While we’re to take a stand on important issues, there’s no room in the life of a believer for a critical spirit with other believers. The Bible admonishes us in Rom. 12:18, “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.” We are supposed to do our sincere best to get along with as many people as possible.
Col. 3:13, “Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.”
The only way to be able to do such as thing is to exercise forgiveness and forbearance. While the two subjects are closely related, they are not the same. If you understand forgiveness, for the most part you will understand forbearance. One thing is for sure, neither forgiveness nor forbearance are easy tasks. I don’t claim to be an expert on practicing both; in fact, I don’t think anyone would make that claim. Just because you may struggle in an area, doesn’t mean you are a hypocrite for trying and failing. That’s just being human. We’re all going to be inconsistent at times; we just need to make sure to never stop trying.
What is Forgiveness?
“Ceasing to feel angry toward or seek retribution against someone who has wronged you.”
Forgiveness and forbearance both deal with the heart. They both have to do with a person’s perceptions on an emotional level. Forgiveness is refusing to hold an action against someone who may have wronged you. It’s refusing to dwell upon their action, refusing to ruminate upon it, refusing to bring it up again in your mind.
Eph. 4:31-32, “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice:
 And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”
These two verses place in a nutshell what it means to forgive:
1. Put away bitterness, wrath, and anger. This deals primarily with your heart towards the person that has offended you.
2. Put away clamour and evil speaking. This has to do with your tongue. If someone did something wrong to you, and you have forgiven him, that means you need to not go around telling other people about it.
3. Put away malice. Malice is feeling a need to see others suffer. It’s holding ill will towards someone. As a Christian, you should hope the best for people. Someone did you wrong, and you’ve supposedly forgiven them… but deep in your heart you hope they fall flat on their face? That’s not forgiveness.
4. Be kind and tenderhearted. Now that you do not hold resentment towards the other person, it’s important to be kind to them. Forgiveness makes no allowance for shunning the person who did you wrong.
With that being said, on an intellectual level, forgiveness does not mean you forget what happened and open the door for it to happen again. However, this is not a liberty to fall back into holding a grudge against the person; it only means that on an intellectual level you can acknowledge what happened. An example of this would be if you were in a business relationship with a person and they ripped you off. As a Christian, you are commanded to forgive them and not hold any resentment or ill will towards them. However, that doesn’t mean that you turn around and enter with them into another business relationship. Trust and forgiveness are two separate things.
I cannot stress enough the importance of making sure that a person does not use this as an excuse to not really forgive. Consistently bringing up the situation is refusing to forgive! Making it your cause in life to inform others of your unfortunate incident in the name of a prayer request or “…by the way, I just thought you should know…” is being a talebearer, gossip, and it is not forgiving. Obviously, one has to use common sense in this area and there are extreme situations that may be exceptions to this. Exceptions only prove the rule and in the end forgiveness always comes down to the condition of the person’s heart.
As a Christian, we just need to realize that there is no excuse for not forgiving someone, ever. While it may not be easy, and many times it certainly isn’t easy, it is not optional in the life of a believer.
II Cor. 2:10-11, “To whom ye forgive any thing, I forgive also: for if I forgave any thing, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ;
 Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices.”
Col. 3:13, “Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.”
In these verses we see a few things, such as the basis for our forgiveness. Our forgiveness is not based upon the merits of the person asking for forgiveness. There is absolutely, never ever, any allowance made in Scripture for someone earning your forgiveness. Forgiveness is something that you give; it is not something that is purchased.
As a Christian, our reason to forgive is Jesus Christ. In Christ, we are to forgive others. Because of who Christ is, we are to forgive others. Because Christ forgave us, we are to forgive others. To refuse to forgive others is an offense to Christ personally and what He did for us.
Matt. 6:15, “But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
Refusing to forgive is not acceptable. You cannot expect to have a good relationship with God, while you are holding resentment in your heart towards another person. Your Father/son relationship with God is impeded while you hold resentment. This is Satan getting an advantage over you. Bitterness is a disease that will cut you off from God, twist and destroy you, and cause damage to everyone else with whom you come in contact.
When Do You Forgive?
The best answer to this is as soon as you possibly can.
The old, wicked, depraved human nature will tell you that you need to wait for an apology before you forgive. Furthermore, the sin nature will tell you that the apology “better be good. Why, that person better crawl over crushed glass and hot coals, weeping and wailing for forgiveness before I, in my great abundant mercy, stoop so low as to forgive the errant wretch!”
Mark 11:25, “And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”
This verse shows that regardless of the actions of the other person, if you have ought against them you must forgive them. We must never forget what forgiveness is. It primarily takes place in the heart. Remember what the four points of forgiveness are! Nowhere in scripture are you required to have an apology to forgive someone, you are commanded to do it regardless of the actions of the other person.
Next time you refuse to let something go because someone hasn’t apologized, let me challenge you to consider a couple verses of Scripture.
Luke 23:34, “Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots.”
Acts 7:60, “And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.”
Jesus, and the first martyr for Christ, Stephen, both died forgiving the people who were killing them. Over and over again in church history, you will read about saints who were tortured and burned at the stake, forgiving those who did the wicked acts to them.
In light of this, what was done to you that warrants you refusing to forgive?
Should We Ask For an Apology?
There is nothing wrong with asking for an apology from someone. If done in a spirit of meekness, this is a very good thing.
