Forgiveness: Who Is It Really For?
“Forgiveness is not really for the one who did you wrong; it is for you.”
I’ve heard that statement or some variation of it before, and you may have too. The classic illustration and train of thought that usually accompanies it goes something like this: Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and hoping for the other person to die. It only hurts you in the long run. So, therefore, you should forgive the other person, not necessarily for the good of the one who hurt you, but for your own. It helps you not to become angry, bitter, resentful, and full of hatred. Forgiveness more than anything else is about self-love.
This all sounds good and right. But the questions we must ask ourselves as Christians are: Does this way of viewing forgiveness square with Scripture? Does God primarily call us to forgive for our own benefit? Is self-love the principal reason or motivation for why we should forgive someone who has sinned against us? Is forgiveness, at its core, really for – and about – us?
A cursory look at two passages of Scripture will sufficiently and succinctly answer these questions:
“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)
“…if one has a compliant against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” (Colossians 3:13)
Did you catch the primary motivating reason in those verses for why we should forgive?
Is it self-love? No.
Is it so you won’t be depressed? No.
Is it about you being free and happy? No.
The reason we should forgive is because we have been forgiven by God in Christ Jesus. We forgive because we have been forgiven.
Are there some resulting benefits we experience by forgiving others who sin against us? Sure. But they are not central to why we should forgive.
Forgiving others in Jesus’ name is not ultimately about or for us, or about or for the offender. It is about Jesus and for God’s glory.