By Tim Frank
Pastor, First Baptist Church, Carthage
As we continue this series on building relationships, I remind you that the core building block of all relationships is love. Love as defined in I Corinthians 13:4 has two characteristics, kindness and long-suffering.
Last week, we examined the importance of encouragement in relationships, the importance of being kind. Today, we look at being long-suffering through forgiveness. The Bible holds forgiveness as the expected response from the believer toward others, based on the forgiveness he has received from God in Christ (Matthew 6:12; Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13).
The Apostle Peter asks a probing question in Matthew 18:21: “How many times should I forgive?” The religious leaders of that day had set three as the accepted number of offenses one should forgive. Peter expands it to seven. Jesus says no, not seven but 70 times seven. Love for others keeps on forgiving; in other words, love is long-suffering.
Therefore, let’s explore what it means to forgive. Based on the parable Jesus tells in Matthew 18:23-35, we see the following principles:
- Freedom from debt. To forgive is to remove the expectation of payment for the offense, to cancel the debt. The person is no longer indebted for the offense. He is free from any attempt to “get even.” In reality, this releases the person wronged from the weight of his own unforgiveness.
- Ongoing action. Forgiveness does not keep a record of the wrongs suffered. This goes back to Peter’s question of how many times we should forgive. The closer the relationship, the more there will be bumps, missteps and misspoken words. Forgiveness allows the relationship to move beyond the offense and resolve the issues.
- Recipient of God’s forgiveness. Forgiveness of others is based on the forgiveness we have received from God. The message of the gospel is that we have all sinned against God and deserve eternal punishment in hell. In addition, there is absolutely nothing we can do to overcome that offense. By God’s mercy and grace, we can be forgiven through Jesus Christ and made just as if we had never sinned.
- Grateful heart. As we realize how much we have been forgiven, we feel grateful to God for His mercy. We do not deserve such grace. We did not earn His forgiveness. We are thankful for eternal life in Jesus.
- Inequitable comparison. Once we realize how much we have been forgiven, others’ sins toward us are minor. We forgive others because we have been forgiven. It is expected by God. It is commanded by God. It is right before God.
- Voluntary action. Forgiveness is not forced upon us. It is our choice to forgive others and be obedient to God or to disobey and be unforgiving. However, there are consequences for unforgiveness. The greatest consequence is the imprisonment we place ourselves in through bitterness. We carry the weight of unforgiveness in our spirits.
- Empathetic attitude. As we realize our forgiveness in Jesus Christ, we live with an empathy and compassion for others. We feel the blessed peace of forgiveness. We feel the weight of sin removed. We feel the positive implication of Matthew 18:33: Because I have been forgiven, I must forgive.
In this anticipated season of reestablishing relationships and reacquainting, who do you need to forgive? This is the time to remember how God has forgiven you and how you are to forgive others. God knows the sin that has been done against you. He also knows how much He has forgiven you and, therefore, calls you to do the same. This can be a new day as you live in the freedom of forgiveness.