Spiritual Practice

Niceness or Genuine Forgiveness?

Sarah Arthur

If someone hurts your feelings and then apologizes, you should respond with “I forgive you,” instead of “It’s OK” or “Forget it.”

I remember well the feeling: a nauseating knot in my stomach combined with heartsick bewilderment. A friend had said a series of mean things to me in front of other people. I lay in bed that night wondering what I had done wrong and what I would say to her the next time we talked, if we ever talked again. How can friendship be repaired after that?

Imagine how Jesus must have felt when Simon Peter denied him in public the night Jesus was arrested (see John 18:15–27). If the two men ever saw each other again, what would they say? How could they possibly restore their friendship, even if Peter was sorry for what he had done? Fortunately, the Gospel of John does not leave us hanging. Jesus meets up with Peter again after the resurrection. Their encounter, in John 21:15–23, shows us the fine line between niceness and genuine forgiveness.


Different Kinds of Love

“Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Jesus asks Peter three times; and each time Peter replies, “You know that I love you.” The first two times, Jesus uses the Greek word agapeo, which means high, devoted, godly love. Peter responds using the word phileo, which means the love between friends or brotherly affection. When Jesus asks the third time, he uses Peter’s word phileo. Peter is hurt but responds in the affirmative. Peter knows he has messed up; and now he realizes how far he falls short of the higher, devoted kind of love Christ requires. Notice that Jesus does not say, “Well, that’s all right. Forget about it.” Rather, he acknowledges Peter’s sin and yet keeps the door open for continuing friendship.


 “It’s OK” versus “I Forgive You”

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Being honest and gracious with our friends is a struggle. A few days after my friend was mean to me, she called and apologized. I will admit I was tempted to shrug it off with an “It’s OK” and to pretend it had not bothered me that much. What better way to punish her than to make her think she had never mattered that much to me anyway?

But somewhere deep down, I remembered what my parents had taught me about forgiveness. If someone hurts your feelings and then apologizes, as a Christian you should respond with “I forgive you,” instead of “It’s OK” or “Forget it” or any of the other niceties people often say without thinking. The truth is, my friend’s behavior had not been OK; and I would not forget it, no matter how hard I tried. The most honest and loving response I could make was to acknowledge my friend’s sin by saying, “I forgive you,” and then to leave the door open for our friendship to continue.



Make a list of friendships that are troubling you, particularly if hurtful words have come between you and your friend. In what ways have you been nice rather than honestly forgiving? Determine one thing you can do this week to cross that fine line from niceness to genuine forgiveness — make a phone call, write an email, or initiate a face-to-face conversation about the hurtful words or actions. Even if the other person refuses to apologize, let your response be a word of genuine forgiveness.

Sarah Arthur is an author and speaker living in Durham, North Carolina.

— from devozine (March/April 2007). Copyright © 2007 by Upper Room Ministries. All rights reserved.

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