Forgiveness and Reconciliation
July 04, 2020 | Hilton Yhap
Passage: Matthew 6:7-15
Everyone thinks forgiveness is a lovely idea until he has something egregious to forgive.” ― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
We are instructed a number of times in the Bible to forgive others. It was an explicit part of Yeshua’s model prayer in Matthew 6:7-15. Forgive is the Greek word aphiēmi, meaning “to send away, dismiss, suffer to depart; to emit, send forth.” In relation to an offense against us, it means that we dismiss it, or send it away. We do not hold onto that offense, harboring it in our hearts. Instead, we treat it as if it had not occurred.
Assumes a broken relationship. Something has happened that has caused two parties to become estranged. The two might have been friends. It might be a business relationship. Or it might be as intimate as marriage. But there is now something between them that needs to be restored. (Restoration of Favor)
Naturally, people don’t like to (and, frankly, don’t want to) forgive. We want to hold on to bitterness because we think, if we forgive the people who have hurt us, then we are condoning their actions. We are saying what they did is okay and we have to be close with them again. That is not true at all. God is the judge, and He will judge appropriately. Bitterness, lack of forgiveness, and grudges often harm the one holding on to them the most. However, when we forgive we essentially say, "You can’t destroy me, or hinder me any longer, because my God heals. He is better than bitterness." It also shows the world that we truly understand how much God has forgiven us.
Let’s be honest. Most of our un-forgiveness and bitterness stem from some really silly and trivial situations. However, some incidents involve true victims. In these types of stories, forgiveness can come only from God because they take a God-sized forgiveness. Although, forgiving someone is the hardest work we can do, we must absolutely do it, because not forgiving makes you toxic and destroys your witness. The result is you will have very little to offer others (family, friend, the world) because your bitterness will spread to others, and no one wants it for themselves.
One of the most sobering verses in all of scripture has to be Matthew 6:14–15, where Yeshua said, “If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” These verses are not fun because they digs deep into the uncomfortable areas of our lives and deals with some difficult actions on our part. It teaches us that if we’re going to be recipients of God’s grace, then we must give grace to others. Yeshua gives the challenge that if we don’t forgive others, it may be proof that we’ve never truly received God’s forgiveness ourselves. Or, in a positively glorious implication, He is teaching us that the most practical way to show the world that we understand forgiveness in our own lives is by showing that we know how to forgive.
It’s very clear in scripture that we are commanded to forgive. However, what about reconciliation? Is it possible to forgive someone, and not reconcile with them? Is it possible to reconcile with someone, without forgiving them? Are forgiveness and reconciliation one in the same? Allow me to give you the short answers to those questions, and then I’ll elaborate a little more. Forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same thing. It is possible to forgive someone, without reconciling with them, however, it is not possible to truly reconcile with someone without truly forgiving them.
Sometimes, the confusion over reconciliation and forgiveness can actually hinder us from forgiving someone. Forgiveness is always a must, and ideally, reconciliation should always be the goal. However, while forgiveness is always plausible, reconciliation is not always possible. Basically, reconciliation should always be the goal in healthy scenarios, but it’s not always going to be a reality because not every situation is healthy.
Let me explain why…
It’s possible to forgive someone without offering immediate reconciliation, because forgiveness is between one person and God. It’s an act of faith, where that particular person is taking their heavy weight of bitterness and placing it at the feet of Yeshua trusting Him to be perfect judge over the situation. This act of trusting God can take place in the context of one’s relationship with God apart from any contact with the offender.
One problem that many believers have with forgiveness is that they envision it as a two-way street. They are willing to forgive only when the one who has wronged them repents and seeks forgiveness. But the Scripture puts no such limit on forgiveness. Quite the contrary. The examples of Jesus (Luke 23:34) and Stephen (Acts 7:60) both demonstrate forgiveness, even when the wrong is occurring. In the midst of their executions, both prayed for the forgiveness of those killing them. Did they wait to forgive? Did they have time to consult their friend about forgiving or not, did they say that my situation requires time? In fact, time can be your greatest enemy because it gives the enemy a window to plan and scheme against you and causes you to fail. So forgive quickly.
But, reconciliation is different, because it is focused on restoring broken relationships between two people. It takes two people apologizing, forgiving, compromising and changing. It’s going to take two people trusting in God, and asking Him to restore trust in them for one another. This takes a super-natural work of the Lord, because that trust was completely shattered. And, where trust is broken, restoration will have to be a process — sometimes, a very lengthy one.
In many cases, even if an offender confessed his or her wrongdoing to the one who is hurt and appealed for their forgiveness, the offended person could justifiably say, “I forgive you, but it might take some time for me to regain trust and restore our relationship.”
