How Do We Forgive? Matthew 18:21-35

One of the most difficult questions and yet very common question that most Pastor’s get asked is “How Do I Forgive?” You would think that something as simple as offering forgiveness would not be so difficult to carry out in our everyday life. But as our text this morning suggests, we are not the first to struggle with this.

Simon Peter's question was a sincere one. He wanted to know exactly what the Master expected out of him. The prominent Rabbis of the day were teaching that one should forgive his brother three times.

Was that enough? Simon Peter wondered. So, one day he asked Christ this important question: "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?"

Some of us would like an answer to the same question, and we will get to Jesus answer in the end. But first we need to realize that forgiveness is a big problem in our lives.

On an individual basis, forgiveness offered to us is enabled by our desire to repent and to seek God’s Forgiveness. As we already confessed our sins and have received the “absolution”, the forensic declaration that YOUR sins are forgiven because of you confession and faith in Jesus Christ. We receive Holy Communion as confirmation/a means of Grace, confirming in our spirit that we have the forgiveness of our sins, the strengthening of our faith and the Holy Spirit empowered ability to lead a God pleasing life. Seeking God’s forgiveness for our own sins, is a very different from offering forgiveness to someone who has sinned against us, especially when that individual does not seek forgiveness.

This morning we want to deal with the question, HOW DO WE FORGIVE? (Others)

Forgiveness is a redemptive act that is essential to our overall well-being. It is not enough to simply "act civil" towards a person who has wronged us, to let "bygones be bygones."

We must move from our hurt to reconciliation or else we leave an open wound that is not allowed to heal. But how? How do we forgive?

Let's begin by asking, "Why don't people forgive?" You may remember Herman Melville's classic story of Moby Dick. The most prominent character Captain Ahab. He hates Moby Dick, the great whale. Every waking hour is consumed with the question of how to destroy this leviathan that has crippled him. Soon we see that the victim of Captain Ahab's hatred is Ahab himself. In his obsession he kills everything around him--the whale, the crew and finally himself. How could anyone let rage get so out of control? Why do we find it so hard to forgive?

Rage gets out of control when the pain is too deep. Somewhere along the way someone has hurt us deeply and we can still feel the pain. For some the pain is so intense that it is simply easier to cut that person out of our lives than to forgive. That is one reason it is difficult to forgive the pain is too deep.

Of course, pride also gets in the way of forgiveness. Pain, pride, other people--these are usually the reasons why we do not forgive. And our inability to forgive can have devastating effects on us. It can shorten our lives, poison our memories, weaken our relationship with God and even afflict our own feelings of self-worth. Not to mention the damage to the relationship with the person we cannot forgive. That is a high price to pay in order to hold on to resentment and hatred. But how do we let go?

We let go, first of all, by recognizing that forgiveness is a gift from God. We have been forgiven, and thus we are able to forgive others.

Jesus followed his answer to Simon Peter with a delightful parable of a man who owed his king ten thousand talents. We are told that this was an amount equivalent to 15 years of wages to a laborer in that day. The king forgave the man his debt. This same man, however, had an acquaintance who owed him 100 denarii about a single day's wage. The very man who had his enormous debt discharged by the king could not forgive the tiny debt owed him by a neighbor. He had the man thrown into jail. He was forgiven for an amount equivalent to 15 years labor, and he could not forgive an amount equivalent to one day's labor. The contrast is striking.

Jesus is not simply telling one man in one particular place. He is talking about you and me. We have been forgiven by God. We are sinners saved by grace. That is what the cross of Calvary is all about. It is about the forgiveness of an enormous debt that we have received. What we see on Calvary is a perfect representation of the forgiving heart of God. If we can see that, it can be a powerful antidote to our feelings of resentment over wrongdoing by others. We remember just how much God has forgiven us and we are enabled to forgive.

You have heard someone say that, "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors" means that if we do not forgive our debtors God will not be able to forgive us. We can read that into the text, of course. I believe, however, that we have the cart before the horse. We are able to forgive others when we understand that we have been forgiven.

Forgiveness is the most powerful witness we have to the activity of grace in our own lives.

For some of us the nursing of a grudge has become a deep spiritual problem. It weakens our witness to Christ's presence in our lives. Besides the damage it does to us personally, it prevents us from being effective in our ministry to others. We need to recognize that forgiveness is a gift from God to be passed on to others, and that it is the most powerful witness we have to the reality of God's grace in our own lives. We need to recognize, finally, that forgiveness is a positive activity necessary to the healing and wholeness of our own hearts.

Forgiveness is not passive resignation to a bad situation. We do not shrug our shoulders and say, "Well, there's nothing else to do. I might as well forgive." There is little healing in that kind of forgiveness.

Forgiveness is a positive, joyful activity in which we change from seeing ourselves as victims to seeing ourselves as victors.

Forgiveness allows us to move from weakness to strength, from inadequacy to self-affirmation. Forgiveness allows us to experience within our own lives the power and the presence of the indwelling Christ.

Forgiveness is more than passive resignation to a bad situation.

By the grace of God we can use forgiveness as a positive, creative force bringing light into a darkened world. Nobody does that kind of thing better, of course, than God.

Who could imagine 2,000 years ago that the symbol of the Christian Church in the 21st Century would be a cross? It was indeed a symbol of suffering and shame. Humanity nailed God's own Son on a cross. Yet God turned that cross into the means by which you and I may find our salvation. That is what God can do with forgiveness. What can you do?

Is there someone you need to forgive? I know there is pain. The most powerful witness we have to the action of the grace of God at work in our own lives, however, is the ability to forgive others. As we forgive, we heal not only the wounds of a broken relationship, we find healing for wounds inflicted in our own hearts by anger, hurt and resentment. God has forgiven each of us for every soiled thought, act, and deed of which we are capable. Can we not forgive one another? Three times? Seven times? Yes, even seventy times seven?