People find it very difficult to forgive because it is hard to let go of the wounds of the offense. Even if they manage to forgive, they find it difficult to forget. So how to forgive and forget? In this post, I would like to share with you few basic principles of forgiveness.
Before we dive in, let me give you a formal definition of forgiveness
Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense, lets go of negative emotions such as vengefulness, with an increased ability to wish the offender well. [Source: Wiki]
- How should I forgive others?
- Is it possible to forgive and remember their wrong doings no more?
- How many times should I forgive?
- What if they keep on repeating the same mistake?
These are some of the various questions we have in mind. Even the disciples of Jesus Christ had similar questions.
“Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
Peter might have heard the teachings of Jesus about forgiveness many times, and this doubt had been troubling him, about the maximum number of times forgiveness should be offered. But he asked the right Person! Jesus considered his question and explained it with a story. Here we go!
Note: If you already know the story, then skip this and go right ahead with the next section.
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.
“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 hundred thousand dollars 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 ten dollars. 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.” Matt 18: 21-35
Many times do we also have not become that ‘unforgiving servant’, unwilling to forgive our fellow beings? What are the lessons which we can derive from this story?
1. Count our own mistakes before counting others’
Peter asked Jesus, whether it is enough to forgive 7 times. (he chose 7 because it was believed to be the number of completeness and perfection) Jesus answered, Try seven times seventy 7×70=490 times. What does this mean? This simply means you should forgive without actually counting.
Oh, how is that possible? Read on.
In this story, the King had mercy on the servant and simply erased the debt of $100,000 but his servant was not even willing to erase the debt of $10 of his fellow servant. Infact a huge difference!
I don’t think Jesus would exaggerate! He was trying to teach the basic principle of forgiveness. Jesus was literally telling Peter, “Just think about how many times I have forgiven you. Then why can’t you forgive your brother even few times?” Only Jesus could give such a perfect answer!
We are ignorant of the number of times we have wronged God, and that is why the mistakes done to us matter a lot to us. Here Peter was counting the ‘number of times’, his brother sinned against him, but Jesus knew the actual count of the ‘number of times Peter has wronged God’. Jesus had to explain this difference using a story.
Here, Jesus was trying to teach Peter about the divine character of forgiveness.
2. Inorder to forgive others, we need to ‘remember’ the forgiveness we received
In this story, the cruel servant immediately forgot the great mercy the King had shown him, in cancelling the entire debt of $100,000
If we get a true revelation of the number of sins, God has forgiven us, then definitely we will also have that same compassion in forgiving others.
Just a simple comparison would work wonders!
Here is a warning!
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. Matt 6: 14-15
(as the King did to His cruel servant). The choice is ours! Be more conscious about the way God has shown mercy to us many times. That will enable us to have that same attitude towards others. What if God also treated us in the same way we treat others! This awareness helps us to be less critical/judgmental.
Freely you have received; freely give. Matt 10:8
By the way, how to receive forgiveness from God? Truly repent (being sorry for the mistakes committed) and admit your failures and confess it before God. Get reconciled to God and man. Then He would be faithful enough to forgive us. Jesus proved this great act of offering forgiveness by forgiving the thief on the cross
3. Judge our own self before passing judging on others
In this story, the servant was too greedy and selfish to grab even that $10 from his fellow-servant, which is almost nothing compared to $100,000 that was cancelled. This is our attitude sometimes when it comes to forgiving others
We are too quick to pass judgement on others. Therefore it is always good to put yourself in other people’s shoes, before blaming/accusing them. But to do that, you have to get out of your own first!
Here is an important verse:-
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. Matt 7:1-5
Jesus warned us that, we would be judged in the same way we judge others. Therefore, let us be more conscious of our own mistakes. If we are not willing to forgive others, God will also not forgive us.
4. Okay! I am willing to forgive 490 times, but what if he/she does the same mistake 491st time?
Let’s ask Jesus the same question. He gives the answer in verse 35.
And that’s exactly what my Father in heaven is going to do to each one of you who doesn’t forgive unconditionally anyone who asks for mercy
In another translation, it says
So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses
In other words, we need to forgive unconditionally or we need to forgive from the heart. That’s exactly how God forgave us!
For I will be merciful to their wrongdoing, and I will never again remember their sins. Heb 8:12
So, the question is, if you have really forgiven from the heart, would you really have to count it?
Therefore the 491st mistake becomes the 1st one, if you have really forgiven the 490 mistakes. Does that make sense? Yes, that is called unconditional forgiveness!
Jesus makes this clear in another portion
Be alert. If you see your friend going wrong, correct him. If he responds, forgive him. Even if it’s personal against you and repeated seven times through the day, and seven times he says, ‘I’m sorry, I won’t do it again,’ forgive him.” Matt 17: 3-4
If you sincerely love a person, you will not actually keep record of his/her wrong doings. Hard to practise, but with the help of the loving Father, it is possible. Here is a true definition of love
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. I Cor 13: 4-7
Shall we have a word of prayer.
Father, open my eyes to the great forgiveness that you have offered me. Help me to forgive others in the same way you forgive me. Help me to evaluate my self before I pass judgment on others. Give me compassionate and merciful heart. Help me to be quick to forgive and slow to judge. Thank you Jesus. Amen.
Do you find it difficult to forgive? How often have you forgiven your friend/husband/wife/mother/father/sister/brother/colleague? Do you actually keep a count of the number of times you have forgiven? How wonderful the world would be, if we had practiced these principles! What are your thoughts on this?