Several months ago I wrote a post called “The Hidden Benefits of Praying for your Enemies” and I’ve been very surprised by how many people have read it. It seems that everyone around the world is struggling with this issue. I’ve had people from dozens of countries read that post. As I contemplated the response to it, I realized that praying for your enemies and forgiving them actually go hand in hand. It’s really hard to pray for someone if you hate them and won’t forgive them. But according to the Bible, forgiveness is not a suggestion, it is a command!
Jesus tells the disciples in Mark 11:25-26 “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive you your trespasses”.
Forgiveness is a tough concept to comprehend. The image that often comes to mind is that we are somehow doing the other person a favor by forgiving them; as if in some way we are absolving them from the guilt of their actions and no longer holding them accountable, if we choose to forgive them. It makes us cringe because we feel as though we are telling the offender that their actions didn’t matter and didn’t hurt us.
But nothing could be further from the truth. As a matter of fact, I believe that forgiveness has very little to do with the other person, because often times, the other person is not sorry and doesn’t ask for forgiveness. And that’s the reason why it’s so hard to forgive them. If they were truly sorry and asked for our forgiveness, it might be easier to forgive.
So what do we do with this command of forgiving our brother when the other person is not sorry, when they don’t care that they hurt us, and wouldn’t dream of owning up to their faults and telling us they regret their actions or words? How do we reconcile our pain and our anger with this command? I think that the only way that we can, is if we see it from a different perspective. Let’s look at what forgiveness does for us, not the person who is forgiven. When I began to study this issue, I realized that the benefits for me personally are overwhelming, not just spiritually, but also emotionally and physically.
I’m going to start with the physical and emotional benefits of forgiveness. I actually got this information from the Mayo Clinic online. Yes, the Mayo Clinic has an article about the benefits of forgiveness. That really blew my mind. According to the Mayo Clinic, a well known nonprofit academic medical center here in the United States, forgiveness improves your mental health, lowers your blood pressure, creates a stronger immune system, improves your heart health, allows you to live with less anxiety, stress, hostility and depression, and last but not least, creates healthier relationships in your life. Now I would have to say that those are some powerful reasons to forgive!
But what about that command made by Jesus himself? He didn’t just tell us to forgive once or twice. He said it several times in different situations. Peter even came to Him in Matthew 18:21-22 and asked Jesus how often he should forgive his brother, suggesting that perhaps seven times was enough. But Jesus answered Him in the following way: “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven”. Jesus told several parables about forgiveness to His disciples and He also taught them what is commonly called the Lord’s Prayer. One of the lines in it says the following: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”. So why would God put such a strong emphasis, such a strong requirement on us over such a daunting task? If I start with the belief and the understanding that God is good and that He only wants good things for each of us, then it must follow suit that forgiveness has enormous benefits to me personally.
I would suggest that the reason is because He loves us and He knows what is best for us. God thinks forgiveness is so important to us, that He says that we ourselves will not be forgiven by Him, if we don’t forgive others. Why? Because if we are harboring anger, bitterness, resentment, rage, revenge, etc. then we cannot truly repent. If I come to Him and ask Him to forgive me for my sins, but I decide which sins, then it’s not really repentance. It’s like saying “Here Lord, you can forgive me for those sins over there, but I’m holding on to these ones over here, because I feel justified in keeping them. After all, that person really hurt me, and he did it over and over again. So I choose not to forgive him or her. Unfortunately it doesn’t work like that, although we’d like to believe we have that option.
Let me put it another way. Jesus tells us in Matthew 22:37 “You shall love the Lord your God will all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind”. The word all means whole, complete, or throughout. Now tell me how I could possibly love God with ALL my heart, ALL my soul and ALL my mind if part of my heart and part of my mind and part of my soul is filled with anger and bitterness and unforgiveness. It’s not possible, is it? So He is in fact telling us that if we want to be forgiven and truly be able to love Him, then we have to give up our right to be angry and bitter.
There’s a story in Luke 7:36-48 that really shows us this concept in action. Jesus is sitting down to dinner at a certain Pharisee’s house when a woman, who everyone apparently knew was a sinner, came in and while weeping, she anointed Jesus’ feet with some fragrant oil. The Pharisee was indignant at this and He spoke to himself the following: “This man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner”. I guess Jesus overheard him because He goes on to tell this man, named Simon a story. He actually asks him a question. “There was a certain creditor, who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing which which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?” Simon answered that he supposed it was the one who owed more, which Jesus affirmed was correct. He then points to the woman and tells Simon that this woman, whose sins were many, is forgiven because of her love for Him. He also tells Simon, that his love for Jesus was very small because he did not believe he needed any forgiveness, because he didn’t consider himself to be a sinner.
If you have ever read the Bible, you will know that God thinks sin is sin. He doesn’t care if it’s immorality, anger, pride, rebellion or murder, to name just a few. It’s all sin. We are all sinners and we all need a savior, Jesus Christ. But until we come face to face with our own sins and realize that our own righteousness is nothing but filthy rags in His eyes, that we cannot truly be forgiven.
The older I get, the less rocks I pick up to throw at others. If we are honest with ourselves, then we all have to realize that if we haven’t committed that exact sin, we probably have committed a variation of it at some point in our lives. I know I have.
God desires for us to be healthy. He is our healer. He calls himself that. But he cannot heal us if we don’t forgive. I would encourage you today if you are reading this, and you are struggling to forgive someone, stop focusing on the other person, and think about the benefits of forgiveness to you personally. You will be amazed at how much better you will feel if you choose to forgive. I know, because I had to choose forgiveness as well. It was hard, but it was so worth it. My life is so much better, so much happier because I chose forgiveness and let go of my anger, hurt, resentment and pain. By forgiving, I was able to receive the healing that Jesus Christ had for my heart.