27 January – 2 February 2019.

Matthew 18 (click to read).

One of Jesus’s most difficult teachings is his command to forgive. It isn’t difficult because it’s hard to understand – after all we have all heard this teaching before, we all know that Jesus commands us to forgive others “seventy times seven” times (v. 22). And we all understand the message in Jesus’s parable of the unforgiving debtor. We know that we (like the king’s servant in the story) have sinned so greatly and so much against God the King, and we know that God is gracious and merciful and he forgives us our sins even though we don’t do anything to deserve it. We know that because we have received such an incredible amount of grace and forgiveness from God that we must also forgive others. After all, the amount of forgiveness we are commanded to give others (even if we forgive seventy times seven times) is still just a tiny fraction of the amount of forgiveness God gives us. We all know this, and we understand it. The hard part comes in following it.

One of the reasons we have trouble forgiving others is that none of us like to be victims. Too many times in our lives we have been deeply hurt by others, and we feel like if we forgive them then that just gives them permission to keep on hurting us. But that misunderstands what forgiveness is all about. Please know that in our weakness, Christ never wants us to be abused. Christ doesn’t want us to be victims. We need to think about protecting our lives and those of our families. But when we do get hurt, Christ does want us to leave judgement and retribution in his hands. He doesn’t want us taking revenge.

That’s the core of forgiveness. In our anger at being hurt, we too easily write other people off as evil, we think of them as useless, horrible, and hopeless. In the worst cases, we even wish they were dead. That’s because we tell ourselves that there is no way for them to change. But that’s not true.

When God forgives us, God takes a chance on us and gives us an opportunity to turn our lives around. When we forgive others we do the same thing. We give other people the opportunity to turn their lives around, too. That doesn’t mean we naively trust others not to hurt us again; and it doesn’t mean we foolishly stop protecting ourselves from the risk of being hurt again. But forgiving others means refusing to believe that God can’t make a change in their lives. It means refusing to think that God can’t call them back to him, as he does with all his lost sheep. After all, if God can do that in our lives, he can do that in the lives of our enemies too. That’s why Christ commands us not only to forgive those who hurt us but also to pray for them, to pray that they may turn away from their harmful actions and allow God to truly change their lives.

Forgiveness simply means never giving up on someone, never giving up on the hope that they can be changed. That’s the way God treats us. And that’s why God encourages us to treat each other the same way.

Pastor Stephen Lakkis