By Roland W. Keith
Have you ever had a hard time of letting go of something negative someone said about you, or did to you? Holding a grudge seems to be a natural reaction to being wronged (or in some cases simply having the perception we were wronged). What is the benefit of bearing a grudge? Its aggravating, time-consuming, distracting, and the longer we let it fester the worse it gets. Like a virus that left untreated will spread through the body, anger and grudge-bearing left unchecked will spread through our hearts and minds until it has control of our thoughts and actions. In both fiction and real-life we can find stories of how anger that is allowed to run out of control can affect an individual and then spread to others. Everybody knows the story of the Montagues and Capulets (as in Romeo and Juliet). Or, for real-life drama, how about the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s? As these stories illustrate allowing anger to control us only leads to divisiveness, hatred, and disaster.
It is possible to be justified in our anger, but even then we must keep it under good regulation. As Paul wrote, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” (Ephesians 4:26-27). One of the best ways to maintain control over anger is learning how to exercise the virtue of forgiveness. Forgiving doesn’t mean we can forget what made us angry, it means we don’t hold the other person to account, we let it go, we don’t exact some form of personal punishment or revenge for what was done. It is a good thing to learn and do, for if we refuse to forgive others we cannot expect forgiveness for our wrongs either. As Jesus taught, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15).
It is a good thing for us to remember that while only some of us are saints (by virtue of Jesus’ blood), we are all sinners. As Paul told the Romans, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). That means that without forgiveness we are all in a rather precarious position, for as Paul also informed the Romans, “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Thankfully, if we will turn back and repent of our sins (Acts 3:19), we will receive “the free gift of God [which] is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
God’s willingness to forgive is not only something for us to seek and be thankful for, it is something we should also emulate in our interactions with others (sometimes even ourselves). Because of the covenant God has made with man, if a lost sinner is willing to repent of his sins God will forgive him, as Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Afterwards, as His children we can continue to find forgiveness when we fail, as noted by John: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9).
Knowing that we can find redemption even with all our shortcomings should be a great joy (and relief) for all of us. It should also compel us to develop a forgiving spirit within ourselves. Consider the example that Jesus set as He hung in pain on the cross. Luke recorded Jesus prayer: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). How easy would it be for one of us to forgive another guilty of wrongfully taking our life, as they did it? This would be, I think for most of us, a hard thing to do. However, Stephen did emulate his Master as he was being stoned (Acts 7:59-60). Both the examples of Jesus and Stephen teach just how far we are to go in forgiving others. Moreover, these are not just accounts to marvel at, but exemplars to live by. Peter wrote: “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His steps” (I Peter 2:21).
How can we cultivate a forgiving mindset? One way is by studying the Bible and all its examples and teachings regarding forgiveness. Then we must determine to make only necessary judgments according to the word, and its directions for our lives. Then we must follow the words of Jesus, Who said: “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you” (Luke 6:36). The measure we use will be used for or against us. Do you want your actions judged fairly? To be treated with due respect? To have your life’s achievements and failures accounted honestly? If that is what we want for ourselves, it is what we must do for others (Matthew 7:12).
James taught that we must be willing to confess our sins to one another, and to pray for each other (James 5:16). It is not always easy to do either of these things. Therefore, to achieve a forgiving heart we must develop certain attitudes and attributes, such as Paul listed for the Colossians: “Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Colossians 3:12-13). We can add to this these additional words from Paul: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). In the end, as Christians, we forgive because it is the right thing to do. We forgive because God has forgiven us, and for us to do any less would be to fail in our efforts to live a Christ-like life.
Hi! I'm Roland. I began writing after retiring from the Navy in 2015. I believe that we each should strive to learn from one another, by sharing our thoughts and ideas. As a writer my goal is to help other seekers of truth to find and grow in Christ.