Matthew 18:21-35; Psalm 147:3
The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant in Matthew 18:21-35 makes it plain that God is willing to forgive those of us who cry out to Him for mercy. But it also shows that this new-found freedom should change the way we relate to others. We are called to show others the same kind of mercy.
Forgiving others is important because according to Jesus’ own words if we continue to stubbornly withhold forgiveness from those who have wronged us, there will be painful consequences in our own souls. Refusing to forgive is rather like taking a drink of rat poison ourselves and then waiting for the rat in the corner to die. When we choose not to forgive, we are the ones wracked with pain and angst, emotionally and spiritually. We remain in a prison of our own making while those who harmed us often happily go about their lives with no thought for what they have done!
Forgiving someone from the heart often feels impossible. I know very well that forgiveness is not easy. When I was nine years old, I was abused by someone close to my family. It has taken a long time to forgive, but God has helped me understand a very important truth: forgiving that individual didn’t make what they did right. It didn’t mean their actions were OK, or that God didn’t care about what they did. He cared very much. But it did mean that I no longer expected or required something from them – an admission of guilt; an apology; some sort of restitution. I could leave those things with God, knowing that He is loving and wise and just. And when I was able to do that, I experienced freedom. The pain was lessened and no longer had the power to keep me enslaved to the memories or the hurt. That is the freedom that comes from forgiving from the heart.
If you’re struggling in this area let me encourage you: do not rely on your feelings. Forgiveness is an act of your will; and often right feelings only come AFTER right action. So, my suggestion is to begin by saying these words aloud: “Father God, because I love you and because you have forgiven me so much, I am willing to forgive (name whoever the person is;) but I don’t know how to let it go. I know that what they did isn’t OK, and I believe that it is no small thing to You either; so please give me Your strength, Your power, to leave these things with You and to live in the freedom You long for me to have.”
Praying this way and forgiving from the heart actually does remove the hold that person has over us. And when we let go of our need to punish them or require something from them, we are actually making room for God to work. They no longer owe us anything … but they do owe Him; and He is able to bring them either to repentance or to judgment. Sometimes I will actually declare aloud that they no longer owe me and that I am transferring the debt of their deeds to God. They now owe Him for their actions. I also ask that sometime in the future the individual be brought to the point of being able to understand how it felt to be me — not out of malice, but as a part of their repentance.
Let me encourage you with this last thought. I have found that forgiveness is often a process. I like to think of it as being like peeling an onion. There are many layers; and as you break through each one, often there will be tears! But remember, God knows all about you. He sees your heart and He cares deeply for your struggles. He will bring His perfect, life-giving justice in the end. In the meantime, Psalm 147:3 tells us that “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” He has healed me and I know He’ll do the same for you!
May God bless you!