How to Forgive

A silhouette of a fighting couple

The Bible teaches that people should forgive (Matthew 18:35). But how?

The Key is in Greek

The Greek word for "forgive" (aphiemi) reveals something about forgiveness that most people are not aware of.

The main meaning of aphiemi is not "to forgive". Over ninety times in the New Testament aphiemi does not mean "to forgive." It only means "to forgive" 38 times. This fact points to a meaning of forgive that is hidden in the Greek.

Aphiemi means to leave or to leave alone. Matthew 4:20 is an example of this: "Right away, after the brothers left the nets, they followed Him." The Greek word for "left" in this verse is aphiemi (the Greek word for forgive). It is a common Greek word for leave.

So when the New Testament says forgive, it is really saying "leave it" or "leave it alone".

How do you forgive? Leave it alone. Let it be. Let it go.

Did someone do something bad to you? Let it go. As time continues, that action goes further and further into the past. Leave it there. Do not dig into the past and bring that offense to the present. Leave it be. Forgiving is as simple as that.

After the offense, don't rehash in your mind what happened. Don't keep reminding the offender of what he did. Leave it alone. If you don't touch it, it will be gone.

When your mind remembers what happened, don't pick it back up. Leave it.

This is what God does when he forgives us. He does not strike us down dead for our sin. He does not send lightning bolts our direction. He does not speak with a loud voice and reprimand us. He doesn't even treat us badly because we sinned. He leaves our sin alone.

Leave it to Them

Another point to make about the Greek is that when the Greek word is referring to forgiveness, it is often used with an indirect object (forgive him = leave it to him).

The sin is not left completely alone, it is left to the offender. It is given back to him so that he can deal with it himself. If he deals with it, fine. If he doesn't, fine. It is left to him.

God's Forgiveness

When God forgives our sin. He is not banishing the sin and its consequences to the netherworld never to be seen or heard from again. No, He is leaving it to us. It is then our responsibility to deal with it. If we do nothing, if we continue committing that sin, it will end up hurting and ruining us. God leaves it up to us. That is forgiveness.

On the other hand when people in the Bible asked God to forgive them of their sins, they were also not asking God to erase their sins. They were telling God to leave their sins to them.

The Violated Party

When sins and offenses occur, there is a violator and there is the person whom he violated, the violated party.

In most cases, the violated party is God, but human beings can also be violated. If you are or should be forgiving someone, your rights and/or rules were violated. You are the violated party.

When a person's rights and/or rules are violated, that person has the right to retaliate.

Here are two examples. First is Joe Lender who has loaned money to his son's friend. In discussing the loan beforehand, Joe set out certain parameters or rules (when and how the loan would be paid back). If his son's friend does not pay back the loan according to the parameters, Joe becomes the violated party and has the right to retaliate. One way for him to retaliate is to take his son's friend to court.

Another example is if someone walks up to you and hits you in the face. You have a right to be treated humanely by everyone. When that person hit you in the face, he violated your rights and you have the right to retaliate. Your retaliation is not to hit him back but to have that person arrested and prosecuted.

Forgiveness is when the violated party leaves his right of retaliation to the violator. He takes his hands off: no retaliation nor concern for retaliation.

If you don't Forgive

"And whenever you stand praying, forgive (if you have anything against anyone) so that your Father, the One in the heavens, also might forgive you of your infractions" (Mark 11:25 BV).

Do you see what this verse says? It says three things.

1) Prayer is a good time to forgive. Often thoughts about how others have wronged you come up during prayer. When they do, forgive, leave them.

2) Do you have anything against anyone? If you do, forgive that person. Leave it be.

3) If you don't forgive, God will not forgive you. Remember that God has many thing against you. Do you want God to leave those things to you? Or do you want God to remember them and do something about them? God's reaction depends on your reaction. Forgive others and God will forgive you. Don't forgive others and God will not forgive you.

When it says that God will not forgive you, it does not mean that you will lose your salvation or that you are not saved. That is not mentioned here or in any of the passages that also mention this. If you don't forgive other people, you are still a child of God, God just does not leave your sins to you.

If you want God to leave your sins to you, do the same with those whom you have something against.

How do you forgive? The meaning of the Greek word for "forgive" reveals how: leave the violations against you alone. Don't touch them. Don't think about them. Don't drag those bad things around with you. Start each day fresh with only good on your mind. That is what forgiveness is all about.