Is Unforgiveness ever Justified?

–An excerpt from The Promise of a Sound Mind: God’s Plan for Emotional and Mental Health

 

When the topic of forgiveness comes up, people often ask, “What if the other person refuses to apologize? Do I still have to forgive them?” Sometimes people wrong us but are not sorry. The Bible says if someone asks for forgiveness we must forgive, but what if they are not repentant?

This is a good question and is something every person will have to deal with throughout their life. I’ve touched on this a bit from my life’s experience, but since letting go of wrongs can be difficult, we need to look at this question from a biblical perspective as well. When we stop and look at it from a wider perspective, I’m confident you’ll see why it’s necessary to forgive – period. We can’t hold those who wrong us to a higher standard than we want to be held to. Jesus addressed this concept in Matthew 7:1-2

 1 “Judge not, that you be not judged.
 2 “For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.

 

This is not saying we shouldn’t use good judgment or evaluate right from wrong, but that we must judge based on the standard we are willing to stand upon. How many unconfessed sins have I committed in my life? Wrong thoughts, selfish motives, words of offense to others, or any number of other things. We are all guilty. Do we want to be judged for our unconfessed transgressions? I know I certainly don’t. Yet if I determine to only forgive those willing to confess, I put myself in a position where I can only be forgiven for what I confess. Can I expect God to forgive my unconfessed sins if I’m unwilling to do so for others? Is this not what God is addressing in Romans 2:1-8

 1 Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.
 2 But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things.
 3 And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God?
 4 Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?
 5 But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God,
 6 who “will render to each one according to his deeds”:
 7 eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality;
 8 but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness — indignation and wrath,

 

Think about the weight of this passage. Those who judge are condemning themselves, for they are doing the same things. When we judge someone else unworthy of forgiveness, we are also judging ourselves unworthy, for we do the same things. When I refuse to forgive, I am despising the goodness of God. Though I may think I am holding my neighbor accountable, in truth I’m casting God’s mercies out of my own life. I then will stand in judgment against my own behaviors.

My judgment is not because God was unwilling to forgive, but because I was unwilling to forgive. Instead of storing up for myself the treasures of heaven, I am storing up for myself judgment by which I will stand before God to answer for my guilt. And I will be my own condemner as God allows me to judge myself by the standard I have demanded.

Anyone who doesn’t recognize their own sin is blind, prideful, and still in their sins. If I think I’m guiltless, I’m a fool. How many times have I said thoughtless things to my wife, kids, or those around me? Sometimes I don’t even realize I have done this. Other times I have realized it, but just didn’t think it was a big enough deal to address it. If they didn’t say anything, I assume it didn’t bother them. But often they are wounded in silence. Can I now declare my neighbor guilty because he or she failed to apologize to me? If I do, then I am now held by that same standard before God.

What about our hidden sins? As we have seen, Jesus said, any who have ever looked upon someone to lust after them has committed adultery in their heart. Any who are greedy are thieves. Those who are covetous are idolaters. Those who hate are murderers. My life consistently fails to stand up to God’s requirement of perfection. But, when my life turns back to God, I am forgiven and I walk in newness of life. Yet, I have not combed through my past and confessed every sin. That’s impossible. It is my life that has repented and everything is taken out of the way when I look to the cross.

Yet Jesus warned His disciples that if they hold their neighbor accountable and demand judgment, all those sins will not be forgiven of them. God warns that when we don’t forgive from the heart, God returns our guilt upon our own heads.

So the argument of some is that the story of Jesus and the wicked servant is how the man asked for forgiveness and was denied. While this is true, it isn’t the point of the parable. The point is explained by Jesus, “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”

No exceptions are given. He didn’t say the onus is on our brother to ask. The onus is on us to forgive from our heart – not based on our brother’s worthiness, but based on God’s abundant mercies shown to us. God is not required to honor any loophole we think we can find in His word. The issue is we must forgive from the heart, not out of obligation once a set of rules has satisfied us.

