Wednesday, February 10, 2010



Forgiving is difficult and I'm finding it a hard thing to teach my kids. When a friend or sibling wrongs them it's easy to get angry and look for revenge. I know that is not the way I want them to respond. Nor is it the right response.

I have not always been the most forgiving person. It sometimes feels good to hold a grudge. It gives me a reason to be self-righteous and prideful by focusing on the terrible things other people have done. But that's not God's way.

In Matthew, one of Jesus' disciples asks Jesus how many times should he be expected to forgive his brother. He thinks maybe seven times is a generous start.

Jesus responds, " I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times." Matthew 19:22

That seems a bit excessive. I usually feel pretty indignant. How could they do that to me? That is way more than I could possibly be expected to forgive.

But Jesus goes on to tell the story of the Unforgiving Debtor. It's found in Matthew 18:21-35. There was a king who forgave a large debt after the debtor begged for mercy. When the debtor left the king he ran into a man who owed him a little. This man begged him for mercy and he grabbed him and began to choke him. He refused to offer mercy and had him thrown into prison.

When the king finds out about it he calls the servant in and says,
"You wicked servant, he said, I canceled all the 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 turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he could pay back all he owed." Matthew 18:32-34

It's easy for me to be critical of the debtor. How could he in all the mercy he had been given be so cruel?

Jesus says, "This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive you brother from your heart." Matthew 18:35

How could I be so blind to the forgiveness God has given me? He has forgiven me each and every time I have sinned. He suffered and died for my unrighteousness, bitterness, and gossipping mouth. How could my gratitude of forgiveness not flow right out of my heart into other people?

I've heard people say there are certain things they could never forgive. But God generously offers everyone forgiveness. No one is perfect except him. Forgiveness doesn't mean brushing things under the rug. It's about getting things out in the open and giving them over to Christ.

What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. As it is written:
There is no one righteous, not even one;
there is no one who understand,
no one who seeks God.
All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one. Romans 3:9-12

I've always thought that it's important to forgive because it will eat you up if you don't. There certainly is truth to that. What this story spoke to my heart this week was that when I refuse forgiveness I am playing God. Forgiveness is God's gig and He offers it to all. Who am I to say that someone doesn't deserve the grace I have so freely and generously received?

So along with teaching my kids to have a soft heart of repentance, I want them to have a heart full of forgiveness. It's not easy to talk about sin but that is the pathway to God's sacrificial grace for us. That is the crux of the gospel. Forgiveness takes on a whole new meaning when we are the one that needs it. I think that is how God opens up the floodgates of forgiveness; by showing us OUR need to be forgiven.

As I work with my kids on forgiveness, God is opening up my heart. I think I'm going hang up some signs around the house that say "70x7" as a reminder.

Who do I need to forgive? Who do you need to forgive?

"Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive and the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity." Colossians 3:13-14

1 comment:

Peter and Nancy said...

I just read a really powerful book called "Scars and Stilettos" -- it's a woman's biography of working in the s*x industry and then becoming a follower of Christ.

She describes forgiveness as a completely "vertical" transaction, between her and God, not "horizontal" (between her and the other person) at all. That helps me see forgiveness in its truest light . . .