This week Trevor Shotter speaks to us on the subject of forgiveness, and explains what forgiveness is and what it looks like in our lives when we forgive. There is a summary below and then a video recording at the bottom of this post.
When we “Follow Jesus Together” we tend to ‘bump’ into one another. To use the dance analogy that Trevor Lloyd spoke about a couple of weeks ago, as we dance together, we sometimes step on each other’s toes or kick each other’s shins. These present opportunities to exercise forgiveness.
Instead, be kind to each other, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.Eph.4:32 (NLT)
Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.Col.3:13
We must forgive because we have been forgiven.
Jesus emphasised the importance of forgiveness when he included reference to it in the Lord’s Prayer:
‘…and forgive us our sins,Matt. 6:12
as we have forgiven those who sin against us.’
On the face of it, it’s so simple, but in practice it can be one of the most difficult things to do.
When the disciples ask about forgiveness Jesus explains with a story. Read Matthew 18: 21-35 The parable of the unmerciful servant
Jesus’ response to Peter’s question about how many times he should forgive someone who sinned against him makes it clear that there is no limit to the number of times. We see too from the story that the debt we owe to God is massively larger than the debt anyone owes to us. As God forgives us so we should forgive others.
- Does forgiving 77 times mean there are no consequences for the offender?
- Does unlimited forgiveness mean that when someone hurts me, I must simply overlook it and ignore it?
- Does it mean that I must tolerate and allow further wrongdoing or abuse?
Consider the verses prior to those we have just read: read Matthew 18:15-18
These two passages should be read together. We see that, when an offence is committed, it is important that we talk to each other. And that there are other steps we can take to try to find a resolution.
There is lots of misunderstanding about forgiveness.
Unlimited forgiveness does not mean that when someone hurts me, I must simply overlook it and ignore it. We need to talk. After all, if someone is treating me in this way, then maybe they are treating others in this way too – it needs to stop.
Unlimited forgiveness certainly does not mean tolerating and allowing further wrongdoing or abuse. Statistics tell us that lots of people are in abusive relationships [in 2018-19 in England & Wales 7.5% of women and 3.8% of men experienced domestic abuse]. Don’t stay in an abusive relationship – Get safe! Get help! Jesus’ instructions include involving other people. Jesus does not ask us to suffer in silence.
Forgiveness might mean that the offender escapes the consequences of their actions – but it might not. This is tricky. Sometimes Jesus might call me to release someone from the consequences of what they’ve done, sometimes it would be irresponsible to do so – such as situations of abuse or violence. Wisdom is required; ask God for it. And consider asking someone else for help.
Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. Reconciliation requires cooperation – and we cannot be responsible for someone’s response; don’t take on that burden. Reconciliation also takes time and a lot of work. The offender might refuse to cooperate or no longer be around (including having died).
What is forgiveness?
Forgiveness is giving up the right to retaliate. In the story, the king had the right to sell the servant and his family into slavery – he decided not to.
Forgiveness involves remembering what God has done for me – and for humanity. I could never repay the debt I owe to God. Why then would I refuse to forgive someone whose debt to me is so small in comparison? Have compassion – we are all human, we all have flaws and make mistakes.
“… forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.”Matt.18:35
In New Testament times the heart was thought of less as the centre of the emotions and more as the centre of thoughts and the will. Forgiveness is about a choice we make. Hopefully, feelings of forgiveness will follow later.
Forgiveness does not mean we have to ignore or tolerate certain behaviour, but it does mean we act with compassion and kindness. How we handle forgiveness will depend on the offence – there is a wide range from clumsiness to malice. Jesus sets out clear teachings for handling an offence and on forgiveness. Seek to apply his teaching and get help if you need it.