“490 Times? You Must Be Kidding!”
Aunt Joan isn’t attending the family reunion this summer because, last year, she was offended by a remark John made about her “famous deviled eggs.” After moving to her son-in-law and daughter’s home and funding the construction of her own granny flat, Ellen moved out four years later. The root cause of both scenarios? The failure to grant the principle of unending forgiveness taught in Matthew 18:21-35 and Luke 17:3-4.
Much like the legendary Spanish Water Torture, where victims were strapped down so they could not move, and cold water was dripped slowly on to a small area of the body until they were gradually driven frantic, so the choice to withhold forgiveness slowly but effectively destroys relational unity. The antidote? Follow our Lord’s example (1 Pet 2:21-23) and develop a forgiving spirit.
Forgiveness is the foundation of all relationships. Though the actions of others will at times disappoint us, from a biblical perspective we are to forgive them unconditionally. It is a sobering thought to realize that relationships are fractured if we refuse to forgive.
When our sinful reactions collide with another’s, anger often results. Anger breeds an unforgiving spirit and damages relationships. To avoid that heartache, Ephesians 4:26 calls us to deal with broken relationships before we lay our heads on the pillow at night.
Matthew 5:43 teaches that to forgive is the most God-like action possible. God, by nature, is a forgiving God. We reflect His character when we choose to forgive (Eph. 4:32; 1 John 1:9).
Peter generously offered to forgive seven times. Jesus corrected his faulty reasoning by suggesting that he was to forgive at least 490 times!
Matthew 18:21-35 clearly teaches that those forgiven the greater sins are to forgive the lesser sins. We practice the truth of these when we offer the same mercy to others that God daily extends to us. Holding a grudge is an unrighteous act. Eventually it will produce a bitter spirit.
How many times are we forgive others? The same number of times we are forgiven—a number that far exceeds 490!
The Consequences of Unforgiveness
Failure to forgive often impacts fellowship with others. Consider again Matthew 18:21-35. The lack of compassion demonstrated by the forgiven servant for his debtor was observed by his fellow servants. The behavior was reported to their Master. The result of his unforgiving spirit created a greater indebtedness for the offending servant than what was originally forgiven.
As well, failure to forgive eventually results in serious spiritual consequences. Divine chastening (Matt 18:32-35; Jms 2:13) and an estranged relationship with our heavenly Father (Matt 6:12-15) are several possibilities.
Developing a Forgiving Spirit
So, how do we model Christ’s example and develop a forgiving spirit? Kindness, compassion, humbleness, meekness, patience, and tolerance with others are essential character qualities to nurture (Col. 3:12-13). A deliberate choice to forgive and to refuse to meditate upon unkind deeds and the release of grudges we hold against others is essential (Ps 103:12; Heb 10:18). Such actions contribute to relational unity and exemplify Christ’s sacrifice for us. As Jesus was dying upon the cross, He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34). Regardless of the offense against us, Christ’s response compels us to follow His example.
Seeking Forgiveness from Others
Equally important to forgiving others, is the acknowledgement that, at times, we will need to seek the forgiveness of those we have wronged. Adam and Eve (Gen 3:9-12) demonstrate the unbiblical response to sin . . . blame someone else! It is our responsibility to assume personal responsibility for our part in any transgression (Jms 5:16), seek the Lord’s forgiveness (1 Jn 1:9), and pursue reconciliation (Matt 5:23-24). Phrasing such as, “I was wrong when I (fill in the offense). Will you forgive me?” allows us to accept personal responsibility without casting blame on the offended person. Such a response demonstrates our humility and fear of the Lord (Prov 8:13).
The following Principles provide the foundation for developing a forgiving spirit.
- God forgave us first. Follow His example and forgive others (Matt 6:12; Lk 11:4; Eph 4:31-32).
- Forgive from the heart and work toward reconciliation whenever possible (Matt 5:23-24).
- Remember that it is not God’s plan for believers to seek revenge. He reserves that for Himself (Heb 10:30).
- God commands believers to forgive. Failure to do so is an act of direct disobedience against Him (Lk 17:3-4).
- Assume personal responsibility for your part in relational collisions (Jms 5:16).
- Acknowledge that holding a grudge hinders your walk with the Lord (Mk 11:25; Eph 4:32).
All the injuries and injustices that others commit against us are the trials God uses to perfect us. Realigning our reactions and viewing them as tools by which our heavenly Father makes us more like Christ is a godly response (Jms 1:2; 1 Pet 5:10; 2 Cor 12:7). When we respond to trials biblically, our spiritual stamina increases because God’s strength is perfected in our weakness. Can you imagine the outcome had Aunt Joan and Ellen viewed their situations through this perspective?