We were greeted recently by a young man who at one time was sinned against by some of our children. He was smiling as he shook our hand! To be honest, I was pleasantly surprised by his genuine friendliness. This young man is living his Christianity. This young man was showing the love of Christ by exhibiting genuine forgiveness.
Does “forgive” mean that we no longer hold a grudge or think ill of a person? Does it mean we say, “OK” then turn around and punish them to make ourselves feel better? Is it our responsibility as the offended to make sure they learn from their mistake? Or does it mean that we have compassion on the one who sinned against us and are willing to show mercy to them and help them become more faithful Christians? Here is a Biblical account of what genuine forgiveness is and what God expects of believers. My comments about the verses are in red:
Matthew 18:21 “Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.
Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt. (Please note here that the debtor just asked for an extension, but the king chose to forgive the debt completely. Notice also that the king did not punish the debtor. The king is a type of Christ – an example of heart felt forgiveness born out of compassion.)
But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt. (This man not only denied an extension, but he also punished the debtor. Though done in a lawful way, he sought revenge for being sinned against.)
So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. (This is the result of a unloving and unforgiving attitude. It affects more than just the two involved.) Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses. (This is a very scary position to be in!)
If we really forgive, I believe it will show in our treatment of the one we have forgiven. I’m not saying they become our best friend or we approve of what they did or that we need to ignore the circumstances. But I am saying that true forgiveness comes when the offender repents of their offense, makes it right, and asks the offended to forgive them. They in turn provide the forgiveness that completes the process of reconcilliation. Forgiveness should bring reconcilliation. After all, when we sinned against God and asked forgiveness, He faithfully granted the forgiveness and opened the gate of Heaven for us. We are reconciled with the Father. There is nothing between us and we can fellowship without resentment or guilt.
Have you ever offended someone, asked forgiveness, but then felt very uncomfortable when you saw them next? Or has someone sinned against you and you avoid them or turn the cold shoulder when you see them? Do you know of someone who has sinned against someone you know and care about and then you have a hard time looking at them in the eye or feel the need to shun them (or their family members) when you see them in a crowd? Do you have trouble greeting them or someone in their family when you see them next? If you are the offender and you have asked forgiveness, do you feel uncomfortable when you see them next, even though they have said they forgive you? If any of the above is true, then the process of true forgiveness has not been completed.
For you see, having adopted as many special needs kids as we have, we’ve had our “share of shunnings.” Even though we are known for being very strict parents, following through and taking care of each offence when one or more of our kids have sinned against someone, we have often been treated as if we were the offenders, and our kids are “marked off their list” of valued people. When those same kids realize this, more problems come along because they will react to being considered less than worthy of others’ love and friendship. I’ve seen this over and over in my family. When these kids come into adolescence (which by the way lasts way longer than the average kid), in their limited reasoning, they feel they have a right to retaliate because they’ve pent up so much anger. They are angry about their past, present and future. That’s why you see so many kids get into trouble with the law and make seriously bad choices. They are punishing the world for how they are received – which ultimately turns around and punishes them. It’s the way of the world – a perpetual circle of sin.
I honestly don’t think this is what God intended for His people. After all, He has forgiven all of us who claim the name of Christ, ought we not extend the same complete forgiveness to those who wish to be forgiven? Should not the Christian realm be different from the world? Besides, if families are willing to step out and take in the children who are considered unwanted in this world, should they not have the support of fellow Christians? If anyone takes in children who have suffered at the hand of this world, there will be serious problems as a result of that decision. If these children are adopted by Christians, ought they not be received as we were received of God at salvation – forgiven and loved?
I would say about 50% of Christians in our world have exhibited this type of forgiveness to our “interesting'” children. The other 50% apparently think they are perfect and don’t feel the need to forgive others. They carry around an obvious disdain for our family because sin has been so very rampant in many of our children – dispite our teaching, training and admonitions to them. I am hoping the love of the first, forgiving group of Christians, can overcome the bitterness that has been stirred in the hearts of our children by the second, unforgiving group. Considering the weaknesses and fragile emotional state of my kids, I highly doubt it will. We are all held accountable – the sinner and the one who was sinned against. We can’t expect God to forgive us completely and then turn around and not extend that forgiveness to others. Unfortunately, some of our children have found the world to be much more forgiving than fellow Christians. Why do you think this is so?
Luke 7:41 “There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most? Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged.”