Forgiveness is something that has been talked about a lot, however there is still much to say and teach about it. There are many biblical scriptures that talk about this matter, and how important it is not only for us as Christians, but for any human being who desires to keep a free and healthy soul.
What is forgiveness?
“Psychologists generally define forgiveness as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness.” to cease to feel resentment against (an offender): “ FORGIVE implies that one gives up all claims to requital and to resentment or vengeful feelings”.
Indeed, just as it is important to define what forgiveness is, it is also important to understand what forgiveness is not.
- Forgiving someone doesn’t mean that we are going to necessarily forget the offense. So we can definitely forgive the offenses and still remember them; the key is how we feel when we think about the facts that occurred, damaged us and the person who performed them. This is the infallible way that we can use to see if we truly forgive anybody that may have done something bad to us.
- Forgiveness does not imply that if the person is supposed to face legal consequences for the harm caused, they will be free from them, if the case applies.
- Forgiveness doesn’t mean that the harm received was necessarily insignificant or unimportant.
- Unforgiveness is not a punishment for the offender. On the contrary, unforgiveness is a terrible self distress that can cause greater harm than the offense itself. For the offended, it is like being harmed twice. We can definitely be hurt by others (externally) but we can be hurt even more if we hold grudges against anyone who does anything wrong to us (internally). Somebody was wise enough to say that unforgiveness is like drinking a poison expecting that someone else is going to be hurt.
- Forgiveness is not a feeling or a sentiment, it is a decision made based on obedience to the Word of God which tells us to forgive in the same way the Father forgives us. We as believers should always choose to forgive our offenders. If we wait to have good feelings to forgive someone we can easily spend our entire life waiting for them, and they may never come. It is good to keep in mind that When the Lord tells us through his word to do or not to do something, it is always for our own benefit.
After establishing what forgiveness is and what forgiveness is not now let us see what the word of God says about this topic.
Matthew 18:21-22 (NIV) “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”
“Seventy seven times”
The disciple is concerned about how many times he has to forgive someone that sins against him repeatedly, he comes with an offer that he thinks is extremely generous, he proposed seven times. But what is really astonishing is the Answer that Jesus gives him: “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy seven times”
Unfortunately, the reason why Jesus used the number that he used it is not clear; however, what we can see is that the Master seems to be telling to the disciple that the number of times that he forgive people that offend him and hurt him it is not important, so Peter, the disciples, you and I must keep forgiving the offenses and without keeping account of them.
After this interesting conversation which by the way is exclusive of Matthew’s Gospel, then comes which could be the reason for such a staggering answer that Jesus gave to the disciple: the parable of the unmerciful servant.
Matthew 18:23-35 (NASB) 23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven [a]is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 And when he had begun to settle them, one who owed him [b]ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25 But since he [c]did not have the means to repay, his master commanded that he be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment be made. 26 So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’ 27 And the master of that slave felt compassion, and he released him and forgave him the [d]debt. 28 But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred [e]denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe!’ 29 So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’ 30 But he was unwilling, [f]and threw him in prison until he would pay back what was owed. 31 So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their master all that had happened. 32 Then summoning him, his master *said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ 34 And his master, moved with anger, handed him over to the [g]torturers until he would repay all that was owed him. 35 My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your [h]heart.”
The story tells us that the king wanted to settle accounts, one of them was in what we call today “delinquency,” for being in a delinquent state may bring consequences that mirrored what happened with this servant. So the king decided to sell the debtor and his family as a way to partially recover the debt he had. The servant owes a huge amount of money, which is difficult to calculate, because the talent was not a currency, but a unit of monetary reckoning, a talent of silver was approximately 75 pounds which was valued in 6,000.00 denary approximately. So today a talent may cost around $247,200.00 approximately, so the man owes at least two billion dollars! This is a tremendous amount of money, which as much as he was promising he will repay he definitely won’t be able to cover such a pecuniary obligation.
So he begged for time to repay, however the king was moved to compassion and provided him with something that he didn’t even ask for: the total forgiveness of his debt, not partial or conditional but totally forgave the debt, and that implied freedom not only for him but for his family who were about to be sold as slaves because of the debt.
Certainly, the debtor quickly forgot what happened moments ago in the court and how he was freed from a debt that he would never be able to repay. He found one of his fellow servants who owes him a hundred denary which means a ridiculous amount of money in comparison with what he owed to the king. However, he did not show mercy but totally the opposite, he physically hurt the man and threw him into jail until he repays him back the money he owes.
