Then came Peter and said to him, “Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? until seven times?” Jesus saith unto him, “I say not unto thee, Until seven times; but, Until seventy times seven,” (Matthew 18:21-22).
One of the great commands of God in the Scriptures shows us that we are to be forgiving people. As children of God, forgiven of our great debt of sin, we must forgive those who sin against us.
In Matthew 18:23-34, Jesus presents a parable of a king and two of his servants. One servant owes the king 10,000 talents, a phonomenal figure, one that would be almost impossible to repay (certainly in the realm of millions, perhaps billions, today). The servant begs for remission of the debt, and it is granted to him. The same servant then seeks his fellow servant who owes him 100 denarii, nothing like 10,000 talents but still quite a sum (perhaps around $1000 today), and demands that he be repaid. The king hears of this, and casts the servant into the hands of tormentors until he should pay all that was due. The conclusion of the story is presented by Jesus in Matthew 18:35:
“So shall also my heavenly Father do unto you, if ye forgive not every one his brother from your hearts.”
True forgiveness, then, is not an option: it is a necessity.
While forgiveness is clearly commanded, following through with forgiveness fully is not easy. We know when we are wronged, we do not like the feeling of being wronged, and it is hard to let go of that anger and pain. We may be willing to forgive on the surface, but the pain beneath remains.
When we feel like this we ought to look at it from God’s view. After all, we have all wronged Him (Romans 3:23). He, however, does not hold the grudge, but is willing to fully forgive and not count sin against us (Hebrews 10:16-18). He was willing to pay the price of His Son that we may have that forgiveness (John 3:16). Can you imagine being wronged by people constantly and you respond by delivering your own child up to these people for their atonement? How great and unfathomable is the love of God for us!
We can understand, then, why forgiving people of their wrongs against us should be so important– we want forgiveness, too! As it is written in Mark 11:25:
“And whensoever ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have aught against any one; that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”
When we forgive others, we ourselves are forgiven. If we refuse to forgive from the heart, and continue to hold a grudge, or refuse to talk with someone or participate jointly with someone, then we risk losing the forgiveness that we so eagerly have sought from God.
Forgiveness can be relatively simple for minor transgressions or infractions, and especially when the one whom we would forgive has a repentant heart. Forgiveness is also made easier if we like the person whom we are forgiving. While we are called upon to forgive persons in all of these circumstances, God’s commands regarding forgiveness require us to excel still further.
In Matthew 5:38-48, Jesus charges His followers with the commands to “turn the other cheek” when wronged, and to pray for our enemies. Paul presents the same type of message in Romans 12:10-21. This certainly is true in terms of forgiveness, as Jesus’ own example indicates. While Jesus is on the cross, and He is looking upon those who have crucified Him, He says the following in Luke 23:34a:
“And Jesus said, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
Stephen presents a similar example in Acts 7:60. If Jesus and Stephen could have the heart to ask God to forgive those who were in the act of killing them, can we not forgive those around us of the wrongs we have suffered?
Recently we have heard in the news about the terrible school shooting in Pennsylvania, where an Amish school was raided by a disturbed individual who proceeded to shoot many young girls, killing four along with himself. In this terrible circumstance, we could easily expect that the Amish would be very angry and feel great hostility because their isolation was so greatly violated and they had suffered such loss. The Amish community in that area did no such thing, at least outwardly. Instead, the Amish community created a fund to assist the gunman’s widow and family, and half of the attendance of the gunman’s funeral were members of the Amish community.
While we have many disagreements with the Amish in general about their views regarding being separate from the world, among other matters, we can see how their example of forgiveness puts most of us to shame. In this instance, the Amish community has embodied the attitude of forgiveness from the heart that Jesus has demanded from all of those who would seek Him. If we were faced with similar circumstances, how would we respond? Would we work to assist the family of the one who had done us so much harm? Would we care to attend the funeral of someone who did us evil? Let us consider these matters, and strive to have the forgiving heart to which we are called!
Ethan R. Longhenry