The Forgiveness that Counts
|By: Dr. James Van Dyke; ©2000|
|How important is forgiveness? What do we miss if we refuse to forgive others? What is the basis of our being able to forgive as Christ commands?|
A woman came into the team meeting at a Lay Renewal in a local church, asking the team to pray for her. She was spiritually hungry and thirsty, but something was blocking her from experiencing a close, personal walk with Jesus. When the team began to question her, in an effort to discover what the block might be, it came out that it was an unforgiving heart. She had been hurt by a relative some years before, and had never forgiven that person.
How important forgiveness is in our lives—especially if we are Christians. We realize how important it is that we be forgiven, but we often forget that it is just as important that we BE FORGIVING.
When Peter asked Jesus one day how many times he had to forgive a brother who had wronged him, “as many as seven times?”, Jesus answered, “No, Peter, seven times is not enough. You must forgive seventy times seven.” Jesus was saying we must forgive an infinite number of times; times without number. That is how many times God has forgiven us; that is how gracious He is to us.
Jesus then proceeds to tell the disciples the parable of the two debtors (Matthew 18:21- 35). The first debtor owed a huge sum; so huge that it was impossible for him to pay—just as it is impossible for us to pay for our sins. He was legally liable for imprisonment, along with his wife, and children and whatever property he had could be confiscated. But when he pled for forgiveness, the King forgave the debt out of compassion for the man.
The man then turned right around and went to one who owed him a debt that was trifling by comparison to the debt that had just been forgiven. Yet, this first, forgiven, debtor seized the man who owed him and began choking him, demanding full payment. Ancient custom and even the Roman law allowed such treatment of a delinquent debtor. They could be dragged by the throat before the judge.
When this second debtor pled for time and patience, the first debtor would not grant it, having forgotten so soon how he had been forgiven his debt. The other slaves of the king saw this and reported it to the king. The king was angry. This is a reminder to us that God’s patience CAN be tried. Psalm 103:9 says, “He will not always strive with us; nor will He keep His danger forever.” Jesus concluded the parable by telling the disciples, “And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. So shall My Heavenly Father also do to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother FROM THE HEART.”
This parable seems to be a commentary on Jesus’s teaching in the Lord’s Prayer, “…and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” (Mt. 6:12) Just two verses later Jesus says, “But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.”
The new thought which Jesus adds in Matthew 18:35 is the thought that the only forgiveness that really counts is forgiveness FROM THE HEART. But, what does this mean? Dr. A.T. Robertson says it means that we must forgive without sham or “lip pardon”, and as often as needed. This, then, would seem to be the Lord’s “final answer” to Peter’s question, “How many times must I forgive?”
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO FORGIVE FROM THE HEART? It means real, unreserved, thorough-going, ungrudging, unjudging, forgiveness, again and again, times without number because that is the desire and intent of our heart—to forgive as we have been forgiven by God. Actually, it is possible for us to have sinned against God 70 X 7 times in ONE DAY, much less in a lifetime.
But, CAN we forgive like this? Yes, but not of ourselves. Only the heart that has truly experienced the forgiving love of God and stored that up in the heart can forgive others from the heart.
To forgive from the heart means WE MUST THINK OF THE OTHER PERSON, NOT SELF. It means that even if we remember the wrong with our minds, we forget the offense in our heart. And, by God’s grace at work within us, it is possible to do this. I recall the story in the newspapers some years ago about a father in Korea, Pastor Sohn, whose twin sons were brutally murdered, and who took the murderer into his own home and adopted him as a son.
Dr. Clovis Chappell once said, “To be forgiven is more that the removal of a penalty; it is the restoration of a fellowship.
WHAT IF WE DON’T? (1) We deny ourselves of God’s forgiveness. God’s forgiveness and man’s are inextricably interwoven. He is always willing to forgive, but it cannot enter an unforgiving heart. (2) We invite unnecessary suffering and anguish into our lives by our unforgiveness. (3) We may believe in Jesus with our minds, but we’ll never know His power in our lives. (4) We will be grudge-bearers, with chips on our shoulders, constantly breaking the unity and clouding the fellowship of Christ’s body, the church. (5) When we are unwilling to forgive from the heart, we harden others in their sin.
Finally, we must remember that we don’t have to defend God’s holiness; He can do that very well Himself. And, He has never made us judge over one another. He never asks us to judge; He always asks us to forgive whenever. forgiveness, out of repentance, is asked.