(This is part 2 of a serious on forgiveness. Part 1 is available here)
Another great teaching about forgiveness from our Rabbi is found in Matthew 18:21-35. When Peter asks about how often he should forgive someone who sins against him, Jesus tells him the parable of a man who owes, you guessed it, a very large debt. The master “forgave him the debt” (vs. 27), but the slave refused to forgive a lesser debt. The master is infuriated and the fellowship is broken between them. The master condemns the unwilling servant. This is all we need for our motivation to forgive. Is it meaningless, or flippant, or cheap? No. God, once again, uses Himself as the motivator for our obedience. Remember why we should honor the Sabbath? Because He rested. Why should husbands love their wives? Because Christ loves the Church. Why do we love? Because He first loved us. Why should we forgive others? Because God forgave us. My earlier concerns would never make ok to refuse to forgive another. We MUST forgive those who trespass against us… why? Because the work of Christ offers us ultimate forgiveness, and because God forgives us according to the measure of the generosity of our forgiveness. We need to be abundant and opulent in our forgiveness, and He will do the same for us. Hold fast to Luke 6:37-38:
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned. 38 “Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure — pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.”
Note that pardoning is one of the things that can be poured back into our laps. We must forgive, but the point I was making is that we should not treat forgiveness as simple, cheap, or easy. It is like a covenant. We make it once and then have to live it out the rest of our lives. It is more like marriage than just a wedding. Sure, marriages start with wedding, and forgiveness starts with a first commitment, but the commitment must be lived out for the rest of our lives.
By the way, I think this teaching helps us know what forgiveness is in application as well. When we forgive, we do not make sin not wrong (we don’t have that kind of authority), we don’t make the past go away (we aren’t anything like that powerful), and we don’t take away our feelings (we are humans, after all). Forgiveness is when we expect and require no payment on the debt we are owed. Also, in doing so we set ourselves free of the responsibility to collect on the debt (which is usually the larger burden, by the way). The relationship may not ever be fully restored (after all, you may be forgiving someone who is still too dangerous to have around those you love, or it may be someone who is long dead!) It just means you forgive the person, and absolve (blot out) their debt. I wondered then, how should we receive something from that person in the future. After all, though we don’t expect or require payment, the person may still decide to pay! My friend Ashton recently explained that once we forgive, we are able to accept what comes from that person as a gift rather than a payment! What a great insight!
When I forgive, I set my debtor free… and I set the debt collector free. God knows this perfectly well, and though forgiveness is expensive and even Divine, it is freeing. And for freedom He set us free. What a shame, if, once freed, we re-bind ourselves to a debt – to collect or pay.
I usually have clients and students write an honest and specific letter of debt describing what their debtor owes them. This often takes months. Then I have them read it out loud – the spoken word is powerful. They usually balk at this idea, and I take that as evidence that it is necessary. Then, I have the write the last paragraph when they are ready to make that commitment, forgiving the person and absolving their debt. It is often the serious first step to their process of healing and I can often trace the small changes in their lives as starting at that time. God loves to work in the fertile garden of a heart that forgives lavishly.
Final note: If you know that your brother has something against you, go to them and seek their forgiveness. God desires this just like He desires us to forgive. He calls us to seek to be forgiven as well. (Matt 5:23)
* (Biblesoft’s New Exhaustive Strong’s Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary. Copyright © 1994, 2003 Biblesoft, Inc. and International Bible Translators, Inc.)
You’re not alone and we would love to join you as you take steps toward a stronger, healthier future.
I believe we all need a safe place to explore the issues that may be preventing us from experiencing a full and satisfying life. My greatest reward as a therapist is helping my clients examine ways to make the changes in their lives that will allow them to look forward to the future with hope. I am a bilingual (Spanish-English) LPC.
Our team will reach out to you soon!