I don’t know you personally, but I do know something about you. I know that dealing with people is one of the greatest challenges in your life. At one time or another, I know you’ve had to deal with people who were mean, cranky, obstinate, overbearing, and downright ornery. You’ve also had to deal with people who were rude, crude, brash, insensitive, and thoughtless. I know, in your life, you’ve had to deal with people who have stolen from you, betrayed you, lied to you, cheated you, blamed you, stabbed you in the back, spread vicious rumors about you and never paid back the money you lent them. (I hate it when that happens!)
These people can be the people you work with or work for. Some of them are (or were) your good friends. Some were strangers, your parents, or your children. You may have been married to them. You may be married to them now. There is no getting away from them; people are everywhere.
Because people can be so rotten, we are continually faced with the issue of forgiveness. When others do us wrong we have a choice to make. We can harbor the hurt feelings, anger, bitterness and resentment in our heart toward them, or we can forgive them. The choice you make will greatly affect your personal well being as well as your relationship with that person. And something else most people don’t realize, it will also affect your relationship with God.
One of the central themes of the entire Bible is “forgiveness.” In the New Testament the word “forgiveness” is translated from the Greek word “aphiemi.” It simply means to release someone from punishment for some wrongdoing. The New Testament alone contains 142 references to this word. Of these, 129 are located in the Gospels. So, you can see that forgiveness was a central theme in the life and ministry of Christ.
When Jesus instructed the disciples how to pray, part of the prayer He prayed dealt with forgiveness. Jesus said, “Forgive us our debts (or trespasses) as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12). After giving this prayer example (known as The Lord’s Prayer) He commented about the line concerning forgiveness in Matthew 6, verse 14 and 15: “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your father will not forgive your sins.”
Now there’s a sobering thought. If I don’t forgive the people who have done me wrong, God will not forgive me for the wrong I have done. That puts a whole new light on holding a grudge, doesn’t it? All of the sudden the philosophy of “don’t get mad, get even” loses a lot of its appeal.
The concept of God expecting you to forgive if you want to be forgiven is, what the Bible calls, a “hard teaching.” It is “hard” because we’ve been raised on the philosophy of revenge; “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” We feel it’s our duty and our right to bring judgment and punishment upon those who treat us wrong. Sure, we believe forgiveness is a lovely idea, as long as we’re not the ones who have to forgive.
The Apostle Peter asked Jesus “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” I’m sure Peter thought he was being generous. After all, after two or three times most people would slam the door on forgiving an offender. Peter was willing to go the extra mile; to be used, abused and mistreated up to seven times. Jesus answered him “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven.” (Mat. 18:21-22).
My lightning-fast calculator tells me seventy times seven is 490! The shear magnitude of the number reveals Jesus’ intent was not to give us a destination where forgiveness ends, but to, instead, clearly imply there is no limit when it comes to our need to forgive others.
That should spark enough thought to take you to Part 2 of this series. In the next installment, we will continue to explore the important biblical subject of forgiveness.