Once again it is shown how our actions have consequences. The king’s fellow slaves witnessed the inhumane and unscrupulous behavior of this debtor who had just been forgiven for owing an astronomical amount of money. They were saddened and reported it to the king, who flames in anger against this man. The king condemns his bad behavior and throws him to the torturers until he pays, other Biblical versions say that he put him in jail until he paid.
Many things flow from this story. One of them is the importance of gratitude in the human heart. The debtor left the court without recognizing the goodness received from the king and he was therefore unable to feel gratitude that later would have made him feel mercy with his fellow servant.
Another thing is how this story reminds us of what happened on the cross of Calvary. God became man, paid for our transgressions and graciously offered the gift of forgiveness to whomever wanted to accept. In the parable the coffers of the kingdom were affected with the forgiveness that the king granted to the debtor, but on the cross the person who was affected with the forgiveness granted was our Lord Jesus Christ directly.
Christ paid for sins that he did not commit and for a rebellion that he was not part of. The forgiveness that the Lord grants us for our sin will always be greater than the forgiveness for the offenses that a fellow man may utter against us. So when we are tempted not to forgive a hundred denarii debt, let us remember that Jesus Christ not only forgave us a debt of ten thousand talents, but also paid with his blood for it.
The Desire for Revenge
Matthew 5:38-39 (NIV) Eye for Eye. 38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’[a] 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to the other cheek also”.
When someone hurts us in any way, oftentimes one of the first reactions is revenge. However, what Jesus is teaching in this passage is something different. The Old Testament proposes what is commonly known as the Lex Talionis. Exodus 21:23-25 (NIV) says: “23 But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, 24 eye for an eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.” It may seem like the Old Testament it is promoting violence against an offender, but in reality it is not.
“The principle of “eye for eye”. This type of punishment, which tries to mirror the injury, is known as talionic retribution, which was a basic principle of ancient Near Eastern law. Part of its purpose was to deter potential wrongdoers and to ensure that they would be punished appropriately, getting what they deserved”.
“The law of retaliation (see Ex. 21:24; Lev. 24:20; Deut. 19:21) was not intended to encourage personal revenge, but to protect the offender from punishment harsher than his offense warranted. Jesus forbids revenge by insisting upon positive good in the face of evil in terms of personal insult (v. 39), legal contention (v. 40), forced labor (v. 41), and requests for gifts or loans (v. 42)”.
Indeed, this was both a command to punish and a limitation on punishment; the penalty must not exceed the crime. However, according to the OT, authority for punishment was vested in the government, not in the individual.
Jesus in his part, is proposing a new way, an unexpected and for sure godly reaction that we as a people of faith should practice all the time in the cases that we are offended by someone (christian or not). So instead of returning evil for evil we must give back good, if someone curses us, lies or gossip about us, we should bless them in return. What we are trying to say is if someone slaps us with evil words for example let us turn the other cheek by blessing them and wishing them all the good. This is not an easy task, but as the apostle Paul Said in Romans 12:21 “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”, so the way we should fight back is with goodness and mercy, after all how will we be different if we only love the ones that loves us and do good to the ones that do good to us, that is easy! The great challenge is returning good for evil and blessings instead of curses, the worldly people will never feel attracted to what they know, they will follow what is different, unique and authentic; we must let the light of Christ shine brightly and powerfully through us by giving grace to others, and always keeping in mind that our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the evil one. Satan is always looking for an occasion to defeat us and to accuse us.
Revenge is always an option, but before we take that decision we must think if this is really going to do something positive. Also God says that the revenge is his attribution not ours (Rom 12:19).
But the great question is how to get there? How do we authentically forgive offenses regardless of them being big or small? We believe that the answer rest in this verse: Matthew 5:44: “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”
We must pray for our enemies. It might be pretty difficult for some of us at the beginning but little by little the spirit will overcome the flesh and we will be free from any resentment that overtime may pollute our souls, and steal our relationship with our heavenly Father as well as our peace.
We never said that forgiveness is easy regardless of how great or insignificant may be the offense. But we think that our peace is worth so much more than anything, indeed, Christ pays a very high price for our peace, so let us treat it with high value and respect.
Forgiveness is liberating, heals the soul and restores relationships in many cases. Forgiveness is a sublime act of grace, and grace means an undeserved favor, so we forgive regardless of whether the person deserved it or not, after all the grace that God extends to us we will never merit it.
Happy Journey 🙂
God Bless you.