Matt. 5:23-24, “Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;
 Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.”
In these verses we see someone who is coming forward to do something for God. He is reminded that he has ought with a brother, and before he proceeds he is admonished here to reconcile with his brother. An extremely important thing to remember here is that it is the offended party who needs to go and ask for the apology. This idea, as much of the Scripture, flies smack in the face of our carnal natures. It is the complete opposite of “Well, I’m not going to talk to him about it, he just needs to come and apologize to me.”
Once again, nowhere in Scripture are you told to wait around expecting an apology. Expecting people to read your mind is foolish. If you want an apology, go and ask for it.
The wrong way to do it is to demand an apology. Nowhere in Scripture is there ever an allowance made for demanding an apology. You cannot refuse to be someone’s friend unless they apologize, and you cannot refuse to talk to someone unless they apologize. That sort of behavior is emotional manipulation, and it is never acceptable.
Now, asking for an apology in a spirit of meekness is a good thing. Many times, a brother or sister in Christ doesn’t know they’ve hurt you. If approached correctly, with the intent to reconcile (not debate), this can lead to peaceful resolution that is glorifying to God and can bring about a better end then simply forgiving the person in your heart without ever talking to them about it. It can create unity.
Ps. 113:1, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!”
Once again, a good dose of common sense and spiritual maturity is required. Examine yourself, why are you asking for the apology? Is it because you feel indignant and believe you deserve it? No one deserves an apology, we all deserve hell. We’re all sinners, and by the grace of God we are saved sinners. Are you having a hard time forgiving someone, and you feel like it would be easier if they asked for forgiveness? That is a much more humble approach and perhaps a valid reason to ask for an apology. Do you feel as though there’s not the sense of unity that you had before and you want to restore it? Then by all means, humbly ask for an apology. Remember, it always comes down to the heart.
Along these same lines, there’s also nothing wrong with going out of your way to tell someone that you’ve forgiven them for something, or asking them to forgive you for something. Once again, you need to examine your heart and ask yourself “Why am I telling them this?”
How can I put this the best way to you… don’t be stupid. I’ve heard of people asking other people to forgive them for things they had no idea about. If you’re going to do this, it’s usually best if you know the other person is aware of an issue between the two of you. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you I’ve heard of men going to other men, asking their forgiveness because they were lusting after the other man’s wife. Talk about walking into a bear trap! That’s ridiculous, not to mention it’s confessing a secret sin to another man. You’re only supposed to confess sin to God!
The same idea applies to going out of your way to tell someone you’ve forgiven them of something. What if the person had no clue about it? What are you accomplishing by telling them you’ve forgiven them for something they had no idea about? “Please forgive me for secretly hating you.” – When the person had no idea you hated them! Again, you’ve just confessed a secret sin to someone under the guise of asking for forgiveness, and you may have just exasperated things. Why not just forgive them in your heart and move on?
When approaching other people about things like this, over and over again I can’t emphasis the importance of prayer and examining the purpose for doing what you’re about to do.
What is Forbearance?
“Showing patient and unruffled self-control and restraint under adversity; slow to retaliate or express resentment.”
Forbearance is what you forgot to do when the person you just yelled at looked at you with a sincerely shocked face and said, “I didn’t mean it that way.”
If you were to sum up the act of forbearing in one word, I would think it would be restraint. It’s when everything in you says to do, say, or even feel something vindictive, but instead you forbear. Forbearance isn’t just words and actions; it’s also what you choose to think. We have control over what we choose to think and believe, we can indeed “help it.”
When Should We Show Forbearance?
Eph. 4:2-3, “With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love;
 Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
In order to maintain unity, you have to be able to forbear on a daily basis. What this means is that we need to do our best to assume the innocence of other believers. We are not called to be independent; we’re called to be interdependent. There’s no way we can have that kind of unity if we’re always suspecting each other of things and always taking things the wrong way.
“Hi, what are you doing here?”
That can be taken three ways:
One, it could be taken as though the person is suspicious of you.
Two, it could be taken as though the person is being sarcastic and doesn’t want you around.
Three, and imagine this – it could be taken at face value.
What? You mean the person could actually just be curious as to why I’m here? Yes!
When a person jumps to conclusions and automatically assumes the worst about someone else, they’re doing everyone a great disservice. First of all, they’re already showing resentment in their own heart, something they’ll have to change sooner or later. Secondly, they just cut someone off at the knees without legitimately giving them a chance. Thirdly, they just threw a big rock at the glass house of brotherly love and unity.
If within you, you feel the knee-jerk reaction to assume the worst about someone, do one thing first:
That’s right, ask them what they meant by that. “Well, it’s very clear what they meant by that!” Maybe to you, but maybe you’re not looking at it right. Give them the opportunity to explain themselves. That doesn’t mean, once again, demanding an explanation. Just ask something like, “Do you mind if I ask what you meant by that?” If they did mean something that was wrong, they’ll either paint themselves into a corner or they’ll quickly change their minds. No harm, no foul, no melodrama.
Titus 2:8, “Sound speech, that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you.”
By taking this approach, you are operating with discernment and exercising sound speech. If you are in fact locked into an unfriendly confrontation with someone, using sound speech will leave you coming out smelling like a rose and they will, as the Bible says here, be ashamed. Being hasty in judgment, jumping to conclusions, and overreacting do not exactly fall under the description of sound speech.