People today only want to do what feels good.
However, Jesus taught that we should do just the opposite when it comes to forgiveness.
3. Choose to obey His command. Now that you are tender-hearted and willing to forgive, it only remains that you make the choice to do it. Jesus commanded that every one us must forgive “from his heart” (Matthew 18:35). This is where the choice is made. Before you ever come to seek reconciliation with your mate, you must first deal with it at the heart level. Once you have chosen to forgive in your heart, then you are ready to talk about the offense with your husband or wife.
This choice within your heart does not depend upon whether you feel like forgiving your mate. In fact, your choice to forgive will probably be contrary to your feelings. Personally, I have never felt like forgiving anybody, but I do so because I know I am commanded to forgive. Knowing that forgiveness is God’s command encourages me to ask for the willingness, and enables me to make the choice to actually do it.
Be sure of this one thing: if you are waiting for some overwhelming feeling of forgiveness before you actually make the choice to forgive, you will never do it. The feelings of forgiveness come after you have made the choice to forgive, not before. These feelings of love and forgiveness are the result of reconciling with your spouse.
Think of the times you have reconciled with your mate in the past. After you forgave one another, didn’t the anger and resentment melt in your heart? The tears began to flow and the joy and love returned to your relationship. This was the result of taking the correct action before you felt like it. People struggle with this concept of action-before-feeling because our culture is so feeling-oriented. People today only want to do what feels good. However, Jesus taught that we should do just the opposite when it comes to forgiveness.
To prove this, you need to read the entire passage of Luke 17:1-10 in context. There, Jesus taught His disciples to forgive even if someone should sin against them seven times in one day. The disciples, seeing great difficulty in forgiving this many times, asked the Lord to increase their faith. He told them that this wasn’t necessary; all they needed was to use the faith they already possessed. Then Jesus told them a story to illustrate how they could exercise their mustard-seed faith and choose to forgive without the feelings.
The story was of a servant who came home one day tired from plowing the fields and tending his master’s sheep. This servant obviously didn’t feel like serving anymore that day. But, the master requested his servant to go and prepare his dinner and serve him before sitting down himself. In the story Jesus declared that the servant did what his master wanted because he was commanded to do so. In other words, this servant took actions that were against his feelings simply because he was commanded to by his master. Jesus told His disciples, “So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’” (Luke 17:10).
The point of this story is that you have been commanded to forgive by your Master, and it’s not an option to refuse this command. You must make the choice to forgive no matter how you feel simply because you know this pleases God. Once you have done what you have been commanded to do, then you can sit down and enjoy the feast of a heart satisfied that you have done what was your duty to do.
4. Determine to make a promise. When God forgives, He makes a very important promise to you that you must also make when you forgive your spouse. God says, “I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more” (Hebrews 8:12). The Greek word translated remember means to hold in a mental grasp, to recollect, or to dwell upon in order to use at a later time to punish. The Hebrew word for remember means to mention or recount again. The promise God makes here is very important. He is promising that when He forgives you, He will never recount or mention your sin to you ever again. He doesn’t hold your sins in a mental grasp to use at a later time. It’s not that He forgets your sin, He can’t do that because He is omniscient and knows all things. He simply chooses not to remember it against you or bring it up to you again in order to condemn or punish you. What a glorious promise! When God forgives, He promises never to throw your sin up in your face ever again.
When you forgive, you must have the same heart of forgiveness because Scripture commands you to forgive “just as God in Christ also forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). Here are three specific ways you should emulate God’s promise to forgive: (1) When you forgive, you should see this as a promise to never condemn your spouse again with his or her past faults. To bring these issues up again would mean you have broken your promise to forgive. (2) When you forgive, you should see this as a promise not to recount or mention his or her failures to anyone else; this would constitute gossip. (3) When you forgive, you should see this as a promise not to ever recount or brood over these issues in your own mind. If you dwell on these offenses in your thought life, the anger and resentment will return. This is the practical meaning of the promise; not to mention these issues ever again to your spouse, to others, or to yourself. If you fail to do this, you are breaking your promise of forgiveness toward your mate. If you keep your promise in this manner, the past will truly be past, and your relationship will be able to grow, even blossom.
What should you do when you realize you have broken your promise to forgive? First, go back to God and ask His forgiveness. Then, choose again in your heart to forgive your spouse. Often, this choice must be made several times in a day, simply because you are battling your own will that wants to take revenge. If you continue to make the choice to forgive, while at the same time asking God for his power to work in you the total willingness to forgive, you will overcome the resentment. Just surrender your desire for revenge and ask for the love of God to fill your heart.
Follow the link to find part two of this series on Forgiving Your Spouse by Pastor Steve Carr.