How to forgive someone who never apologizes

How to forgive someone who never apologizes.

You can’t.  Here endeth the lesson.  Actually I’m just kidding though that sentiment isn’t far from the truth.  It is perhaps the most difficult thing you will ever accomplish…if you choose to do the really hard work.  There is perhaps nothing more difficult than living out daily forgiveness toward someone who has deeply wronged you and will never see that they were wrong.  For many, including myself, this is a near impossible task because without resolution, feelings of hurt tend to resurface over and over again over the course of our lives.  That’s why the process must be continual and why it’s extremely difficult to accomplish.

In fact, this very night I had an opportunity to put into practice exactly what this post is all about.  Actually most of this post is from a sermon a couple of months ago, so I’ve had lots of time to digest it and I’m thankful I did because under normal circumstances I’m still not all that good at forgiveness.

Earlier this evening, I happened to be in a place with several people who have wronged me and caused damage to our church.  I must admit that when I first saw these individuals this evening, I struggled with renewed feelings of resentment for their actions.  Yet almost immediately I began to recall this message and the Holy Spirit began to change my heart.  As the event wore on, I began to feel the love of Christ and I decided once again as I’ve had to do so many times with these individuals…practice forgiveness once more.  Seventy times seventy right?  I’ll get back to this story in a moment…read on first.

One thing I hear all the time is “I forgave the person”.  I always wonder about that response because if you truly “forgave” them, why is being brought up again?

I’ll never forget this one guy I knew about 20 years ago.  His exact words about someone who wronged him.  “I love him in Christ…but if he was in front of my truck, I wouldn’t stop…but I forgive him.”

“Developing a well-formed maturity within you.”
Saying the words “I forgive” is rarely enough when the offense is serious and there is no repentance on the part of the person who wronged you.

It reminds me of the conversation between Peter and Jesus when Peter has a similar attitude:  He asks, (Matt 18)
21“Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?”
22 Jesus replied, “Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven.

I think one of the things Christ was trying to communicate here was that the work of forgiveness is exactly that: HARD WORK.  It’s not a one-time thing where you simply say “I forgive you”.  The “seventy times seven” comment indicates that it’s a long-term, ongoing thing.

So here are 9 things you can do to truly forgive someone IF you’re willing to do the really hard work.  This is not for the fainthearted or immature.  So look at it this way…this isn’t just about the person you need to forgive…it’s about YOU.  It’s about developing a more mature walk with Jesus and learning to live in the culture of Christ.

1. The person who wronged you will likely never see or be willing to admit they were wrong. 
Pride is a near impenetrable shield most people use to avoid having to humble themselves and admit their wrongdoing.  You can try to show them the light, argue with them, and even appeal to them.  In most cases it won’t help.  It’s human nature to believe you are right all the time and stick to your guns no matter how good of a case someone makes about your behavior.  So give up trying.  You won’t change their mind and since you’re not God, you can’t change their heart.

2. Admit to yourself that in order for you to let go of the bitterness you feel, you are going to have to make a daily effort to speak words of forgiveness to yourself and to God. 
At first, you may need to do this every single day because the pain is fresh and your pride is hurt.  After a while you will be able to do this when the need arises.  In other words, whenever the thoughts come to your mind and you start feeling angry and wronged.  Speaking words of forgiveness means saying to yourself in your thoughts “I choose to forgive this person”.  I wouldn’t suggest speaking out loud unless you don’t mind people thinking you’re nuts.  Speaking words of forgiveness should also happen in your daily prayers.  Ask God for a tender heart over and over and over and over and over and over again.

3. Realize your responsibility whether you had any part of the wrong or not. 
Remember that conversation between Peter and Jesus.
21“Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?” 22 Jesus replied, “Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven. ~Matt 18:21-22.
Jesus wasn’t saying you only had to forgive 490 times. 
His point was that forgiveness is a continual obligation for the Christian.

We mustn’t forget how Jesus wrapped up this teaching in Matthew 18. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart. (v35)

4. Learn to pity those whose stubborn pride WILL end up hurting their reputations.
Don’t wish for it, but pity them.  Don’t allow your own pride to cause you to relish in the thought of their destruction.  Instead, learn genuine compassion for people who allow their own pride to turn themselves into miserable people.  In my experience, I feel this is perhaps the most powerful thing one can do to “get over it”.