The servant held his neighbor to a higher standard than God held him to. So if someone wants to hold their neighbor accountable for unconfessed wrongs, fine. They should be aware that they are placing themselves under the same standard. Now they are guilty for every sin in thought, word, or deed that they have committed against every person and against God. They must go through every minute of their lives and identify every sin they have ever committed. They must then confess them to God and find the person wronged or they thought evil toward, and confess to them. This isn’t only actions, but thoughts, sins of omissions, words, and even wicked emotions such as lust, jealousy, covetousness, envy, hatred, and unjustified anger.

To demand this method of religion is utterly foolish. A person under this system will never have forgiveness, never have peace, never have unity, and will never experience intimacy with God. God is ready to forgive and show mercy, but not to the one who refuses to do the same. As God stated, “To him who shows no mercy, I will judge without mercy.” (James 2:13)

Hopefully you can see the value of forgiveness. Not only does God show you mercy, but God empowers you to rise above your harmful emotions and strengthens you to forgive. When you forgive, anger will attempt to rise up again, but you must cast it out. Look to the Lord for strength and refuse to allow anger, hatred, and bitterness to rule over you. Forgive, bless, pray for, and do good to those who have wronged you, and the Lord will reward you.

This is God’s desire – to reward you. One of the greatest rewards is the peace of God which will reign in your heart, but this isn’t where the reward ends. Forgiveness releases you from the harmful emotions which rule you, so forgiveness is just as much an act of God’s mercy toward you as it is of your mercy toward another – and more so.

When you forgive, you are putting yourself in a right relationship with God and stepping onto the path of God’s purpose for your life. Forgiveness is a giant leap toward peace and joy. Forgiveness is not only a commandment, but it is necessary for your own emotional and physical health.

 

Examine Yourself.

We’ve looked at the reasons why forgiveness is necessary, but it’s also important to examine ourselves and see if there is anyone we need to forgive. Begin now and search your past. When you think of someone, does your stomach tighten or your heart ache?

Ideally, we want reconciliation; however, this is not always possible. It takes two to reconcile, but only takes your willing heart to step into a life of forgiveness. Do you need to forgive a parent, relative, betrayal of a friend, or the harm caused by a stranger? Remember, God has promised healing and blessings to those who forgive. It won’t be easy, but the rewards are great.

When we refuse to forgive, we give our enemies or those who have wronged us power over our emotions, and ultimately our lives. Forgiveness takes the burden off our hearts and places it on God’s shoulders, where it belongs.

Don’t lose sight of the example of Christ. Though He was betrayed by a close friend, rejected by His own people, tried for a crime He didn’t commit, and executed by a Roman governor who testified, “I find no wrong in this man,” He forgave.

On the cross Christ declared, “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they do.” They knew what they were doing to Him, but they were blinded by human nature. Foolishly, they allowed their own misguided ideas to drive their emotions into hatred. Then all they could see was that Jesus was a threat to their desires and personal beliefs. Their understanding did not go beyond the quest for self-fulfillment.

Some of the very people who demanded Jesus’ death later came to faith in Christ and found God’s mercies. Though Christ was persecuted and reviled, He didn’t lash back in return. He committed Himself to the Father, who judges righteously. And what does our Heavenly Father desire most? Reconciliation and forgiveness.

When we commit the wrongs against us to our Heavenly Father, it is an act of faith. We are acknowledging our own need and are recognizing God has the right to show mercy to those who have wronged us – just as He reconciled us, who have wronged Him.

Don’t forget that a single sin separates us from our God, for all sin is a challenge to His right to require His creation to live according to His character and nature. We are created in God’s image, but we fall short of this standard when we turn from God and choose our own ways. Since one sin causes us to fall away from God’s image and perfection, reconciliation must go through the cross. On the cross, Jesus was credited with our sins so we could be credited with His righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21).

This means any sin you or I commit is responsible for putting Christ on the cross. We are responsible for His suffering and death; therefore, what wrong can we endure that is greater than condemning Jesus and putting Him to death on the cross?

Forgiveness is an act of faith because we are putting our trust in God to handle the situation according to His own wisdom. It’s saying, “God I trust you to make this situation right. I can only see this from my limited perspective, but you see the good you’re going to bring through this.”

In the Old Testament, Joseph’s brothers hated him with such passion that they could not say a peaceable word to him. They wanted to murder him, but when they saw a band of traders passing by, they decided it would be better to make a little money off him, so they sold him as a slave. They coldly ignored his anguished cries and rejoiced that the brother they hated was gone. Heartlessly, they conjured up a story to make their father believe Joseph had been killed by a wild animal. Grief almost destroyed their father, but they held to their story.

In the end, God blessed Joseph and exalted him to become the governor of Egypt. In hindsight, we see God was preparing the way for Joseph’s family to be delivered from a coming famine. When all things were concluded, Joseph was in a position of authority and could have brought vengeance down on his brothers. Instead he looked at the plan of God and said, “You meant this for harm, but God meant it for good.”

The Lord used the hate of Joseph’s brothers as a tool to test Joseph, shape his character, and then bless his life in ways that would not have been possible if he stayed in the safety of his home. But one important thing to note is Joseph’s forgiveness. He acknowledged the wrong, but then credited it to God. It was something God not only allowed, but He orchestrated these events so Joseph could ultimately find the goodness of the Lord, and be in a spiritual condition to receive it. He forgave his brothers and became a blessing to them.

Joseph forgave because he took his eyes off the wrong and looked to God’s plan. By looking at the bigger picture of God’s plan, Joseph could see the hand of God through the hardships, pain, and then through his exaltation. If his anger had bound him to the wrongs done, Joseph would have been blind to the work of God. He would have then fought against God’s plan instead of being an instrument of blessing.

Could God have used Joseph if he hadn’t trusted the Lord enough to forgive?

Knowing Joseph was in a position where he could now retaliate, his brothers were living in fear, but Joseph spoke kindly to them. “Fear not,” he said. “Though you meant it for evil, God meant it for good. It was necessary to save the lives of many. I will take care of you and nourish you and your families.”

At no time in Joseph’s life do you see bitterness. In fact, his positive attitude caused him to find favor in each situation – including several years when he was wrongfully in prison.

Forgiveness is also an acknowledgement of our need. I need forgiveness. I need God’s mercies. I recognize I’m not upright in all my ways. I want to be, but I fall short. Because I recognize my need, I also recognize the importance of not holding others to a standard I don’t want applied to my own life. Forgiveness is an acknowledgement of God’s mercy over me. I forgive because I have been forgiven.

Unforgiveness reveals the opposite. When I refuse to forgive, I am declaring that I don’t recognize my own need, and therefore do not acknowledge the greatness of God’s mercies toward me.

Unforgiveness is my declaration that God doesn’t have the right to put me through hardships in order to use me to be an instrument of blessing in His miraculous plan. It is to say my temporary comfort is more valuable than God’s eternal plan. It is to say, I’d rather have short-term comfort than be patient enough to see the salvation of the Lord – and have the blessing of being part of that salvation.

I cannot plead for mercy in my own life and then demand justice in the life of others. Consider James 2:13

For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

 

What a beautiful passage! Mercy triumphs over judgment. When you and I forgive, we are showing mercy. The other person has committed a wrong and is indebted to me – whether they realize it or not. But because I have been shown mercy and God forgave me all that debt, I recognize the necessity to show God’s mercy to others.

This is what Jesus was saying in the parable about the two servants. The one with so great a debt couldn’t see his own need.

