Forgiving others is a discipline that most of us have not conquered and probably never will. There is no doubt that Scripture is very clear that we, as Christians, must forgive others as Christ has forgiven us. God would not command something if we could’ t obey it. It is through the work of the Holy Spirit, that God us the ability to forgive so that we can free ourselves from the hurt and pain that has been put on us and all that we put on ourselves. Carrying the weight of unforgiveness not only affects us spiritually and emotionally, but it also distracts us from being able to carry out God’s plan for our lives.
“Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:21-22).
“So also, my heavenly Father will do to every one of you if you do not forgive your brother from your heart” (Matthew 18:35)
“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37).
When I think of someone who understood the art of forgiveness and put it into practice, Elisabeth Elliot is first on my list. She was a missionary with her husband Jim in Ecuador trying to minister to the Acua Indians to share the Good News of the Gospel. Elisabeth had just given birth to their daughter. Jim, along with four other men, were brutally killed by the Indians during the attempt of the men to meet them. Needless to say, she was devastated by such a loss. Most would have packed up and left, but she chose the hard path to stay for an additional two years with the hope of trying to reach them for Christ. She chose to forgive them. In time, she finally had the opportunity to look into the eyes of those who killed the men, including her husband, and she forgave them for the sake of God’s Kingdom. She did not feel like it, but she knew that it was what God wanted her to do.
“Do not try to fortify yourself against emotions. Recognize them, name them, and lay them open before the Lord for His training of your responses.” (Discipline, 145)
Elisabeth offers four things that helped her forgive:
Receive grace (Matthew 18:1-35)
Acknowledge the wrong. Make sure your judgment is based on the Word. Be straightforward with God.
Lay down all rights. Forgiveness is unconditional laying down of the self. It includes the desire for retribution, pleasure at the other person’s humiliation, keeping accounts of evil, the right of an apology, and bringing every thought under obedience to Christ.
What to do to the one who has wronged you? If he asks forgiveness, forgive. If he doesn’t, forgive with God.
“It is the will that must deal with the feelings. The will must triumph over them, but only the will that is surrendered to Christ can do this.”
When Elisabeth offered forgiveness to the men who killed her husband, she set aside herself, her plans, her vindication for Christ to work. She knew her life, her husband’s life, and even her daughter’s life was no more important than the Auca Indian’s life. She knew they needed Jesus. The destination of their soul was more important than her own feelings; Elisabeth did not forget her past, but embraced the power of Christ to forgive those in her past.
In less than two years, Elisabeth Elliot, her daughter Valerie, and Rachel Saint (Nate’s sister) were able to move to the Auca village. Many Aucas became Christians. They are now a friendly tribe. Missionaries, including Nate Saint’s son and his family, still live among the Aucas today.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you” (Matthew 5:38-42).
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9).