Eph 4:32 32 Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.
In relational conflict, the believer is called upon to overlook another’s faults and “cover” them in love.1 Sometimes, however, it is necessary to confront in love.2 In either case, we are to be ready to forgive. Forgiveness is not always easy or automatic. It takes listening and learning from the Lord’s instruction and following His example.
We considered Matthew 18:21-35 last week with a focus on why Christians should forgive. We stand ready to forgive up to “…seventy times seven…” because of how much we have been forgiven. This is the whole point of the Lord’s unforgettable parable. Our massive debt of sin has been cancelled, erased, forgotten because of God’s great mercy. Likewise, should we not also have mercy on others when they sin against us?3 The answer is obvious – of course we should!
There is also truth here regarding how we should forgive. Here, sin is uniquely portrayed as an unrepayable financial debt. Typically, it is described in legal terms as a transgression against the Lawgiver and Judge. And rightly so! For “sin is lawlessness” in an ultimate sense.4 However, portraying sin in financial terms, makes clearer what it means to forgive. It means the debt gets cancelled. When I forgive someone, I take stock of their offense and the volume of hurt it caused me (however big or small it may have been), and I cancel it. In one decisive act of mercy towards them, I reckon their debt to be a zero balance. In my mind and attitude, I no longer continue to demand that they should repay.5
For big offenses – that’s harder. What about a feeling in our conscience that such forgiveness would be a gross injustice? If someone has sinned against me so grievously – won’t that kind of forgiveness make matters worse? Won’t it compound the injustice? The answer is no. It will extend mercy from you, and you will relinquish your demand for justice. But we are not the ultimate lawgiver and judge – God is. And we must ultimately leave justice in His hands. We can trust Him to employ the proper legal authorities, if appropriate.6 And beyond that, we can urge Him to carry it out!7 He’ll handle it. He knows the severity of the injustice and will settle the score with perfect righteousness and judgment – if not now, then in the last day.8
Knowing that God will judge, we can trust Him and forgive. Two pinnacles of Christian forgiveness stand out in the landscape of the New Testament. Jesus in Luke 23:34 34 But Jesus was saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And Stephen in Acts 7:60 60 Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” What an example! How great a degree of mercy – both from the Lord and from his first martyr! How great a degree of forgiveness is called for from us! If God is calling you to forgive someone – know that you’re in good company. Follow the Lord in His way.
How do I forgive? There is still more to consider…
Thanks! See you Sunday,
- 1 Prov. 10:12; 1 Pet. 4:8
- 2 Matt. 18:15, Gal. 6:1, Matt. 7:5, and James 5:19, Lev. 19:17-18
- 3 This rhetorical question is the “punch line” of Jesus’ parable. Matt. 18:33
- 4 1 John 3:4
- 5 Matthew 18:28-30
- 6 Rom. 12:17-21, 13:1-4
- 7 Psalm 3:7, 10:15.
- 8 Psalm 9:7-9 This is what Paul means, “…leave room for the wrath of God,” in contrast to our own wrath. (Rom. 12:19)