How to Give and Receive Forgiveness

To begin our Bible study on forgiveness, let’s notice a verse from the book of James.

James 2.13:  “For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” 

What is set before us is quite a difficult challenge.  In a similar fashion, Jesus said, "Be merciful just as Your heavenly Father is merciful"  (Luke 6.46).  We need the mercy of God.  We do not want God’s justice.  We want His mercy.  We need His mercy.  But we will only receive His mercy if we are willing to be merciful and forgive.

Notice also that in the Bible, Jesus said in reference to forgiveness, "For 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.”  (Matt. 6.14,15).

We are obligated to forgive others if we want to receive the forgiveness of God.  But forgiveness is confusing to many of us.  We are confused on the subject of forgiveness for two reasons. 

1.  First of all, forgiveness is confusing to us because we tend to forgive prematurely.  Often when we are hurt by someone, we take the high road by saying that we forgive the offender without the offender asking for forgiveness.  In doing so, we extend forgiveness prematurely.  In Luke 17.3, Jesus said, “Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.”

Jesus did not say that if your brother sins against you, forgive him.  What Jesus said was that if your brother sins against you, rebuke him.  He then says, "if he repents, forgive him.”  Forgiveness is conditioned on his repentance.  Thus forgiveness can be premature if we offer forgiveness from our heart when there has been no repentance.

If we keep reading, Jesus continues in the next verse,  "And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.”  (Luke 17.4).

The next verse says, “if he returns and says I repent”.  The word “repent” in the New Testament is translated from a Greek word that means, “change your mind”.  It is when someone is in mid thought and they make an about face.  When you change the way you think, it results in a change in the way you live.  This passage tells us that we need to forgive when someone changes the way they think in reference to what they did to us.  In other words, we need to forgive when they come and apologize, asking for our forgiveness.  

Are we not supposed to forgive the way God forgives?  Absolutely!  But how does God forgive?   God never forgives prior to our repentance and turning to Him.  If God’s forgiveness is conditioned on our repentance, and we need to forgive the way God forgives, then we also need to forgive on the condition of repentance.

2.  The second reason why forgiveness can be confusing is because often it is not granted at all, even when there has been repentance. 

Too often we do not forgive enough when it is warranted.  It is sometimes very difficult to forgive someone even when they are seeking our forgiveness.  It takes strength, and it takes strengthening our hearts.

You are invited to this Bible study on forgiveness as we give some thought to some verses that will help us be more forgiving in our interaction with others.  

Bible Study on Forgiveness:
The Definition of Forgiveness

In the verses we are about to consider, the definition of forgiveness is presented in two ways. 

  1. It is described by a word "forgiveness" that Jesus used.
  2. is described by a picture that Jesus paints. 

Defining the Word "Forgiveness"

In the original Greek language the word "forgiveness" is translated from the Greek word “aphiemi” which is a form of the word “aphesis”.   It is found over and over in the book of Acts and is the word means “freedom.”  

What is forgiveness?  It means to be liberated from the guilt of our mistakes.  So when it is warranted, when there is an apology, give them their freedom.  As long as you refuse to forgive them when they have asked for it, they remain in the shackles of guilt.  But it is the strength of heart, the willingness to forgive that unlocks those shackles and releases them from the offense  allowing them to live guilt-free.

If you are unwilling to forgive, then not only does the offender remain in chains, but you, the unforgiving one, will remain in chains as well:  the chains of hurt feelings and holding onto grudges. 

A Word Picture of Forgiveness

Not only does the word "forgiveness" itself help us to understand the concept of forgiveness, consider a word picture used by Jesus.  

In Matthew 18.15-18, Jesus is teaching about conflict resolution.  He explains the process of how to resolve conflicts between individual, and it flows into this parable of the unforgiving servant which teaches us how to forgive.  Right within this context we find these words in verses 19,20. 

Matthew 18.19:  Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven.”  

Concerning this individual who has sinned against another, whatever decision is made by the apostles is the decision that will be accepted.  But contained in this verse is this concept of people working together. 

Notice the phrase, “if two of you agree”.  The Greek word for agree is “sumphaneo”.  It is from this word that we get our English word “symphony”. 

  • “Sum” is the Greek word for “together”. 
  • “Phoneo” is a form of the word “phonos” which means “sound” 
  • When you put the two Greek words together you have “sumphaneo”.  Literally it means “to sound together”.

These are two people who are sounding together.  They are in agreement.  Jesus is saying that whatever you decide together concerning this brother who has sinned against you, it shall be so.

