How important is it to forgive those who have wronged us? Jesus spelled it out for us by first telling us the horrible fate of those who offend us:
Then He said to the disciples, “It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.” (Luke 17:1-2)
Why does He pronounce such a terrible judgment upon these offenders? Because He came to save and recover people’s faith in God. If we are the offender who breaks up people’s relationships, we destroy God’s work. We become enemies of God.
He came to forgive sins and pave the way for the fruit of the Spirit to sprout in our lives. He came to renew ties with God and restore broken relationships among those who deal with sin.
God knows the fragility of faith in a fallen world. A brief passage tells us of God’s gentle dealings with a bruised people. “A bruised reed he will not break” (Matthew 12:20) No, He will not do something to damage it further, but protect it. “Smoking flax he will not quench.” No, He will not do something to extinguish the faint flame but gently nurse it to fuller heat. Shall we not be careful with the words we speak?
Continuing in Luke chapter 17, He addresses those who received the offence, telling us that we must repeatedly forgive them, not condemn them. Again, God’s mission is to extend mercy and forgiveness to a lost race. We can push people further out of reach, or be the arms of God to administer His grace. So we must forgive.
Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him. (Luke 17:3-4)
God works through His body on earth. God is not withholding forgiveness from us when we have fallen. So when we refuse to forgive others, then we misrepresent God.
When we forgive and they ask us why we are forgiving them, we can seize the opportunity to introduce them to the grace of God for sinners. “God forgave my sins when I asked, and He has helped me to give this favor to you as well. I have forgiven you a small thing. Through Jesus you may be forgiven of all of your offenses to God and live a changed life.”
The apostle Paul considered himself an ambassador to God (see 2 Corinthians 5:20). We should conduct ourselves accordingly. Let’s beware of throwing up a barrier to people that prevents them from being able to trust in God.
Upon hearing that they needed to repeatedly forgive those who had hurt them several times a day, I imagine the disciples threw up their hands in bewilderment when they asked for greater faith to be up to the task. It’s very difficult to show mercy to the one who has hurt us. Our deeply wounded feelings harden our negative thoughts and attitudes toward those who hurt us.
Jesus addressed the disciples’ request with a teaching about faith:
And the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.”
So the Lord said, “If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. (Luke 17:5-6)
But Jesus did not stop there. Rather, He continued with an illustration of a servant who was not equal to the master but had to wait on him as he ate his meal. Only after the master was finished could the servant eat. Then Jesus summed up the point of the illustration: “So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do’” (Luke 17:10).
In other words, we don’t need more faith to forgive — we are to simply obey the command. We are only servants. We can’t pick and choose what we will do, or quibble about our faith or lack thereof. We are not to wait for our feelings to calm down first. Jesus has given the command. Through the Holy Spirit in us, we have power to act in spite of our feelings to the contrary.
Our healing inside and outside, toward the offender, happens when we take the steps to forgive. Our small steps of faith, of believing God for simply forgiving, is what is needed, not great faith.
Jesus told us that the Father is not judging anyone now (John 5:22). So it misrepresents God when His people say, “God darn you!” in response to someone bothering them. Today is not the time of judgment but of reconciliation; not condemnation but salvation (2 Corinthians 5:17-19).
It’s important to accept that God will do to us what we do to others: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7). God will show mercy to us to the same extent that we show it to others. Judgment will not be a one-size-fits-all deal for Christians. How we deal with our earthly relationships will affect how God deals with us at the time of judgment.
I don’t believe that we will lose our status as God’s children (that is, lose our salvation) in these cases, but we will suffer a tragic loss if we offend another without repenting of it, or if we are among the offended and do not forgive.
When I am going to forgive someone who has hurt me, I will be watchful of that person from that point on. I will not deliberately put him and me in a position for a repeat performance.
God’s everyday work is reconciliation. Let’s set our mind and will to be His healing agents. And when we forgive, may we experience its power to cleanse us of emotional hurts and set us free from bitterness.