Instead of holding our grudge as a demand for payment for a wrong, we release it to the Lord, trusting in His mercies – both to us, and to the one we are forgiving. Not only are you setting that person free, but you are setting yourself free as well. The cage of bitterness opens and you walk out. Then you are free from the chains of bitterness and free from the judgment against your debt that has now been overcome by mercy.

Let me reiterate what was stated in the last chapter. Forgiveness is essential for emotional, spiritual, and often for physical health.

 

Eddie Snipes
The Promise of a Sound Mind: God’s Plan for Emotional and Mental Health


 

Life Applications

·         Memorize Matthew 7:1-2

·         Think about something in your life God forgave you of. Thank God for showing mercy.

·         Read Isaiah 14:12-15.

·         Read Proverbs 16:18

·         Read James 4:6-8

·         What was the cause of Satan’s (Lucifer’s) fall?

·         How does pride blind us to our own destructive behaviors?

·         Think upon the ways that pride interferes with your obedience to God.

·         Think about how pride prevents us from forgiving.

·         Repent – or turn from – your own pride, confess this sin to God, and pray for a willing heart to forgive others.

·         Submit to God that He may give you the power to resist temptation – including pride.

Forgiveness

–An excerpt from The Promise of a Sound Mind: God’s Plan for Emotional and Mental Health

 

This topic will be the lengthiest section of this book, so I’m breaking it into two chapters. There is so much we need to understand about forgiveness that it is necessary to cover this topic more fully. All of God’s commands are intended for our good, but few commands produce immediate results like the command to forgive. Yes, forgiveness is a command – not an option.

Let’s first look at the results of unforgiveness. Harboring resentment and anger creates more stress on our minds than any other cause. It’s like a weight than we never put down. We might endure the stress of carrying this burden, but we’ll never thrive as we could. The longer we carry it, the more blind we are to its presence in our lives. This is why childhood traumas have such lasting impacts. Long after we’ve forgotten the specifics, we struggle with the symptoms.

Victims of bitterness often don’t even know why they are bitter. Or why they have certain emotional scars. It becomes part of our personalities and what drives many of our emotional reactions.

Anger and unforgiveness creates bitterness and hatred. Everyone is wronged. Any person who lives among other people will be offended and done wrong. Human nature cannot be removed from our social world. This is even true in church. Sometimes it appears that offenses are more common in churches, but this is because relationships are more intimate in a congregation, and the opportunity to offend becomes greater.

You will be wronged. You may not realize it, but you will also wrong other people. Sometimes one comment, a slip of the tongue, can create a chain of events with consequences we could have never anticipated. Churches split, families divide, friends become enemies – all from one misspoken word which hit an area of sensitivity in another person. Children fight and make up, but adult disputes can last a lifetime. This problem has always existed and we must learn to deal with it. Consider the words of James 3:2, 5-10

 2 For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body.

 5 Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles!
 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell.
 7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind.
 8 But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.
 9 With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God.
 10 Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so.

 

Let’s first take note of how James introduces this discussion. If anyone doesn’t stumble in their words, they would be a perfect person. Keep in mind, this applies to all. As mentioned earlier, when the Bible uses the word ‘man’ in the general sense, it is referring to mankind – both men and women.

Who doesn’t slip up with their words and say things that offend? No one. Everyone struggles to control their tongue – this includes you and I. Our words are compared to a match in a forest. Sometimes one word can cause a fire that spreads outward and causes much unexpected damage.

We say things thoughtlessly that can create a firestorm, but we also say things spitefully. As James puts it, the same mouth which praises God is a curse to man. These things ought not to be, but they are. James is speaking to the church. Though we should be guarding our mouths, in a moment of carelessness or a moment of anger, we say things which have serious consequences.

Saying, “I shouldn’t have said that,” doesn’t stop the fire. Someone once shared this illustration I believe is fitting. A man took his kids in the bathroom and squeezed all the toothpaste into a sink. He offered ten dollars to the first child who could put the toothpaste back into the tube. Some tried, but no one had success. He then said, “This is what happens with your words. Once they’re out of your mouth, you can’t put them back in.”

King Solomon put it this way, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” Sometimes our words are life to the hearers. A word of praise. A word of encouragement. A kind gesture.

Other times our words are death. Discouragement, carelessness toward someone’s feelings, statements that drive right to the heart of another, these can all be daggers to the soul of the hearer. Instead of bearing up those who are weak, we have a tendency to say things that add to their burden and shatter the emotions of those around us. Because we struggle with our own human nature, we have a tendency to speak more words which kill the emotions of others than we use words that give life and encouragement.

I say all of this to make an important point. You are guilty. So am I. We will say things which ought not to come from our mouths. We offend and then expect others to not take offense. Yet we then want to hold them to a higher standard than we are willing to hold ourselves. I’ve seen people apologize and be rejected. “I can never forget what you said,” the offended person says.

If we were held in contempt for every word spoken, the wars would never end. For some people they don’t. For many, it’s a silent war. In churches and families the cold war rages in a never ending standoff.

Think for a moment on our own ways of dealing with words. Have you ever been offended and had someone say something like, “What did I say?” Or perhaps we’ve asked the same question. Someone comes up to us a week or a month later and says, “You hurt me by what you said.” Immediately we rack our brains thinking, What could I have said? I don’t remember saying something offensive.

We live in a self-centered perspective. When I speak, I’m evaluating my conversations based on what I feel and what I have experienced. There are times when people are offended at something that seems ridiculous to me. I can’t see their feelings. I can’t know their experiences. I don’t know what is fragile in their emotional makeup, so an offense won’t make sense to me.

The opposite is also true. What cuts me deeply may seem like a passing comment to the other person. They aren’t bothered, so why am I? They don’t know I’m sensitive about the way I look, or the way I talk, or that I feel insecure because I can’t afford nicer clothes. They don’t know I don’t feel accepted when they mention ‘those people on that side of the tracks.’

We all offend. We all get offended. It’s how we respond that affects our lives. It’s true that we should always seek reconciliation and give a heartfelt apology when we’ve offended others. However, this book is going to focus on how we deal with forgiving those who will never apologize. People will offend and not be able to see the wrong they have done.

There are people who don’t care if they have offended us. There are people who are abusive. There are even people who take pleasure in hurting others. There are also those who cannot see how their actions or words are harmful to others. These will not apologize and if not handled properly, it leaves an open wound. Open wounds don’t heal. But learning the true meaning of forgiveness is the salve that heals.

We learn to handle the offenses of others by learning how to deal with ourselves. The solution is not to change others. You can’t change the other person. You and I must learn how to deal with offenses in a healthy manner while also learning how to take care not to be the cause of offense. It is our responsibility, regardless of who has the greater fault.

 

A personal testimony.

Let me tell a true-life experience that taught me much about forgiveness. Several years ago I worked as an IT professional. I loved the type of work I did and my performance showed it. I was promoted several times and eventually became the team lead for our department. The company I worked for had some financial struggles and were hit hard by layoffs. Our team was cut in half and we were merged with another technical team. My manager didn’t survive the cuts so I now reported to the other team’s manager.

I already knew this manager and quickly established a good working relationship. Then one day I was asked to do something unethical. I won’t go into details, but it was something commonly practiced by my new team in order to falsify performance reporting. When I brought up the discrepancy to my manager, the reaction was immediate and harsh. I was demoted from a lead position and my manager made the comment, “When I right someone off, I never go back and I never forgive.”

No truer words were ever spoken. What I thought had been an honest mistake turned out to be the way the team hid unethical practices. For the next three years my manager did everything within his/her power to destroy me. I was given impossible projects that required 70-80 hours a week to accomplish. Being salaried, there was no extra pay.

When I completed the project, it would be transferred to someone else so I didn’t get credit. The reason for the change, “Eddie wasn’t able to get the job done, so I transferred it to Bob from Account Temps.” Never mind that the work had already been completed.

I was given work in two cities that were due at the same time. One would inevitably go past due. My manager also put me in charge of the parts room. When I was sent to a different state to work, I was still responsible for issuing and watching over the inventory of parts in my home state. My inability to get back in time to issue parts to other technicians was noted as a failure on my performance review, but not the reason why.

To make a long story shorter, anything that could be done to show me in a bad light was done. On my yearly performance review, I was given an unsatisfactory rating and dozens of infractions were listed against me. Knowing this was coming, I logged every email, communication, and job. I disputed my review and provided a thirty-page document detailing every perceived infraction, and proving why the accusations were false. Human Resources (HR) complimented me on the details of my documentation and removed every infraction from my record, but they refused to remove the poor performance rating.

I was frustrated. I was a salaried employee, so I got no overtime, but I had more than double the workload of anyone else on the team. To keep up I put in up to thirty hours a week unpaid overtime. Sometimes forty. I mapped out my coverage area – forty-thousand square miles. The next closest person had one hundred square miles.

When I left in the morning, my kids were asleep. When I came home, my kids were asleep. I looked for another job, but with five kids I couldn’t afford a pay cut, and the economy wasn’t offering many positions at my level. I was growing bitter, grumpy, and miserable. I kept praying, “Lord, why are you letting this happen? Get me out of this situation.” When I applied for jobs within the company, my manager would give a bad report and nix my chances.

Another year rolled by and it was time for my next annual performance review. I knew what was coming. It would be another substandard performance review. The previous year I had disputed the slander and every allegation was proven false. My complaint was noted, but the manager had an explanation that apparently persuaded HR not to act. Now I was in the same position again. Do I dispute? Last year it did no good, created more tension, plus it was stressful trying to present my case to a skeptical corporate Human Resources department – a group that naturally wanted to support management.

While I pondered my difficult situation, I prayed for guidance. In my morning devotion, I came across this passage in 1 Peter 2:23

When He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously;

 

It didn’t make much of an impression on my heavy mind at the time. I headed out for the long drive and listened to my Bible on audio. My audio was at 1 Peter and I heard this passage again. What a coincidence. Later in the day, I was driving between sites and turned on the radio. Just as the radio came on, someone was reading scripture for a sermon, “When He was reviled, did not revile in return…but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously.”

I turned off the radio. Three times in one day. Lord, are you trying to show me something?

I began praying for God to open my eyes to see what He was showing me. That’s a prayer God quickly answered. I couldn’t see it before because I had only been focused on my own misery. My focus was on the wrongs being done, not on the work God wanted to do.

It was like blinders fell from my eyes and the bigger picture of God’s plan unfolded in my mind’s eye. This was a refining process. I had seen God work in my life through the good things and the situations I understood were blessings, but I didn’t recognize the true blessing of God refining my life and showing me what was truly important.

My job wasn’t something I had control over. Nor did I need to fret over it. If it was truly a blessing from God, it was God who gave it, and only God who could take it away. This manager could rage against me, but had no power beyond what God was willing to put me through. And according to scripture, if I’m walking in God’s purposes, everything works toward my good.

Did I believe this was true? I knew it was.

Suddenly I felt a load lifted off my shoulders.

Then God hit me with something I wasn’t sure I could do. Rather than me telling you, let’s look at the scripture’s command in Matthew 18:23-35

 23 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.
 24 “And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.
 25 “But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made.
 26 “The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’
 27 “Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt.
 28 “But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’
 29 “So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’
 30 “And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt.
 31 “So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done.
 32 “Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me.
 33 ‘Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’
 34 “And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him.
 35 “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”

 

God was not only teaching me patience and trust, but He was teaching me what it truly means to forgive.

