The past few weeks have seen an amazing emphasis on self-care as we have focused on how to best manage material possessions, spiritual paralysis, and even how to allow God to free us in the midst of feeling spiritually stopped up leading to worry and anxiety. In this post, we will wrap up this series by looking at the value of forgiveness.
As people, many of us are prone to hold grudges against others who have wronged us. In many cases, we can find ourselves longing for justice to be served and can place ourselves in a mental state in which we replay the events over and over while secretly wishing a large object would fall out of the sky and right onto the head of a person that has caused us pain. We do all of this while questioning why God is permitting such terrible things to happen to his children as if we are entitled to better treatment simply because we believe in Jesus.
Even as I sit writing this, I find myself thinking back on my life and running through the list of people that took advantage of me, bullied me, or betrayed me. This list is not really long but the pain that they have caused sticks with me to this day. It can deeply affect my actions and behaviors towards people if I’m not careful and I don’t even recognize it’s happening until such a time as I realize that what I’ve done has harmed a standing relationship unintentionally. It is truly a humbling thought to realize that we are all susceptible to these issues and for that reason we feel the need to share some thoughts regarding a biblical approach to forgiveness.
Forgiveness is Directly Tied to Our Ability to Love
36 One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table. 37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” 40 And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.” 41 “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among[a] themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”Luke 7:36-50
It is difficult to imagine that our willingness and ability to forgive is tied so closely to our capacity for love but in this story from Luke’s gospel we are shown just that. When Jesus is dining with some of the Pharisees a woman of ill repute comes to him with tears and perfume to anoint his feet and dry them with her hair. In comparison to the actions of the Pharisees that night, he sets her behaviors above theirs and in forgiving her sins provides the statement that “he who is forgiven little loves little.”
This woman knows her failures and the sin in her life and recognizes the salvation that was available through Jesus which led her to him in the first place. She was able to look at her life and recognize how much she had been forgiven for and as a result expressed such great love towards her savior that offered freedom from her guilt and shame. This was a point deeply missed by the Pharisees as they were so focused on what sins she had committed and not on the guilt and shame of knowing and being constantly reminded of how fallen she was.
Forgiveness is for our Own Healing and Relief
21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother[a] will be liable to judgment; whoever insults[b] his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell[c] of fire.23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you,24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison.26 Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.Matthew 5:21-26
We should be cautious here since we never want to make spirituality solely about us but in this case, our ability to forgive others is directly connected to true freedom. The passage listed above is from Jesus’ sermon on the mount and the lesson for this point comes specifically in the context of his discussion on where the seeds of hate and murder are planted. When people wrong us, a seed of bitterness and hate is planted whether we realize it or not. Specifically in this verse, Jesus calls those who have been wronged to reconcile with the aggressor of that pain. This is a backwards way of thinking even today. When we are wronged, we almost demand that they come and make things right with us but in this verse, Jesus says those who are at the altar and realize there is a dispute, should go and reconcile.
When we are unwilling to give up transgressions against us, it binds us to those who have caused us pain. This means we are giving head and heart space to people that have no right to be there. Even in the Lord’s prayer Jesus counsels his disciples by saying “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Our willingness to forgive others is an act of healing in and of itself. This does not mean that the other person will apologize but by doing our part and forgiving them we begin the healing and choose not to use that as an excuse for negative behaviors in the past. The last thing God wants us to do is be bound to another because of pain that He has promised to heal.
We Have No Right to Seek Revenge
17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it[a] to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”Romans 12:17-20
Finally, we must remember that when it comes to human relationships, we have no authority to repay wrongdoing with another wrongdoing. We must remove the old adage that says “two wrongs make a right.” This is worldly thinking and something that should be purged from our actions. As Paul writes to the church of Rome, there is never a call to repay evil for evil rather, believers should “live at peace with everyone.” That is a tall order to meet but one that we should strive towards.
While it is easy to get stuck and desire repayment for wrongs, we also have to hope for a restoration to God in these matters who is the only one justified judge. Our goal, as people, is to live in such a way that glorifies God so that others may come to know Him and be saved. When we live in a way that avoids retaliation and runs to forgiveness we live a life that pleases and honors the God we serve.