The greatest evidence of genuine forgiveness is trusting God to be in control of the situation, and allowing His grace and mercy flow through you to the other person. Forgiveness can be a moment, however, reconciliation that has to heal and restore a relationship is often a marathon. After all, isn’t this how God often interacts with us? Our forgiveness is immediate, but our fellowship with Him grows and matures over time.
How to move from Forgiveness to Reconciliation
Seek reconciliation where it’s possible.
While Romans 12:18 does not use the word “reconciliation,” I believe it does give us explicit instructions about the need for reconciliation. Paul tells us that “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” I should strive for reconciliation. But it may not always be possible.
In Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus also gives instructions concerning the need for reconciliation. He says to us that “if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First, go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” Broken relationships with people will impact your relationship with God and hinder your prayer.
Is it possible to forgive someone and to withhold reconciliation? We must learn the differences between forgiveness and reconciliation. Forgiveness is always required by God, but it does not always lead to reconciliation.
Forgiveness and Reconciliation: Not the Same
Yeshua clearly warned that God will not forgive our sins if we do not forgive those who sin against us (Matthew 6:14-15; Mark 11:25). It’s not that we earn God’s forgiveness by forgiving; instead, God expects forgiven people to forgive (Matthew 18:21-35). The parable of the Unforgiven Debtor. It’s possible for forgiveness to occur in the context of one’s relationship with God apart from contact with the offender. But reconciliation is focused on restoring broken relationships. And where trust is deeply broken, restoration is a process—-sometimes, a lengthy one.
Differing from forgiveness, reconciliation is often conditioned on the attitude and actions of the offender. While its aim is restoration of a broken relationship, those who commit significant and repeated offenses must be willing to recognize that reconciliation is a process. If they’re genuinely repentant, they will recognize and accept that the harm they’ve caused takes time to heal.
In many cases, even if an offender confessed his wrong to the one he hurt and appealed for forgiveness, the offended person could justifiably say, “I forgive you, but it might take some time for me to regain trust and restore our relationship.” One of the evidence of genuine forgiveness is personal freedom from a vindictive or vengeful response (Romans 12:17-21 never payback evil with evil), but not always an automatic restoration of relationship.
Even when God forgives our sins, he does not promise to remove all consequences created by our actions. Yes, being forgiven, restored, and trusted is an amazing experience, but it’s important for those who hurt others to understand that their attitude and actions will affect the process of rebuilding trust. Words alone are often not enough to restore trust. When someone has been significantly hurt and feels hesitant about restoration with her offender, it’s both right and wise to look for changes in the offender before allowing reconciliation to begin.
Timing of Reconciliation
The process of reconciliation depends on a few things (a) the attitude of the offender, (b) the depth of the betrayal, (c) the pattern of offense. When an offended party works toward reconciliation, the first and most important step is the confirmation of genuine repentance on the part of the offender (Luke 17:3). An unrepentant offender will resent your desire to confirm the genuineness of his confession and repentance. The offender may resort to lines of manipulation such as, “I guess you can’t find it in yourself to be forgiving,” or, “Some Christian you are, I thought Christians believed in love and compassion.”
Such language reveals an unrepentant heart. Don’t be manipulated into avoiding the step of confirming the authenticity of your offender’s confession and repentance. It is advisable in difficult cases to seek the help of a wise counselor, one who understands the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. Such a counselor can help the injured person establish boundaries and define steps toward reconciliation that are restorative rather than retaliatory.
It is difficult to genuinely restore a broken relationship when the offender is unclear about his confession and repentance. We should strive to be as certain as we can of our offender’s repentance—-especially in cases involving repeated offenses. Even God will not grant forgiveness to one who is insincere about his confession and repentance. The person who is unwilling to forsake his sin will not find forgiveness with God (Proverbs 28:13).
Of course, only God can read hearts; we must evaluate actions. As Yeshua said, “By their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:16a). We must not allow superficial appearances of repentance to control our responses. Displays of tears or appearing to be sorry must not become substitutes for clear changes in attitude and behavior.
Seven Signs of Genuine Repentance
There are seven signs that indicate the offender is genuinely repentant:
- Accepts full responsibility for his or her actions. (Instead of: “Since you think I’ve done something wrong . . . ” or “If have done anything to offend you . . .”)
- Welcomes accountability from others.
- Does not continue in the hurtful behavior or anything associated with it.
- Does not have a defensive attitude about being in the wrong.
- Does not dismiss or downplay the hurtful behavior.
- Does not resent doubts about their sincerity or the need to demonstrate sincerity—-especially in cases involving repeated offenses.
- Makes restitution where necessary.
