School of Practical Ministry
Conflict and Forgiveness
There's a difference between forgiving someone and being reconciled to them.
The act of excusing or pardoning another in spite of his slights, shortcomings, and
errors. As a theological term, forgiveness refers to God's pardon of the sins of human beings.
The Teaching of Christ: Christ taught that forgiveness is a duty. No limit can be set to
the extent of forgiveness (Luke 17:4) and it must be granted without reserve. Jesus will not
admit that there is any wrong so gross nor so often repeated that it is beyond forgiveness. To Him
an unforgiving spirit is one of the most heinous of sins (Bruce, Parabolic Teaching, 376 ff). This
is the offence which God will not forgive (Matt 18:34-35). It is the very essence of the unpardonable
sin (Mark 3:22-30). It was the one blemish of the elder son which marred an otherwise
irreproachable life (Luke 15:27-30). Forgiveness alone indicates that disposition of mind which
will humbly accept the Divine pardon. This natural, pagan spirit of implacability Jesus sought
to displace by a generous, forgiving spirit. It is so far the essence of His teaching that in popular
language "a Christian spirit" is not inappropriately understood to be synonymous with a
forgiving disposition. His answer to Peter that one should forgive not merely seven times in a day,
but seventy times seven (Matt 18:21-22), not only shows that He thought of no limit to one's
forgiveness, but that the principle could not be reduced to a definite formula.
Conditions of Forgiveness: Jesus recognized that there are conditions to be fulfilled before
forgiveness can be granted. Forgiveness is part of a mutual relationship; the other part is the
repentance of the offender. God does not forgive without repentance, nor is it required of man.
The effect of forgiveness is to restore to its former state the relationship which was broken by
sin. Such a restoration requires the cooperation of both parties. There must be both a granting and
an acceptance of the forgiveness. Sincere, deep-felt sorrow for the wrong which works repentance
(2 Cor 7:10) is the condition of mind which insures the acceptance of the forgiveness. Hence, Jesus
commands forgiveness when the offender turns again, saying, "I repent" (Luke 17:3-4). It was
this state of mind which led the father joyfully to welcome the Prodigal before he even gave
utterance to his newly formed purpose (15:21).
The Offended Party: It is not to be supposed, however, that failure to repent upon the
part of the offender releases the offended from all obligation to extend forgiveness. Without the
repentance of the one who has wronged him he can have a forgiving state of mind. This Jesus
requires, as is implied by, "if ye forgive not every one his brother from your hearts" (Matt
18:35). It is also implied by the past tense in the Lord's Prayer: "as we also have forgiven our
debtors" (6:12). It is this forgiving spirit which conditions God's forgiveness of our sins (Mark
11:25; Matt 6:14-15). In such a case the unforgiving spirit is essentially unrepentance (Matt
18:23-35). "Of all acts, is not, for a man, repentance the most Divine?"
The offended is to go even farther and is to seek to bring the wrongdoer to repentance.
This is the purpose of the rebuking commanded in Luke 17:3. Rebuke? More explicitly Jesus
says, "If thy brother sin against thee, go, show him his fault between thee and him alone"
(Matt 18:15-17). He is to carry his pursuit to the point of making every reasonable effort to win
the wrongdoer, and only when he has exhausted every effort may he abandon it. The object
is the gaining of his brother. Only when this is evidently unattainable is all effort to cease.
The power of binding and loosing, which means forbidding and allowing, was granted
to Peter (Matt 16:19) and to the Christian community (18:18; 20:23). It clearly implies the
possession of the power to forgive sins. In the case of Peter's power it was exercised when he used
the keys of the kingdom of heaven (Matt 16:19). This consisted in the proclamation of the gospel
and especially of the conditions upon which men might enter into relationship with God (Acts
2:38; 10:34 ff). It was not limited to Peter only, but was shared by the other apostles (Matt 16:19;
18:18). Christ left no fixed rules the observance or non-observance of which would determine
whether one is or is not in the kingdom of God. He gave to His disciples principles, and in the
application of these principles to the problems of life there had to be the exercise of
discriminating judgment. The exercise of this judgment was left to the Christian community (2 Cor
2:10). It is limited by the principles which are the basis of the kingdom, but within these principles
the voice of the community is supreme. The forgiveness here implied is not the pronouncing of
absolution for the sins of individuals, but the determination of courses of conduct and worship which
will be acceptable. In doing this its decisions will be ratified in heaven (Westcott on John 20:23).