One thing we must realize is that sin is a debt. When I sin, that sin must be paid. The Bible says every sin will be held in account before God. For us as Christians, our debt has been paid, for Jesus bore that debt upon the cross. That’s why Jesus said in the model prayer, “Forgive us of our debts as we forgive our debtors.”

My manager was a debtor to me. Every wrong was piling up in the account I was keeping track of. Even subconsciously, we keep a mental note of wrongs and recount them when something reminds us. Jesus’ disciple, Peter, made a statement he thought was a noble effort. “How many times should we forgive someone? Seven times?”

Seven was a generous offer by human standards. Freely forgiving seven times is more than most people would do. Most times it only takes one offense to create an enemy. Jesus’ answer took the records of debt away completely. “Not until seven times, but seventy times seven.” Four-hundred and ninety times. You see, I can remember seven times, but there is no way I can keep track of four-hundred and ninety. Even if I forgive from the heart, my memory can go back seven times. But Jesus pushed the number beyond our ability to remember. In other words, never stop forgiving. If I’m keeping records, I have failed to forgive. When I remember the wrong, I am commanded to erase it again.

As a self-protection method, I had been keeping track of my manager’s wrongs. I could easily have produced another thirty-page defense. I could have produced a hundred-page defense. But the Lord shattered my rationale. I thought about my record keeping and remembered, seventy times seven.

When I’m keeping records, I am taking my problems out of God’s hands and setting myself up as the debt holder. Which also puts me under the debt, for I have decided to be judged under a human standard instead of by grace.

Do I want God to be in control, or me? At this point, I had a two-year track record. None of my work and recordkeeping had done much good. Easy choice on that one.

But look how many things this person has done to me, I thought – wanting to justify my anger. Then I remembered the passage above. I was the man with more debt than he could pay.

To put Jesus’ parable into perspective, the man who owed ten-thousand talents could never pay it. It’s ironic that he pled, “Have mercy and I will pay all.” The only thing the Lord listened to was, “Have mercy on me.” The debtor could never have paid it all. A talent was a weight of measure which is approximately 130 pounds. In this scenario, it was gold measured out by weight. What would a hundred and thirty pounds of gold cost in today’s market? Now multiply that by ten-thousand. I don’t think a man who was penniless would have any hope of repaying one talent, much less ten-thousand.

A day’s wage in that era was a denarii. His fellow who owed him 100 denarii did have a significant debt. It would take one-hundred days of labor to pay the man back. But what is that in comparison to the billions of day’s wages he owed, but had been forgiven?

The picture Jesus is painting regarding forgiveness is that you can never repay God for the offense you have done. Or I have done. Every sinful thought, action, lie, offense, wrong is a debt we cannot repay. The flesh can never produce good, so even a lifetime of servitude cannot repay anything to God.

Jesus even took sin to the reality of the human heart. “I say to you that anyone who looks at a woman to lust has already committed adultery in his heart.” Think about this the next time you do a double take when an attractive man or woman walks by. He said greed is equal to thievery, envy equals idolatry, hatred is murder, etc. What debt do I have to God? Yet He forgave me of all that debt, and now He is asking me to release the debt of wrongs done to me. God offers grace freely, but I have the right to refuse grace and hold on to human nature.

I tossed aside my records. But that wasn’t enough. It’s not to just ignore the wrongs done, it was to forgive them from the heart. And what is the evidence of forgiveness? Remember the first verse we looked at? God has given us power, love, and a sound mind. Forgiveness flows out of that love and is something God has empowered us with the ability to do. Look now at Matthew 5:44-46

 44 “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you,
 45 “that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
 46 “For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?

 

This is forgiveness in action. It’s hard to do, but necessary. Until I forgive, bitterness and hatred remain. Bitterness and hatred don’t only destroy the person they are against, these also destroy the one who possesses them. Have you ever seen a hateful person who has joy? Are they happy? Bitterness is the bars of our own prison cell. It becomes a prison we construct to imprison ourselves in order to get back at our enemy.