Ten Guidelines for Those Hesitant to Reconcile
Those who have been seriously (and repeatedly) hurt rightfully feel hesitant about reconciling with their offenders. When your offender is genuinely repentant, however, it’s important to be open to the possibility of restoration (unless there is a clear issue of safety involved). Yeshua spoke about reconciliation with a sense of urgency (Matthew 5:23-24). If you are hesitant to reconcile, work through these ten guidelines:
- Be honest about your motives. Make sure your desire is to do what pleases God and not to get revenge. Settle the matter of forgiveness (as Joseph did) in the context of your relationship with God. Guidelines for reconciliation should not be retaliatory.
- Be humble in your attitude. Do not let pride ruin everything. Renounce all vengeful attitudes toward your offender. We are not, for example, to demand that a person earn our forgiveness. The issue is not earning forgiveness but working toward true reconciliation. This demands humility. Those who focus on retaliation and revenge have allowed self-serving pride to control them.
- Be prayerful about the one who hurt you. Yeshua taught his disciples to pray for those who mistreat them (Luke 6:28). It is amazing how our attitude toward another person can change when we pray for him. Pray also for strength to follow through with reconciliation (Hebrews 4:16).
- Be willing to admit ways you might have contributed to the problem. As Ken Sande writes in The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict:
Even if you did not start the dispute, your lack of understanding, careless words, impatience, or failure to respond in a loving manner may have aggravated the situation. When this happens, it is easy to behave as though the other person’s sins more than cancel yours, which leaves you with a self-righteous attitude that can retard forgiveness (i.e. relational forgiveness). The best way to overcome this tendency is to prayerfully examine your role in the conflict and then write down everything you have done or failed to do that may have been a factor.
Such a step, however, is not suggested to promote the idea of equal blame for all situations (Matthew 7:1-6).
- Be honest with the offender. If you need time to absorb the reality of what was said or done, express this honestly to the one who hurt you. Yet we must not use time as a means of manipulation and punishment.
- Be objective about your hesitancy. Perhaps you have good reasons for being hesitant to reconcile, but they must be objectively stated. Sometimes, for example, repeated confessions and offenses of the same nature make it understandably hard for trust to be rebuilt. This is an objective concern. Clearly define your reasons for doubting your offender’s sincerity.
- Be clear about the guidelines for restoration. Establish clear guidelines for restoration. Requirements like restitution can be clearly understood and include such factors as maintaining financial accountability, holding down a job, or seeking treatment for substance abuse.
- Be alert to Satan’s schemes. In Ephesians 4:27, Paul warns about the possibility of giving Satan an opportunity in our lives. Significantly, this warning is given in the context of unchecked anger. A few verses later, he wrote, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, and gave himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 4:29-5:2). Meditate on these words and put them into practice.
- Be mindful of God’s sovereignty and control. As the apostle Paul wrote, “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). And to the Romans, he wrote, “We know that God works all things together for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
When you are having a hard time forgiving someone (i.e. being restored), take time to note how God may be using that offense for good. Is this an unusual opportunity to glorify God? How can you serve others and help them grow in their faith? What sins and weaknesses of yours are being exposed? What character qualities are you being challenged to exercise? When you perceive that the person who has wronged you is being used as an instrument in God’s hand to help you mature, serve others, and glorify him, it may be easier for you to move ahead with forgiveness (i.e. restoration).
- Be realistic about the process. Change often requires time and hard work. Periodic failure by an offender does not always indicate an unrepentant heart. Behavior patterns often run in deep channels. They can place a powerful grip on a person’s life. A key indicator of change is the attitude of the offender. While you may proceed with some caution, be careful about demanding guarantees from a person who has truly expressed repentance. If they stumble, the process of loving confrontation, confession, and forgiveness may need to be repeated. Setbacks and disappointments are often part of the process of change. Don’t give up too easily on the process of reconciliation. Be open to the goal of a fully restored relationship.
What is the take away from what we studied today?
- You must forgive it’s not a choice even in the most difficult of circumstances.
- Forgiveness is not dependent on the repentance of the offender but your willingness to obey God.
- Forgiveness is not a mental exercise a calculation you make if the offender deserves your forgiveness or not.
- Forgiveness is of the heart and will not be genuine otherwise.
- We should strive to Forgive as soon as possible as Yeshua and Steven demonstated.
- Forgiveness that does not involve the Lord’s help may be futile.
- Look for what the Lord is trying to teach you the offendee and thank him for his goodness
- If at all possible the goal of forgiveness is to reconcile.
- While forgiveness may be instantaneous reconciliation is normally a lengthy process.
- Reconciliation is dependent on both parties.
- The heart of the Lord is toward reconciliation.
- Seek to please the Father and he will reward you abundantly.
- Broken relationship can be restored