Forgiveness is essential to our lives.

Without forgiveness, no marriage can survive, no family can stay together, and no society can be sustained. It is a necessary part of lasting friendships and work relationships. The reason lies in an inescapable fact of human nature: we are bound to hurt others, and others are bound to hurt us.

If we are to live successfully, and if we are ever to know freedom and joy, we must regularly use six words that can be more powerful than most any others:

 “I am sorry” and “I forgive you.”

If we lack the ability to say, “I am sorry,” life will be immeasurably more difficult than it needs to be. If we can’t bring ourselves to say, “I forgive you,” life will be filled with bitterness and pain.

Jesus constantly spoke of forgiveness. But on the cross he demonstrated it when he prayed, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). I believe that in the crowd that day, there may have been a man named Stephen who heard Jesus’ prayer. Stephen was not one of the apostles but was a follower of Jesus. We can imagine that Jesus’ example of mercy deeply moved Stephen, and he would never forget it.

We know, following the resurrection of Christ, that Stephen was chosen by the apostles to serve the fledgling church, ministering to those in need while sharing the Gospel with all who would listen, and that he was “full of grace and power” (Acts 6:8).

Stephen’s life and ministry were so compelling that some who opposed the Christian faith began to speak ill of him. They stirred up others against him, making false accusations that Stephen had blasphemed against God. He was arrested and accused before the same ruling council that had sentenced Jesus to death and for his blasphemy was sentenced to death by stoning. Stephen’s death is described in Acts:

They dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died. And Saul approved of their killing him. (Acts 7:58–8:1)

Saul would be haunted by what he heard and saw that day. He would never forget the way Stephen used those important six words in a prayer phrased a little bit differently. Stephen knelt as he was being stoned and said, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” In this remarkable act of mercy, the seeds were sown that would lead to Saul’s own conversion to Christ, after which he would be known as Paul the Apostle.

Forgiveness has the power to change even the hardest of hearts.


This post is excerpted from my brand-new book, Forgiveness.

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