Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Necessity of Forgiveness

One of my favorite passages in the Bible that deals with forgiveness is Matthew 18:21-35. Peter asks Jesus how many times should one forgive others. Perhaps Peter thought he was being generous in suggesting that he forgive someone seven times. But the Lord answered, "I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven." I believe that Jesus' point was not that we should literally only forgive 490 times and then that's it. But rather, seventy times seven implies we should forgive so many times that we just do not even keep track. Jesus then tells the story of the king and his servant. A certain servant owed the king a huge sum of money - ten thousand talents. I do not know the exact amount in today's standards, but I have heard that it was probably millions. The Bible clearly states that the servant did not have the money to pay the king back. The servant was brought before the king and ordered to pay all that he owed. The servant fell at the king's feet and begged the king to be merciful. The king had declared that the servant was to be sold, along with the servant's wife and children, and all that he owned, in order to pay the king back. I mean, can you just imagine the hopelessness that this poor servant must have felt. Not only would he be separated from his wife and children, they would all be split up, too, and sold into slavery. There would be no chance of every being free again and being a family, because the debt was too great for someone such as this servant to ever pay back.

I love how the Bible says the king was "moved with compassion." He had pity on him. Not only did the king decide not to sell the servant and his family into slavery, but he COMPLETELY FORGAVE THE DEBT. All of it! Can you even imagine what that must have been like? Two seconds ago, your life was over and you would probably never see your family again. Now, you are forgiven. Freely and completely forgiven, and you never have to worry about that debt hanging over your head again. What would you do? You would think this servant would run home as fast as he possibly could and hug his family tighter than he ever had.

Unfortunately, that is not even close to what happened. It's interesting that the Bible says that the servant went out and FOUND one of his fellowservants who owed HIM money. That seems to tell me that servant #1 went looking for servant #2, to intentionally try to collect on his debt. Sometimes do you ever find yourself wishing you could go back in time and just smack some sense into someone like this? I do, until I realize that I have done the EXACT SAME THING to people in my own life. Anyway, more on this in a minute - I'm going to finish the story first.

So, servant #1 finds servant #2 and asks sweetly and respectfully if servant #2 could pay him back. Wait, maybe that version is in the NIV, but that's not what the KJV says. (A little tongue-in-cheek there, folks!) No, he put his hands on him and GRABBED HIM BY THE THROAT. He starts choking this poor fellowservant because he is so angry that servant #2 owes him money. The Bible says it was a "hundred pence." Again, I do not know how much exactly that is in today's standard. I've heard anywhere from a few pennies to around $15 dollars. Not a huge amount, compared to what servant #1 owed the king.

Servant #2 falls down on the ground, begging for servant #1 to be patient with him and give him a little more time. Sound familiar? You would think that would trigger pretty recent memories in servant #1, wouldn't you? But servant #1 wasn't going to hear any of it. He threw him in prison until he could pay the debt. Of course the rest of the story goes on to say that the king was told of servant #1's actions, and the king rebuked him for what he had done, and ended up punishing him in prison for his lack of compassion and forgiveness.

God is like the king in this story, who forgave me for my sin debt. I could never pay him back for all my sins, and therefore, I was doomed to spend eternity in the place of punishment, the place called hell. That was like the first servant who owed a million dollars - there was no way he could pay that back ever, even if he spent the rest of his life trying. I could never be good enough to atone for my sins. I could never pay God back by being good enough, even if I spent the rest of my life trying. God loved me, and had compassion on me. The Bible says that God is not willing for ANY to perish (that means be separated from God by spending eternity in hell). Now, unlike the king, God could not just overlook my sin. Jesus, the perfect Son of God, died on the cross and shed His blood to pay that debt. He took my place, and because of this, God is able to FREELY and COMPLETELY forgive my sins. All of them. He gave me back my life when I placed my faith and dependence fully on Jesus Christ alone as my Savior, and offered me eternal life in heaven with Him. So you would think I would spend each day freely forgiving others, remembering I had been spared from the fires and torment of hell. You would think I would forgive quickly. That any petty little thing that came up, I would not even give a second thought to.

Unfortunately, that is not what I do. No, I don't literally go up to people that have wronged me and choke them! But how many time have I spoken hateful words to them that wound just as deep? I often hold little grudges and bitterness in my heart. I act coldly towards them because they did me wrong. Don't we all? And is anything that any human could do to me as significant as the huge sin debt I owed God? If we are honest, we would have to say no. It's like comparing a few dollars to a million dollars. There really is NO comparison.

Whenever I am really struggling to forgive someone, I try to think of this passage. It really puts things in perspective for me. It suddenly makes what someone else said to me or did to me seem like the first servant choking the second servant. And you know, verse 35 talks about forgiving from the heart. I used to not really see the significance of this. I've come to believe that you can forgive with your lips, but not with your hearts. You can begrudgingly say to someone, "I forgive you," because you feel like you have to. But all the while, you harbor angry feelings towards them in your heart. Those angry feelings turn into bitterness if left unchecked. But when you forgive with your heart, you do not hold any more angry feelings in your heart towards that person. Now we as humans are not good at doing this. We actually like to nurse angry, bitter feelings because somehow we think we are hurting that person back by doing so. It's like a way to get a little piece of revenge - we think. Actually, the truth is it just hurts our own self. We need the Lord to help us get rid of the anger and bitterness when someone has wronged us. Can people do some pretty hurtful things to us? Oh my, yes! Can we trust the Lord to help heal that hurt and take the sting of those hateful words or actions away? Absolutely!

So, how do you forgive? Ask the Lord to teach you how to have compassion, and how to freely forgive from the heart. He can and will teach you, if you allow Him to. Then, remember this verse: II Corinthians 1:3. God is the God of all comfort. That circumstance that hurt you and wounded you so deeply that you don't think you will ever come back from this?  - He is powerful enough to help you to forgive and take that sting away. Is anything to hard for the Lord?