Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Having a Heart of Forgiveness (1)

What does it really mean to forgive? Forgiveness may be one of the least understood topics in Scripture, and yet God says our willingness to forgive others will have a direct impact on where we spend eternity (cf. Matt. 6:12-15). It’s one thing to talk about forgiveness, but really practicing it is a humbling, maturing, difficult experience. When we are hurt by someone else, how difficult it can be to truly forgive!

What happens to Christian fellowship when the will to forgive is not present? Paul answers this question in Ephesians 4:31-32. He first lists six evidences of a failure to forgive, and then he shows how true blessings result from a will to forgive.

1. Bitterness – Someone has well said that hurt is what others do to you, but bitterness is what you do to yourself. People who lack the will to forgive frequently revisit past hurts. These people are miserable, dwelling on the wrongs of others sometimes to the point that they actually begin to enjoy the misfortunes of other people! Christians had better be careful of taking frequent “mental trips” to revisit their pain – that’s likely evidence of an unforgiving heart.

2. Wrath – The Greek word translated “wrath” in Ephesians 4:31 carries the idea of a seething desire for revenge. This person may seem calm on the surface, but inside they are like a pressure cooker about to explode. When we are full of this kind of rage, it is impossible to truly forgive someone else; worse yet, it is impossible for God to forgive us! (Mark 11:25-26; cf. James 1:19-20)

3. Anger – “Anger” differs from wrath because it involves a sudden outburst of rage. Rather than a heart that tries to hold rage inside, anger seeks every opportunity to show itself. Like a lightning bolt out of a cloud, the angry man unleashes his fury upon everyone he thinks has wronged him. Christians beware: our tempers might well keep us from heaven.

4. Clamor – This word describes a brawling, argumentative, adversarial spirit. One who is full of clamor will seek every opportunity to air their grievances with offending parties and anyone else in the vicinity. Loving confrontation when we have been wronged is commanded (Matt. 18:15ff), but clamor is a contentious attitude that confronts others solely for the purpose of “getting even” or “winning.”

5. Evil Speaking – When an unforgiving heart is present, so often is the desire to speak evil of others. Some people really seem to enjoy taking every opportunity to say unkind and ungodly things about those who have wronged them. One common temptation when we’ve been hurt is to gather a circle of friends around us and to “justify” ourselves while condemning those who have done wrong. Jesus said that we will give an account for every idle word we speak (Matt. 12:36), just as we will give account for having a heart that refuses to forgive.

6. Malice – The Greek word behind “malice” indicates one who possesses a “bad heart.” One who is full of malice harbors a general feeling of ill will toward the one who has wronged him. How can we claim to be followers of the One who said, “Father, forgive them,” when our every thought and wish is for our enemies to get exactly what they deserve? Woe to those who will stand before God with unforgiving hearts!


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