by Calven Celliers
I once read a chilling illustration about a man in France who was bitten by a rabid dog. This was years before a treatment had been discovered for rabies. When it was determined the dog was indeed rabid, a kind doctor told the man he had only a short time to live. Upon hearing this distressing news, the unfortunate man asked the doctor for some paper and a pencil and then commenced writing furiously. After a few minutes, the doctor interrupted. “If you are writing out your will, you have time. Think carefully about your estate; you still have a few days.” The patient replied sharply, “I’m not making out my will. I am making a list of all the people I’m going to bite before I die!”
Bitterness. Some people are controlled by it. They have been treated badly and in return they wish bad things would happen to their offenders. Some brood for years, tormented by memories of the wounds they received. I once chatted to a man who had been offended by something someone said to him and openly bragged how he waited 30 years to get even. That’s a true story! Sometimes people get so angry that they make sure something bad does happen, and take revenge. But the Bible says that this is the very worst possible “solution” to resolve the hurt in our lives.
Forgiveness is something all of us want to receive but most of us hesitate to give. Jesus makes it clear, however, that we can’t have it without giving it.
“14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6: 14 & 15NIV)
These words allow no wiggle room for doubt or discussion. Forgiveness flows two ways. We cannot separate receiving forgiveness from extending forgiveness.
One day the apostle Peter came up to Jesus and asked him a question:
“21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”” (Matthew 18:21NIV)
We’ve all asked this question at one time or another. “How many times do I have to forgive this person? I’m getting tired of it.” To be honest, forgiving someone seven times is commendable. Most of us get frustrated if we have to forgive someone twice. By human standards, what Peter said was admirable and perhaps even extravagant. It seems to me that Peter wanted Jesus to help him set some forgiveness limits. Peter wanted to know when it’s ok to say, “That’s it. You’ve messed up one too many times!” When you think about it, we all have some barriers that keep us from giving the gift of forgiveness to others. We have a threshold that we don’t want to cross, a limit we won’t go beyond. I can think of at least three barriers of an unforgiving heart: Revenge “I’m going to get even!”, Resentment “I’m going to stay angry!” and Remembering “I’ll never forget!”
Jesus answer to Peter was unexpected and disarming –
“22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:22NIV)
Knowing that he had far exceeded what would be expected of him, Peter was likely completely blown away by Jesus’ response. Jewish rabbis in those days used to teach that you forgive your brother three times, then Jesus came along, and He began teaching that you forgive more than three times. And contrary to what it may look like, Jesus was not saying we need to up our forgiveness limit from 3 times to 490 times; rather, He was saying that you always do it, and you keep doing it! Seventy times seven means there is no limit to the number of times we are to forgive someone.
Perhaps like me, you feel this is easier said than done. I also struggle with letting go of hurts, offenses, and resentment. In keeping with the opening illustration, I also want to “bite some people!” Here’s the question we all ask ourselves from time to time: Is forgiveness possible? And the answer is surely yes! I cannot believe that God would ever command us to do something that He knew was impossible, especially when our very eternity depends on it. But I’ve come to learn the hard way, that this is not something I can do in my own strength. And that’s the key in my opinion. Will it be difficult? Yes. Will it take time? Yes. The only way to release the offense and to forgive is to pray and ask God to help you to release the people who have wronged you. What they did to you was wrong. It hurt you deep inside. But the only way to forgive them is to open your heart to Jesus, and to let Him forgive through you. Keep knocking, keep asking, and keep praying. Little by little God will begin to restore you and heal your relationships. Jesus said it, so you can count on it!
“7Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7: 7 & 8NIV)
God bless you,