Matt 6:12 and 14 (NRSV)
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors
14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; 15 but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Consider the person who has hurt you the most – have you forgiven them? Do you still feel that they owe you something? If you have this thing in your heart where you say I think I’ve forgiven them but they still owe me, or they should say sorry at least … then actually you haven’t forgiven them. You haven’t expunged the debt from your heart. This isn’t easy. The bigger that debt is, the harder it is to forgive.
Matthew 18:21-22 (NRSV)
21 Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
If you do something to me once, okay, I’ll forgive you. Second and third time it’s starting to wear pretty thin. If you do it seven times then I have seriously had enough of you. So how many times should I forgive? Seven times is a lot? No, seventy seven times. Forgiving over and over, that can be really hard. God is asking a lot of us in this forgiveness department.
Ephesians 4:32 (NRSV)
32 and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.
Time and time again the Bible is really clear that we should forgive each other. But my question is how? How does that actually work when someone has slapped you in the face so hard, stabbed you in the back, left you bleeding on the floor – how do you actually forgive someone?
I was in a very dark place when I became a Christian. Fortunately when I was in a hotel room someone had left a Gideon’s Bible. I am so thankful for that. Now a friend of mine had hurt me deeply and I struggled over the years after becoming a Christian with how do I forgive this person? We all have our own personal pains and sorrows and have to face up to how we deal with this forgiveness thing we are called to in the Bible. I’ve asked myself what would I do if I found the person who hurt me lying in the gutter one night; what would I do? Would I kick them while they are down, would I walk away or would I pick them up care for them, give them somewhere to live? Soldier up! – Christ is not calling us to something easy.
Whilst I went through a dark pit experience in a sense I wouldn’t swap it for anything because it was in that dark pit that I met Jesus. It was there my Saviour came and found me. I wouldn’t swap that for anything. I was a pretty tough, hardnosed fellow back then and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have been any good in God’s hands if I hadn’t been hit over the head with a lump of 4×2. Whilst God used my experience for good I wouldn’t wish my experiences upon even my worst enemy.
So how do you forgive the unforgivable in your life?
Off the back of the question of how many times you should forgive Jesus tells this parable.
Matt 18:23-35 (NRSV)
23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25 and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26 So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31 When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35 So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
Jesus says some very inconvenient and difficult things. We’d like to gloss over some over the things Jesus said. We want the soft, cuddly Saviour Jesus. Yes God is our refuge, yes God is our strength, yes God loves us amazingly but here is God’s perspective on forgiveness. The servant owed ten thousand talents. A talent is 15 years wages for a labourer. It’s not $100, it’s not $2000. So we are talking about 150,000 year’s wages! This is more than he could ever pay in a lifetime. In this parable that’s your and my debt to God. We all have fallen short of the glory of God and the wages of sin is death. Full stop, end of story. And yet God forgave us; at a terrible price. Forgiving sinners always costs a lot.
In comparison a denari was one days wages for a labourer. So here we have 150,000 years worth versus 100 days worth. When someone hurts us compared to what we have done to God it’s nothing. It doesn’t feel like not much to us. It still may not feel like not much. But according to God, what I owe him is much more.
Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?
Mercy is when you don’t get the punishment you deserve. Mercy can only be mercy if it’s undeserved. If it’s deserved it’s a right. The person who’s hurt you has no right to your forgiveness. But God says see how I have forgiven you how could you not forgive them, how could you not show mercy? If you don’t then my Heavenly Father is going to respond like this lord in the parable. It’s hard stuff but I think we have a hint here of how to forgive.
This slave should have been grateful. He should have been grateful for being forgiven such a great debt. It’s in his lack of gratefulness that he does this horrible thing to his fellow slave. How grateful are you and I? How immersed are you and I in the forgiveness we have in Jesus Christ?
One day a terrible punishment awaits those who aren’t forgiven. We delude ourselves if we think we are forgiven and yet haven’t forgiven other people. Yes grace is amazing. But the point is we need to live that out.
How do you forgive? I only know one way. Go to the cross:
Luke 23:33-34 (NRSV)
33 When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” …
While Jesus is suffering the most excruciating pain and anguish, he forgives the soldiers who nailed him there.. Compare to us – we think we should forgive other people when they repent and they come and ask us, when the pain stops, when it’s convenient – then we forgive other people. Jesus forgave while he was suffering.
While we are suffering, while we are hurting it’s right in the middle of that that we are called to forgive.
Unless you are immersed in the love of God in Christ we’re not going to be able to forgive other people. But when we experience this love, how can we not forgive those around us?
There are a lot of people in the Defence Forces who are suffering – emotionally and physically. When they see us forgive other people, that speaks of an uncommon love. We live in a fairly unforgiving culture, we don’t forgive easily. But when we forgive other people that is such a witness of the love of God in our lives. Love always defeats sin. Love set you and me free on the cross; the way to forgive is to draw closer to that love.
Romans 5:6-9 (NRSV)
6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. 8 But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. 9 Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God.
Jesus died for us while we were still his enemies. He didn’t wait until we sorted ourselves out – he knew we never would.
Love takes the initiative. Love doesn’t sit there and say you don’t deserve my forgiveness. Love says you don’t deserve it but I’m going to love you, bless you and pray for you anyway.
I don’t have that in myself the ability to forgive the unforgivable. We can’t do this on our own. But when we glory in the cross, when we have intimate fellowship with God, when the Holy Spirit touches our lives through the word of God, it changes us. That love changes us. This is the first step to forgiving someone: spending time at the cross, drawing close to Jesus, confessing the sin of unforgiveness and Jesus changes us.
What’s the second step toward forgiving other people?
Matt 5:43-46 (NRSV)
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?
I read really early on the bit about praying for your enemies and I’ve been doing that for the past 22 years and it’s through this that God has changed my heart. I constantly pray for the person who hurt me most to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and I believe that God is going to answer that prayer. Praying for my enemies set me free. Doing what Jesus says works. It is very hard to harbour ill-will towards someone you are regularly praying for.
Thirdly replace your evil with good.
Romans 12:17-21 (NRSV)
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Start doing love to your enemies. If there is someone in your life right now who is causing you grief and pain, who is robbing you of joy – go and ask God to show you one practical thing that you can do to love this person and watch God honour that. Watch God fulfil his promises in your life, when we start doing love even when don’t feel like it.
Do you think Jesus felt like it when he was hanging on the cross? Just in that moment? He was the Son of God and the Son of Man. He had flesh like you and me. Even when we don’t feel like it, God starts to change our hearts. God is a good God. God wants you and me to be free of unforgiveness in our lives.
We are forgiven ten thousand talents worth. More than we can ever repay. How? – because Jesus paid the ten thousand talents worth – through his death.
How can we not show mercy, how can we not show grace, how can we not show forgiveness? Go to the cross, pray for your enemies, do love to them in a practical way.
Watch God fill you with a sense of the forgiveness that you already have. Watch God shine his glory out of your broken life into this dark hurting world to bring sinners like me to faith in him.