Matthew 18:35, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart. “
The Webster Dictionary defines forgiveness in two parts. Part one is “to give up resentment of, or claim to requital to grant relief from payment of a debt.” Part two is “to cease to feel resentment against an offender.” In short, forgiveness is part, canceling a debt and part, not feeling angry about it. Part one is the physical consequence to repair and repay out of my own resources or checkbook. Part two is an emotional and or relational set of consequences to work through within my heart. How do we do this?
For the answer we head back to the second half of the parable Jesus tells Peter in Matthew 18:21-35 called the Unforgiving Servant.
Last time we took a look at “How much?” was forgiven this servant within the parable. When we unpacked it, this servant was forgiven 10,000 talents of gold which, which back then, amounted to 200,000 years worth of wages for an average laborer. In today’s dollars, that is somewhere around the $5 billion dollar mark. That is debt no one could ever hope to repay. That was the point.
Yet the story goes on and we learn the king does forgive this servant his vast debt because this servant begged and pleaded for mercy with great emotion and deep anguish. Once forgiven, you would have thought this servant would have left the palace that day, happy, thrilled and a changed man. You would have thought going forward, he would have been able to overlook much smaller offenses that came his way. But if you continued to read the story that Jesus told Peter, you find out that the story has a much different ending. A much more ironic ending. A much more convicting ending to be sure.
Immediately upon leaving the palace and having been pardoned $5 billion dollars, this servant found a friend of his who owed him $20 dollars. This friend begged the servant for more time to repay the $20 but the request fell upon deaf ears. The servant threw his friend in jail until he could repay the $20.
The nearby onlookers recorded the full details of this imprisonment on their smart phones. Almost immediately, their posts went viral on every social media outlet. The king found out about what this servant had done via his own social media coordinators and quickly the servant was hauled back into his palace for an explanation.
The king simply asked, “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 handed 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 or sister from your heart.”
I cannot tell you how much those last few words have haunted me over the years.
“IF . . . I do not forgive my brothers and sisters from the heart, then this is how my heavenly Father will treat me.”
This is serious. This should cause us to pause. This should make us fall down at the feet of Jesus and cry out for help not just in forgiving someone of their offense against us, but in releasing the resentment that can go along with it. How do we do this?
1. First, focus on how much you have been forgiven rather than on how much you have been offended.
This servant forgot about the $5 billion he had just been forgiven and instead focused on the $20 that was still owed him. That was his biggest error. Make every effort to be sure it is not yours as well.
When someone has wronged you, first stop and consider how much God has forgiven you. Focus for a moment on the immense debt God has forgiven you rather than just the smaller amount that someone now owes you. Focus and comparison is key here. Use it to help manage your emotions within the moment.
2. Second, ask God for wisdom in how best to forgive the person and manage the situation.
James 1: 5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom let him ask of God who gives to all men liberally and without finding fault.”
There are three types of forgiveness . . . exoneration, forbearance and release. UCLA psychiatrist Dr. Stephen Marmer, shares with us how these three types of forgiveness work and can best play out within our own lives.
3. Pray for those who have hurt you.
Matthew 5:44, “pray for those who persecute you.”
It is hard to remain resentful and angry at someone for whom you are praying for daily. God commands us to pray for those who hurt us. There has to be a reason why. The reason is found in the following verse.
Matthew 5:45, “that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”
In other words, because God looks over both those who do good and those who do evil. We should go and do likewise.
What might a prayer for someone look like that has offended you greatly? If you do not have your own prayer, might I suggest one for you? I call it the BMW prayer. Bless, Make and Walk. Sixteen words that can change your life and the life of those around you that are hard to live with.
“Lord, Bless them. Make them more like your Son Jesus. Walk with them this week. Amen.”
The prayer is short and simple and gets the job done. Try it each day for the next month and see if it does not change your heart far more than might first imagine. Changing your heart allows you to worry less about changing your circumstances.
4. Bless those who have hurt you.
Romans 12:20, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.”
Blessings those who hurt you is a matter of keeping watch and looking for opportunities to act. If you have acted on the first three steps, then step four will be easier to accomplish. Never though, is it said that it has to be fun or that you feel like it. Sometimes we have to act on conviction and allow our feelings to follow at a later time and date if ever.
5. Hold every thought captive by the word of God.
2 Corinthians 10:5, “we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
None of us are forced to be resentful and angry. It is a choice. Resentment and anger just happens naturally. We can’t help that. But we can choose to allow it to take up residence within our hearts and minds or we can choose to show it to the door once it shows up unexpectedly. It’s our choice.
Just choosing to not be resentful though, is rarely the complete cycle. Most often, we need to have something else to take it’s place after we show resentment to the door of our hearts. There now comes a void that needs to be filled. Here the Bible is clear, fill your minds instead with the Word of God.
If you fill you mind with God’s Word all the time, you will have little time left over to allow it to be preoccupied with bitterness, anger and resentment. We can choose to hold every thought captive by the Word of God or we can choose to hold on to bitterness. It’s our choice.
6. Ask God to show you his example of releasing thoughts of anger and resentment towards you.
Hebrews 8:12 says, “For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their inquiries will I remember no more.”
I am so thankful that once I ask God to forgive me of my sins, not only does he pardon them, he remembers them no more. Not only do the event become history but so do the thoughts of anger and resentment that would naturally go along with it.
Do I do that for the people around me who hurt me on a nearly daily basis? Not nearly enough to my utter shame and embarrassment. That is why I need to look to God for help every day. I need to pray for his help daily. If I ask, he will help us. That is his promise. I need to remember and focus on his example daily and then go and do likewise with those around me.
7. Be kind.
Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind and tender-hearted to one another, forgiving each other just as in Christ God forgave you.”
I sometimes wonder why the Unforgiving Servant did not grant his friend that owed him $20 more time to pay it back. I often wonder what internal or private battle this friend was fighting that the unforgiving servant knew nothing about. A battle that if he had just taken a few moments to talk about might have changed his whole outlook and reaction to the situation and the $20 owed.
What battles are you fighting? What battles are your friends fighting? What battles are the strangers around you fighting? Somedays they just might be loosing a battle you know nothing about and you just happen to be in their way at just the wrong time. If they do happen to lash out at you and end up owing you $20, just remember how much you have been forgiven by your heavenly Father. If you think about that, then kindness might just be the response that allows forgiveness to happen at that moment or at some time in the future.
Even if forgiveness and kindness are not well received within the moment, you just might feel the smile of God upon your shoulders as he whispers in your ear, “Thank you for showing them kindness and forgiving them from your heart. Now it is my turn to work on them. You are free to live without bitterness and resentment. I got this one now.”
Let go of the $20 that people owe you and let forgiveness come from the heart. It’s a good way to live.
D. Mike Collins
Habakkuk 2:4 “The Just shall live by faith.”