We’re exploring one of life’s most important subjects – the topic of forgiveness. Yesterday we read Jesus’ injunction: if we bring a “gift at the altar” and remember that “your brother has something against you,” make things right with him first. Then continue with the offering of worship (Matthew 5:23-24). Forgiveness comes first.
Let’s understand what Jesus is saying. “If you are offering your gift at the altar” – this is the act of worship, in the context of the Temple sacrifices. We would say, “If you are about to put money in the offering plate.” “And there remember that your brother has something against you” – not just that you have something against him, but he has something against you.
“Leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother” – we would say, “Get up from church, go make things right with him, then come back and put money in the offering plate.”
Biblical forgiveness is reconciliation – it is “making things right” with someone with whom things are wrong. The Greek word used most often for “forgiveness” is aphiami, which means to wipe away, to remove, to let go, to release. This can be a legal word, meaning to release from a debt or punishment, to pardon.
Here’s what forgiveness is not:
Biblical forgiveness is not forgetting the pain. You do not have the human ability to do this. God can “remember our sins no more” (Jeremiah 31.34), but we cannot.
Biblical forgiveness is not excusing the person, pretending the pain did not happen.
It is not ignoring the conflict, as though it will go away; it will not.
It is not tolerating the person, merely accepting that this is the way he or she is. Then nothing is solved or resolved.
Biblical forgiveness is pardon. It is to choose not to punish. When the governor pardons a criminal he does not forget the crime, or excuse the criminal, or ignore the situation, or tolerate the problem. He chooses not to punish the criminal, even though he could. To forgive someone is to choose not to punish them.
You may be thinking that you cannot do this. That the pain is to great, the hurt too deep, their spirit too unrepentant. That this is beyond you. You’re right. But it’s not beyond the God in you.
Dr. Fred Andrea is the pastor of Aiken’s First Baptist Church.