What is forgiveness? Put simply, forgiveness is the restoring of a relationship. Just as it takes two to tango (or so I’m told), it takes two to forgive—both the offended person and the wrongdoer need to want a restored relationship for true forgiveness to take place. This implies repentance on the part of the person who did wrong, but it’s more than this. That’s the beginning, but both people have to want forgiveness and a restored association. Repentance requires both people (or groups) view their relationship as more important than whatever wrong was done. Luke 17.3-4 has instruction to offer on the subject:
Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.
The most important point: we forgive because God first forgave us. If you forgive someone but don’t trust them or they haven’t apologized/repented, then that may be something, but it isn’t forgiveness—the relationship isn’t repaired. Forgiveness can be initiated by either the person who was wronged or the actual perpetrator. There are examples of both in the Bible…
Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. – Matthew 5.23-24 Genesis 33 – Esau initiates the restoration by forgiving Jacob prior to any response from Jacob. Genesis 50 – Joseph forgives his brothers despite no stated repentance on the part of the brothers. Luke 15 – the parable of the prodigal son. The wrongdoer (the son) initiates forgiveness by returning and repenting: “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ – Luke 15.21.
The father completes this forgiveness by throwing his arms around his son and then throwing a party.
Other Supporting Scriptures
For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. – Matthew 6:14-15 NIV
Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. – Colossians 3:13 NIV
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times? “Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” – Matthew 18: 21-22 NIV
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things,endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” – 1 Corinthians 13
There is a distinction between doing good for others and having a relationship with them—doing good for others can be separate from giving/receiving forgiveness.
“On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’” – Romans 12:20 NIV