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A Christian’s Heart
“A Forgiving Heart”
Whenever I counsel people when relational problems are present, I say that this one quality is the most important but is the hardest to put into practice.
Let me begin our study by saying that we’re all going to be hurt by someone, somewhere, and at some time. It may be something someone says, or a parent or friend’s broken promise, or it could be a spouse’s unfaithfulness. In fact, it could be different things, or all of the above at the same time.
These hurts may be verbal in what others say or the names they call us. It may be non-verbal, such as people turning their backs on us, a lack of affection, or abuse.
But God offers unlimited forgiveness and tells us that we need to do the same if we not only want to be forgiven by God, but also if we want to have hearts filled with forgiveness.
When Peter came to Jesus asking how often he should forgive someone who does something wrong, Jesus told him to do it for as long as it takes saying we’re to forgive up to seventy time seven (Matthew 18:21-22).
Now Jesus wasn’t saying 490 times, rather He was saying that we are to forgive as long as it takes for forgiveness to take root within our hearts. And we’ll know when that is when we no longer remember it and it no longer eats your guts out.
Another important truth that we need to get out of the way is that forgiveness has nothing to do with forgetfulness. In other words, I’m not talking about a forgetting heart, but a forgiving heart.
There’s a myth that says forgiving is forgetting. “Forgive and forget,” but that’s a myth because every time we try to forget something all we do is end up remembering it. So we’ll be a lot happier when we’re less forgetting and more forgiving.
This is God’s way. He forgives our sins; He doesn’t forget them. And while the writer of Hebrews says that God will forgive and remember our sins no more (Hebrews 8:12), it’s not that He forgets them. If God forgets anything it means He is no longer God, because God cannot forget. Instead, God chooses to no longer remember our sins against us, or as the Bible says, God keeps no ledger of our wrongs, and neither should we, and therefore, neither should we.
A forgiving heart is therefore what we need and what we’re after. But how do we obtain it? We obtain a forgiving heart only when we realize just how much God has forgiven us.
“And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32 NKJV)
When we consider everything that others have done to us, and then consider everything we’ve done to and against God, and knowing that He’s forgiving us; forgiving others should be our natural response.
Think of it this way. When we place the pile of wrongs other people have done against us along side the pile of wrongs we’ve heaped up against God, then we’ll realize how very small these other piles of other’s wrongs against us are compared do our wrongs against God.
I remember one person asking how I could forgive them, seeing how they absolutely devastated my world. The reason I remember my response is because the shock it registered on their face.
I said, “How can I not forgive you seeing how much God has forgiven me!”
It’s far easier to have a forgiving heart when we not only feel forgiven, but when we also realize just how much God has forgiven us.
Today I want to look at three qualities of a forgiving heart.
A Heart of Compassion
A forgiving heart is a heart of compassion that comforts others in their time of need.
This is brought out in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian church.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NKJV)
God continues to forgive us, showing His unmerited favor and unconditional love, and this is what we should be doing and showing others. Shouldn’t we show the same compassion God has shown us? Shouldn’t we comfort others the same way God has comforted us in our time of need?
This is actually the heart of Jesus. Jesus said, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:29 NKJV)
In like manner we’re to bear one another’s burdens.
The Apostle Paul said, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2 NKJV)
This also was at the heart of what Paul told the Colossian Church.
He said, “As the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another.” (Colossians 3:12-13a NKJV)
A forgiving heart is a heart that is filled with compassion.
This verse in Colossians leads me to the second quality of a forgiving heart.
A Heart that’s Forgiving
While this goes without saying, it still needs to be said.
Going back to what Paul tells the Colossians, he said we are to forgive others just as Jesus forgave us.
“Forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.” (Colossians 3:13 NKJV)
In the prayer Jesus taught, also known as the Lord’s Prayer, He said we’re to forgive others, especially if we want God to forgive us
“And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12 NKJV)
There is a price to be paid if we hold unforgiveness.
Unforgiveness is like an acid that eats away at our hearts, while forgiveness is like a healing ointment, soothing raw, hurt, damaged, and wounded emotions.
Someone with a forgiving heart expresses it through love by taking the initiative to forgive even if the offender doesn’t ask to be forgiven, or deserves it. A forgiving heart forgives no matter what. Our ultimate example of such forgiving love is Jesus when He died upon the cross.
Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” (Luke 23:34 NKJV)
Jesus forgave all those who put Him upon the cross, and I’m not talking just about the Jewish authorities or the Romans. I’m also talking about each one of us. It was our sins that not only put Jesus upon the cross but also held Him there.
We think the nails are what held Him to the cross. No, it was our sins that held Jesus to that cross.
