Contrary to how much the word is used among congregations today, the word forgiveness appears in the Bible only a limited number of times. In the King James version, the frequency is as follows:
- forgiveness occurs 56 times in 48 verses, 21 in the NT
- forgiven occurs 42 times in 38 verses, 20 in the NT
- forgiveness occurs 7 times in 7 verses, 6 in the NT
- forgiving occurs 4 times in 4 verses, 2 in the NT
Overall, the concept of forgiveness in all of the forms above is mentioned just under fifty times in the NT. By comparison, the Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost is mentioned over a hundred times in the NT, and love is represented 158 times in the NT.
There are several Hebrew and Greek words that are used to express this concept of forgiveness; however, I would like to focus one of the primary Greek words used in the NT for forgive, charizomai. In the Outline of Biblical Usage, the word is used in the following ways:
- to do something pleasant or agreeable (to one), to do a favour to, gratify
- to show one’s self gracious, kind, benevolent
- to grant forgiveness, to pardon
- to give graciously, give freely, bestow
- to forgive
- graciously to restore one to another
- to preserve for one a person in peril
The Strong’s definition puts an even finer point on it by defining it this way:
to grant as a favor, i.e. gratuitously, in kindness, pardon or rescue:—deliver, (frankly) forgive, (freely) give, grant.
Looking at all of the various ways that this word is used, I get a sense that this concept involves a type of giving; giving of something to someone else that they don’t currently have. I like the Strong’s perspective of granting a favor or pardon. What this emphasizes to me is that the process of forgiveness involves a bestowal of favor, merited or not, upon another individual. In fact, the word is rooted in the Greek term charis, where we get the English word grace, generally meaning unmerited favor.
You see, to forgive someone is to unequivocally grant them something they are lacking: pardon for an offense. To be able to give this to someone else involves a letting go of any negative emotion that may be tied to that offense in order to give a genuine pardon freely and sincerely. There can be no strings attached, no conditions of forgiveness. They may continue to create offense in the same or different ways, but if we are sincere in our granting of forgiveness we must continue to do so.
Peter clarified this for us when he asked Yeshua about how many times we should bestow forgiveness upon another:
Matthew 18:21-22 – Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Yeshua said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”
We may think that forgiving someone who has wronged us is a monumental thing in the eyes of God. It certainly is an indication that we are allowing God’s Spirit to work through us. However, if it is only the first of 490 times that we are commanded to forgive someone, then we still have a long way to go to meet God’s standards!
Obviously, the number of times we are commanded to forgive is hyperbole for the sake of emphasis, but doesn’t it adequately make the point that we should essentially be in a constant state of forgiving others? Especially in today’s digital age, there is no shortage of offense that is displayed between individuals. How much more we need to emphasize the lofty standard of forgiveness to those around us.
By doing so, our exhibition of this trait can spur others to notice with what difference we, as believers in Messiah, react to the situations we encounter. When those with whom you interact begin to realize that you are sincere in this level of granting favor, their lives can be positively impacted in tangible ways when they receive the forgiveness and pardon that can only be granted by you.
Don’t hold it over their heads; offer it freely.
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