‘Continue Forgiving One Another Freely’
“Continue putting up with one another and forgiving one another freely.”—COLOSSIANS 3:13.
1. (a) When Peter suggested that we forgive others “up to seven times,” why may he have thought that he was being generous? (b) What did Jesus mean when he said that we should forgive “up to seventy-seven times”?
“LORD, how many times is my brother to sin against me and am I to forgive him? Up to seven times?” (Matthew 18:21) Peter may have thought he was being very generous with his suggestion. At the time, rabbinic tradition said that one should not extend forgiveness more than three times for the same offense.* Imagine Peter’s surprise, then, when Jesus replied: “I say to you, not, Up to seven times, but, Up to seventy-seven times”! (Matthew 18:22) The repetition of seven was equivalent to saying “indefinitely.” In Jesus’ view, there is virtually no limit to the number of times a Christian should forgive others.
2, 3. (a) What are some situations in which it may seem difficult to forgive others? (b) Why can we be confident that it is in our best interests to forgive others?
2 Applying that counsel, however, is not always easy. Who of us has not felt the sting of unfair injury? Perhaps someone you trusted betrayed a confidence. (Proverbs 11:13) The thoughtless remarks of a close friend may have ‘stabbed you like a sword.’ (Proverbs 12:18) Abusive treatment from someone you loved or trusted may have caused deep wounds. When such things happen, our natural reaction may be to feel angry. We may be inclined to stop speaking to the offender, avoiding him altogether if possible. Forgiving him, it may seem, would allow him to get away with hurting us. Yet, by nurturing resentment, we end up hurting ourselves.
3 Jesus therefore teaches us to forgive—“up to seventy-seven times.” Surely his teachings would never work to our harm. Everything he taught originated with Jehovah, ‘the One teaching us to benefit ourselves.’ (Isaiah 48:17; John 7:16, 17) Logically, it must be in our best interests to forgive others. Before we discuss why we should forgive and how we can do so, it might be helpful first to clarify what forgiveness is and what it is not. Our concept of forgiveness may have some bearing on our ability to forgive when we are offended by others.
4. What does forgiving others not mean, but how is forgiveness defined?
4 Forgiving others for personal offenses does not mean that we are condoning or minimizing what they have done; neither does it mean letting others take unfair advantage of us. After all, when Jehovah forgives us, he is certainly not trivializing our sins, and he will never allow sinful humans to trample upon his mercy. (Hebrews 10:29) According to Insight on the Scriptures, forgiveness is defined as “the act of pardoning an offender; ceasing to feel resentment toward him because of his offense and giving up all claim to recompense.” (Volume 1, page 861)* The Bible provides us with sound reasons for forgiving others.
Why Forgive Others?
5. What important reason to forgive others is indicated at Ephesians 5:1?
5 An important reason to forgive others is indicated at Ephesians 5:1: “Therefore, become imitators of God, as beloved children.” In what respect should we “become imitators of God”? The word “therefore” connects the expression with the preceding verse, which says: “Become kind to one another, tenderly compassionate, freely forgiving one another just as God also by Christ freely forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32) Yes, when it comes to forgiveness, we should become imitators of God. As a little boy tries to be just like his father, we, as children whom Jehovah dearly loves, should want to become like our forgiving heavenly Father. How it must delight Jehovah’s heart to look down from the heavens and see his earthly children trying to be like him by forgiving one another!—Luke 6:35, 36; compare Matthew 5:44-48.
6. In what way is there a vast difference between Jehovah’s forgiveness and ours?
6 Granted, we can never forgive in a perfect sense as Jehovah does. But that is all the more reason why we should forgive one another. Consider: There is a vast difference between Jehovah’s forgiveness and ours. (Isaiah 55:7-9) When we forgive those who have sinned against us, it is often with the awareness that sooner or later we may need them to return the favor by forgiving us. With humans, it is always a case of sinners forgiving sinners. With Jehovah, however, forgiveness is always one way. He forgives us, but we will never need to forgive him. If Jehovah, who does not sin, can so lovingly and completely forgive us, should not we sinful humans try to forgive one another?—Matthew 6:12.
7. If we refuse to forgive others when there is a basis for mercy, how can it adversely affect our own relationship with Jehovah?
7 Even more important, if we refuse to forgive others when there is a basis for mercy, it can adversely affect our own relationship with God. Jehovah does not just ask us to forgive one another; he expects us to do so. According to the Scriptures, part of the motivation for us to be forgiving is in order that Jehovah might forgive us or because he has forgiven us. (Matthew 6:14; Mark 11:25; Ephesians 4:32; 1 John 4:11) If, then, we are unwilling to forgive others when there is sound reason to do so, can we really expect such forgiveness from Jehovah?—Matthew 18:21-35.