Then consider the next verse:

Matthew 18.20:  “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”

The phrase “gathered together” translates a single Greek word that means “to go and walk together”.  It is a dwelling together in unity.  It is people walking together in harmony.  

When we forgive we are releasing the offender from the shackles of guilty, and we are in agreement with one another.  As we go our way, we are going together.

You may say, “but I don’t think I can do that.”  If you cannot forgive someone who is seeking your forgiveness, then don’t get on your knees and ask for it!  Because Jesus said that mercy is extended only to those who show mercy.  Forgiveness is extended only to those who are forgiving.  (Matt. 18.34).

A great passage that will help us in this regard is found in Hebrews 10.  It is a chapter that shows how the blood of bulls and goats were ineffective in taking away sin under the Old Testament system.  In Hebrews 10.1,2:  “For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect.  For then would they not have ceased to be offered? For the worshipers, once purified, would have had no more consciousness of sins.

According to this passage, what is forgiveness?  It is when one has no more consciousness of their sin.  Later in the chapter it says that God will remember their sins no more  (Heb. 10.17).  There would be no more consciousness of sins.  When one who is guilty of sins comes in contact with the blood of Jesus through faith, repentance, confession, and baptism, their sins are wiped out. 

Because they are wiped out, you don't have to think about them anymore.  You don't have to dwell on them.  You don't have to worry about being punished for your sins.  You will have no consciousness of sins.  It doesn't mean that you won’t be aware of them, or that you won't remember them.  But you don't have to think about them because God took them out of the way.  And now He doesn't think about them.  That's forgiveness!

That is exactly what we are obligated to give to our fellow man.  You are to have no more consciousness of their sins against you, so that they don't have to have consciousness of their sins against you.  You are obligated to liberate the offender of their guilt over what they had done to you.  You are obligated to sound together with them, and walk with them as if the offense never happened.  That is forgiveness!

Bible Study on Forgiveness:
Forgiveness is Difficult

When you read this text in Matthew 18, you learn that forgiveness is difficult because of Peter's question, and because of the Jesus' answer.

The Difficulty of Forgiveness is Seen in the Question that Peter Asked.

Matthew 18.21:  “Then Peter came to Him and said, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’”

Jesus had been talking about conflict resolution in the previous verses, and Peter asked the Lord how often he should do this.  Then Peter proposed a number.  “Up to seven times?” 

There was a concept among Jews that they were obligated to forgive up to three times and no more than four.  This belief was derived from Amos where God would overlook the transgression three times, but after the fourth time God would punish the nation  (Amos 2.4).  So the Jews would then offer forgiveness up to three or four times.

It is believed that Peter thought that he was being quite generous.  He perhaps thought that he was only obligated to forgive three or four times, but he would be generous and suggest up to seven times.

Jesus responded to Peter that He did not say seven times.  Jesus just taught this lesson about conflict resolution that involved four steps.

  • You go to him alone.  (Matt. 18.15)
  • You bring with you two or three brethren.  (Matt. 18.16)
  • You tell it to the church.  (Matt. 18.17)
  • If all of that doesn’t work, you treat him as a tax collector and heathen.  (Matt. 18.17)

Peter didn't commend Jesus for making such a great point.  He wasn't excited about being able to teach this divine method of conflict resolution to others.  What Peter did was make personal application.  “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?  Up to seven times?”  Peter says that he understood that he was under an obligation forgive his brother if he repents, but how often was he obligated to do this.  That question tells me that forgiveness is hard. 

Peter is asking, should there be a limitation?  Should there be a time when you can say that you have forgiven you enough?  That forgiveness is difficult is implied in the question. 

If you have ever tried to apply this concept to your own life, you know how difficult it is.  You may say, “I will forgive, but I won't forget”.  If that is the case, then forget it because that kind of forgiveness doesn’t count.  True forgiveness has no more consciousness of sins  (Heb. 10.1,2).  God said, “There sins and their lawless deeds, I will remember no more”  (Heb. 10,17).

That’s a hard thing to do.  And if the apostle Peter, one of the Lord’s brightest, struggled with it, then you can be sure it will be s struggle for you and me.

The Difficulty is Seen in the Lord's Answer

It is the Lord's answer that also tells me that this is a difficult thing to do.  His answer is in the form of a parable.  The parable can be broken down into three sections.

Section 1:  Matthew 18.23-27

Matthew 18.23-27:  “Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.  And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.  But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made.  The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, 'Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.'  Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt.”

A servant owes his master ten thousand talents.  As one commentator suggested, that is more taxes than is owed by Judea, Samaria, and Galilee, combined.  To owe his master ten thousand talents was a massive debt.

