I’m struck by the power of forgiveness.
In this Advent season we celebrate Jesus’ arrival on Earth. He came to suffer the penalty for our sins and has made forgiveness available to any who choose to follow him. In thinking about this and the “spirit of giving” that exists this time of year, I wonder if we can give in the same spirit? God, showing his grace and love, gave us the gift of forgiveness of our sins, and at a cost to himself. We have the power to forgive those who have wronged us. Let’s consider why we should give the gift of forgiveness.
First, the Lord’s Prayer is one of the best known verses on forgiveness. We are taught by Jesus to pray “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.”
Reason 1: to the extent that we forgive others, we ourselves are forgiven. Not only do we give something, we get something too.
I love Jesus’ parables. There’s so much teaching in a small package.
Matthew 18:23-35 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. “The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.”
Let’s put God as the king in this story and us as his servants. Our sins are the debts we can’t repay. Until we ask for forgiveness, we are still in debt. Notice how the king demonstrates his grace and completely cancels the debt. Wow! God doesn’t just give us more time to work it out. He just sets us free! Are we completely without responsiblity now? Let’s read on …
“But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. ”His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ ”But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened. Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”
Reason 2: If we choose not to forgive, we shouldn’t expect forgiveness from God either. And when we are given the gift of forgiveness, we should make sure that we share it with others who are indebted to us – pay it forward. Notice the last line: let’s remember that we need to forgive from our heart! No faking allowed.
Any limits on how many times we forgive those who wrong us?
Matthew 18:21-22 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.” (seventy times seven in some translations)
Ok, so God wants us to forgive a lot, even those who repeatedly wrong us. This quote mentions brothers sinning against us, which reminds me of the story of Joseph. Another great example of forgiveness. How does Joseph forgive his brothers for their treachery? He sees the bigger picture. God has a much bigger plan.
Reason 3: God wants us to forgive. When someone comes to us asking forgiveness, we are to give it. We don’t know the bigger picture, so perhaps the sins against us are meant for God’s purposes.
Forgiveness has big power. If people owe us money, we can forgive those debts too. How good does that feel to tell your debtor, you no longer owe me that; consider it a gift. I love this story …
Luke 16:1-9 Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’ The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’ So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ ’Eight hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied. The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.’ Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’ ’A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied. He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’ The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
Reason 4: Forgiveness of debts (i.e. showing our grace) helps us win friends in this world and the next. Sounds like a great investment.
My wife and I had a service professional do some work in our house and they made an expensive mistake. It was totally innocent and they were super apologetic; we forgave it but they wanted to pay for the repair. But we insisted that they not do that and they were very relieved. I don’t know if it will help us in the next world or not, but in this world that felt really good.
A final thought: like so many skills, forgiveness can be learned through consistent practice and that we can get better and better at it.
What better gift could you give?! Consider forgiveness as you start this new year. When you give forgiveness, you receive as well!