Q: How does forgiveness benefit the forgiver? And can you forgive and stay clear?
A: I will write a single response to these questions since the two are linked and I believe my response will address both questions. Before I wrote this response, I had to go back and consult the bible because what the Holy Spirit ministered to me seemed quite controversial and probably not in line with the blurry view of forgiveness that is being adopted by my generation and those older and younger. The first bible verse that comes to mind when I think of forgiveness is from the Lord's Prayer in Matthew 6:12 (Luke 11:4) and it's quite simple isn't it? Forgive others as God forgives you - that's a clear benefit and the greatest gift from God (salvation). The second bible reference that comes to mind is from Matthew 18:21 which is the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. This has to be one of my favourite parables in the bible because it perfectly captures what God expects from us and how He loves us. Now, what the Holy Spirit ministered to me about the second part of the question made me stop in my tracks because I'd never had that perspective regarding forgiveness.
There is a rampant culture of steering clear of individuals who have hurt you in the past and I can't think where this has come from. This is what the Holy Spirit ministered to me - when God sent Jesus (His only son) to die on the cross for our sins, did He then stay away from us each time we sinned after that? When we give our lives to Christ, does God not expect us to turn away from our old selves, our carnal desires, and walk in the Spirit, which has no place for sin? Despite this, do we still not sin? And does God still not welcome us back with open arms? Where then is the room for steering clear, if we are to love our brethren as Christ loved us? Why do we choose to stay away from some but not others? In the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant, the Holy Spirit pointed out to me that both servants served the same master and were part of the same household, which I applied to today's church. Why are we so quick to cut off other members of the same body of Christ when God did not cut us off from Himself? Jesus introduces this parable with a response to Peter's question about how many times we should forgive - seventy times seven (infinity!). I wondered why Jesus would give a response like that - why would we continually allow someone to sin against us that many times? It's a response that's born out of love and a mirror of what we want our relationship with God to look like.
In 2 Corinthians 2:3, Paul encourages us to reaffirm love for our brother who sins against us. Reaffirm love?! Wow! Mirror - when we sin against God, does He reaffirm His love for us? Of course He does - everyday - by reminding us of the ultimate sacrifice He made to give us eternal life. We put the devil to shame and we do not allow him to take advantage of us (2 Cor. 2:11). In Matthew 18:15, we learn that if a brethren sins against us, we can take actions to gain them back or let them leave through their own unrepentant attitude. Luke 17:4 says it plainly - we are to forgive a brother who repents and comes to us seven (infinity) times for forgiveness. Remember, love covers a multitude of sins so we mustn't be so quick to steer clear of those who sin against us for in the same measure we sow, we shall reap. Forgiveness ultimately comes down to love and when you love someone with the love of Christ, more often than not, it is easy to forgive and forget. This can only take the grace of God and we must pray for the love of God to fill our hearts so we can experience the freedom from a need to 'punish' someone who offends us.
There are so many other things to say about forgiveness and how it benefits us but for now I will leave you with the following:
We forgive so we can be forgiven
We experience true freedom in God's love
Put the devil to shame