others is to be done cheerfully, for we are told that “he that shows mercy,” which means to be forgiving, “let him do it with cheerfulness.” (Rom. 12:8) Even as “God loves a cheerful giver,” so the one who is forgiven appreciates it when the forgiving is done with cheerfulness.—2 Cor. 9:7.
Truly there are compelling reasons why you should be forgiving. While the one in the wrong cannot demand forgiveness as a right, he can humbly plead for forgiveness even as we plead with God to forgive us. And while it is not always easy to forgive, it is the wise thing to do. It makes for peace of mind and good health, both for the forgiver and the one forgiven. It is the loving thing to do, making for happiness and prompting a loving response. And, above all, remember that your good relations with your Maker, Jehovah God, depend upon your forgiving others!
‘Two men were debtors to a certain lender; the one owed ten times as much as the other. When they did not have anything with which to pay back, he freely forgave them both. So, which of them will love him the more?’ Jesus asked. The reply: ‘The one to whom he freely forgave the more.’—(Luke 7:41-43)
[Picture on page 389]
Is an unforgiving attitude going to make for a happy home?