Forgive us as we forgive others. That is certainly a new twist on the Golden Rule – Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. We are talking to God here. Do I really want Him to forgive me the way I forgive those who mess with me?!?!?
Everyone – or at least most people – acknowledge they have sinned and need God’s forgiveness. Those who don’t admit they need forgiveness often think that good intentions… or ignorance… make everything ok. God’s word does not uphold that line of thought. According to Romans 3:23 “all have sinned.” The “all” there is translated from the Greek pas and it actually means all. So that includes you, me… and everyone else.
So, we definitely need God’s forgiveness. OK, but in the same measure we forgive others? That’s a scary thought! We definitely need to explore this a bit further.
Let’s look at Matthew 18: 21-35
The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. (Some translations say seventy times seven….a lot.) “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
“But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.
“His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’
“But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.
“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
Let’s look at a couple of things in this story. First of all, the master was owed a debt. How he had come to run up that much of a tab is beyond me. He must have kept giving and giving, even when the servant was not able to pay back. Sounds like God. He gives and gives – more than we deserve.
Secondly, the servant had received much and he owed a BIG debt – one he could NEVER repay. Never, as in more than one lifetime. No hope! By law, the servant and his whole family could be sold into slavery or put in debtors’ prison to pay the debt. That would not even completely pay the debt.
Thirdly, the master forgives this enormous debt. He wanted to settle accounts… He didn’t want the debt to come between them. God doesn’t want our debt to come between Him and us either. He wants relationship! So the master took the debt upon himself. In essence, He paid it. Jesus paid our debt – one we owed but could not repay – one He didn’t owe, but Jesus paid it anyway!
Now here is where the story gets even more interesting. Do you think the servant was grateful? Maybe, but not grateful enough. He had someone who owed him money… not a huge amount, but still more than could be repaid right there and then. Did he have mercy on his fellow servant? Nope! He “had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt.” That is what the Master could have done to him! Unbelievable! Couldn’t he see what he was doing? Well, others saw … and were angry and appalled. They told the Master.
The Master was also angry and appalled. How could the servant do that? Did he not understand how much he had been forgiven? Did he somehow think he deserved forgiveness, and the other man did not?
So what did the Master do? He called the servant to appear before him. The debt the Master had forgiven was now un-forgiven! “In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.” … which would be never!
That is heavy! It sure tells us that forgiveness is important! But exactly what is it and how do we do it? Good questions!
Jesus taught his disciples to pray. In the ESV version, Matthew 6 says “Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.” The same passage in Luke 11 says, “And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.” When someone hurts us, deliberately or not, what do we feel they owe us? An apology? Repayment? Acknowledgement they were wrong? Restoration of what was lost… if that is even possible? Understanding? Somehow they should have to suffer the same way you have! That sounds a lot like revenge. In Romans 12, Paul quotes Deuteronomy 32:35, “Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, ‘I will take revenge; I will pay them back,’ says the LORD.” (NLT)
Forgiveness LETS GO of whatever we are owed. It cancels the debt. An apology might be nice… even deserved… but I will no longer demand it. I will no longer try to punish. I will no longer expect restitution. (The Lord has promised to restore the years the locust has eaten… so He can more than make up for our loss!)
There are so many aspects to forgiveness that I want to touch on them briefly.
First of all, we need forgiveness from God. Not only did Adam and Eve sin, and pass down the sinful, fallen nature to every one of us, we also do more than our fair share of sinning. We want our own way. We forget – or ignore – that “Father Knows Best” and rebel. But Jesus cancelled our debt. He paid the price with His Blood. He has forgiven us our sins… for things we’ve done… for things we didn’t do, but should have! And He has thrown our sins into the “Sea of Forgetfulness.” What has been forgiven is gone. God has chosen to forget (He just won’t even think about it again), and He will never throw it back in your face. Satan will, but God won’t!
Secondly, people sin against one another. You have undoubtedly been hurt by things people have done or said to you. But we have also been hurt by what people DID NOT DO, or DID NOT SAY. For me, those were harder to see, and harder to forgive.
