We know we need to forgive and forget. We don’t do it. Why?
We know we should, but we say we can’t. We say our problem is that we can’t forgive. I’ve done it. You’ve done too, haven’t you.
Well, you are wrong! That isn’t your problem. Your problem is that you don’t know how much you have been forgiven.
Some say it was Jewish custom in Jesus’ day that if you were asked for forgiveness three times, you had to forgive a person.
Others say the custom was that you had to forgive up to three times, but you didn’t need to forgive the fourth offence. Either way, as they say in baseball, three strikes and you are out.
In our Scripture this morning Peter has more than doubled the number of times to seven, perhaps to show Jesus how magnanimous he is.
When Jesus says no, not nearly close, you must forgive 70 times 7, he is not setting a limit of 490 times. Jesus is signalling that your forgiveness must be infinite.
This point is so important that Jesus takes the time to tell his disciples a story that will really grab their attention. A man owes an astronomical amount of money. Some experts have calculated that it’s more than the entire tax revenue from Samaria and Judea combined. It is all forgiven. That is amazing, but now Jesus really shocks us. Another man owes a pitiful amount, about 10,000 won, to the first man. But the first man won’t forgive the second man’s tiny debt!
What is Jesus’ point? Since we have been forgiven a huge amount we should be able to easily pass on a little of that forgiveness to others for their small sins against us. We have to allow our knowledge of the forgiveness we have received make the short journey from our brain southwards to our heart.
Your real problem is that you don’t realise how much you have been forgiven. You have never been overwhelmed by the incredible reality that God has forgiven all your sin.
Perhaps it is partly because you never realised how sinful you were. You’ve never been aware of the great burden of sin you once had, because you’ve always thought of yourself as ‘a pretty good person’.
Here’s a tip. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you the real value of God’s forgiveness for you. When you know this it will be less difficult to pass that forgiveness on to others.
Still Jesus is not finished. He ends with these words: “Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt. That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.”
Take note: the man in this story is sent off to be tortured at once. This is not about what happens after he dies. It happens as soon as he commits the sin of unforgiveness.
If you refuse to forgive now, you will suffer right now. You will experience gnawing resentment right now. You will experience bitterness now, and drink the awful gall of hate and envy. The acid of resentment will eat away at your peace and calm. You will be tortured just as Jesus warned, and your life will be consumed.
It will happen to you if you refuse to forgive.
‘Instead, be kind to each other, tender hearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.’ (Ephesians 4:32)
‘Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.’ (Colossians 3:13)
I’ve had to forgive my share of people in the past. I know from experience how easy it is to self-righteously feel that they don’t deserve to be forgiven. Being self-righteous just means we don’t see things the way God sees them.
One of the hardest things to do was forgive my parents. For a long time I blamed my parents for everything wrong in my life. I especially could not forgive them for being imperfect parents. I could not forgive them for being flawed. Now I thank God that I had Christian parents who, despite their failings, encouraged me to read the Bible.
At that time I saw only the sin in them. What set me free was the words of Jesus on the cross, when he forgave the people who were torturing him to death. If Jesus could forgive them, then I could certainly forgive my parents.
Of course I had flawed parents. All human beings have sinned and fall short of God’s standards. It wasn’t my imagination that my parents had faults. It was also a fact that they too had grown up with imperfect parents. It was also true that they had an arrogant selfish unforgiving son, and it was true that God had to suffer for my sins. So I forgave them, all the way back to Adam and Eve. After I said sorry to God and forgave them, all of the resentment just vanished like a mist. I don’t suppose it much affected them. They never knew, but forgiving my parents sure affected me.
Remember that you have no debt to pay, because Jesus has paid it. You don’t need to work hard to pay off your debt. Jesus has paid it all for you. Don’t let the torturers get you.
Now that we know this, let’s look at three steps we can take to forgive and forget.
Step One, focus on how much you have been forgiven.
Think about the extent of God’s mercy in your life. Maybe you were born in a good Christian family and all your sins have been small sins. But with God a sin is a sin. There is no small or big sin. Every sin is an affront to our great big holy God.
No one has ever done anything nearly as bad to you as the things you’ve done to God.
You have ignored his requests to join in your life. You have rejected his offers. You have spurned his love. You have betrayed him. You have locked him out and insisted you knew best.
Reflect on the fact that he has forgiven you all these things and more. Reflect on it until it penetrates deep into your spirit.
Please repeat after me these words from Galatians 2:20. Apply them to yourself. Make them personal. Believe them. Mean them.
‘I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.’
‘나는 나를 사랑하시고 나를 위해 죽으신 하나님의 아들을 믿는 믿음으로 살고 있습니다.’
Step Two, deal honestly with lingering resentment.
This is hard. Some of us have been bitterly hurt or experienced deep horror. I invite you right now to recall that person who hurt you or abused you, slandered or libelled you, tortured you, rejected you. As you recall them, release the poison of bitterness in Jesus’ name. Let it flow out, and tell Jesus you want to be free of it now. Ask the Holy Spirit to take it away now. Do it now.
Be prepared to go all the way. Forgive and forget. You cannot half forgive.
Holy Spirit, please come to us now and help us to totally forgive and completely forget.
Allow the Holy Spirit to come into you now. Let him wash away the poison of bitterness. Let the toxins drain out. Until you do this you cannot be the person God wants you to be. God does not want you to have resentment and bitterness festering in your heart.
Keep doing this at home.
Step Three, ask God to help you forget.
If you accept your responsibility to forgive, God will accept his responsibility to help you forget. Let go of your unforgiveness. Let God work.
You do what is possible. God will do what is impossible.
It really is as simple as that.