Through the years I have read and listened to many excellent thinkers discuss the question “How does one forgive? What is the process and how can you do it especially when you don’t feel all that forgiving?” For me, the best of insights continue to reinforce what I have learned from the Person and teachings of Jesus. Jesus was wronged more than anyone. Finally, all the sins of the world were placed unjustly on Him! What did He, the Perfect One, demonstrate about how to forgive?
Jesus’ words and ways reveal the secret, which includes three steps:
Jesus sympathized with the offender.
He relinquished the offense to His heavenly Father.
He anticipated the Father’s help.
These three steps may sound unfamiliar, even impossible. You’re thinking, Yes, but you don’t know what my spouse is like! But stay with me. These three steps are a pathway out of bitterness and a way to avoid becoming bitter in the first place. Have you ever thought about sympathizing with your spouse, relinquishing your offended feelings to your heavenly Father, and anticipating God’s help?
“Sounds great if you’re Jesus,” you might reply. “You just said He was the Perfect One. That puts Him out of my league. I can’t do what Jesus did.”
On the contrary, Peter indicates that Jesus is the example for husbands and wives. In 1 Peter 2, the apostle continues to explain the meaning of grace in a believer’s life, a discussion he began in chapter one. He spells out how Christians are to be holy, God-fearing, loving, honoring, mature, and submissive to authorities even when subjected to unfair treatment. And why should Christians do all this? “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps” (1 Peter 2:21).
After taking several more verses to describe how Jesus responded when He was mistreated, Peter goes on to say, “In the same way, you wives…You husbands likewise…” (1 Peter 3:1, 7). In the same way as what? Like what? You are to respond to your spouse and to any mistreatment or misunderstandings in your marriage in the same way that Jesus responded to the mistreatment He received. Peter is saying Jesus is not out of our league at all. By becoming a man and dwelling among us, He put on our uniform, so to speak. He is not a model “who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses.” Instead He “has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
If you are tired of being angry with your spouse all too often or if you are growing weary carrying the burden of an unforgiving spirit, you can learn Jesus’ process for forgiving. It won’t be automatic; you will have to work at it.
It may be true that in your marriage you have encountered far more pain and mistreatment than I have. But I still know a little about family-of-origin forgiveness issues due to the hurt I suffered at the hands of my father. I know from experience that the insights of Jesus regarding forgiveness are invaluable. It is worth your time and effort to follow His approach to forgiving. The whole basis of His approach is different, and this difference is exactly what can help you.
Over the next several weeks I will unpack the steps of forgiveness modeled by Jesus, so stay tuned!
Excerpts taken from The Language of Love and Respect by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs.