Forgiveness is an issue where even secular mental health professionals find themselves in agreement with the Bible. Clinging to unforgiveness can devastate others, but especially ourselves. However, forgiveness can be difficult to offer especially when we have been hurt, misunderstood or abused. We try to convince ourselves that we have earned the right not to offer or ask for forgiveness, but we must see how important forgiveness is to maintaining healthy relationships.
Everyone says that forgiveness is a lovely idea until he has something to forgive. --C.S. Lewis
Forgiveness is the mental, emotional and/or spiritual process of ceasing to feel resentment, indignation or anger against another person for a perceived offence, difference or mistake, or ceasing to demand punishment or restitution. -- American Psychological Association
Unforgiveness produces bitterness resulting in pain and a calloused heart. Wrongs that have been done to us hurt our spirits and emotions and we need healing. Unforgiveness enslaves us and makes us a prisoner to our past, and this produces bitterness. There is an accumulative effect to retaining past hurts.
Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many. Hebrews 12:15 (NLT)
Esau was deceived by his brother Jacob, surrendering his inheritance, for a bowl of stew. Esau grew embittered, filled with hatred and animosity toward Jacob. But it was really his own life that he was poisoning, because that's the way unforgiveness and bitterness work. Forgiveness is not a gift you give to primarily benefit others. It is one you give in order to free yourself. Bitterness will sabotage your efforts for spiritual growth and personal development. Unforgiveness deceives you into thinking that you still have control, but bitterness is not a gentleman. If you allow it into one area of your life, it will soon consume you.
Unforgiveness and the resulting bitterness will inevitably destroy relationships. People will do things that hurt us deeply. An attitude of forgiveness does not offset the need to deal with the problem, sometimes severely. This happened in the Corinthian church. Paul ordered that a man who was living immorally be expelled from the church. When the man repented they were not willing to receive him back into fellowship. The punishment prescribed by Paul was not for the man's destruction, but so that he might find repentance. The hurt made it difficult for them to forgive. Paul wanted to make sure that relationships were not destroyed.
“I am not overstating it when I say that the man who caused all the trouble hurt all of you more than he hurt me. Most of you opposed him, and that was punishment enough. Now, however, it is time to forgive and comfort him. Otherwise he may be overcome by discouragement. So I urge you now to reaffirm your love for him. I wrote to you as I did to test you and see if you would fully comply with my instructions. When you forgive this man, I forgive him, too. And when I forgive whatever needs to be forgiven, I do so with Christ’s authority for your benefit, so that Satan will not outsmart us. For we are familiar with his evil schemes.” 2 Corinthians 2:5-11 (NLT)
There is a place for discipline but we must be ready to forgive when repentance is demonstrated so that lives are not further damaged. Forgiveness is a key to reconciliation and restoration. In order for us to have access to God, we must be in right relationship with one another. We may not like to hear it, but it seems clear that our offerings of praise and worship are most acceptable to God when we are in right relationship with one another. Forgiveness is not just a suggestion, it is a command. Forgiveness is necessary for harmonious relationships.
“Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.” Colossians 3:13-15 (NLT)
When we consider our motivation in forgiving each other we must remember that Christ forgave us. Forgiveness will release God’s power and answered prayers in your life. In addition to restoring right relationships and leading to harmony in the body of Christ, being in the state of forgiveness will also enable the Holy Spirit's power to work in our midst.
“But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too.” Mark 11:22 (NLT)
One more thing to consider, forgive or else….
“In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can’t get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God’s part.” Matthew 6:14–15 (MESSAGE)