The Apostle John said, “This is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation (sacrifice) for our sins.” (1 John 4:10 NKJV)
And in Romans 5:8, Paul said, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
A forgiving heart is therefore not only a heart filled with compassion and forgiving, but it’s also a heart that has been forgiven.
A Heart Forgiven
We cannot have a forgiving heart until we first know that we’ve been forgiven. While this may seem like one of the “Duh” moments, the reality is that many people suffer and plod through life never knowing.
How else can we explain the rise of what might be one of the most dangerous statements that has been perpetrated upon the church, and that is of our need to forgive ourselves. You can’t listen to a self-help CD, counselor, or any of these popular TV psychiatrists, not to mention pastors, without this concept being pushed.
“We have to learn how to forgive ourselves.”
As good intentioned as they are, or as good as this may sounds, it’s impossible to forgive ourselves, because that power doesn’t lie within us. And if we think we can forgive ourselves then we’re actually setting ourselves up as our idols or gods, desiring to do what only God can do.
The Lord said, “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; and I will not remember your sins.” (Isaiah 43:25 NKJV)
The first thing I ask of those who insist that we can and need to forgive ourselves is where does it say that in the Bible. Eventually, they must admit it’s not there.
The problem is that the devil uses forgiving oneself as a tool against us. He gets us so focused in the quest of self-forgiveness that we’re no longer seeking God’s forgiveness, and thus preventing God from doing His cleansing work through His forgiveness.
How can we combat this? What can we do? We accept Jesus’s forgiveness.
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9 NKJV)
And so, to have a heart that is forgiven is to accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord and confess our sins. Only then will our hearts be assured that we’ve been forgiven.
And so the question becomes, “Why is having a forgiving heart so hard?”
Looking at this need to have a forgiving heart I wondered why is it so hard? And there are several reasons.
a. We Feel Betrayed
When we feel like we’ve been betrayed the first thing we generally want to do is to retaliate. We want others to pay for what they’ve done to us.
The only problem with retaliation is that it produces within us attitudes of hate, anger, bitterness, and resentment, and these attitudes simply don’t work. In fact, they’re downright dangerous and unhealthy because they eat us alive.
They are also unreasonable and illogical. Why we’re sitting at home all bitter and full of resentment over how they wronged us, they’re out having a good time, never giving our hurts, anger, bitterness and resentment another thought. These attitudes only end up hurting us, and not those that have betrayed us.
b. We Forget Unforgiveness is Sin
Nowhere in the Bible does God make unforgiveness an option. In fact, the consequences for unforgiveness can be quite severe. In the Parable of the Unjust Servant the servant didn’t forgive the debt of his fellow servant like the master had forgiven him, and so the master tossed him into prison.
Jesus ends the parable saying, “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.” (Matthew 18:35 NKJV)
Personally, this scares the daylights out of me. And if this is the case, why don’t people forgive?
Mainly, it’s because we don’t want the other person to get off the hook. However, the Bible says not to avenge ourselves but rather give way to wrath, because God will repay (Romans 12:19).
Why is it important to have a forgiving heart?
Because if we don’t forgive those who have harmed us, then we run the very real risk of the Lord not forgiving our sins.
When Jesus taught the disciples to pray, part of that prayer asks the Lord to forgive our sins as we forgive the sins that others have done against us (Matthew 6:12). This is such an important concept that Jesus reiterates it.
At the end of the prayer Jesus said, “If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15 NKJV)
Jesus directly ties the Father’s forgiveness of our sins with our forgiveness of others. Jesus is saying that if we want God to forgive us, we need to forgive others.
But it’s even greater than this.
Going back to Jesus’s prayer saying, “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”
This is one of the scariest prayers that we could ever pray. We’re literally asking God to forgive us the same way we forgive others. It’s not where we’re asking God to forgive us because we’re forgiving others; rather it’s asking God to forgive us the same way or in the same manner that we’re forgiving others.
That’s why it’s a scary prayer, because we’re not all that good in forgiving others, and therefore we’re hindering God’s forgiveness of us. This is why we need to forgive
Having a forgiving heart isn’t easy; in fact, as we have seen it’s downright hard.
So where does the power come from to forgive? Well as we have seen it doesn’t come from us; rather it comes from God, and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.
“For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13 NKJV)
Let the Holy Spirit and the indwelling word of God have His and its way in our hearts.
The Psalmist said, “Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You.” (Psalm 119:11 NKJV)
Let’s let this quality of forgiveness sink deep within our hearts so that we don’t hold unto unforgiveness and thus sin.
A Christian’s heart is therefore a forgiving heart.
Wednesday Evening Bible Study