Why is it so hard to forgive? I run across leaders all the time who have deep grudges, bitter feelings, and hard hearts. An unforgiving heart could be in the top five issues all leaders deal with. Marriages are affected, health is affected, and even generations are affected. Forgiveness 101 is all about conversations, decisions, and memories. Let me explain. Matthew 18 is such a great chapter on forgiveness. It starts with the process of forgiveness (v. 15) and ends with the “parable of the unforgiving servant.” This guy owed a king what could have been up to one trillion dollars! He was frankly and compassionately forgiven. Then, he went right out and was choking a guy who owed him the equivalent of one millionth that amount.
How predictable human nature is. Peter asked the Lord (v. 21), “How often should I forgive my brother? Up to seven times?” (The rabbis taught THREE!). Jesus replied, “Up to 490 times.” I have had a few people in my life who I think are getting pretty close to that number!
Here are my top three thoughts about forgiveness:
1. Forgiveness is about conversations (v. 15-17)
- A conversation is not an argument or an attack but an appeal. It is a sincere desire to “gain your brother.” It is a genuine attempt to remove the source of ongoing offenses. Without that conversation, you will keep on being bitter! Why not do what Leviticus 19: 17 says: “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your brother.”
2. Forgiveness is about decisions.
- It is an act of the will, not of the emotions. The word “forgive” in Greek is a legal term. There is no emotion in a court of law. Forgiveness is the equivalent of signing an “IOU” as “paid in full.” It is canceling a mortgage, a debt they owe you.
3. Forgiveness is about memories.
- People often confuse “forgiving” with “forgetting.” Dr. Caroline Leaf, well known expert on the human brain, says that our subconscious mind records every experience in a memory “tree.” Every tree is covered in emotions! When someone mentions that person or incident, the emotions jump into our conscious mind as feelings. The only way to get rid of those feelings is to plant a new tree with Scripture. It will gradually overshadow the old memory with new truth! Joseph did this exact thing when he told his brothers, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive…” (Gen. 50: 20).
Conversations, decisions, and memories. These are the three essential components in helping you to forgive the “small” debts people owe you compared to the “huge” debt God forgave us!
Which of these three is the most difficult for you?