Forgive From Your Heart
“In like manner my heavenly Father will also deal with you if you do not forgive each one his brother from your hearts.”—MATTHEW 18:35.
1, 2. (a) How did a well-known sinner show her appreciation for Jesus? (b) What point did Jesus make in response?
SHE was likely a prostitute, not someone you would expect to find in the home of a religious person. If some were shocked to see her there, what she did was more shocking. She approached the man with the highest morals and displayed her appreciation for his works, washing his feet with her tears and drying them with her hair.
2 That man, Jesus, was not repelled by this woman, “known in the city to be a sinner.” But Simon the Pharisee, whose home it was, was concerned that she was a sinner. Jesus responded by telling of two men in debt to a lender. One owed a lot—about two years’ wages for a laborer. The other owed a tenth of that—less than three months’ wages. When neither could repay, the lender “freely forgave them both.” Clearly, the one forgiven more had greater reason to respond in love. After tying in the woman’s kind act, Jesus added the principle: “He who is forgiven little, loves little.” Then he told her: “Your sins are forgiven.”—Luke 7:36-48.
3. What do we need to consider about ourselves?
3 Ask yourself, ‘Had I been that woman or if I were in a similar situation and mercy was shown me, would I then be harshly unforgiving toward others?’ You might answer, ‘Certainly not!’ Still, do you truly believe that you are inclined to forgive? Is that your basic nature? Have you often done so readily, and would others describe you as being forgiving? Let us see why each of us ought to give this our frank, introspective attention.
Forgiveness Needed—And Shown to Us
4. We should admit what fact about ourselves?
4 You are imperfect, as you know all too well. If asked, you would even admit it, perhaps recalling the words found at 1 John 1:8: “If we make the statement: ‘We have no sin,’ we are misleading ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (Romans 3:23; 5:12) With some, sinfulness may have been manifested by gross, shocking sins. But even if you are not knowingly guilty of such, there certainly are many times and ways in which you have fallen short of God’s standards—you sinned. Is that not so?
5. For what should we be grateful to God?
5 Hence, your situation might correspond to the apostle Paul’s description: “Though you were dead in your trespasses and in the uncircumcised state of your flesh, God made you alive together with him [Jesus]. He kindly forgave us all our trespasses.” (Colossians 2:13; Ephesians 2:1-3) Note the phrase “forgave us all our trespasses.” That covers a lot. Each of us has good reason to plead as did David: “For your name’s sake, O Jehovah, you must even forgive my error, for it is considerable.”—Psalm 25:11.
6. What can we be sure of with regard to Jehovah and forgiveness?
6 How can you—or any of us—receive forgiveness? A key is that Jehovah God is inclined to forgive. That is characteristic of his personality. (Exodus 34:6, 7; Psalm 86:5) Understandably, God expects us to turn to him in prayer and ask his pardon, ask that he forgive us. (2 Chronicles 6:21; Psalm 103:3, 10, 14) And he has arranged a legal basis for extending such forgiveness—Jesus’ ransom sacrifice.—Romans 3:24; 1 Peter 1:18, 19; 1 John 4:9, 14.
7. In what way should you want to imitate Jehovah?
7 You should see in God’s willingness to forgive a pattern as to how you ought to treat other humans. Paul focused on this, writing: “Become kind to one another, tenderly compassionate, freely forgiving one another just as God also by Christ freely forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32) There is no doubt that Paul’s point involves our learning from God’s example, for the next verse continues: “Therefore, become imitators of God, as beloved children.” (Ephesians 5:1) Do you see the link? Jehovah God forgave you, so—Paul forcefully reasons—you need to imitate Him and be “tenderly compassionate, freely forgiving” of others. But ask yourself, ‘Am I doing that? If it is not my nature, am I working in that direction, really striving to imitate God in being forgiving?’
We Need to Work at Being Forgiving
8. We should recognize what as to the composition of our congregation?
8 It would be nice to think that in the Christian congregation, there are few occasions when we have to practice the godly course of forgiving. The reality is otherwise. Granted, our Christian brothers and sisters are striving to follow Jesus’ pattern of love. (John 13:35; 15:12, 13; Galatians 6:2) They have long worked, and are still working, to abandon ways of thinking, speaking, and acting common to this wicked world. They truly want to manifest the new personality. (Colossians 3:9, 10) Yet, we cannot ignore the fact that the global congregation, and each local congregation, is composed of imperfect humans. Overall, they are certainly better than they once were, yet they are still imperfect.
