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The Crisis of Forgiveness

(Matthew 18:21-35)

Lesson 8 -- first quarter 2010
January 24, 2010

by Mark Roth
© Copyright 2010

Introductory questions to chew

Isn't it unfair for me to have to forgive another's injustice against me?

By what criteria do I forgive others?

Is there anyone whom I have not forgiven from the heart?

Why would I want to not forgive someone, especially a friend?

If I quit forgiving someone, what will I do instead?

More questions!

How is compassion an improvement over patience?

How do I become compassionate as that king was?

Of what benefit is it to me to forgive another?

But I keep remembering the offenses against me! Now what?

Recently I was treated as the servant treated his fellow servant. What should I do?

How do I confront (Matthew 18:15-17) and yet forgive (Matthew 18:22,35)?!

Forging forgiveness

We should set no limit on the offenses we will forgive.

We are to forgive the offender as often as he needs it. Brother Z wronged me three times in one week, so he needs forgiving for those three times. I must also forgive him as often as I need it. You see, this week in question may have been four years ago by now...and every so often I struggle all over again with the hurt, the insult, the anguish, the embarrassment, and the anger. And every time the struggle returns, I need to forgive him. That is, renew the decision to release him of his debt to me.

Compassion should precede forgiveness.

Compassion for his servant's inability to meet his own need motivated the lord to forgive. The lord could not have had that kind of compassion without putting himself in the servant's place. The sincerest forgiveness comes from compassion, not from obligation or self-interest. Forgiveness is primarily concerned with granting freedom and blessing to another.

Those who have been forgiven should show forgiveness.

The first servant had experienced compassion and forgiveness. Alas, he absorbed neither. Why not? Perhaps you can find the answers as near as within your own heart. In your own relationships, do not overlook this parable's biggest lesson: Those who have been forgiven should show forgiveness.

Unforgiveness produces a bitter harvest.

Nothing good comes from unforgiveness. Those who sow it damn themselves to reaping unforgiveness when they will want desperately to be harvesting forgiveness.

Why forgive?

Recognizing our own need of forgiveness, we forgive others.

In the parable the lord went from "I forgave thee all" to "pay all"! Those who do not forgive others damn themselves to eternal punishment! Even though God's forgiveness wipes us clean, our unforgiving spirit will restore all our debts to our heavenly account!

Knowing their need, we forgive others.

Mercy deals with people on the basis of need...their need. The merciful individual responds to other people in their failures and shortcomings as he would respond to himself -- gently, considerately, redemptively. Mercy helps. Mercy sacrifices. Mercy forgives.

But what if I have a hard time not reviewing certain offenses?

Forgiveness is not denial -- it acknowledges the wounds and wrong responses...and chooses to forgive anyway. Then it turns to God for healing of the wounds and cleansing from the wrong responses.

Put another way, human forgiveness has little to do with forgetfulness. We just don't have the capacity to extinguish a memory at will. Thus "forgive and forget" sets the standard way above the attainable. Forgiveness does its work despite the memories. In fact, we could say that forgiveness does its work because of the memories. However, forgiveness does not indulge the memories and their feelings. Rather, forgiveness affirms its action and then refuses to review the offense and the accompanying feelings.

Now consider another angle. Do you want to review a record of wrongs, failures, and offenses? Look no further than your own. God leaves absolutely no room for keeping a record of how others treat you. However, we all need to recognize what Paul might have called "our own chiefest of sinners ailment." When we consider our own record (hopefully confessed and forgiven) before God, we will be able to forgivingly deal with how others treat us.

Can I obligate someone to forgive me?

"I want you to forgive me," sounds noble enough, but can be stated in a rather demanding sort of way. Other people skip the polish: "The Bible says to forgive, so you have to forgive me!" Is this a proper understanding and application of Scripture?

Both of the debtors in today's parable had absolutely no legal or moral foundation on which to construct a case for forgiveness. So they didn't even try. Instead, both of them asked only for time to pay their debts. They both recognized that their forgiveness depended entirely on the discretion of their creditors . . . and apparently didn't even dream of asking for it.

So can I try to obligate someone to forgive me? I hardly see on what basis! My duty is to recognize my failure to my fellow man and to do what I can to make amends. In humility I can then ask for forgiveness. Their obligation to forgive is before God, not before me. And I need not remind them of that!

This concludes my comments based on the alternate lesson developed by Christian Light Publications. To read my comments on the passage for the International Bible Study, click here: Inviting the Weary.

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