“I don’t know if I can do it. I don’t know if I can ever forgive them for what they did. Do you know the pain and the hurt that they have caused my family and me? Do you know what they have done to me? I just do not think I can forgive them.” I have heard these words countless times and I have often thought them myself. There are some things in life that happen to us that are not easy to forget. There are horrible things that happen to us in life that we don’t understand and leave us asking “why?”. There are things in life that happen to us that negatively affect the way we view life today. Perhaps you have been hurt in the past. Maybe you’re hurting now. If so, I want to encourage you to do one of the hardest things there is to do: forgive.
I know what you’re thinking, “that’s easier said than done.” You’re right, but being obedient to God is never easy. Do you remember the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matt. 18:21:35)? It’s an amazing parable told by Jesus Christ. Peter comes Jesus and asks him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times (v.21)?” This is a question that we have all thought about before. How often should I forgive them? I understand we need to give grace, but there has to come a point when that forgiveness runs up. Right? This is essentially what Peter is asking Jesus at this moment.
Jesus’ response is mind-blowing. He says, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times (v.22).” Other translations say, “seventy times seven.” You might be thinking, “Okay, seventy times seven, that’s 490 times.” Got it. I need to forgive people up to, but no more than 490 times. If that’s your reaction to this text, then sadly you have missed the point that Jesus is communicating. The intended meaning of Jesus’ response was that we are to forgive people beyond comprehension. I like what Brian Borgman says, “Jesus is telling Peter and us that the way of discipleship is the way of forgiveness. Forgiveness marks those who follow Jesus (Borgman, Feelings and Faith, 113).” But here’s my natural reaction to that statement, “why?” Why should I forgive those who have harmed me? Here are 3 reasons that Christians ought to be a forgiving people.
We are made in the image of God
We are called to reflect God to the world and God is forgiving and merciful. God relieves sinners of their misery. His mercy is everlasting. In the parable stated above, we see a man that is asked to pay his debt. His debt is 10,000 talents. This was an insane amount of money. Think of it this way: a talent was worth about 20 years’ wages for a worker! This guy owed 10,000 of them! The point is that the man is unable to pay back this amount. The master ordered the servant to be sold, with his wife and children. This man would never be free. This was punishment. He would be a slave for the rest of his life. What does this servant do? He does what any “normal” person would do, he begs.
Jesus says this man “fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything (v.26).’” Obviously, there’s no way for this man to pay back this amount of money. His request is a long-shot. What happens next is shocking! The master, out of pity for the man, released him and forgave him of his debt! The master’s compassion reflects our Father’s mercy. The insane amount of money owed reflects the enormity of our sin against a Holy God. Mercy is not receiving what we do deserve, which is wrath and justice. One of the reasons that I believe many fail to marvel at the mercy of God is that they don’t think sin is as bad as it is. When we understand the reality and depth of sin against God, we will marvel that we are even breathing at this moment.
God has given us mercy. He has shown us grace. He has released us from a debt that we cannot pay through the death of Jesus Christ. We were bound in chains, but now we walk freely and forgiven. Our debt is canceled! Our debt is wiped away! It’s off the books! Paul says it this way, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1).” Our God is merciful and forgiving. He is a debt-eraser. As Christians, we are called to reflect this to a watching world. We are called to be merciful and forgiving. That’s the first reason we ought to forgive. The 2nd is a result of the first:
We have experienced Mercy
The next scene in the parable is astounding. The servant leaves the master, no doubt ecstatic at the fact that he had just been freed from an incredible debt. The reader might suspect that the servant will go and celebrate with his family. Maybe he’ll go and tell everyone what had just taken place and point them to the mercy of his master. Nope. It’s a nice thought, but that’s not what happens. He finds other individuals that owe him money and demands that they pay him back. What’s amazing is that the amount owed to him doesn’t compare to the debt he owed his master. They owed him 100 denarii. This was about a day’s wage for a worker. Isn’t that amazing?
We have been forgiven of an amazing debt! We didn’t deserve it, we didn’t earn it, we couldn’t justify it, but God freely bestowed His mercy on us. Why then, do we withhold forgiveness to others? Are the wrongs done against us worse than ours that Jesus came to die for? When we withhold forgiveness from others, we are essentially saying, “My sins were able to be covered by the blood of Jesus, but you don’t deserve that same mercy.” What had happened to that servant should have gripped his heart in such a way that changed the way he viewed those who owed him. We should give what we have received. Borgman states, “If a person is unforgiving, it may be they have never truly embraced the forgiveness of God for their sins, just like the servant (Feelings and Faith, 117).”
I want you to understand my heart here. I am not in any way bypassing the wrongs that you have experienced. I am not attempting to sweep them under the rug as if they don’t matter. There are real pains that we feel. I’m not saying this is easy. Forgiveness is difficult and it’s a painful process. However, if we are in Christ, we will be a forgiving people.
If you would like to see a list of what “forgiveness is not” I would encourage you to click here.
Unforgiveness harms us
I once read, “Unforgiveness is like drinking poison, but expecting others to die.” I can’t remember where I first read that quote, but the sentiment is accurate. Unforgiveness harms us more than it harms others. Look how Jesus finishes the parable. When the master heard what his servant had done, he summoned for him. He says, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you? And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart (vv.32-35).”
We must take this seriously. This sounds harsh, but Christ makes strong claims against those unwilling to forgive. Demoss says, “Forgiveness is not a method to be learned as much as a truth to be lived (Choosing Forgiveness, 28).” When we forgive from the heart, as Jesus states, we demonstrate that we are the recipients of divine grace and that we take joy in that divine truth. When we are unforgiving, we give way to bitterness to swell up in our hearts, making us callous and cold. Bitterness is the result of an unforgiving heart. Are we bitter today? Unforgiveness has a drastic affect on our lives. When we are unforgiving, we will tend to be more callous and cold-hearted to others. Our trust in others is decreased, joy is lacking, and we may become depressed. This leads me to ask the question, “how do we forgive others?”
Look to God
We must understand the sovereignty and goodness of our God if we wish to have victory in this area. We must follow the life of our savior. While hanging on the cross, after being beaten and tortured at the hands of wicked men, the Son of God, our Savior, prayed to the Father, “And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do (Luke 23:24).’” If those that have sinned against us are in Christ, then we can hold firm to the reality that their sins are covered by his shed blood on the cross. If Jesus willingly gave Himself up for their sins, surely, we can forgive them for their transgressions. If they are not in Christ, then we can hold fast to the truth that our God is an avenger and a righteous judge. He will not overlook evil. In our unwillingness to forgive, we are saying that it’s great for God to overlook our wrongs, but we’re not going to overlook others’. Unforgiveness is selfishness.
Confess & Repent
If we are struggling in this area, let us confess to God where we have struggled to be His image bearers to others. Let us repent of our sin. Also, let us pray to the Father that He will make known to us the greatness of our sin and the richness of His mercy. Let the gospel of Christ be the engine that moves us into holiness and faithfulness in the Christian life. We don’t reflect the master well when we are unforgiving. Let us be conformed to the image of the Son. Let us reflect our master’s compassion and tender mercies.
Soli Deo Gloria
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