We’ve all had to forgive others and be forgiven by others. I know I’ve been on the receiving end of forgiveness far more often than I’ve had to forgive others. I also realize I’m not very good at forgiving because from childhood I was always just told to “forgive”. You know how it goes.
Chris hits Brent with the ball. Brent tells the teacher. The teacher gets both of them together and asks what happened. Chris says it was an accident. The teacher makes Chris say “I’m sorry”. Next she turns to Brent and tells him to say “I forgive you”. Then she sends them off to play again.
It seems simple enough but it’s not always that easy. Difficult conflicts where people are emotionally wounded or seriously angry may require more than “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you”. So here is some insight on how to forgive.
“But if anyone has caused grief, he has not grieved me, but all of you to some extent—not to be too severe. This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man, so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow. Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him.” (2 Corinthians 2:5-8 NKJV)
In this passage Paul is referencing a conflict in the church at Corinth that was so severe the church had to discipline the person responsible. Now that the situation is over, he says the church should forgive the person.
In English we typically define forgive as “relief from debt, or to no longer feel resentment toward a person”. But here in this passage the word forgive in Greek means “to grant as a favor, that is gratuitously, in kindness, pardon or rescue”. It’s root word is the same word for grace. Our English word carries with it the images of debt, guilt, and resentment while the biblical word has the image of favor, grace, and kindness.
When Paul says “forgive” he is telling the church to go and grant favor, go and give grace, and go to show kindness to the person who has committed the wrong. True forgiveness is an act of love and grace by the offended to the offender. It is an act that gives without expecting anything in return. Forgive, just like love, is an action word.