I took a mental inventory last night of friends and family members who have found it in their heart to forgive someone and then successfully repaired the fractured relationship. What I was looking for was what made the outcome different for them than others I know that forgiveness was given and accepted, yet still ended badly. What became clear to me was that the actions that were taken after the request for forgiveness was made and accepted, was as important if not more important than the act of forgiveness itself. This is not to suggest that the act of forgiveness for those who failed in their attempts to reestablish trust were insincere or engaged in some kind of deception to allow them to escape the consequences of their behavior. It’s more like a golf swing in that if you don’t follow through after having successfully struck the ball, you won’t wind up where you wanted to be.
For answers, let’s turn first to Matthew 18:21-22 and read about a conversation Jesus had with Peter about forgiveness, “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me, up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven.’” If I had been Peter, I probably would have responded, “Do you mean that I have to endure 490 insults and betrayal’s before I give up on them?” At first, 490 sounds like a lot but when you think about, there are 365 days in a year and if you spend the vast majority of them with your spouse, it doesn’t sound like an improbable number, especially for a marriage in turmoil.
Another way of thinking about it is that once you have made the commitment to restore the trust in your relationship; the number of times you are asked to forgive is no longer relevant. Your efforts at reconciliation are for however long it takes, no matter how many times you must forgive. This is how Christ loves us, for He is patient and long-suffering with us as we struggle with sin every day of the week, multiple times each day. What I do recall about those who I know that have forgiven and were able to restore their relationship is that they made a commitment to do what ever was required, for as long as takes, to repair what once appeared irreparable.
In 2Corinthian, chapter five, verses 11-22, Paul talks about another ministry, the ministry of reconciliation. If you have forgotten, ministry is about serving someone else with and from what you have been given and doing it for the glory of God and not your own. Forgiveness is where reconciliation begins and is in the end, the whole purpose of forgiveness. Therefore, a ministry of reconciliation is sharing with someone else (your spouse) the forgiveness you have received from Christ and doing it in such a way that gives the credit and the glory to God. Paul tells us what should motivate us to do so, “For Christ’s love compels us.”
Forgiveness and the reconciliation that results, requires us to adopt a new way of thinking, a new way at looking at each other. “So for now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.” Paul says that because of our new way of thinking, we are a “new creation; the old has gone and the new has come.” In the same way, when you are truly reconciled with someone who you were previously estranged from, you are a new person and so are they. The memories of the past are still there but the scars have faded; all the fear, anger and resentment have been replaced by love and respect.
The old sayings that link forgiveness with forgetting the grievances of the past are not only impossible to do, but if it was possible would likely do more harm than good. When reading the Old Testament books describing the series Kings that ruled Israel and Judah, it’s vacillates back and forth from good King to bad King with remarkable regularity. The reason is most often because they are guilty of having forgotten the sins of the past and in doing so became destined to repeat them. Remembering what we once were and marveling at what we have become is both humbling and exciting. Remembering what someone else was in the past can also be a blessing if its purpose is to encourage them to continue to grow in their relationship God and with those who they were once estranged.
It would seem that we all have a great deal to do, with multiple ministries to pursue, reconciliation, the new covenant, and our marriage relationship itself. They all have one thing in common, that is Christ who every hour of everyday is ministering to us and empowering us by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Tool #258 The purpose of forgiveness is reconciliation, not to cleanse our conscience or to gain the high ground when engaged in struggles and conflict.