That there is a close analogy between human and Divine forgiveness is clearly implied (Matt
5:23-24; 6:12; Mark 11:25; Luke 6:37; Col 1:14; 3:13). God.'s forgiveness is conditional upon man's
forgiveness of the wrongs done him, not because God forgives grudgingly but because forgiveness
alone indicates that disposition of mind which will humbly accept the Divine pardon.
Forgiveness is probably the most powerful tool that the Christian has in ministry on a
horizontal plain. How so? Forgiving others is the root of binding and loosing. Many people
remain bound today because they will not forgive past hurts. Many others remain bound today
because they have not received forgiveness for what they have done. It is therefore the task of
ministers of the gospel to establish forgiveness in the hearts of people. The journey of deliverance
goes through the gates of forgiveness.
Consequently it is the task of gospel workers to understand the principles of
forgiveness that bring restoration. Though it seems easy to say that we must simply call to
forgiveness, there are many deep issues that stop up the process of forgiveness. We must consider
the repeat offender. How do you forgive and how do you discipline at the same time? Is it a
demonic stronghold that must be directly assaulted? Is it a stubborn rebellion at the root? Do they
need a healing from their past? Must the fear of God and his standards be brought down harder
upon the individual?
No one wants to minister cheap grace in casually forgiving someone. So the obvious
first step is knowing if the other person is even asking for forgiveness. Do they know that they
need it? If they do then I always ask myself if the person is living up to the grace that they have
been given. In other words have they received the power to live up to a certain standard, or is it
something that is still beyond their reach. Further, forgiveness does not mean no consequence is
meted out. Discipline itself does not have to be penal in nature. It does not have to be punishment,
but training in life. Sometimes forgiveness even means separation for a time is to be included. Paul
talks about excommunication of someone for a time yet also of the forgiving him in restoration.
Matt 5 & 18 show us that when two people are in conflict the one who first
becomes aware of the breach is to go to the other regardless of who caused the offence. The
procedure of Matt 18 is there for the purpose of establishing the facts that reconciliation can take
place. Sometimes there is the conflict of not knowing or not admitting guilt, thusly others may need
to be brought in for judgement to take place within the body. It is here that sometimes Christians
err on one side or the other. Sometimes they are too quick to extend forgiveness! They don’t
want conflict and they apologize even though they are not the guilty party. The true offender
(manipulator) often goes free to do more damage. For genuine forgiving restoration to take place
there needs to be an acknowledgment of wrong done and the need for forgiveness justly
Also, Christians can pick the wrong battles to fight and demand forgiveness over
things that are best left alone. There are times when people are just going through deep waters and
they need our understanding. They may act out for a time because of the pressure they are under.
Give them time.
Another area that must be addressed is what to do when we have been deeply
hurt. How do we deal with the issue of forgiveness? How do we find power to stand against deep,
deep hurts laid upon us? Is the hurt only opening a scab from a past wound? Is that where the
healing must begin? If forgiveness is not established in the heart of the gospel worker a great
bitterness can develop. Bitter root vows can be made within the heart towards certain people,
types of people such as parents, men or women in general, authority figures, professionals, certain
ministry types, etc.
The only apparent reason for unforgiveness seems to be vengeance. We may call
it retribution, punishment or some other such pain inflicted upon another. But personal or public
justice demands a penalty be paid for release to be given. In Christ the penalty has obviously been
paid for the sins committed against Him AND US.
Also, we must realize that our own sin has hurt us far more than another’s sins
against us. In the bottom of our hearts we must see that what we have done is at least as harmful
as what has been done to us. Someone else’s sin against us may separate us from them, but our sin
separates us from God. It is far more serious to us.
Further we must take it to heart that if we are to be forgiven we must forgive, for
we can not justly demand something of others that we have been released of ourselves.
Whenever we rise up to the place of vengeance we take unforgiveness into our soul
to the point of its ruin. The unforgiveness will hurt us eventually far more than the sin that
brought it about. We become victims of our own bitterness.