Love your enemies. How do I do that? According to Jesus, I must bless. I must do good. I must pray for them. Pray for, not against. “God, get them back for me,” is not praying for our enemies. “Lord, I release them of all wrong. Bless them, forgive them, and give me an opportunity to do good for them,” is a prayer of forgiveness.

It isn’t for you or I to judge someone’s worthiness of forgiveness. God’s first desire is always mercy. It’s God’s desire for your enemy to repent of their wrongs, surrender to God’s mercy, and find forgiveness through Christ. This makes your enemy a brother or sister in Christ. Just as those whom you have wronged have no right to demand God refuse mercy to you, you have no right to demand for God to be merciless to another person.

Is forgiveness hard? You bet it is. And it takes time to heal. But this healing is applied each time we forgive. When our mind conjures up past wrongs, it’s a reminder to pray for that person. You’ll find deliverance from your own pain when you deliver that person from debt. Your pain will remind you of that person, and this should remind you of the command to forgive, pray, and seek their good. When you do so, there is a reward. Look at Proverbs 25:21-22

 21 If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink;
 22 For so you will heap coals of fire on his head, And the LORD will reward you.

 

The Lord rewards those who follow His word. Your first reward is peace and deliverance from anger and bitterness. Also, when we forgive, we are placing ourselves in the center of God’s mercy for our own lives.

The choices are to remain angry, become bitter, refuse God’s mercy for our own life, and suffer the consequences. Bitterness is the most destructive force in your emotions. Clinging to it is like poisoning your mind. Yet our human nature would rather poison itself than release the debt of another. We don’t call it ‘a fallen nature’ for nothing. It’s corrupted by sin, but God has the power to give us a new spiritual nature through His righteousness.

After you forgive, the wrongs will come to mind again. And again. And again. You have trained your thought patterns to dwell on the things that bother you. Now you have to change your way of thinking. And this doesn’t come easy.

After God revealed these things to me, the relief was almost overwhelming. No longer was I controlled by my enemy, but I found a peace that had evaded me for two years. As I thought upon these things and began to see how much it caused me to grow spiritually and emotionally, I would have written a ‘thank you letter’ if I didn’t think it would have antagonized the situation.

Then something happened. A new wave of attacks came. Though I had forgiven and felt such sweet relief, all my anger and frustration came pouring back when the next wrong came along. I had to wrestle with my emotions again. I had to go through the forgiveness process again. I had to make myself say the words, “I forgive you,” and then pray for that person’s good. I had to wrestle with my heart so I could sincerely bless that person. Over time I learned how to do this better, but it was never easy to forgive someone I knew would never even acknowledge the wrong. In the end, who is better off? The person saying, “I forgive you and I bless you?” Or the one seething with hatred and trying to find a way to cause more harm?

While my manager was in bondage by the vindictive attitude controlling them, the attacks became my blessing.

It would be another year before God removed me from this situation. On occasions I remember this manager and pray for them. The wrongs I suffered can never be undone, but the Lord rewards and out-blesses any wrong.

 

Eddie Snipes
The Promise of a Sound Mind: God’s Plan for Emotional and Mental Health

Life Applications

·         Memorize Matthew 5:44-45

·         Memorize Proverbs 24:17-18

·         Pick out an offense or someone who has hurt you. Say out loud, “I forgive you.” Consciously release that person of their debt against you.

·         If you have hard feelings against anyone, take time out and pray for that person.

o   Pray for God to forgive them.

o   Pray for God to reveal His mercy to them.

o   Pray for God to bless them.

·         Continue going through any offenses or hurtful relationships and forgive, then pray for the person who has caused you pain.

·         Each time you feel hurt or remember a wrong done, follow the above steps to forgive and pray for the person who wronged you. Don’t allow your feelings to fester.

Review Life Applications from previous chapters.