Last month we provided an inventory to identify when a person may be stuck in a place of resentment, bitterness, or forgiveness (please visit our blog using the link below if you wish to refer to this inventory from Achieving Forgiveness Part I).
As Christmas approaches, consider that we can prepare to celebrate the coming of Jesus Christ by seeking His power and grace. He can release us from the hurt and pain caused from being stuck in resentment, anger, or bitterness.
In the book of Matthew, the bible shows us Jesus’ teaching on the principle of forgiveness:
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.” For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything. And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’ But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. Then summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:21-35)
Anger is a normal reaction to injustice. However, when we have been hurt, we must forgive, to experience genuine freedom in our lives. Jesus stresses the importance of forgiveness by telling Peter that he should forgive as often as there is occasion (seventy times seven).
It is important to note that forgiveness is not dependent on the behavior or attitude of the person or persons who have hurt us. Jesus shows us this in the example of a king in Matthew 18 who was owed ten thousand talents by a servant. Scholars estimate that ten thousand talents is the modern day equivalent of approximately six billion dollars! Think of the massive amount of debt owed by the servant (another comparison: six billion dollars was the amount spent in the 2012 presidential election). The servant and his family were going to be sold into slavery as a consequence of this overwhelming debt. In response to this reality, the servant falls before the king and says, “Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.” Obviously, what the servant was stating was impossible. In this moment of desperation the servant was probably lying, and the king knew it. The servant had no intention on repaying the debt. He was unable. This is often the case with those who have hurt us. The harm that has been caused by the offender can never truly be “repaid”. Often times, the person in question may not even be willing to attempt this, or they are simply unaware that they have done wrong. In any case, forgiveness is not dependent on the offender’s attempt to seek forgiveness or reconciliation with the offended.
The king in Jesus’ story demonstrates genuine forgiveness. The king, “felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt.” The principle shown here is that in a moment, the king’s heart was changed and he was able to have compassion on the slave. The king was able to forgive him, despite the servant’s attitude and behavior.
Three key items to realize:
1) Genuine forgiveness requires compassion for those who have offended us.
2) Developing compassion requires knowing the truth regarding the above teaching, and following the path of forgiveness because we have a trusting relationship with Jesus.
3) Although genuine forgiveness requires a conscious decision on our part (an exercising of our freewill), we cannot accomplish forgiveness on our own. The power of the Holy Spirit makes this possible.
Often times we can find ourselves stuck in unforgiveness. When this occurs, we need God to help free us. In addition, God can use others (whether they are counselors or other people that we engage in fellowship) to help bring us to a place of freedom from all of the chaos that unforgiveness can cause.
Achieving forgiveness genuinely releases the one who has been hurt from the emotional impact of an offense. In the above scripture the king is at peace, as he was in a state of compassion, not anger or pain. Ironically, the king’s forgiveness did not change the behavior of the offender.
We witness the condition of the servant as he is “stuck” in a state of unforgiveness and acts foolishly toward another. What is symbolized (in contrast to the king) in the servant’s fate is the destructive impact that results from holding onto emotional pain, resentment, or anger. The servant was unable to forgive and loses his freedom.
Achieving forgiveness starts with embracing the Truth. Jesus teaches us to forgive, and we can seek this path in our lives.
As Christmas approaches, let us look toward the coming of Jesus. Let us embrace the hope that His coming brings. Through Him we have been forgiven much, therefore we should seek to forgive much.
May God bless you this Christmas.