What’s the goal of forgiveness? When we’ve been wounded by another, why should we forgive? It’s often said that we forgive for ourselves, to break out of our prison of bitterness. It’s pointed out that not forgiving is like swallowing poison and hoping the other person dies, that our rage continues to give the offender power over us.

This may be true, but while forgiveness can powerfully free us from the bondage of hatred, this isn’t its main purpose. Jesus said the purpose of forgiveness is to restore a broken relationship. He said that when we’re at fault, we should stop what we’re doing and “go and be reconciled to that person” (Matthew 5:24). And He taught that when another has sinned against us, we should “go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, [we] have won that person back” (Matthew 18:15).

Jesus’ words point out that full forgiveness and reconciliation may not be possible for unrepentant sin (Matthew 18:16-17). In that case, we release our anger to God and pray for the offender to come to true faith (Matthew 18:17). In addition, forgiveness doesn’t eliminate all consequences. We may forgive others and yet wisely decide they’re unsafe to live with or be alone with our kids.

But when practiced biblically, forgiveness can be the powerful medicine that heals wounds and division in the body of Christ, drawing believers into “such perfect unity” that, as Jesus prayed, the world will see through the church the reality of God’s love in Christ (John 17:23).

Because reconciliation is the goal of forgiveness, we seek to forgive, not only for our own sake or even for the one who injured us. We forgive for Jesus, who gave His life to reconcile us to God and to each other.

NLT 365-day reading plan passage for today: Matthew 12:22-50