9, 10. Why should we not be surprised if problems arise between brothers?
9 In the Bible, God deliberately tells us that we can expect imperfection in the congregation, among our brothers and sisters. Consider, for instance, Paul’s words recorded at Colossians 3:13: “Continue putting up with one another and forgiving one another freely if anyone has a cause for complaint against another. Even as Jehovah freely forgave you, so do you also.”
10 Significantly, the Bible here reminds us of the link between God’s forgiving of us and our duty and need to be forgiving toward others. Why is this a challenge? Because Paul admitted that someone may have “a cause for complaint against another.” He realized that such causes would exist. They must have existed in the first century, even among Christian “holy ones,” who had a ‘hope reserved for them in the heavens.’ (Colossians 1:2, 5) So can we imagine that it would be otherwise today when most true Christians do not have the testimony of the spirit that they are “God’s chosen ones, holy and loved”? (Colossians 3:12) Hence, we should not conclude that something is exceptionally wrong if in our congregation there are causes for complaint—hurt feelings over real or supposed wrongs.
11. To what did the disciple James alert us?
11 The words of Jesus’ half brother James also show that we must expect that we may at least occasionally encounter situations that call on us to forgive our brothers. “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show out of his fine conduct his works with a mildness that belongs to wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and contentiousness in your hearts, do not be bragging and lying against the truth.” (James 3:13, 14) “Bitter jealousy and contentiousness” in the hearts of true Christians? Yes, James’ words clearly suggest that such had surfaced in the first-century congregation and will do so today.
12. What problem arose in the ancient Philippian congregation?
12 A real example involved two anointed Christians who had a fine reputation for exerting themselves side by side with Paul. You may recall reading about Euodia and Syntyche, members of the Philippian congregation. Though not describing the matter in detail, Philippians 4:2, 3 shows that there was some problem between them. Did it begin with a thoughtless, unkind comment, a perceived slight of a relative, or some evidence of competitive jealousy? Whatever its nature, it became so serious that Paul heard about it far away in Rome. Icy silence may have developed between the two spiritual sisters, leading to their keeping each other at a distance at the meetings or making harsh comments about the other to their friends.
13. What likely worked out between Euodia and Syntyche, providing what lesson for us?
13 Does any of that sound familiar, like what occurred between some in your congregation or something that you were involved in? A problem of that sort may even now exist to a degree. What can we do? In the ancient case, Paul urged those two dedicated sisters “to be of the same mind in the Lord.” They may have agreed to discuss the matter, to clear the air, to express a mutual willingness to forgive, and then actually to imitate Jehovah’s forgiving attitude. There is no reason to think other than that Euodia and Syntyche succeeded, and we too can succeed. Such a forgiving attitude can be applied successfully today.
14. Why is it often possible and best simply to let the personal difference pass?
14 What does it really take to forgive when you have a problem with another Christian? Frankly, there is no one simple method, but the Bible offers helpful examples and realistic advice. A key recommendation—though not an easy one to accept and apply—is simply to forget the matter, to let it pass. Often when a problem exists, as it did between Euodia and Syntyche, each person feels that the other is in the wrong or mainly at fault. So in a situation like that, you may well think that the other Christian is primarily to blame or has done the most harm. Nevertheless, can you simply close the book by forgiving? Realize that if, and this may be a big if, the other Christian is primarily or entirely at fault, you are in the prime position to let the matter pass as forgiven and ended.
15, 16. (a) How did Micah describe Jehovah? (b) What does God’s “passing over transgression” mean?
15 Let us not lose sight of God as our example in forgiving. (Ephesians 4:32–5:1) As to His pattern in letting errors pass, the prophet Micah wrote: “Who is a God like you, one pardoning error and passing over transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? He will certainly not hold onto his anger forever, for he is delighting in loving-kindness.”—Micah 7:18.
16 By describing Jehovah as one “passing over transgression,” the Bible is not saying that he is incapable of recalling the wrongs, having some sort of selective amnesia. Consider the cases of Samson and David, both of whom committed serious errors. God was able to remember those sins long afterward; even we know of some of their sins because Jehovah had them recorded in the Bible. Still, our forgiving God showed mercy to those two, setting them before us as examples of faith to imitate.—Hebrews 11:32; 12:1.
17. (a) What approach can help us to pass over the errors, or offenses, of others? (b) If we strive to do that, how will we be imitating Jehovah? (See footnote.)
