Friday, July 15, 2011
The Hardest Bridge to Cross
Jesus had some important words for us concerning forgiveness. In Matthew 18, Peter asked the Lord about this critical concern. "Peter came up and said to Him, 'Lord how often will my brother sin against me and I forgive him? As many as seven times?' Jesus said to him, 'I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven'" (Matt. 18:21-22). I can only imagine that Peter thought he was being generous when he suggested seven times but the Lord requires more of us as believers. The passage then goes on in the telling of a parable of the king and his servant to illustrate the point that Jesus was trying to make.
Christians are called to be a people of forgiveness. We know this not only from this teaching of our Lord but even within "The Lord's Prayer" which we often recite during our worship services. In teaching the disciples to pray, Jesus included the phrase, "And forgive us our debts (trespasses) as we forgive our debtors (those who trespass against us)."
When we ask God to forgive us, we are called upon to forgive our brothers just as the parable described. However, there is something important to take note of in the passages mentioned before. The servant who owed a lot of money begged the king to spare him and allow him to repay. He was sorry he sinned against his master, and the king forgave his debt. According to Dr. R.C. Sproul in his podcast concerning the Lord's Prayer, he indicated that unless someone repents we cannot give forgiveness. Certainly, we can pray for the person and the Lord is pleased for us to pray for our enemies and all who despitefully use us. We are to pray for their health and well being. Yet, we are only called to forgive those who truly repent for an offense done against us. This is why Jesus made the statement to Peter about forgiving seven times seventy. If a brother/sister wrongs us but repents, we must forgive them.
What happens if we cannot forgive a person who repents? Just like the ungrateful servant in the parable, we will be thrown into a prison of our own making. Our thoughts become consumed with a desire to punish the person who offended us. We spend our days dwelling on the hurt until it spreads like a sore into our very soul. While we are eaten up with anger, the person who offended us and asked our forgiveness will go on with their life relieved of their guilt while we are stuck in pain. We are the ones who have the guilt of unforgiveness before the Lord.