8. Why does being forgiving work in our best interests?
8 Jehovah teaches his people “the good way in which they should walk.” (1 Kings 8:36) When he instructs us to forgive one another, we can be confident that he has our best interests at heart. With good reason the Bible tells us to “yield place to the wrath.” (Romans 12:19) Resentment is a heavy burden to carry in life. When we harbor it, it consumes our thoughts, robs us of peace, and stifles our joy. Prolonged anger, like jealousy, can have a detrimental effect on our physical health. (Proverbs 14:30) And through all of this, the offender may go his way oblivious to our turmoil! Our loving Creator knows that we need openly to forgive others not only for their benefit but also for our own. The Biblical counsel to forgive is, indeed, ‘the good way to walk.’
“Continue Putting Up With One Another”
9, 10. (a) What type of situations do not necessarily require formal forgiveness? (b) What is suggested by the expression “continue putting up with one another”?
9 Physical injuries may range from minor cuts to deep wounds, and not all require the same degree of attention. It is similar with injured feelings—some wounds are deeper than others. Do we really need to make an issue over every minor bruise we suffer in our relationships with others? Minor irritations, slights, and annoyances are a part of life and do not necessarily require formal forgiveness. If we are known as someone who shuns others for every petty disappointment and who then insists that they apologize before we will treat them in a civil way again, we may force them to tread softly around us—or to keep a safe distance!
10 Instead, it is far better to “have a reputation for being reasonable.” (Philippians 4:5, Phillips) As imperfect creatures serving shoulder to shoulder, we can reasonably expect that from time to time our brothers may rub us the wrong way, so to speak, and we may do the same to them. Colossians 3:13 advises us: “Continue putting up with one another.” That expression suggests being patient with others, tolerating the things we dislike in them or the traits we may find irritating. Such patience and forbearance can help us to cope with the minor scrapes and scratches we sustain in our dealings with others—without disrupting the peace of the congregation.—1 Corinthians 16:14.
When the Wounds Are Deeper
11. When others sin against us, what can help us to forgive them?
11 However, what if others sin against us, causing a noticeable wound? If the sin is not too serious, we may have little difficulty applying the Bible’s counsel to ‘forgive one another freely.’ (Ephesians 4:32) Such a readiness to forgive is in harmony with Peter’s inspired words: “Above all things, have intense love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8) Keeping in mind that we too are sinners enables us to make allowances for the trespasses of others. When we thus forgive, we let go of the resentment rather than nurture it. As a result, our relationship with the offender may not suffer any lasting harm, and we also help to preserve the precious peace of the congregation. (Romans 14:19) In time, the memory of what he did may well fade away.
12. (a) What initiative may we need to take in order to forgive someone who has deeply hurt us? (b) How do the words at Ephesians 4:26 indicate that we should settle matters quickly?
12 What, though, if someone sins against us in a more serious way, deeply injuring us? For example, a trusted friend may have divulged some extremely personal matters that you confided in him. You feel deeply hurt, embarrassed, and betrayed. You have tried to dismiss it, but the matter will not go away. In such a case, you may need to take some initiative to settle the problem, perhaps by speaking to the offender. It is wise to do this before the matter has a chance to fester. Paul exhorted us: “Be wrathful, and yet do not sin [that is, by harboring or acting on our anger]; let the sun not set with you in a provoked state.” (Ephesians 4:26) Adding meaning to Paul’s words is the fact that among the Jews, sundown marked the close of one day and the start of a new one. Hence, the advice is: Settle the matter quickly!—Matthew 5:23, 24.
13. When we approach someone who has offended us, what should be our objective, and what suggestions can help us to reach it?
13 How should you approach the offender? “Seek peace and pursue it,” says 1 Peter 3:11. Your objective, then, is not to express anger but to make peace with your brother. To that end, it is best to avoid harsh words and gestures; these may elicit a similar response from the other person. (Proverbs 15:18; 29:11) In addition, avoid exaggerated statements like, “You always . . . !” or, “You never . . . !” Such exaggerated comments may only cause him to become defensive. Instead, let your tone of voice and facial expression convey that you want to resolve a matter that has deeply hurt you. Be specific in explaining how you feel about what happened. Give the other person a chance to explain his actions. Listen to what he has to say. (James 1:19) What good will that do? Proverbs 19:11 explains: “The insight of a man certainly slows down his anger, and it is beauty on his part to pass over transgression.” Understanding the other person’s feelings and the reasons for his actions may dispel negative thoughts and feelings toward him. When we approach the situation with the goal of making peace and maintain that attitude, very likely any misunderstanding can be cleared up, appropriate apologies made, and forgiveness extended.
