“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times'” (Mat18:21-22).
Too little is being said these days about the need for forgiveness and the need to forgive others. Human beings are mistake-makers, imperfect creatures. We sin against God. We sin against others and even sometimes against ourselves. We all need to learn from the teaching of Jesus Christ, concerning having a forgiving spirit.
When others hurt us, often our natural reaction is to seek revenge. Or, we suppress our hostility and resort to self-pity or misguided guilt feelings, turning our anger inward. Some try to escape in excessive drinking or drugs. But all these attitudes are destructive and can only generate evil. For ourselves as well as for others.
Consider Jesus’ method for dealing with maltreatment. Innocently nailed to the cross and in great pain He said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Of each one of us Jesus requires such a forgiving spirit and loving attitude in response to the injuries that are inflicted upon us by others. We must forgive, just like He Himself forgives us, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Mat 6:14-15).
To forgive is to reject the impulse to retaliate and return evil for evil. Joseph was almost killed by his brothers, then sold as a wretched slave. Still, he was not vindictive. Though used to being a free and much-loved man, he accepted his fate and worked hard for his new master. And when many years later his brothers came to him for help, he was able to forgive them completely (Gen 50:15-21). He deliberately decided to return good for evil and to restore the broken relationship.
Because of this forgiving spirit God could continue to use Joseph. For bitterness does not only break our relationship with others, but also our relationship with God. He will only continue with us if we are willing to completely forgive others. “First go and be reconciled to your brother” is what Jesus taught on the mountain, and “then come and offer your gift” (Mat 5:24).
It is never easy to be forgiving toward those who have sinned against us. But once we have given our lives into the hands of Jesus, his great forgiveness becomes a daily reality for us. And the more we experience this, the more we feel urged to forgive others.
Our reward for forgiving others is not only in heaven, for this command has it’s own built-in reward. Once we forgive we are freed from the sin of revenge and the bonds of bitterness. We feel a tremendous burden being lifted from our shoulders as the relationship with others and with our Lord is restored.
Confess, therefore, your anger and bitterness to the Lord and He truly sets you free. And ask Him to replace this remnant of “old life” with new and holy life. Allow Him to put his attitude toward others in your heart, an attitude of love for all his children and true concern for the lost.
Lord, today I forgive everyone who has ever hurt me. I forgive them one by one, by your strength, and I let go of all anger and bitterness. Lord, your compassion reaches out to all people, in love and deep concern. Create in me a new heart, so that I will learn to love and care for people the way You do. Amen.