He pleaded with his master to please have patience.  The master was moved with compassion and forgave him his debt.

Section 2:  Matthew 18.28-30

Matthew 18.28-30:  “But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’  So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’   And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt.”

The second section is when this forgiven servant went to another servant and demanded that he pay his debt of 100 denarii. 

At the beginning of Matthew 20, you learn that one denarius is about one day’s wage.  So a hundred denarii is equal to about four months of wages.  That’s no small amount.  It wasn't as if this servant could reach into his pocket and pull out four months' worth of wages.  But it was small compared to the 10,000 talents this first servant owed. 

This man owed what would be equal to about 350 years' worth so wages, and he was forgiven.  Then he goes to his fellow servant who owed him four months' worth of wages and he would not forgive him, but threw him into debtor's prison.

Section 3:  Matthew 18.31-34

Matthew 18.31-34:  So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done.  Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me.   Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’  And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him.”

The third section we find that some of the fellow servants saw what had happened, and they were grieved.  They went and told the master all that had happened.

The forgiven servant who was unforgiving is back in front of his master.  His master called him wicked, and was angry.  He sent him to the tormentors until he paid his debt.  Remember that he owed about 350 years’ worth of wages.  It was a life sentence. 

What Does This Parable Mean?

That story tells me that forgiveness is hard.  Here is a man who owed a tremendous debt, and his master wiped it out.  Then he goes to his fellow servant who owed him pennies in comparison, and even though he was forgiven of a massive debt, he would not forgive the debt that he was owed. 

As a result, he found himself in front of his master unforgiven because he was not willing to forgive the debt of his fellow servant.  Forgiveness is hard.  It was hard for this servant, and it is hard for us.

Have you ever had someone talk about you instead of talking to you?  Have you ever had someone talk about your wife or husband?  Have you ever had someone talk about your children?  Have they asked for forgiveness, and if they have, did you forgive them?  Does it still bother you?  Do you still hold feelings of animosity toward them because of it?  If you are, then have you really granted them forgiveness? 

The fact that we are still bothered by what someone else did, even after they asked for us to forgive them, tells me that forgiveness is hard to do.  You can forgive, but it is hard to forget.  There is something about being wronged by another that really sticks with us.  We can forget a thousand compliments, but we have a hard time forgetting a single wrong against us.  Forgiveness is hard.

Now let’s look at the kind of mindset that is necessary to be forgiving.  Forgiveness is so difficult that it takes a strengthened heart to do it.

Bible Study on Forgiveness:
How to Have a Heart that Forgives

There are three components that we need to have a forgiving heart:  Patience, Compassion, and Mercy.

Forgiveness requires Patience

Matthew 18.26:  “The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’”

In the original language, the word “patience” is translated from the Greek word “makrothumeo”  This Greek word is a compound word, meaning it is two words put together.

  • Makro is the Greek word for “long”  The opposite of makro is mirco meaning small or short.
  • Thumos is the Greek word for “anger”. 
  • When we put them together we have “makrothumeo” which is what is translated here as “patience”.  It means to take a long time to get angry.  One who is patient takes a long time before he loses his temper. 

A heart that is capable of forgiveness is a heart that can take it and take it, and is long to come to anger.  You will never know the heart and mind of Jesus until you take that chip off your shoulder that is quick to punish those who injure you.  You will never know the heart and mind of Jesus until you are willing and capable of being long to come to anger.

Forgiveness Requires Compassion

Matthew 18.27:  “Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt.”

How many times do we read of Jesus being moved with compassion?  If you are going to forgive even as God has forgiven you, then you need to have a heart that feels for others.

Forgiveness Requires Mercy

Matthew 18.33:  “Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?

To be merciful is to reach out and help those who cannot help themselves.  The master said that this servant did not want to feel for others as his master had reached out and helped him who could not help himself.

The idea of mercy is to consider the plight of another individual, and then mentally switch places.  It is to put yourself in his shoes, and then act accordingly.  If you are merciful to someone, you think about how you would feel if you were in their position.  What would you want someone to do for you?  If you needed to be rebuked, how would you want it phrased?  And then you act accordingly.

Let’s put it together.  A heart that is capable and willing to forgive is when you are not one who has a quick tempter.  You feel for the plight of others, and then you switch places with them in your own mind.  You act as if you are in their place and they are in your place.  And when you put those three components together you know what Jesus meant when He said…

Matthew 18.35:  So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”

Maybe that is what Paul was thinking, when He wrote these words to the Colossian brethren:   Colossians 3.12,13:  “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.” 

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