How do I know I have forgiven someone properly?

Psalm 32; Matthew 18:21-35; 1 Peter 2:23-24

When you feel compassion toward the person who wronged you, then you can be assured you did truly forgive them. Let these Scriptures impact and change you to the core of your being. Let the power of prayer be your focus, and the Scripture your heartbeat. Our standard is not that of the world, but that of God. We would not want to go through life in misery and bitterness, remembering those who wronged us, harboring grudges, and experiencing unhappiness. This is not the plan that Christ has for us! Bitter people have no impact for the kingdom of God except to cause division and distraction. They have the tenacity and drive to show everyone the hurts and wrongs they suffered. Do not let this happen to you, or to the people around you. Take your lead from this verse, not your inclinations.

“When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.”          (1 Peter 2:23-24, NIV)

God does not ask us to minimize the wrong, but He does call us to forgive the person. We are not to repay evil for evil, rather, evil for good, just as our Lord did for us.

We have to keep in mind that our bad experiences can be like a prison, keeping us within the bars we have made from fear, anxiety, and stress. Such a prison prevents our being stretched or experiencing any growth from learning, therefore preventing us from taking what we have been through and making it sweet and productive. Having persevered in the past helps us persevere in the future. The church at Philadelphia in Revelation was able to do so, so we can, too and in so doing flourish. The key is to hold on even when we do not see any handles to grasp. When we hold on to Him, and Him alone, Christ will reward and keep us, and we will be victorious!

We must be aware that we have a problem in the church today, and that problem is unforgiveness! Our awareness needs to jump to being proactive, doing a better job of caring for people and providing church discipline to those who hurt others, sanction, and even removal of people who willfully, purposely distort God’s truths and reuse to operate in His character and Fruit. We have to ask are we, as Lot was, sick of the immorality and hatred of God? For someone to deliberately distort His love, truth and Fruit shows they are perhaps mentally ill, delusional, or they hate God, because God is a God of Truth and if you do not love truth, the only logical conclusion is that you must hate God.

The Biblical Steps in Forgiving

Psalm 32; Matthew 18:21-35

Now that we have discussed the why and what of forgiveness, we need a practical way to apply it to our lives. Remember, we need to have the Biblical mandates in mind, and be willing to surrender our desires for revenge, and the storage of wrongs for future bitterness.

First: Know what Christ did for you.

In the book of Romans, we read, “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:22-24, NIV)

For us to grasp the idea and call of forgiveness, we must have a deep sense of the price that Christ paid for us. Christ paid the ultimate price for us, and forgave us for acts deemed unpardonable. When we grasp what Christ has done for us, we should be motivated into overdrive, always seeking forgiveness. When we have the proper perspective of Grace, what it cost and what it is, we then should be able to reciprocate to those around us. God forgave us for our failures, so, why not forgive others? This realization must precede any of our efforts to reconcile, because, with the knowledge of what and why we are forgiving, we will be able to follow the Will of God, and actually forgive with a willing and loving heart. We are not to let our emotions rule us, or to over- react, making the situation worse.

With the understanding of what Christ did for us on behalf of forgiveness, we can put a bigger piece of trust and reliance onto our Lord. We must be able to fully trust, rely on, and surrender the control over to Christ. Thus, our dependence becomes who we are in Christ. When we then take the risk, we need not worry about the results or consequence of that action. We are to lean on and trust in our Lord, allowing His Grace to flow through us to those around us; this is the mark of a healthy Christian.

Second: We must be willing to take the risk.

“Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19, NIV)

“But a witless man can no more become wise than a wild donkey's colt can be born a man. Yet if you devote your heart to him and stretch out your hands to him, if you put away the sin that is in your hand and allow no evil to dwell in your tent, then you will lift up your face without shame; you will stand firm and without fear.” (Job 11:12-15, NIV)

Forgiveness is a risky business. The person who we choose to forgive may not realize, or admit to the wrong. Nor, will they always accept our forgiveness. But, their response is not our responsibility; we are only to be obedient to our Lord, and give the forgiveness out of love, not expecting a warm response. That Elder who refused to forgive me for a perceived wrong I did to him is responsible for his actions to the Lord, I am not. I am responsible for my response. So, I sought the forgiveness, and he refused. That is a risk we all have to take. Also, the person who we forgive may continue in the offense, such as that Elder who kept spreading rumors about me. He refused to stop; but, again, this is not my responsibility. We are to allow others the freedom to disappoint us and to fail our expectations.

