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Sunday Morning Word: Forgiveness

Updated on March 20, 2016

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?"

Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times." Matthew 18:21-22 (NIV)

What is "Unforgiveness"?

It’s a cloudy Sunday morning in my neighborhood, but I can see the sun trying to push through, just as I can see it trying to push through for those of you idling underneath the gloomy clouds of unforgiveness, which, shockingly, is not a word.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, the prefix, un-, when applied to a verb, describes the reversal or cancellation of an action. If to forgive means to stop feeling angry or resentful toward someone for a specific offense, then by definition, to unforgive would mean to suddenly become angry again about a past offense you've already pardoned, which logically would make no sense, hence why "unforgive" and "unforgiveness" are not considered words.

What we can surmise from these two non-existent words is that a person who "unforgives" never truly forgave the offender in the first place. Instead, that person is holding onto feelings of resentment, bitterness, anger, animosity, spite, cynicism, indignation, malice, enmity, judgment, and hatred---all very negative words, which we as Christians do not want to be associated with.

Depiction of the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant. Photograph of stained glass window at Scots' Church, Melbourne
Depiction of the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant. Photograph of stained glass window at Scots' Church, Melbourne | Source

What Does the Bible Say About Those Who Don't Forgive?

Hypocrites. That's what Jesus calls people who hold "unforgivness" in their hearts: hypocrites. How can we expect God to forgive us of our sins if we ourselves cannot find it in our hearts to forgive the people who have wronged us?

In Matthew 6:9-13, Jesus teaches The Lord’s Prayer, and part of that prayer asks the Lord to “forgive us of our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us” (Matthew 6:12). In some versions of the Bible, that word "sin" is replaced with "debt." I like this word much better because sin is a debt. How is that debt paid? Through death (Romans 6:23). In the Old Testament, an animal was sacrificed as payment for sins. In the New Testament, that sacrifice is Jesus Christ, who is God wrapped in flesh (John 1:14). He died on the cross for the remission of sins for the entire world, yet we still can’t forgive little Billy from down the street who stole two dollars from us ten years ago.

When Peter asks Jesus if he should forgive his brother (in Christ) up to seven times, Jesus tells him, not seven, but seventy-seven times (Matthew 18:21-22). Some versions of the Bible say seventy times seven times. In other words, don't ever stop forgiving your brother who sins against you, lest your Father in Heaven will stop forgiving you of your sins.

In Jesus' parable of the unmerciful servant (Matthew 18:21-35), a servant who owes his master a tremendous debt drops to his knees and begs his master not to punish him. He promises to pay back everything he owes in due time. His master lets him go, and what does he do? He goes home and beats his fellow servant, demanding he pay back what is owed to him, which is microscopic compared to what he owes the king. When the king finds out, he tells the servant, “I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?" (Matthew 18:32-33). So he tosses him to the jailers to be tortured until he pays. Jesus closes the parable by saying that this is how our Heavenly Father will treat us unless we find it in our hearts to truly forgive others.

It's a Two-Way Street

What is one thing that we all require in a relationship? That everything goes both ways, right? Love goes both ways. Communication goes both ways. Intimacy goes both ways. God requires the same in our relationships with Him and with others. How can we expect something from God, when we don’t even do the same for our brothers and sisters in Christ?

In His parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46), Jesus tells His disciples that on the Day of Judgement, the Lord will separate the people to His right and to His left. The ones on His right will be blessed, but to the ones on His left, He will say, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.” They will wonder when they did not do these things for Him, and He will say, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me” (Matthew 25:41-45).

It takes more than just believing in Jesus Christ to be a good Christian. We must follow the principles He taught us. We all remember the Golden Rule we were taught as kids: Treat others the way you want to be treated. Jesus is telling us to treat others the way we want God in Heaven to treat us. One day, we will all be held accountable for our deeds. So, will you be the one God turns His back on because you turned your back on a fellow child of God? Will be the one God refuses to forgive because you held resentment and “unforgiveness” in your heart?

What Happens to Us When We Don't Forgive?

Because he lacked the compassion to forgive his brother, the unmerciful servant was tossed to the jailers and tortured until he could pay off his own debt to the king (Matthew 18:34). Because the people to Jesus' left couldn't show mercy to their fellow man, they were cursed to eternal punishment (Matthew 25:46). In that same way, our God in Heaven will punish us for failing to forgive and show mercy.

In fact, holding "unforgiveness" in one's own heart is a form of torment. Are you not drained when you hold that grudge? Are you not tired or hurt? Do you not feel a tension building between you and your family and friends because they sense your negativity? Does that tension not make you and everyone around you feel uncomfortable because they can't do anything to fix it? Do you not feel a weight lifted off of your shoulders when you finally do forgive?

Forgiveness isn't just for the offending party, but it also provides a route to our own personal healing. When you hold onto “unforgiveness,” you may physically feel pain--whether that pain comes in a migraine from crying all night, or a broken hand from punching the wall in a fit of rage---or you may feel emotional pain---depression, resentment, cynicism, etc. However, when you pray and forgive those who have hurt you, you will feel an instant relief from that pain.

Forgiveness by Kezia (spoken word poem)

Will You Forgive the Person Who Hurt You Today?

Do you find it hard to forgive the person who hurt you? Put it all in God's hands. There's no need to seek revenge because God will do that in His own time (Deuteronomy 32:35). Instead, pray to God that He will help you to find forgiveness in your heart. There, you will also find an inner peace, a way to move on from the offense and grow as a person and a follower of Christ.

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© 2016 Nortina Simmons

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    • Paul K Francis profile image

      Paul K Francis 18 months ago from east coast,USA

      Yes! Forgiveness heals and lightens us. Nice article. Have a nice day!