How do we learn to develop a forgiving heart? It certainly doesn’t seem to come naturally. Today I will mention three principles from the Scripture about developing a forgiving heart.
First of all, forgiveness is not a feeling; it is a choice. In Matthew 18:35, Jesus tells us, “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.” He says to forgive from your heart.
In the Jewish mind-set, the heart was not the center of emotion; it was the center of intellect. The bowels were the center of a person’s emotion. If Jesus were teaching that forgiveness is an emotional choice, He would have said, “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your bowels.” Jesus is not talking about emotion. He’s talking about the intellect. He’s teaching that forgiveness is a choice we make. We decide to forgive. Isn’t that what the Scripture says? “As he thinks within himself, so he is” (Proverbs 23:7). Forgiveness is not denying that somebody has wronged you. It’s not rationalizing. It’s not sweeping under the rug. It is a choice.
There are three key words to understand what forgiveness is. First of all, recognition. Forgiveness requires a recognition that indeed you have been wronged. Now, that seems un-Christian to some people. “Well, I’m not supposed to say I’ve been wronged.” But you can never forgive people you’re not first willing to blame. You have to recognize that you’ve been wronged. Remember what Joseph said to his brothers? He said, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20). Forgiveness requires a recognition that we’ve been wronged.
Second, forgiveness involves a realization that a debt exists. Before you can release a debt, you have to acknowledge that a debt exists. In Matthew 18:23-35, when the slave came to the king saying, “Oh, please forgive me of my debt,” the king didn’t say, “Debt? What debt? I don’t know what you’re talking about.” No, the king acknowledged that a debt existed.
In the same way, if we’re going to forgive somebody of what they owe us, we first of all need to calculate what it is that they owe us. When somebody comes to me and wants to go through the forgiveness process, I encourage them to calculate what their offender owes them. How much is that offense worth? What do they deserve to pay? That offender may deserve jail time. They may deserve the ending of a relationship. They may deserve death for what they have done to you. Calculate and realize the debt that exists.
And then third, the word release. Forgiveness is a releasing, a letting go of the debt that somebody owes you—not because the person asked to be forgiven, and not because they deserve to be forgiven. We forgive because of the great forgiveness that God has extended to us. (DR ROBERT JEFFRESS)