14. When we forgive others, in what sense should we forget?
14 Does forgiving others mean that we must actually forget what happened? Recall Jehovah’s own example in this regard, as discussed in the preceding article. When the Bible says that Jehovah forgets our sins, this does not mean that he is unable to recall them. (Isaiah 43:25) Rather, he forgets in the sense that once he forgives, he does not hold those sins against us at some future time. (Ezekiel 33:14-16) Similarly, forgiving fellow humans does not necessarily mean that we will be unable to recall what they did. However, we can forget in the sense that we do not hold it against the offender or bring it up again in the future. With the matter thus settled, it would not be appropriate to gossip about it; neither would it be loving to avoid the offender completely, treating him as though he were disfellowshipped. (Proverbs 17:9) True, it may take some time for our relationship with him to heal; we may not enjoy the same closeness as before. But we still love him as our Christian brother and do our best to maintain peaceful relations.—Compare Luke 17:3.
When It Seems Impossible to Forgive
15, 16. (a) Are Christians required to forgive a wrongdoer who is not repentant? (b) How can we apply the Bible’s advice found at Psalm 37:8?
15 What, though, if others sin against us in a way that inflicts the deepest of wounds, and yet there is no acknowledgment of the sin, no repentance, and no apology on the part of the offender? (Proverbs 28:13) The Scriptures clearly indicate that Jehovah does not forgive unrepentant, hardened sinners. (Hebrews 6:4-6; 10:26, 27) What about us? Insight on the Scriptures says: “Christians are not required to forgive those who practice malicious, willful sin with no repentance. Such become God’s enemies.” (Volume 1, page 862) No Christian who has been a victim of extremely unjust, detestable, or heinous treatment should feel forced to forgive, or pardon, a wrongdoer who is not repentant.—Psalm 139:21, 22.
16 Understandably, those who have been victims of cruel mistreatment may feel hurt and angry. However, recall that holding on to anger and resentment can be very harmful to us. Waiting for an admission or apology that never comes, we may only get more and more upset. Being obsessed with the injustice may keep the anger seething within us, with devastating effects on our spiritual, emotional, and physical health. In effect, we allow the one who hurt us to continue hurting us. Wisely, the Bible advises: “Let anger alone and leave rage.” (Psalm 37:8) Some Christians, therefore, have found that in time they were able to make a decision to forgive in the sense of ceasing to harbor resentment—not excusing what happened to them, but refusing to be consumed with anger. Leaving the matter squarely in the hands of the God of justice, they experienced much relief and were able to get on with their lives.—Psalm 37:28.
17. What comforting assurance does Jehovah’s promise recorded at Revelation 21:4 provide?
17 When a wound is very deep, we may not succeed in completely erasing it from our mind, at least not in this system of things. But Jehovah promises a new world in which “he will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4) Whatever we may remember at that time will not cause us the deep hurt, or pain, that may now burden our hearts.—Isaiah 65:17, 18.
18. (a) Why is there a need to be forgiving in our dealings with our brothers and sisters? (b) When others sin against us, in what sense can we forgive and forget? (c) How does this benefit us?
18 Meanwhile, we must live and work together as brothers and sisters who are imperfect, sinful humans. We all make mistakes. From time to time, we disappoint one another and even hurt one another. Well did Jesus know that we would need to forgive others, “not, Up to seven times, but, Up to seventy-seven times”! (Matthew 18:22) True, we cannot forgive as completely as Jehovah does. Yet, in most cases when our brothers sin against us, we can forgive in the sense of overcoming resentment and we can forget in the sense of not holding the matter against them indefinitely into the future. When we thus forgive and forget, we help to preserve not only the peace of the congregation but also our own peace of mind and heart. Above all, we will enjoy the peace that only our loving God, Jehovah, can provide.—Philippians 4:7.
According to the Babylonian Talmud, one rabbinic tradition stated: “If a man commits a transgression, the first, second and third time he is forgiven, the fourth time he is not forgiven.” (Yoma 86b) This was partly based on a wrong understanding of such texts as Amos 1:3; 2:6; and Job 33:29.
Published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
Questions for Review
□ Why should we be willing to forgive others?
□ What type of situations call for us to “continue putting up with one another”?
□ When we have been deeply hurt by the sins of others, what can we do to settle the matter peacefully?
□ When we forgive others, in what sense should we forget?
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When we harbor resentment, the offender may be oblivious to our turmoil
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When you approach others to make peace, misunderstandings may easily be cleared up