The maturity of forgiveness

When we are forgiving of others, we are not only setting an individual free from condemnation, we are also setting ourselves free from the emotional bondage created by our insistence on holding that condemnation over their heads.

Core of the Bible podcast #28 – The maturity of forgiveness

In this episode we will be exploring the topic of forgiveness, especially as forgiveness reigns over judgment, and how forgiveness is a sign of emotional and spiritual maturity.

Yeshua stated it this way:

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Luke 6:36-37

When we typically think of the quality of forgiveness, it’s usually placed as a virtue that is opposite hatred. To forgive is to love and not to hate. However, in this passage, we find that mercy and forgiveness are placed in direct contrast not with hatred, but with condemnation and judgment.

In Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers, it says “Seek not to judge at all. If you must judge, be not eager to condemn.”

Albert Barnes writes: “This command [to not judge] refers to rash, censorious, and unjust judgment.” He continues this thought by saying, “people are prone to be severe judges of others.”

Of course, it’s easy to condemn someone else, but that type of condemnation is not always based on all of the facts. Additionally, if we are overly judgmental of others, we may be guilty of committing the same acts.

For example, consider the passage of the woman caught in adultery in John 8.

John 8:3-11 – Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, making her stand in the center. “Teacher,” they said to him, “this woman was caught in the act of committing adultery. “In the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say? ” They asked this to trap him, in order that they might have evidence to accuse him. Jesus stooped down and started writing on the ground with his finger. When they persisted in questioning him, he stood up and said to them, “The one without sin among you should be the first to throw a stone at her.” Then he stooped down again and continued writing on the ground. When they heard this, they left one by one, starting with the older men. Only he was left, with the woman in the center. When Jesus stood up, he said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you? ”  “No one, Lord,” she answered. “Neither do I condemn you,” said Jesus. “Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.”

Recognize it was primarily the scribes and Pharisees who were confronted with their hypocrisy.

Or consider the situation of David when the prophet Nathan confronts him on his affair with Bathsheba:

2 Samuel 12:1-7, 9, 13  – So the LORD sent Nathan to David. When he arrived, he said to him: There were two men in a certain city, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very large flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing except one small ewe lamb that he had bought. He raised her, and she grew up with him and with his children. From his meager food she would eat, from his cup she would drink, and in his arms she would sleep. She was like a daughter to him. Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man could not bring himself to take one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for his guest.  David was infuriated with the man and said to Nathan: “As the LORD lives, the man who did this deserves to die! “Because he has done this thing and shown no pity, he must pay four lambs for that lamb.”  Nathan replied to David, “You are the man! This is what the LORD God of Israel says: You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife as your own wife ​– ​you murdered him with the Ammonite’s sword.” …  David responded to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.”

Hypocrisy and unjust judgment go hand in hand. Barnes concludes: “the heart is deceitful. When we judge others we should make it a rule to examine ourselves on that very point. Such an examination might greatly mitigate the severity of our judgment; or might turn the whole of our indignation against ourselves.”

When we are condemning and judgmental, we are are out of balance with God’s ideal, and we then place ourselves in the path of accountability with God himself.

Matthew 7:1-2 Do not judge, or you will be judged. For with the same judgment you pronounce, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

Yeshua teaches us to not be critical of others. In this teaching, he highlights that there is a balance, or a universal equity that God maintains. If an individual is overly critical of others, the same level of critical judgment will be applied to them. This is not only conveyed in the treatment received by others, but in respect to our ultimate accountability to God.

Albert Barnes writes, ” You shall be judged by the same rule which you apply to others. It refers no less to the way in which people will judge of us, than to the rule by which God will judge us.”

John Gill adds, “Condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned; censure not men’s persons, and judge not their state, or adjudge them to condemnation for every offence in practice, or because they differ in principle, lest you should be treated in like manner by others; and especially, lest you should fall under the righteous censure, judgment, and condemnation of God.”

This condemnation by God is not always recognized by others because the timing of this judgment does not always immediately follow an infraction. However, the Bible promises that justice will always be realized in the balance of God’s Creation, in his time.

Now by contrast, there is fair judgment as a legitimate function of our abilities, and it provides a necessary distinction between right and wrong. We rely on our judgment to ensure that fairness is being practiced or demonstrated. Consider what Albert Barnes writes in regard to this aspect of judgment:

“Christ does not condemn judging as a magistrate, for that, when according to justice, is lawful and necessary. Nor does he condemn our “forming an opinion” of the conduct of others, for it is impossible ‘not’ to form an opinion of conduct that we know to be evil. But what he refers to is a habit of forming a judgment hastily, harshly, and without an allowance for every palliating [or disguised] circumstance, and a habit of ‘expressing’ such an opinion harshly and unnecessarily when formed. It rather refers to private judgment than ‘judicial,’ and perhaps primarily to the customs of the scribes and Pharisees.”

This fairness type of judgment is not a complex function of humans. For example, even toddlers can recognize when playmates are being fair or unfair when it comes to sharing toys.