17 Yes, Jehovah was able to ‘pass over’* transgressions, even as David repeatedly asked him to do. (2 Samuel 12:13; 24:10) Can we imitate God in this, being willing to pass over the slights and offenses that our fellow servants commit as imperfect humans? Imagine yourself on a jet airplane speeding down a runway. Looking out, you see near the runway an acquaintance making the rude gesture of childishly sticking her tongue out. You know that she had been upset and might have you in mind. Or she might not be thinking of you at all. Anyway, as the plane circles to gain altitude, you pass high over the woman, who now seems to be just a speck. In an hour you are hundreds of miles away, and her offending gesture is long since behind you. Similarly, many times it will help us to forgive if we try to be like Jehovah and wisely pass over the offense. (Proverbs 19:11) Will not the slight seem tiny ten years from now or two hundred years into the Millennium? Why not just let it pass?
18. If we seem unable to put an offense behind us, what advice can we apply?
18 On a rare occasion, though, you may have prayed about the matter and tried to forgive, but you feel that you cannot. What then? Jesus urged going to the other party and trying to resolve the difference privately to achieve peace. “If, then, you are bringing your gift to the altar and you there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar, and go away; first make your peace with your brother, and then, when you have come back, offer up your gift.”—Matthew 5:23, 24.
19. What attitude should we have and what attitude should we avoid as we seek peace with our brother?
19 Significantly, Jesus did not say to go to your brother to convince him that you were in the right and that he was in the wrong. Maybe he was. More probably, there was some fault on each side. In any case, the goal should not be to get the other party to concede, to grovel, as it were. If that is how you approach the discussion, failure will be almost certain. Nor should the goal necessarily be to review every detail of the real or imagined offense. When calm discussion in the spirit of Christian love reveals a sad misunderstanding at the core of the problem, you can both try to clear that up. But even if the discussion does not lead to total agreement, is that always necessary? Would it not be better if you at least could agree that you both sincerely want to serve our forgiving God? When you face that reality, it may be easier for each to say from the heart, “I am sorry that in our imperfection we had this difference. Please, let us pass beyond it.”
20. What can we learn from the example of the apostles?
20 Remember that the apostles had their differences, as when some of them aspired to greater honor. (Mark 10:35-39; Luke 9:46; 22:24-26) That caused tension, perhaps hurt feelings, or even deep offense. But they were able to pass over such differences and keep on working together. One of them later wrote: “He that would love life and see good days, let him restrain his tongue from what is bad and his lips from speaking deception, but let him turn away from what is bad and do what is good; let him seek peace and pursue it.”—1 Peter 3:10, 11.
21. Jesus provided what profound advice about forgiving?
21 We earlier noted one phase of a cycle: God forgave many sins that we committed in the past, so we should imitate him and forgive our brothers. (Psalm 103:12; Isaiah 43:25) But there is another phase to this cycle. After providing the model prayer, Jesus said: “If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” Over a year later, he restated the essence, teaching his disciples to pray: “Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves also forgive everyone that is in debt to us.” (Matthew 6:12, 14; Luke 11:4) Then, just days before his death, Jesus added: “When you stand praying, forgive whatever you have against anyone; in order that your Father who is in the heavens may also forgive you your trespasses.”—Mark 11:25.
22, 23. How can our willingness to forgive affect our future?
22 Yes, our prospects for continuing to receive God’s forgiveness are to a large extent contingent on our being willing to forgive our brothers. When a personal problem between Christians arises, ask yourself, ‘Is not gaining God’s forgiveness far more important than my proving that a brother or a sister was wrong on some minor slight, some petty offense, or some reflection of human imperfection?’ You know the answer.
23 What, though, when the matter is more serious than a minor personal offense or problem? And when does Jesus’ counsel recorded at Matthew 18:15-18 apply? Let us next consider these matters.
One scholar says that the Hebrew metaphor used at Micah 7:18 is “taken from the conduct of a traveller who passes on without noticing an object to which he does not wish to give his attention. The idea which it communicates is not, that God is unobservant of sin, or that it is regarded by him as a matter of little or no importance, but that he does not mark it in particular cases with a view to punishment; that he does not punish, but forgive[s].”—Judges 3:26; 1 Samuel 16:8.
Do You Recall?
□ How does Jehovah give us a pattern to follow as to forgiveness?
□ What must we remember about those in the congregation?
□ In most cases, what should we be able to do about slights or offenses?
□ If needed, what can we do to make peace with our brother?
[Picture on page 15]
When a difference with a Christian occurs, try to let it pass; with time the matter will gradually become insignificant