You’ve heard it right? “Forgiveness makes YOU stronger and frees YOUR heart” or “forgiveness sets YOU free!” I know you’ve heard it, come on, you’ve seen it on social media right? Let me help you, here’s another one, “Forgiveness is not something we do for other people, we do it for ourselves to get well and move on.” Wait, one more, here’s my favorite, “Hating people takes too much time. Forgive them, not because they deserve it, but because you are on a higher level than they are.”
I’m not sure how we’ve done it but boy have we done it. We have somehow managed to create a selfish forgiveness. Think about that for a second, a selfish forgiveness. I didn’t even think that was possible. Forgiveness has become about me, and not about my sister or my brother. We have exchanged humanity for “self-ity.” It’s actually the predominant ideology and theology being promoted on social media and even from the mouths of pastors. We have found a way to make forgiveness about us and not about the other. Reinhold Neibuhr said, “forgiveness is the final form of love.” We have made it the final stand for selfishness.
I’m not sure how we have taken something as sacred as forgiveness and made it as common as the Cubs losing before the World Series, but we sure have. James 2:8 reads, “You do well when you really fulfill the royal law found in scripture, love your neighbor as yourself.” Somehow we’ve translated this to mean love your neighbor for yourself. Once we’re hurt, we no longer have to love our neighbor, now it’s time to love ourselves.
Maybe it’s the, “piling burning coals” doctrine from Romans 12:20. It reads, “Instead, If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink. By doing this, you will pile burning coals of fire upon his head” I’ve actually seen people give high fives to the idea of smoldering heads of fire on their enemy’s. Actually, historians say that piling burning coals was an act of kindness similar to giving a neighbor a cup of sugar. The text encourages feeding one who is hungry and providing a drink for one who is thirsty. The text is promoting kindness. You see, if a person’s fire went out, he needed to borrow live coals to restart that fire. The act of giving a person coals in a pan to carry home “on his head” was like giving them a cup of sugar. It was a neighborly act of kindness. It was a way to make friends, not enemies. At the same time in history, Egyptians believed this practice of “piling burning coals on your head” led to repentance, to restoration.
Now, I don’t want to be disingenuous, there is a selfish and biblical reason to forgive. It’s so that God will forgive you. God seems to take it personally when we act like what’s been done to us, is worse than what we have done to Him. God is so serious that he says, “But if you don’t forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your sins.” ~ Matthew 6:15 (Ouch). It seems that God expects us to be hungry to forgive. It’s like God expects us to appreciate that we’ve been forgiven so much that forgiving others is a privilege and an act of worship. Weird huh?!
It’s not that everything in the listed forgiveness clichés above are wrong, it’s that they lead to a forgiveness that’s not about others or even about God. Did God forgive us to set Himself free, or did God forgive us to set us free? If you missed everything I’m attempting to say, don’t miss that. God forgave us to set us free! Go and forgive others to set them free! Make God’s model of forgiveness your default setting. Reject a forgiveness that makes you the primary concern. Practice godliness, not “self-ity.” Make your concern God, and the person in need of forgiveness.
Forgiveness does not mean we ignore accountability or the wisdom of making healthy choices. Forgiveness is a financial concept where one’s debts are forgiven but that doesn’t mean you restore someone’s bank account. The person who is forgiven is taken from the negative but they aren’t placed in the positive either. Don’t give away free money so to speak. Apply measures for health and accountability but forgive, set them free. Give them the opportunity to build up their good standing again. For the love of God, be a bridge…
5 Necessities of Forgiveness
(All of this is only done by prayer and fasting)
- Combat the selfish nature. Consider their need for forgiveness more than your personal need for retribution or dignity. Walk in generosity.
- Combat the victim nature. You’re not the only one to be abandoned, lied to, abused etc. Walk in victory.
- Combat the prideful nature. You’re not beyond being abandoned, lied to, abused etc. The same things happened to Jesus. Walk in humility.
- Remember forgivingness is debt removal not credit accrual. Wipe the slate clean.
- Ask God to feel about you, and to treat you, the way you feel about, and the way you treat the people who have wronged you. See yourself.
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