However, where judgment becomes problematic is when it is no longer used as a tool of objective equity, but when it becomes a method of abusing our relationships with those who may not agree with us. We may be quick to pronounce judgment before understanding all of the facts of a particular situation, or we may be over-zealous to condemn a quality that we ourselves demonstrate on occasion, just as David did.

Once we have embedded our perception of a situation, or closed our mind to new data about what may have actually happened, we have shut off the potential for further interaction or possible reconciliation, and when that happens, condemnation typically results.

Now that we have detailed many different aspects of judgment and condemnation, let’s focus on the balance of forgiveness. By contrast, forgiveness is a quality that sits outside of judgment. When judgment is the primary objective, the possibility of forgiveness becomes diminished. When maintaining or restoring a relationship is a primary objective, then the potential for forgiveness increases. Both are necessary, but both serve different purposes.

Forgiveness is a more abstract quality that requires an increased level of maturity over just determining what’s right and wrong. There has to not only be a recognition of a wrong that has been committed, but another “something” beyond the understanding of that wrong or that perceived imbalance of equity, that is still willing to reach out to the other individual to maintain a positive relationship.

Referring to Vincent’s Word Studies, the Greek word for forgive has another nuanced meaning.

“Lit., release. … Christ exhorts to the opposite of what he has just forbidden: “do not condemn, but release.”

When we forgive someone, we release them from condemnation; that’s what forgiveness is. The condemnation appears to us as a deserved punishment for some infraction. However, forgiveness provides a release; that person is now set free.

Additionally, a release is just as effective emotionally for us because now we no longer have to hold that infraction against that individual. Holding grudges consumes large amounts of emotional energy that can be better used in building positive relationships. When we are forgiving of others, we are not only setting an individual free from condemnation, we are also setting ourselves free from the emotional bondage created by our insistence on holding that condemnation over their heads.

Here’s an interesting perspective that you may not have considered when reading this passage in Luke 6. Following closely on the heels of this admonition to forgiveness, Yeshua then introduces the blessings of generosity.

Luke 6:38 “Give, and it will be given to you; a good measure ​– ​pressed down, shaken together, and running over ​– ​will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.”

Rather than making this solely about giving of our resources to needy individuals (which is still an important and valid concept), if we keep the immediate context of judgment and forgiveness, we find that this concept of generosity actually applies to the topic at hand and connects forgiveness with generosity. When we forgive, we are being generous; generous with our mercy, generous with our emotions, and generous with our friendships. This generosity of action, according to Yeshua, leads to that generosity being returned to us many times over. When we are generous forgivers, forgiveness comes back to us over and over.

The Expositor’s Greek Testament commentary puts it this way:

this form of mercy is suggested by Matthew 7:2, [to] be giving, implying a constant habit, and therefore a generous nature.— good, generous measure; these words and those which follow apply to man’s giving as well as to the recompense with which the generous giver shall be rewarded.—pressed down, shaken, and overflowing…”

John Gill presents an interesting analysis of the cosmic retribution or balance that was evident among the Hebrew thinking of the day, and is also evident within specific patterns and stories presented in the Bible.

“And with what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again. This was an usual proverb among the Jews; it is sometimes delivered out thus, “measure against measure”; but oftener thus and nearer the form of it here, “with what measure a man measures, they measure to him”: one might fill up almost a page, in referring to places, where it is used in this form:”

And he provides the following biblical examples:

“With what measure a man measures, they measure to him”; so the woman suspected of adultery, she adorned herself to commit sin, and God dishonoured her; she exposed herself to iniquity, God therefore stripped her naked; the same part of her body in which her sin begun, her punishment did.

Samson walked after his eyes, and therefore the Philistines plucked out his eyes.

Absalom was lifted up in his mind, with his hair, and therefore he was hanged by it; and because he lay with his father’s ten concubines, they therefore pierced him with ten lances; and because he stole away three hearts, the heart of his father, the heart of the sanhedrim, and the heart of Israel, therefore he was thrust with three darts: and so it is with respect to good things;

Miriam waited for Moses one hour, therefore the Israelites waited for her seven days in the wilderness;

Joseph, who was greater than his brethren, buried his father;

and Moses, who was the greatest among the Israelites took care of the bones of Joseph, and God himself buried Moses.”

This commentary and excerpts from Jewish writings demonstrate the ubiquitous nature of this principle recognized by Jewish writers throughout their history and their writings. All throughout God’s word we see this balance of righteousness being meted out. This principle applies in all situations, at all times.

Through recognition of the reality of this universal balance that God maintains, on even the most basic of levels we should be challenged to grow in maturity in our relationships and our dealings with others. If we are truly intent on keeping God’s word and honestly serving him in all things, then our hearts should be filled with love and forgiveness and it will in like fashion be returned to us, many times over, both from men and God. As we continually plant seeds of forgiveness through acts of mercy, we will find they will ultimately blossom into genuine and reciprocal love.

If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive here. Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at

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