Something or someone (probably me) made this guy mad and he was going to exact revenge. Even though this individual's anger was not justified, there are many who have experienced real hurt and heartache. I bet many of the readers of this article also have experienced real hurts and find it hard to forgive. Even though we know what the Bible says about forgiveness, actually doing it is harder than we could imagine. But, we must forgive. And when we forgive, we become the beneficiaries. Forgiveness is the process by which we let go of a painful experience and the one who caused it for our own emotional benefit. Forgiveness is like letting go of a rattlesnake. It is good for the snake, but it is more beneficial to us.
The Bible tells us that the spiritual benefits of forgiveness far outweigh any emotional benefits we may receive. Jesus states it this way in Matthew 6:14-15 "For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions."
Jesus is clear on this. There is an inseparable link between forgiving others and being forgiven by God. How is our willingness to forgive others coupled with God's willingness to forgive us? Jesus answered that question in a famous parable about a slave who owed his king a debt of ten thousand talents (5 billion dollars). When the king demanded payment, the slave begged for mercy. The king relented and forgave him his debt. But, then the servant refused to grant forgiveness to a fellow slave who owed him $16.00. When the king learned of this he was angry and severely punished the slave. "You wicked slave. I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you? And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. (Matt. 18:32-34). Jesus closes out with this application. "My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart. (Matt. 18:35).
Jesus never denies that others have hurt us, but He asks us to keep it in perspective. The difference in how much others have wronged us and we have wronged God is the difference between sixteen dollars and five billion dollars. Only when we understand the size of the debt we owe God will we be motivated to beg him for forgiveness. Then, we will be willing to show similar mercy to others who wrong us.
Forgiveness is not:
• Rationalizing or ignoring the offence. No one can sweep under the rug physical abuse, a sexual attack, the death of a child by a drunk driver, etc. A wrong is a wrong. You have been hurt.
• Surrendering our desire for justice. Forgiveness is giving up our desire for vengeance but not for justice.
Genuine Forgiveness is:
• An acknowledgement of the offense. In the parable that Jesus shares, there is never a suggestion that the servant's debt was imaginary or illegitimate. The servant owed the king the money.
• Calculates the Debt. This is a crucial step in the forgiveness process. You can only release offenses you have acknowledged, and you can only cancel debts you have calculated.
• Releases the debtor to God. When we refuse to forgive other people, we risk condemning ourselves to being emotionally chained to the offender and forced to relive the hurt we have already experienced. Forgiveness means transferring to God our right to extract payment from our offender.
It was during World War II when a young American corporal was captured by the Japanese and sent to a prison camp where he was tortured by his captors. The young man was a Christian. Rather than have hatred for his Japanese guards; he developed a loving pity for them. He determined that if they did not know the Lord and if Christ was not in their hearts, it would be natural for them to be cruel. This young corporal decided that if he survived this ordeal he would spend the rest of his life sharing Christ's message of love and forgiveness with everyone he could.
This corporal was liberated from the Japanese prison by American forces a few days after Japan's surrender to America in August 1945. But his true liberation occurred earlier-the moment he chose to forgive his captors. After the war, he spent thirty years in Japan as a missionary.
How about you? Do you need to forgive someone? Does someone need to experience your forgiveness? What is holding you back? True forgiveness is a gift to yourself.
Dr. Dennis R. Culbreth is the senior pastor of Jasper's First Baptist Church, www.jaspersfbc.org.