“Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye” (Colossians 3:13, italics mine).
Forbearing and forgiving are two different issues. Forbearing means ceasing from all acts and thoughts of revenge. It says, in other words, “Don’t take matters into your own hands. Instead, endure the hurt. Lay the matter down and leave it alone.”
Yet, forbearing is not just a New Testament concept. Proverbs tells us, “Say not, I will do so to him as he hath done to me: I will render to the man according to his work” (Proverbs 24:29). We are given a powerful example of this admonition in David’s life. He was in a vengeful rage toward a wicked man named Nabal because Nabal refused to help him when he needed help. David swore revenge but he obeyed God’s counsel, “Do not avenge yourself…let the Lord fight your battle.” That situation was resolved in a timely manner and David praised God for his intervention. (See 1 Samuel 25 for the entire story.)
David had another opportunity for easy revenge when he found his pursuer, Saul, asleep in a cave, in which David himself was hiding. David’s men urged him, “This is God’s doing. He has delivered Saul into your hands. Kill him now, and avenge yourself.” But David forbore, instead cutting off a piece of Saul’s garment, so he could later prove he could have killed him. Such wise actions are God’s ways of putting our enemies to shame, and that was the case when David showed Saul the garment. Saul responded, “Thou art more righteous than I: for thou has rewarded me good, whereas I have rewarded thee evil” (1 Samuel 24:17).
Now we come to forgiving, which encompasses two other commandments: (1) Loving your enemies and (2) Praying for them. “I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).
One wise old preacher said, “If you can pray for your enemies, you can do all the rest.” I have found this to be true in my own life.
Jesus never said the work of forgiving would be easy. When he commanded, “Love your enemies,” the Greek word for “love” does not mean “affection” but “moral understanding.” Simply put, forgiving someone isn’t a matter of stirring up human affection, but making a moral decision to remove hatred from our hearts.