“Continue putting up with one another and forgiving one another freely.”—COL. 3:13.
1, 2. Why is it appropriate to consider your willingness to forgive?
JEHOVAH’S written Word enables us to learn how he views sin and how he reacts when we commit sins. His Word also reveals much about forgiveness. In the preceding article, we focused on how the attitudes of David and Manasseh elicited Jehovah’s forgiveness. Their contrite, heartfelt sorrow over what they had done led them to confession, rejection of their wicked acts, and genuine repentance. In turn, Jehovah restored them to his favor.
2 Let us examine forgiveness from a different perspective. How do you think you would have felt toward Manasseh if his innocent victims had included one of your relatives? Would you have been able to forgive Manasseh? That is a pertinent question today because we live in a lawless, violent, and selfish world. So why should a Christian want to cultivate a forgiving attitude? And if you suffer an affront or an injustice, what can help you to keep your emotions under control, react as Jehovah would want you to, and be willing to forgive?
WHY WE NEED TO BE FORGIVING
3-5. (a) What illustration did Jesus use to help his listeners think about the need to be forgiving? (b) What is the point of Jesus’ illustration recorded at Matthew 18:21-35?
3 A willingness to forgive those who offend us—whether they are members of the Christian congregation or not—is essential if we are to maintain peaceful relations with family members, friends, fellow humans, and Jehovah. The Scriptures indicate that a willingness to forgive others regardless of how often they offend us is a Christian requirement. In order to illustrate the reasonableness of this requirement, Jesus used an illustration about a slave who was a debtor.
4 The slave owed his master the equivalent of a laborer’s wages for 60,000,000 days; yet, his master canceled the debt. Thereafter, the slave went out and found a fellow slave who owed him a sum that amounted to only 100 days’ wages. The debtor pleaded for patience, but the slave who had been forgiven a huge debt had his fellow slave thrown into prison. That attitude angered their master. “Ought you not . . . to have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I also had mercy on you?” the master asked. “With that his master, provoked to wrath, delivered [the unforgiving slave] to the jailers, until he should pay back all that was owing.”—Matt. 18:21-34.
5 What point did Jesus make with this illustration? His conclusion was: “In like manner my heavenly Father will also deal with you if you do not forgive each one his brother from your hearts.” (Matt. 18:35) Jesus’ point is clear. The sins we have committed during a lifetime of imperfection give evidence that we are hopelessly unable to meet Jehovah’s standards. Yet, he is willing to forgive us and to wipe the slate clean, as it were. Hence, anyone who desires Jehovah’s friendship is obliged to forgive the shortcomings of his fellow human. Or as Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: “If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; whereas if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”—Matt. 6:14, 15.
6. Why is it not always easy to forgive?
6 ‘That all sounds fine in theory,’ you might say, ‘but it is easier said than done.’ That is because reactions to personal offenses are often emotional. A person may feel anger, a sense of betrayal, the desire for justice or even revenge. In fact, some feel that they will never be able to forgive the offender. If you feel similarly, how can you cultivate the forgiving attitude that Jehovah requires?
ANALYZE YOUR EMOTIONS
7, 8. What can help you to respond in a forgiving way if you have been upset by the unkind conduct of others?
7 Emotional responses to real or supposed offenses can be very strong. Consider the following reaction of one young man, as described in a study on anger: “Once . . . in an angry fit, I walked out of the house vowing I would never return. It was a beautiful summer day, and I walked far along lovely lanes, till gradually the stillness and beauty calmed and soothed me, and after some hours I returned repentant and almost melted.” As this experience illustrates, giving yourself time to calm down and view the situation more dispassionately may help you to avoid responding in an unforgiving way that you may later regret.—Ps. 4:4; Prov. 14:29; Jas. 1:19, 20.
8 What, though, if a negative emotion persists? Try to determine why you are upset. Is it because you have been treated unfairly, perhaps discourteously? Or is it because you feel that the other person deliberately attempted to hurt you? Was his or her action really so bad? Analyzing and understanding the reason for your reaction will allow you to consider what would be the best and Scripturally proper response. (Read Proverbs 15:28; 17:27.) Such reasoning may help you to be more objective and willing to forgive. By adopting such an approach, difficult though it may be, you permit God’s word to examine the “thoughts and intentions of [your] heart” and guide you in imitating Jehovah’s forgiving attitude.—Heb. 4:12.
SHOULD YOU TAKE IT PERSONALLY?
9, 10. (a) How might you react to a perceived offense? (b) How can adopting a positive, forgiving spirit change your outlook on life?
9 Many situations in life provoke negative reactions. While you are driving your automobile, for instance, suppose another car nearly collides with your vehicle. How will you react? You have read about episodes of road rage in which an individual became so angry that he attacked the other driver. As a Christian, however, you certainly would not want to do such a thing.
10 How much better it would be to take a moment to analyze matters. Perhaps you were partly to blame for what took place because you were distracted in some way. Or the other driver may have had a mechanical problem with his car. The point of this scenario is that we can lessen anger, disappointment, and other negative emotions with understanding, open-mindedness, and a willingness to forgive. “Do not hurry yourself in your spirit to become offended,” says Ecclesiastes 7:9, “for the taking of offense is what rests in the bosom of the stupid ones.” Do not take things so personally. On many occasions, what may be thought of as a deliberate personal offense is nothing of the sort; it is just a result of imperfection or a misunderstanding. Try to be open-minded regarding what seem to be unkind acts or words, and be willing to forgive out of love. You will be happier if you succeed.—Read 1 Peter 4:8.
