does forgiveness need to be requested to be given?

Does Forgiveness Need to be Requested in Order to be Given?

Sunday, August 2, 2015 was Worldwide Forgiveness Day and it was sponsored by the Worldwide Forgiveness Alliance.  This organization “is a non-profit 501(c)3 tax-deductible organization whose mission is to evoke the healing spirit of forgiveness worldwide.”[1]  Their website also states that they focus on “providing training in the techniques of forgiveness as well as in the knowledge of the psychological, physiological, emotional, and spiritual benefits of the forgiveness process.”[2]  On August 2nd their desire was that everyone on the globe express a “moment of calm” in order to extend forgiveness.

It is impossible to get through life without offending someone (Luke 17:1) or being sinned against.  Those who know Christ and those who do not know Christ will experience being sinned against virtually on an equal basis.  However, Christians may ask the question, “The person who sinned against me did not ask for forgiveness, so do I have to forgive them?”  What is the testimony of God’s Word and His people regarding extending forgiveness?

Solomon told his son that, “The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, and his glory is to overlook a transgression” (Proverbs 19:11).  He said it was a good and glorious thing for a person to overlook when they have been sinned against.  “Transgression” in Hebrew is the idea of something going across or against, hence going contrary to God’s Word and thus a sin.  Forgiveness is directly related to patience in this verse.  The man who is quick to forgive others is also a patient man.  Solomon said that it is not a good idea to allow unforgiveness to build up in our lives because it could cause us to be quick to be angry.  There is not a hint in this verse of anyone asking for forgiveness.  It is safe to assume Solomon meant that transgressions were to be overlooked even in the absence of an apology or a plea for forgiveness.

The Old Testament saints practiced unconditional forgiveness as well.  Joseph forgave his brothers who kidnapped him and sold him into slavery without them ever asking for forgiveness (Genesis 45:5-11, 50:20-21).  David refused to allow his servants to rise up against Saul even though David had been the object of Saul’s violence.  David forgave the sins Saul had committed against him even though Saul had never asked for such forgiveness (1 Samuel 24:7).  This is also how David reacted to the rebellion of Absalom (2 Samuel 18:5) and the sin of Shimei (2 Samuel 19:23).

In the Gospels, Jesus said, that we were to forgive people, and if not, it would be an impediment to our prayer life.  Mark 11:25-26:  “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.  But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.”  This is the testimony of Matthew in the Sermon on the Mount as well (Matthew 6:14-15).  There is no mention of the offender asking the offended one for forgiveness.  Jesus assumes that His disciples will do the hard work of forgiveness for the sake of their prayer lives.  Withholding unforgiveness against someone will be an impediment to your prayer life.

One of Jesus’ parables deals with unconditional forgiveness.   After hearing how to deal with a sinning brother, Peter asked, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” (Matthew 18:21).  The teachings of some rabbis in Jesus’ day was that a person only had to forgive their offender three times and after that forgiveness could be withheld.  Peter was gracious in that he doubled the amount of times according to popular teaching, then added one for good measure.  Jesus replied, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22).  He used exaggeration to explain that unconditional forgiveness should be the norm not the exception.

Jesus then told the parable of the unforgiving servant.  In the parable, a king forgave a servant who owed him 10,000 talents.  This amount would virtually never be paid back because it was so great.  The king-master was moved with compassion after the servant begged for forgiveness.  The master granted the slave forgiveness from the debt.

Almost immediately, the servant who was forgiven found a fellow servant who owed him only one hundred denarii.  A denarius was one day’s pay in Jesus’ time and a paltry amount compared to the aforementioned 10,000 talents.  The forgiven servant had his fellow servant thrown in prison for the debt.  Ultimately, the king-master heard what had happened, chided the forgiven man for his lack of compassion, and threw him in prison.  Jesus concluded the parable with this truth, “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses” (Matthew 18:35).  The one who has been forgiven of much should forgive much (Luke 17:4).

The servant who was forgiven by his king-master should have forgiven the debt that was owed to him by his fellow servant without being asked.  The implication is that the servant should have forgiven the debt because his debts had been forgiven.  Those who have been forgiven much learn to forgive much.

The teaching of the New Testament writers is consistent that forgiveness should be given to the offender even in the absence of an apology.  Peter said the motive for forgiveness should be love.  1 Peter 4:8:  And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.”  We should forgive people unconditionally because we love them unconditionally.  Paul wrote that the motive for forgiveness is God’s forgiveness of us through Christ.  Ephesians 4:32:  And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.  I am to forgive others because Christ has forgiven me for my past sins, and He will forgive me of my future sins.  This truth is reiterated by Paul in his letter to the Colossians.  Colossians 3:13:  bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.  James taught that forgiveness of injuries must be extended by the offended in order to receive forgiveness by God.  James 2:13:  For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

Do we see this type of forgiveness in the life of Christ?  Absolutely!  When He was dying on the cross Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34).  Jesus said that the mercy of God was the motivation for such forgiveness (Luke 6:36), and it should be accompanied by blessing and prayer for the offender (Matthew 5:44).

Have you been offended?  What are you waiting for?  You may not get issued an apology nor receive an invitation for forgiveness.  God’s grace is there and available for you if you have been sinned against.  Forgive the offender now like Jesus forgave those who put Him on the cross even though they did not ask.  Forgive because Jesus has forgiven you.  Forgive because you do not want your prayers hindered.  Forgive because you want to love others unconditionally like God loves you unconditionally.  Forgive because you want to be like your Savior!

[1] (accessed 7-30-15)

[2] (accessed 7-30-15)

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