Have you ever been hurt by someone? I am not talking about someone making fun of you. I am referring to an event in which someone betrayed your trust, ripped out your heart, or hurt you deeply. For many, this question will instantly bring up a painful memory. The tendency is to hold on to this hurt, even if the person who hurts us asks for forgiveness. We feel that if we forgive we are letting them off the hook.
But then we read the words of Jesus in Matthew 18:23 – 35. He tells the story of a man who was forgiven a massive debt but was unwilling to extend the same mercy to someone who owed him much, much less. This resulted in the man receiving a swift punishment for his unwillingness to forgive as he had been forgiven. Paul summarizes the point of this illustration in Ephesians 4:32 when he writes “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
Forgiving someone of a simple offense often seems easy enough. But what about the really hurtful actions? Are we supposed to simply forgive those offenses as well? The answer we see in Scripture is yes. Jesus does not make a distinction between forgiving the lighter stuff but not the harder wrongs people commit against us. We are continually called to love our enemies and even pray for them.
Sound hard? It is, and actually, it is impossible. On our own. The type of forgiveness that Jesus calls us to extend (repeatedly if necessary) is a supernatural forgiveness we cannot muster up on our own. First, we must have experienced it personally. Going back to Paul’s words in Ephesians 4, he writes of our need to have experienced the forgiveness of God in Christ in order to extend it to others. We are called to come to terms with our sin and our enormous and unpayable debt to God. And then, recognize and accept the payment God makes through the death and resurrection of Jesus on our behalf.
Once we have experienced God’s forgiveness we can continue to rely on the same grace and power that forgives us and saves us to actually forgive others. Jesus speaks of this in John 15. He notes that the key to bearing fruit in our lives (one key fruit being the ability to forgive others) is to abide, or remain, connected to Him. And so, we are called to dig into God’s Word and it’s promises. Renewing our mind and reminding ourselves of His love and forgiveness towards us. All the while seeking God in prayer asking Him to give us the strength and power to forgive as we have been forgiven.
Is there someone you need to forgive? If so, start now the process in your own heart of asking God to give you the power to obey what He has commanded. Know that this process can be long but possible through the power of God’s Spirit working in and through us.