One of the most important lessons I have learned in my walk with the Lord is that holding on to an unforgiving attitude can be really harmful! Jesus taught this in the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant in Matthew 18:23-35. Peter had asked Jesus how many times we should forgive others; and from what Jesus told him, the answer may be more important than we think.
Jesus told the story of a servant who owed his master a huge debt. In fact, it was so large that even his children’s children would never be able to fully repay it. His family would never be free of the debt. However, when the servant begged for forgiveness, the master showed mercy and canceled his debt in full, setting the man free of his obligation to pay what was owed.
Unfortunately, the newly forgiven servant didn’t show the same mercy to others. When he came upon a man who owed him far less than the debt he’d just been forgiven, he refused to extend the same kind of grace. He had his debtor thrown into prison until all he owed could be paid in full. Naturally, it didn’t take long for the master to hear of what had happened and of how the one who had been forgiven so much had changed so little. Jesus described the master’s reaction in verse 32: “32 … the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said. I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to.33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. 35 This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”
Jesus wants us to understand that we who have been forgiven need to also forgive. And He warns that in order to live in the freedom He has given us, we must be willing to show that same forgiveness to others. If we don’t, we will find ourselves in a truly bad place. While those who harmed us go about their lives, we are stuck in pain and distress. Imprisoned by bars of our own making, we become tortured by the situation, unable to escape our own thoughts and move on. Someone has said that refusing to forgive is rather like taking a drink of rat poison and then waiting expectantly for the rat to die. We are the only ones harmed.
Now I know from my own experience that it may seem impossible to forgive those who have wronged us, and the pull to remember and relive the offense is strong. It helps to realize that forgiving someone doesn’t make what they did to you right. And it doesn’t mean that what happened doesn’t matter – it does! But when we are willing to release those who have harmed us to God, though they no longer owe us, they do owe Him; and He is well able to bring them either to repentance or to judgment. We can trust in Romans 12:19: “Vengeance is mine. I will repay, says the Lord”.
Forgiveness is an act of our will. We may not feel forgiving, but we can and must choose to forgive out of obedience to God. Though right feelings will eventually follow right actions, it may take a while to get there. It can be like peeling an onion—dealing with many layers and working through each one with lots of tears! But my encouragement to you is: persevere! Ask God to help you do that which you have no strength to do on your own. You can trust Him with the outcome!
Blessings on your day!