Forgiveness is one thing we all want to receive from others, especially God, but then find it difficult to give. Then on the other hand, if we’ve been hurt (emotionally or physically), offended or betrayed, forgiving the offender can be difficult or even seem unfair. What’s so important about forgiveness and what does it really mean to forgive someone? I could present a few reasons why forgiveness is important, but the only one that really matters is that it’s commanded by God in Scripture. The New Testament contains a number of exhortations pertaining to forgiveness, but here’s one: “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (Matthew 6:14-15 KJV).
Since, we’re commanded to forgive; you might ask: How many times do I have to forgive someone, who trespasses against me? I’m glad you asked, because the disciple Peter also wanted to know and asked Jesus: “. . . Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?" “Jesus replied, "Seven! Hardly! Try seventy times seven (Matthew 18:21 Mess).” Did Jesus mean that we should forgive a brother or sister only 70 X 7? That would equal 490 times and then our duty to forgive - would be complete, wouldn’t it? Unfortunately, we don’t get off that easy and Jesus hardly meant for us to forgive one another only 70 times seven. Let’s go deeper and look at Jesus’ answer in the King James Version: “Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, until seven times: but, until seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18:22) What did Jesus mean by the word until? The word until is defined by Webster-Merriam Online Dictionary and the English Thesaurus as: a function word to indicate continuance, awaiting, pending, in anticipation of.
“Until seventy times seven is: a certain number for an uncertain situation. Christ’s meaning is, that a man should be all the days, and every day of his life, forgiving those that sin against him, as often as they repent and acknowledge their fault; and that no time is to be set for the exercise of the ‘grace’ of forgiveness; but as often as there are objects and occasions, though ever so many and frequent, it should be used; and He illustrates this in the parable of the Unforgiving Servant in the same chapter.”
Let’s consider some important points about forgiveness that we don’t think about when we’re hurting: 1. Our enemy Satan knows that when we choose not to forgive others, we are only hurting ourselves and prolonging personal misery. On the other hand, when we do forgive others, we are actually blessed because, as we acknowledge God as our vindicator, we are able to release the offender to the Lord for judgment; also, we can be delivered from a bitter heart, which opens the door for God’s peace. Jesus taught His disciples how to pray using the ‘Model Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13).’ Through praying this prayer, they were constantly reminded that as they asked God to forgive them of their debts, they too should forgive others, who trespassed against them. There would be no point in asking God to forgive us if we did not intend to forgive others. Another important point is: 2. When we don’t forgive others, we are in sin, which separates us from God and our fellowship with Him is broken. In my personal opinion, nothing and no one should be more important than our fellowship with the Father, yet we sometimes justify our unwillingness to forgive others because of the severity of the offense. Voices whisper in our ear: “If I were you, I wouldn’t forgive him or her for what was done to you. That was too much and I wouldn’t take it if I were you!” Yet, God in His great love and mercy gave His Only Begotten Son to die for us, when we were yet in our offenses (sin – emphasis mine) and enemies (haters – emphasis mine) of God. “But if we confess our sins (or offenses – emphasis mine) to Him, He is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong.” (1 John 1:9 NLT)
In my personal life, I learned the hard way that not forgiving others only hurt me and that the offenders had no clue that even after several months or maybe longer, I was still unglued about what the offenders had done to me and licking my wounds. In my ignorance, I was not resisting the devil and allowed him to mess with my mind, which was not stayed on the Lord therefore; I was far from being in ‘perfect peace Isaiah 26:3)’ I was constantly rehearsing the offenses done to me and wanted some kind of punishment or personal vindication because, it was sometimes so hard to release those, who had caused me hurt. Thank God, I finally discovered that, although, it was not always easy, it was liberating, when I chose to release to God those, who hurt me. Scripture tells us that God is not (or will not be) mocked and we will reap what we sow (Galatians 6:9), therefore, we can be assured that God will take care of those who have hurt us (and we too will pay for our wrong towards others). One thing I have learned about vindication is that God does not always allow us to see our enemies fall but, if He does, we must not rejoice or God will withhold His wrath. (Proverbs 24:17-18)
Some final thoughts to remember about forgiveness:
- As long as we live, we should await and anticipate forgiving and being forgiven by others. “If we do not forgive others, our faith will not work and everything that comes from God-- comes by faith.” To receive freely from God, we must freely give. (Mark 11:26);
- Don’t give place to the devil by holding grudges. Give way to God, be quick to forgive and do not let the sun go down on your anger. (Ephesians 4:26-27) Forgiveness leads to healing; and
- Let’s practice forgiving others as well as ourselves, when we fail. As we do so, we can learn to love ourselves in healthier ways, let go of hurtful memories and painful events, while we anticipate a brighter future. By consistently applying ‘seventy times seven’ to our own lives, it becomes easier to acknowledge our personal frailties and seek God for His grace, mercy and wisdom to replace the guilt and self-hatred of a painful past with ‘sincere forgiveness.’