5. Find YOUR justification in doing the right thing. 
You will probably never find justification in the form of an acknowledgement from the person who wronged you.  So don’t go looking for it by talking to others.  This is the sin of gossip and in the end will only harm your reputation.  Just learn to do the right thing and know that God is pleased with you.  In the end that’s all that matters.  Getting an apology has it’s short-term benefits, but once a situation is resolved, it’s usually quickly forgotten and you move past it.  So don’t overplay your need to be vindicated.  Just move past it.  Again, it’s much easier said than done but if you choose forgiveness on a daily basis, it can be done.

6. Stop expecting the feelings to never return because you “forgave”.
Neither the human heart or the human mind work that way.  Only God is capable of truly forgetting something.  So stop expecting that of yourself.  Instead, embrace the task of forgiveness and realize that if you want to be a good person, that task will be an ongoing process until such time as God completely regenerates your heart and mind.  This may take a long time.  Embrace this truth.

7. Deal with your own pride. 
Why do you want to be vindicated?  If you are vindicated will it really be all that life-changing?  Some argue that they don’t want to have to be in a room with people who think their a chump or a bad guy.  Why do you really care what people who are wrong about you think?  They’re wrong after all and in the end it’s really their problem.  They are the ones who lose out on community with the awesomeness that is you. </sarcasm>  So be the “bigger person”, but don’t let that go to your head.  You’re not really that much more awesome than they are.  You have your issues too.  So don’t be prideful in your ability to be the bigger person.

8. Love the truth into people.
You will never win the argument.  You will not with words change the mind of those who don’t care for you.  Your long-term actions are the only hope for that because Christ will use your love to affect people’s hearts.

I recall a story told by Dale Carnegie who was discussing an argument between someone and a person he just met.  It was a silly argument, nothing worth “winning” really.  But the person felt it necessary to correct the man he just met.  He needed to be right.  The moral of the story was that he won the argument, but did not win a friend that night.  Winning the argument isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  Mark Twain said “Never argue with a fool, onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.”  Instead let your long-term goodness speak louder than your words could ever speak.  And if the person who has wronged you never comes around…it’s their loss.  Either way remember what Apostle Paul said to the Galatians: “Let us not grow weary in doing good…” ~Galatians 6:9.

9. Pray for GOOD THINGS for the person. 
Look it doesn’t matter what kind of person they are.  They may be the devil as far as you’re concerned.  Christ told us to LOVE AND PRAY FOR ENEMIES AND THOSE WHO PERSECUTE YOU.  (Matt 5)

MSG – Matt 5:46 If you love only those who love you, what good is that? Even scoundrels do that much.  47 If you are friendly only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even the heathen do that. 48 But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.

I told you it would be HARD WORK.  And realize today that this does NOT mean praying for them to change or apologize.  This is not forgiveness…it’s conditions.  So I would encourage you to never pray that way.  Leave that up to God.

Ok, so back to the story about this very evening.  I am nearly certain that due to the nature of the offense, those I encountered this evening will likely never come around and admit or even see their wrong due to any of my efforts.  Satan has done far too good of a job deceiving their minds and poisoning their hearts.  But for me this should be irrelevant.  As I sat there this evening and pondered the past for a moment, God quickly moved upon my heart to consider the future instead.  Almost immediately I began to hope and pray for God’s best for them.  I hoped God would one day open their minds and change their hearts, not for my sake but for theirs.  I felt love course through my veins as I found myself hoping for God’s richest blessings upon their lives whether they ever “come around” to the truth or not.  It was amazing to sit there and feel no need whatsoever for vindication.  I only felt the love of Christ for them.  However, I am keen to understand that tomorrow I may find myself needing to pray for them all over again.  I am human after all.  This is the nature of true forgiveness especially when it comes to those who are unwilling and unlikely to ever apologize.  Forgiveness must be practiced continually.  It is simply foolish to believe you can “get over” offenses when they are never resolved.  You are human.  You may never completely “get over it”.  But you can “get on with it” and learn to live out a life of forgiveness toward those who wronged you.  You simply need to accept a different paradigm.  However, on the upside I was given a new love for those who have wronged me this evening and I feel confident that this new love will aid me in making the choice to forgive a bit easier the next time.

I praise and thank God tonight for this truth because in this truth is freedom.  You will feel a little more free every time you choose forgiveness.

Pastor Tom