Five Core Competencies of Conflict Resolution Part Five: Forgive Others

by Rick Love

We are social beings built for peace. Every human being inherently longs for harmonious relationships. But there is a gap between our longings and how we actually live. That’s why understanding the five competencies of conflict resolution are so important.

This blog is part five of a series on the five core competencies of conflict resolution. So far we have examined these four practices: 1) Take Responsibility 2) Lovingly Reprove 3) Accept Reproof and 4) Ask for forgiveness. Today we will look at what it means to forgive others.

Forgiveness is the heart of the gospel and a central theme of social ethics the New Testament:

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you (Ephesians 4:32).

Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you (Colossians 3:13).

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).

This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart (Matthew 18: 35).

These passages teach us three important lessons about forgiveness:

1. We forgive because God first forgave us

Paul’s exhortations in Ephesians and Colossians indicate that Christ’s prior forgiveness becomes the motive or rationale for our forgiveness. In other words, our capacity to forgive is directly related to our grasp of the gospel. As recipients of the infinite love of God in Christ, we have an infinite capacity to forgive. We forgive because He first forgave us.

2. We cannot expect God to forgive us if we do not forgive others

Jesus’s words are disturbing and appear to be so UNevangelical. It seems that Jesus is teaching salvation by works. But he’s not. He is teaching that our ability to forgive others is proof of our salvation. It shows that we have truly repented. According to Jesus, those who experience divine forgiveness will forgive others.

3. Forgiveness is both a choice and an emotion

It is hard to forgive. The deeper the wound, the harder it is. We are commanded not only to forgive (Luke 17:3-4) but to forgive from the heart (Matthew 18:35). Jesus repeatedly stresses the importance of heart response to him and others (Matthew 5:8; 5:28; 6:21; 12:34; 15:8).

Scripture indicates that forgiveness is both volitional and emotional. Forgiveness is one act with two dimensions. It is both a choice and an emotion. It is both an act of the will and an act of the heart.

In practice, however, our emotions usually follow our choices. It often takes time for our feelings to catch up with our decision to forgive. When a person has experienced abuse or been grievously sinned against, it may take much counseling and inner healing for forgiveness to come from the heart. But this remains Jesus’s stated goal.


So what does it mean to forgive someone, practically?

When I say, “I forgive you,” I am making three promises: 1) “I will not bring this matter up to you again” 2) “I will not bring it up to others” and 3) “I will not bring it up to myself (i.e., I won’t dwell on it in my mind).” (A Theology of Christian Counseling by Jay E. Adams, p. 222).

Forgiveness sets us free from the past. It wipes the slate clean. It breaks the chain of hate and restores broken relationships.

It is hard to overstate the importance of forgiveness in conflict resolution. As Miroslav Volf notes, "Revenge multiplies evil. Retributive justice contains evil.... Forgiveness overcomes evil with good." (Free of Charge, p. 161).


Nicole GibsonCONFLICT