“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter. So even though I wrote to you, it was not on account of the one who did the wrong or of the injured party, but rather that before God you could see for yourselves how devoted to us you are. By all this we are encouraged.” (2 Corinthians 7:10-13a, NIV)

We need to be willing to put aside the concern that forgiveness will minimize the wrong brought against us. Sin is ugly. We should recognize that fact as well as the fact of its corrupting nature. But, just forgiving someone does not make the sin go away. Forgiveness releases the guilt, and stops the cycle of bitterness and dysfunction.

Third: We need to cancel the betrayal.

“Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs.” (Proverbs 10:12, NIV)

“He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.” (Proverbs 17:9 NIV)

We have to give up our perceived right of revenge and retaliation. This can be a tough process, but one that we can accomplish through prayer, and self-surrender. Try to look at it this way; the offense against you is actually an offense against God. As God’s child, you are in His protection and care. When someone offends you, it also becomes an offense against God Himself. Thus, we are to surrender our rights to His, and cancel the debt—completely out of existence, and, out of our heart and mind. Give it over as if it never happened. You will be surprised that once you do this, you will feel the load lifted off you and you can rest in the comfort of the Lord.

When you pray to God, you need to be actually requesting that He would take the desire of revenge away, then relinquish your desires of revenge!

Fourth: We need to offer personal forgiveness.

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:2, NIV)

We must be willing to go to the person who offended us, and, both verbally and non-verbally, forgive them. Then, seek an appropriate reconciliation to that individual. Offer the love and acceptance to the person, not necessarily to what they did. God desires that we be involved in growing positive and healthy relationships, the primary purpose of our existence is relationships, relationships with God to us and then us to others. In relationships we can model, grow in, make known and glorify our Lord. This should be a driving force of who we are as Christians, saved by Grace. It is the responsibility of the person who did the wrong to repent—not the person offended. You cannot force repentance from someone; you can only pray for him or her, and offer the forgiveness. The relationship can only positively continue when repentance and forgiveness are pursued.

If the offender refuses to repent, or refuses to accept the forgiveness, then this means their nature is in denial. They feel no wrong was committed, or see you as trying to manipulate their Will. They may be a sociopath, that is, have some form of mental disorder where they may enjoy inflicting hurt and hardship on people. In any case, the reason is not your responsibility, nor are you responsible for their acceptance. Your responsibility is only to genuinely offer forgiveness. We need to accept the fact of human nature; some people just will not play ball God’s way, especially Christians. So, if this is the case with your forgiveness, then it still remains between you and Christ, as it is anyway, because we are God’s children.

“The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear-minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:7-8 NIV)

Fifth: We need to recognize the picture of Forgiveness.

The result of forgiveness is letting go of the offense, and, wishing blessings and compassion to the person who wronged you. Repentance simply means, Biblically, to change one’s perspective. In other words, you turn—from your way of thinking to God’s way. That is, we change our minds and hearts—from our desires to Christ’s desires. When we do this, then we have truly forgiven that person. Leaving out any of the above steps, and only forcing your Will into the situation, means you are deluding yourself into thinking that you have forgiven; you have not. It is not about us, it is about God, and His desire for us is to live in peace and love.

We always need to keep reminding ourselves of our status in Christ, as we previously discussed, because this is paramount to continuing to go on in our lives without the hurt and bitterness. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8, NIV) This does not mean that we will not feel the pain, or perhaps suffer consequences from someone else’s actions. What it means is, we are saved by Grace, by what Christ has done. So, we need to reciprocate grace and peace to those around us, even though we may not want to.

“This is what the LORD says: ‘Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,’ declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 9:23-24, NIV)

We need to keep ourselves tuned into God constantly and continually, and allow Him to carry us through

If you are the Offender

If you are the person who hurt someone, and that person is unwilling to forgive you, it is up to you to make it right. You may not receive that person’s forgiveness, but that is between them and God, and not you. You need to go through the steps of forgiveness, but with the emphasis on earnestly repenting and offering restitution. You need to confess, openly and publicly, before the person you offended. Then, you need to go to the person in private. Do not rationalize what you did, or minimize it in anyway. Then, go to Christ, humbly and with a repentant attitude—which means, you make a commitment to change your heart, mind, and actions!

If going to the person is impossible because of distance, death, or restraining order, then we need to totally rely on God. Take your lead from 2 Corinthians 7:8-11. This allows Christ to be your Mediator, and, know you are not off the hook for truly seeking repentance. Just because you may not be able to physically go to a person does not mean you do not have to forgive them. You can use a third party such as a pastor or a letter and definitely though repentance and prayer.

