Forgiving others is hard. Sometimes if we sense the person is truly sorry, it is easier to forgive. When someone asks for forgiveness and is genuinely sorry, it is a balm to our wounds (the recompense, if you will) and lubricates our hearts so as to more easily facilitate the extension of forgiveness. But if we’re honest, freely forgiving someone who has sinned against us is very difficult to do, because often times the individual who has hurt us is not repentant; they do not think they have done anything that requires forgiveness. Even among the brethren, it can be difficult to forgive because in our myopic, self-centered, sinful minds we think “they should know better!” Personally, this is where I really struggle, so naturally this is the context in which the Lord often chooses to work on my sanctification.
Jesus was the literal fulfillment of the Law. In His ministry on earth, He often confounded the Jews by revealing to them that the requirements of the Law went way beyond their easily defined set of rules. An example is when Jesus taught that the commandment ‘thou shall not murder’ encompassed even having anger in one’s heart toward a brother (Matthew 5:21-26). He did the same with the issue of forgiveness. Matthew 18:21-22 tells us “Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” Typical for his temperament, Peter seems to believe that he was being magnanimous in his offer to forgive up to seven times. But Jesus blows that right out of the water with His response, implying that forgiveness should be limitless. That includes forgiving even when the person is not asking for forgiveness, or is not sincerely sorry. That is a hard truth.
He follows with a parable demonstrating how we sinners often think of forgiveness. When we sin, we want mercy for ourselves. But when someone sins against us we want justice, forgetting that we constantly need and receive mercy from God, when we rightly deserve His justice! I always want forgiveness for myself from the Lord when I have sinned, and yet often forget my position before the Lord as a wretched sinner in need of mercy and forgiveness when the tables are turned and someone has sinned against me. How I hate this aspect to having two natures, the sin-nature and the new-nature, battling within me. Like the apostle Paul I often lament that “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing (Romans 7:19).”
Can you relate? Do you often find it difficult to forgive others, all while wanting forgiveness for yourself? What do we do about this? Personally, I make it my practice to pray and ask the Lord to help me keep in mind my own wretchedness before Him; to help me remember how I need His continual forgiveness. I have no doubt that Jesus had in mind our need as sinners for His continual forgiveness when he answered Peter, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven”. Is that not a perfect picture of God’s response to us? Jesus has to constantly and continually intercede for us, because we continually sin. Imagine if God’s attitude toward us was that of our attitude toward others who require our forgiveness. Where would we be if God thought “well, I’ve forgiven that before, that was their chance! I’m not forgiving it again” or “they don’t seem sorry enough.” I’m not saying that our repentance of sin toward God doesn’t have to be sincere. It does. What I am pointing out is that we often hold to a higher standard those who have wronged us than we do ourselves. Also, because of Jesus perfect sacrifice, doesn’t God forgive our sins that we are not even aware of? Yes, He does. Therefore, even when someone doesn’t realize they have hurt us, are we not to extend forgiveness anyhow? Yes, we are. It is only through the help of the Holy Spirit that we can exercise forgiveness toward others the way Jesus commands us to. Ask Him for His help. When someone hurts you, stop and remember how much Jesus has had to forgive you for, so that you can keep in proper context what someone else has done to you. Lastly, and most importantly, it all boils down to the Lord. You aren’t forgiving that other person because they deserve it, you are forgiving them because God has forgiven you, and commands that you in turn forgive your brother. Do it for Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria!