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The command to forgive is difficult because sometimes we don’t want to forgive. We want to strike back. We want justice, and we want the other person to know the pain he or she has caused us.
Human nature is vindictive. Do unto others as they do unto you and more! That is the way people think. You can see this desire for revenge, retaliation and mudslinging in our entertainment—on the movie screen, in music, on television—but also in society, in business and in politics. But we are told to forgive as often as we have the opportunity.
In Luke 17:3-4, Jesus Christ said, “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.”
But if we forgive someone seven times, won’t we just be allowing people to take advantage of us? Even the apostles were stunned to be told their duty was to forgive their brother seven times a day! Their reaction is recorded in verse 5: “And the apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith.’”
The need to forgive is emphasized in the Lord’s prayer. We are taught to pray: “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). Christ then explains, “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15).
Not forgiving is a great wrong. In injuring you, others have committed an offense against man, but in not forgiving them, you commit an offense against God. Forgiveness reflects God’s character, and when we forgive, we are reflecting the Father’s love. Forgiveness gives us the opportunity to extend to others what God has extended to us. Pride opposes and resists our need to forgive. It demands justice and wants to get even.
There is a very sobering example Christ uses to help us grasp this concept of forgiveness. A servant owed the king ten thousand talents, but was unable to pay. The servant begged for forgiveness, and the king forgave him his debt, but when the same servant was owed a debt he insisted on repayment and had his debtor thrown into jail. When the king heard of this, he was very angry that his servant had not also been forgiving and sent the man away to be punished until he could repay (Matthew 18:23-35).
What Christ is doing here is contrasting two debts. The servant owed the king a fortune, 10,000 talents, while he was only owed a measly 100 denarii by his debtor, making the point that nothing men can do to us can compare with what we have done to God.
We also see the forgiveness of Christ in the story of the adulterous woman (John 8:3-11). A Good News article titled “The Transforming Power of Forgiveness” explains: "The religious leaders had caught a woman in the act of adultery. They brought her to Jesus, reminding Him the law stated she deserved to die. Yet Jesus knew they were also sinners and hard-hearted men who lacked compassion and mercy for others. Jesus told them that whoever was innocent among them should throw the first stone. After He said this, they all slunk away, condemned by their own consciences". (The Good News, July/August, 2002)
Vengeance is God’s alone. It is not up to us (see Deuteronomy 32:35 and Romans 12:19). Forgiveness is an act of faith, and by forgiving someone, we are trusting God is better at justice than we ever could be. Part of what Christ was teaching the apostles and us was: You are not the judge. My Father will decide who’s forgiven and who is not.
Virtual Christian Magazine (Mar-Apr 2010)