When we refuse to forgive or refuse to repent, then we are holding ourselves back from God and His best for us. We rationalize the reality of the infection of sin, and its destructive nature to our being, and to those around us. We create a wall to shut ourselves off from God, and one another. Thus, we turn on ourselves with the consequence, without any reprieve or comfort. Because we become consumed with animosity and vengeance, we then suffer with the guilt and bitterness. Our personal lives dissolve, and our impact on the community, as Christians, becomes a hindrance instead of a blessing. Take a serious look into Psalm 32. Meditate over it carefully, and then surrender yourselves over to the love of Christ. Allow the sin to be forgiven and released. Be courageous. Seek out forgiveness and public confession and reconciliation. Allow yourself to grow and mature to be the best, whole person Christ desires for you to be. There is simply no better way. This is liberation and true comfort:

True forgiveness comes from a sincere and humble Christian, offered with a merciful spirit, one who is not interested in their own personal feelings or making a display for the sake of pleasing others or seeking some form of spiritual prestige. Forgiveness will help us see Christ’s perfection, what He has done for you and me and receive His mercy and grace to help us. Forgiveness will also help us help others through us, in times of need so we can find that peace that guards our hearts and minds (Phil. 4:6-7; Heb. 4:14-16). In order for this to happen, we have to be willing and able to open and surrender our hearts and our will to Him. If not, we will be living on the wrong floor of life!

Forgiveness is not about selfish wish lists to get God to cater to our needs and whims; rather its true purpose is for us to be shaped by what He has revealed, and to grow in character, perseverance, and maturity. So, how can this be made real in you and your church? We are to forgive others in response to the fact that we have been forgiven. However, the forgiveness we may give to others will never compare to the forgiveness Christ has given us! So, what blocks your seeking forgiveness from Christ and others?

“Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit. When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD’—and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Therefore let everyone who is godly pray to you while you may be found; surely when the mighty waters rise, they will not reach him. You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance. I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you. Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you. Many are the woes of the wicked, but the LORD's unfailing love surrounds the man who trusts in him. Rejoice in the LORD and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart!” (Psalm 32, NIV)

The Problem of Unforgiveness

Matthew 18: 21-35

Peter is seeking a rule or a way to put a limit on forgiveness. He figures seven times was a lot—possibly more than Jesus would require—but Jesus responds with the call that forgiveness is not limited. It is actually the canceling of a debt. It is as if someone owed you one thousand dollars, but he or she could not pay you back. You forgive the debt, which means you never expect to receive the money back. The amount owed to you is no longer owed or expected. You give up your right to seek the repayment of that debt.

As Christians, we who have been saved and have received His mercy are called to give mercy to others when we are wronged! Refusing to forgive makes us the ones who destroy relationships and forfeit the opportunity to glorify our Lord. We imprison ourselves in isolation, cutting ourselves off from real life and from seeing God’s redemptive power in action. Unforgiveness is a price that is way too high for any true Christian to pay. Forgiveness gives us the freedom to move on and to build bridges for right relationships and growth. Unforgiveness blows up those bridges that we must cross if we would obtain personal healing and maturity.

Forgive. How often shall we forgive, Peter asks? It is the realization of how much we have been forgiven by Christ (Matthew 18:21-35; Luke 23:34; Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13) that enables us to forgive the insignificant things that are done to us. It involves refusing to be resentful to others, and ignoring the wrongs that we have received so relationships can be healed through the expression of Christ's love.

Seventy times seven was not a math formula for 490; rather, it was a colloquialism meaning, forever. It was also a Jewish saying, meaning, never to hold a grudge. Jesus is confirming that we are to let it go. Holding onto grudges imprisons us in bitterness and derails us from our growth in Him. Some rabbis taught that the number three was sufficient in the amount of times to forgive. Perhaps Peter, in saying seven, was being over twice as generous.

Certain King. Jesus is not referring to a Jewish king, but rather a Gentile ruler, perhaps a Greek king.

Servants were the upper level slaves, the house servants, like butlers or personal servants, who were also managers in charge of the rest. Examples of these would be Joseph’s position under Potiphar, and then the jailer in Genesis 39. Most of these upper level servants, called “satraps,” led better lives than most of the free people who were peasants.

Settle accounts. Satraps would often gather the taxes for the king. Perhaps in this case, the means and methods of collecting did not meet the king’s standards; perhaps it involved embezzlement, or bad management, or the people could not pay the king’s demands and the collector was sympathetic. It is interesting that a king would allow a servant to get that much in debt.