What about forgiving ourselves? That is even harder, and just as important. God knew how we would mess up… before we were even born. He’s got it covered. Give it to Him, and He can even turn our messes into messages. He turns our failures into testimonies. Satan hates testimonies. They give others hope and encouragement that God can save and rescue them, too… that nothing is too big for God… and that no one is too far down in the pit for God to reach them.
This subject would not be complete unless we mention forgiving God. That’s right… we often need to forgive God. Not that God has done anything wrong, but we sometimes get mad at Him. I know that seems almost too outrageous to say. Ultimately it boils down to us not believing that God is Good and that He loves us, and that He is much smarter than we are. But… if you are mad at Him… maybe from way before you knew Him, tell Him. He’s a big God and He can handle it. He knows anyways. Give Him the hurts, the disappointments… even the pride that you thought you were “good-er” than Him. He is holding you now… and He was holding you then.
Let’s talk a minute about what forgiveness IS NOT. Forgiving someone DOES NOT say that what was done was right… or good. It DOES NOT excuse bad behavior. It DOES NOT mean trust is restored. It DOES NOT mean the relationship is automatically restored to what it was before. (It may open the door to a restored relationship, but it’s not automatic.) Forgiveness does NOT mean all the hurt goes away immediately. It does NOT even mean that you forget. God is able to forgive and forget. It does mean that we no longer bring up the incident every time there is a “discussion.”
In short, when we choose to forgive, we are acknowledging that we have been forgiven, released from what we deserve, and we will obey God and release others.
A FEW PRACTICAL NOTES:
Forgiveness is a process. Especially if the wounds are deep… or ongoing.
If the wound is deep, like rejection, humiliation, betrayal, abandonment, etc., forgiveness is a CHOICE. We choose to release. That is an act of our will, and many times we release over and over again. I have often revisited the same event several times… forgiving from a slightly different perspective each time. However, the hurts … the emotions… heal at different rates. Reading Scripture and letting the truth of God’s Word settle deep into our hearts, really helps.
If you have been betrayed, remember, Jesus understands. He was betrayed by a good friend – one who had walked closely with Him for 3 years.
If you have been rejected, remember, Jesus understands. He was rejected. His own brothers didn’t believe in Him. They thought He was crazy. People, who hailed Him one day, were calling for His crucifixion a few days later. And people are still rejecting Him… every day. At one time or another, WE have rejected him.
Some of God’s promises that have been especially comforting to me are:
- Hebrews 13:5 “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” To me that said He’d never abandon me, nor throw up His hands in disgust and give up on me.
- Psalm 27:10 “Even if my father and mother abandon me, the LORD will hold me close.”
- Psalm 139:5 “You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.” That always made me feel trapped… until I found out it was like the scripture that says “the angel of the LORD encamps around me.” He hems me in with protection!
- I John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” He forgives me…and is purifying me!
ABOUT ONGOING HURTS:
Forgiveness is essential. So is wisdom. If you are in a relationship / situation where you are continually being attacked, rejected or hurt…..give yourself some space. Seek counsel. Staying in a toxic relationship doesn’t make you holy or more loving… it makes you wounded. Sometimes you even need to leave… temporarily or permanently! Even though Jesus was betrayed and rejected and they tried to kill Him twice, He never let others have their way with Him – until it was time for our redemption! No one took His life. He laid it down… in God’s timing.
Thank you for taking the punishment for my sins. You didn’t deserve to die. I did. But You chose to take all of God’s anger… that I deserve… onto yourself on the cross. My debt has been cancelled…. PAID IN FULL. I choose to follow you today, and forever. I know that You will never leave me or give up on me… and you ALWAYS keep your promises.
Lord, You know those who have hurt me, lied to me, or about me…. Those who have rejected me… or betrayed me… or abandoned me. I know that all those hurts were not Your idea… When people hurt me, it was their choice… or their ignorance. Thank You for holding me through all those times, even if I didn’t even know You were there. I choose to forgive them and I release them and the hurts to you. Please heal those hurts deep inside me. Let Your truth replace the lies I’ve believed. Come, Holy Spirit. Fill me. Strengthen me. Enable me to walk as Your child, according to Your kingdom.
In Jesus Precious Name,