Unforgiveness makes someone other than God our master and source of life.
Pain is mostly a sign of a thirsting for God in our own souls. He is intended to be our complete
source of life. When we have harbored resentment against another we are claiming that
someone other than God is in control of our destiny. This fear keeps us from releasing the love
of God to the people who need it the most.
We should also realize that not forgiving someone else may promote their
separation from God for they are not seeing the forgiveness of God through us. The opportunity
to forgive presents the greatest opportunity we have to display the love of God and the power of the
gospel. If someone needs a change in their life then the power to accomplish that is going to be
through forgiveness. If we want the pain to stop coming to us from them then the changes of loving
forgiveness will bring that change like no other.
Sometimes it takes volumes of loving grace ministered to people in patience
before their hearts become convinced that this love is real. Whether it be kids or adults, only
over the test of time will forgiveness bring release. Weeds grow over night, but sometimes we need
to forgive over the long haul with profound patience and security in God with no confrontations to
If you are going to effectively minister to people then the phrase, “that’s not
fair,” needs to be taken out of your vocabulary. Forgiveness is not about fairness. It is giving
people what they do not deserve, mercy. Without taking up the cross here even the walk of any
disciple will sooner or later be in jeopardy.
Concerning forgiving the truly deep hurts, realize that they will come from some
of the people who have been the closest to you. Yes, Corri Ten Boom had to forgive her Nazi
tormentors, and they were not close to her, but by and large the hurts we face will be from those near
us. They will be the things that blind side us, and many a Christian worker has given up because of
hurts like this. Whole families and churches have been devastated by it. The point is that if we are
to forgive we must look at things as they really are, not as we would like them to be. Those close
to us are real people with real problems who need love too. Remember that it was at one of the most
tender, powerful moments in Jesus’ life that one of the inner circle, one of the twelve, went out to
betray him. Sooner or later you too will come into betrayal, and God will have allowed it. Here is
where you come to some of the truly great times of Christian maturity.
Over the years I have noticed something about people that helps me understand why
Jesus has to not only die, but He had to suffer greatly and then die. There is something about
human nature that needs to see someone suffer for it, suffer because of it, and then be forgiven
by the sufferer at its hand. If you want to see true Christianity, find someone who you think is a
real genuine Christian. Let him help you, love you and befriend you. Then hurt him. Really hurt
him. Make him suffer and you will see the genuine loving forgiveness of God come out of him. It
will bring the awesome, humbling, delivering power of God to your soul. Let him wash the “feet
of your soul,” and then go and suffer loss for you, and you will then know what true Christianity is
all about. For some reason fallen humanity is broken by this kind of suffering love.
Sometimes it is extremely difficult to forgive things that aren’t nearly as hurtful as
they feel. One of the reasons we struggle with forgiving others is that it has opened up a deeper
wound that has not been healed. We should know that forgiveness is part of the process of healing
all wounds, and that perhaps we have not forgiven on a deeper level than the immediate offence.
However, healing for these offences against us also takes the love of God applied. If I have been
deeply wounded I will need to receive God’s assurance in some way that I am loved. This may
require taking down the defenses that have kept his love out, ways in which I perform that keep me
from seeing I have not received his love freely.
This is why the issue of intimacy is so powerful to the human soul. It is one of our
greatest needs and even reasons for being. We have all heard of the need to be accepted just as we
are way down on the inside where we have all of our spots and wrinkles. If we can just bare our
souls, be touched by another heart, and lifted up instead of torn down, then the healing can pour in.
But too often our religious performing heart will not allow such moments of healing.
Sometimes the pain of forgiveness is so great that only a continual feeding upon
God’s word will keep us safe. It’s one thing to forgive someone when we have been emotionally
shattered, but when the offence takes on the form of significant financial loss, pain to family
members, physical repercussions such as fatigue, chest pain or worse, then we need all of the
resources available. Knowing God’s word ahead of time and how to feed upon it and draw life from
it will make the difference. True “door mat” Christianity is the kind that sees that the offence has
greater power than God, and it cries out, “enough is enough.” But time with God in the word, in
prayer, and in the support of other Christians just may save your peace (and someone else’s life).