Ten thousand talents would be the entire annual income for a very rich king. A talent is usually one year’s wages for the rich, and a sliver talent was up to 6,000 days of wages for an average worker.

A denarii was the daily wage for a worker. The amounts of Jesus parable could also be hyperbole speech, as Jesus often uses exaggerations to grab people’s attention. Some rabbis saw sins as debts before God.

Master, have patience with me. Most kings in the ancient era would never have accepted an excuse. Here, a person begs for forgiveness and receives it, when he neither deserves nor is entitled to it. It would be impossible for a servant ever to pay such a debt; it would be like a pastor (me), who makes very little money, personally saying that I will get California out of its deficit!

Moved with compassion. Most kings were ruthless and unfeeling. Here is a picture of benevolence and grace. It is the kind of grace our Lord gives us, grace without a possibility of earning it and, certainly, undeserving of it (Psalm 45:2; Gal. 5:4; Eph. 2:5-10). Some of the Egyptian Pharaohs would forgive taxes when the crops failed; seeking to collect upon such a debt would only hinder their future tax earnings. Because we receive grace, we should also impart it to others (2 Cor. 6:1-2; 1 Pet. 4:10-11; 2 Pet. 1:2-4).

Laid hands on him. He was owed a hundred days of wages, an exponentially much, much smaller amount than that for which he was forgiven. He chose not to apply this principle of grace; rather, he became as ruthless to another as the king should have been with him.

Choking refers to the anger this man had. When we do not exercise grace, we become infused with bitterness that blinds us from God and others. It is a heinous attribute we must never exercise! A person who was in prison where no wages could be earned could never pay off a debt. It then became the responsibility of the family, if they chose to redeem him (Lev. 25:25-34; Rom. 4:3-10).

Saw what he had done. The king became angry, and justifiably so. This king, perhaps, had the motivation to receive more revenue by showing how benevolent he was. Now, this servant had ruined that idea as well as the king’s income.

Torture. The law forbade torture and it was never practiced officially; it was, perhaps, rarely practiced at all in Judaism. However, Gentile kings would use it as a tool to extract information or receive penance. When we do not forgive, it is not the wrongdoer who is tortured; they “feel” they got off free. It is we who refuse to forgive who are tortured! A forgiving attitude is freedom, and contentment is a result of our rebirth (John 3:3).

Forgiveness is bankruptcy; once filed, the creditor may not retrieve the debt, and it is wiped out. We need to see the cancellation of the debt as a write-off, and not some form of embezzlement. When we forgive, we forget; that is, we are no longer to even have a desire for restitution, pay back, or punishment.

God is not determined by income or wealth but by our trust and obedience in Him. It is trust not wealth that forms real authentic relationships with others. How do you suppose God feels when we do as this servant did? The king was angry because the servant’s actions reflected negatively on Him! How do our actions reflect on our Lord?

Forgiveness, on our part, does not earn salvation. Forgiveness is a response we give to others because of what Christ has given us (Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:13). We receive forgiveness as a part of our salvation. So, because we have been forgiven for such a high debt, why would we not forgive others for such a small debt? The cost of forgiveness was extremely high for our Lord, and not at all high for us in comparison! It is a part of our fallen nature to receive forgiveness and still not experience forgiveness, so we refuse to share forgiveness (Rom 12:10). The reason we forgive is solely and simply because Christ has done so with us, and calls us to do likewise with others. It is not about how we may feel; it is about what He has done!

Forgiveness is an aspect of God’s love for us, and shows us how we are to love others (1 Cor 13: 4). When God tells us that love keeps no record of wrongs, He means we are not to go around with a list, writing down or keeping track of the faults of one another. Rather, we are to look for the positive things that happen in our relationships, and to affirm others. We are to seek reconciliation and forgiveness, never strife or dissention. We should not go around with a negative attitude, but, rather, with one that is positive, enthusiastic, and equipping to God's people. We are not to keep track of the mistreatments we may receive from friends or our spouse. Because God loves us so much, He does not keep a scorecard of our sins as long as we honestly repent of them. We do not need to reflect or gossip about the flaws of other people in order to elevate ourselves. God refuses to do that to us. Love lets things such as resentment and anger go so they do not build up and destroy us and our relationships (Matthew 18:21-35; Mark 11:25; Hebrews 13:21-21).

Authentic Love does not keep a scorecard!


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