‘MAY YOUR PEACE RETURN TO YOU’
11. The reactions of people to the good news should elicit what response in us as Kingdom proclaimers?
11 How can you maintain self-control if someone is rude to you while you are engaging in field service? When Jesus sent out 70 preachers, he told them to wish peace upon every house they visited. “If a friend of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him,” Jesus said. “But if there is not, it will turn back to you.” (Luke 10:1, 5, 6) We are happy when people respond favorably to our ministry, for then they may benefit from the message we bear. Sometimes, however, the response is anything but peaceable. What then? Jesus said that the peace we wished on the household should remain with us. In any case, we should be able to leave each door with peace in our hearts, regardless of how people treat us. If we were to respond to a provocation by getting upset, we could not maintain our peace.
12. According to Paul’s words at Ephesians 4:31, 32, how should we act?
12 Strive to maintain your peace in all situations, not just in the Christian ministry. Naturally, willingness to forgive others does not mean that you have to approve of their wrong behavior or minimize the damage it does. Forgiving, though, does mean letting go of any resentment for such wrongs and maintaining your own peace. By dwelling on negative thoughts and mulling over how badly they have been treated, some people let the behavior of others rob them of happiness. Do not let such thoughts control you. Remember that you cannot be happy when you harbor resentment. Therefore, be forgiving!—Read Ephesians 4:31, 32.
REACT IN A WAY THAT PLEASES JEHOVAH
13. (a) How does a Christian “heap fiery coals” on his enemy’s head? (b) What may result from a mild response to provocation?
13 There may be times when you feel that you can help someone who has wronged you to appreciate Christian standards. The apostle Paul wrote: “‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by doing this you will heap fiery coals upon his head.’ Do not let yourself be conquered by the evil, but keep conquering the evil with the good.” (Rom. 12:20, 21) By your graciousness in the face of provocation, you may soften even the hardest of attitudes and bring out the good in people. By showing understanding, empathy—even compassion—for the offender, you might be able to help him learn Biblical truths. Whatever the case, a mild response gives the individual an opportunity to reflect on your fine conduct.—1 Pet. 2:12; 3:16.
14. Regardless of how badly a person has treated you, why should you refrain from harboring resentment?
14 Under some circumstances, it would be inappropriate to have fellowship with certain people. This would include those who were once part of the congregation but who sinned, were unrepentant, and were disfellowshipped. If such an individual has hurt you, it might be extremely difficult to forgive him even if he repents, since emotional wounds take time to heal. Under such circumstances, you might keep on asking Jehovah to help you cultivate a forgiving spirit toward the repentant wrongdoer. After all, how can you know what is in the other person’s heart? Jehovah knows. He examines a person’s innermost inclinations and is patient with wrongdoers. (Ps. 7:9; Prov. 17:3) That is why the Scriptures state: “Return evil for evil to no one. Provide fine things in the sight of all men. If possible, as far as it depends upon you, be peaceable with all men. Do not avenge yourselves, beloved, but yield place to the wrath; for it is written: ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says Jehovah.’” (Rom. 12:17-19) Can you rightly condemn another person? No. (Matt. 7:1, 2) But you can be confident that justice lies in God’s hands.
15. What realization regarding offenders should affect our attitude toward them?
15 If you feel that you have been the victim of an injustice and find it difficult to forgive a wrongdoer who has repented, it would be good to realize that the offender too is a victim. He or she also suffers the effects of inherited imperfection. (Rom. 3:23) Jehovah feels compassion toward all imperfect mankind. Therefore, it is appropriate to pray for the offender. It is unlikely that we would continue being angry with someone for whom we are praying. And that we should avoid harboring resentment toward even those who mistreat us is clear from Jesus’ words: “Continue to love your enemies and to pray for those persecuting you.”—Matt. 5:44.
16, 17. How should you respond when Christian elders judge a sinner as repentant, and why?
16 In accord with Jehovah’s will, Christian elders have been entrusted with the responsibility of handling cases of wrongdoing in the congregation. These brothers do not have the full insight that God does, but they aim to make their decision harmonize with the direction given in God’s Word under the guidance of holy spirit. Hence, what they decide in such matters after seeking Jehovah’s help in prayer will reflect his point of view.—Matt. 18:18.
17 Here is where loyalty matters. Will you forgive and confirm your love for those judged to be repentant? (2 Cor. 2:5-8) This may not be easy, especially if you are a victim of the wrongdoing or are related to a victim. However, by placing your trust in Jehovah and his way of dealing with matters through the congregation, you will act wisely. You will demonstrate that you really do forgive freely.—Prov. 3:5, 6.
18. What benefits can you experience because of forgiving freely?
18 Mental-health experts recognize the benefits of being willing to forgive. It releases pent-up and even debilitating emotions that cause ill health, and it fosters healthier and happier relationships. Contrast that with the costs of an unwillingness to forgive—poor health, broken relationships, stress, and difficult communication. By far the most important blessing of being willing to forgive is a good relationship with our heavenly Father, Jehovah.—Read Colossians 3:12-14.