How to forgive
In the gospel of Matthew 18: 21-35, Simon Peter comes to Jesus and asks, “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 times seven...”
This is an amazing teaching, if you think about it. Some versions translate this as seventy-seven times, others seventh times seven. Whichever New Testament translation is correct, Jesus seems to be saying that forgiveness should be an unlimited resource in our lives. Doesn’t Jesus realize how difficult that is? Of course, he does. Imagine how difficult it was for him as he hung on the cross to forgive those who were taunting him. Imagine how difficult it is for him to forgive everyone who has ever betrayed him — including you and me. He taught unlimited forgiveness; he practiced unlimited forgiveness. And as he did that, he taught us three critical things about forgiveness.
First of all, Jesus taught us that forgiveness is possible, We do not have to be slaves to resentment and anger. Christ can deliver us. He can set us free.
Corrie ten Boom once told of being haunted by a wrong that had once been done to her. She had forgiven the person, but she kept rehashing the incident in her mind and it kept her awake at night. Finally Corrie cried out to God for help in putting the problem to rest. And God answered her prayer. God sent her a kindly Lutheran pastor. Corrie confessed to this pastor that for two weeks she had gone without sleep hashing and rehashing this incident in her mind.
The kindly pastor made a simple suggestion. “Up in the church tower,” he said, “is a bell which is rung by pulling on a rope. But you know what? After the sexton lets go of the rope the bell keeps on swinging. First ding, then dong. Slower and slower until there’s a final dong and it stops. I believe the same thing is true about forgiveness. When we forgive, we take our hand off the rope. But if we’ve been tugging at our grievances for a long time, we mustn’t be surprised if the old angry thoughts keep coming for a while. They’re just the ding-dongs of the old bell slowing down.”
Secondly, forgiveness is not only possible, it is highly desirable. The damage that we do to ourselves through unresolved anger and resentment is far more deadly than any damage we are likely to inflict on the one who has hurt us. Why keep hammering away at yourself. Our hating anyone is like burning down our house to get rid of rats.
Lack of forgiveness can tear us apart. E. Stanley Jones once noted that a rattlesnake, if cornered, will sometimes become so angry it will bite itself. That is exactly what the harboring of hate and resentment against others is — biting of oneself. We think we are harming others in holding these negative feelings, but the deeper harm is to ourselves.
Third, from the New Testament standpoint, forgiveness is essential. We dare not ask God’s forgiveness for our sins if we are not willing to forgive others.
Peter Marshall said, “If you hug to yourself any resentment against anybody, you destroy the bridge by which God would come to you.”
According to Jesus, you have been forgiven of every sin you have ever committed. You live under the amazing grace which Christ made possible on the cross of Calvary. Can you not find it in your heart to forgive others?
“Forgive us our debts,” Jesus taught us to pray, “as we forgive our debtors.” Forgiveness is essential not only that we may be forgiven but because forgiveness is a redemptive act. When we forgive, we not only turn an enemy into a friend, but we witness to the faith we profess.
If someone has sinned against you, the most Christian thing in this world you can do is to go to that person in forgiveness and love.
Forgiveness is possible. It is highly desirable because it is for our own best good, as well as for those who have offended us. But even more importantly, forgiveness is essential to our relationship with others and with God.
“We forgive others,” Jesus said, “as much as God has forgiven us.”