In Christ’s relatively short ministry here on earth, He passed many teachings on to His followers. Often those whom He taught could not commit to following those teachings. His teachings were revolutionary and went against much of what the Jews had been taught all their lives.
Still, even when followers would turn away, unable to accept His instruction, Christ continued to preach God’s love, mercy, and expectations.
One would think, that after 2000 years Christ’s teachings, it would be easier to follow. Many of us take for granted much of what we know about faith. It’s easy to say we believe Christ is the Son of God; that He suffered on the crossed, died, was buried, and then rose on the third day. It is easy to say we believe in ever-lasting life. This has been taught to us our entire lives. It feels ingrained into our souls. We believe this to be true.
But still, there are times we struggle with intimately following Christ. His teachings were revolutionary 2000 years ago, and for many, they remain revolutionary today. While it may be easy to say we believe, it can be difficult to follow those teachings in a world that encourages us to place ourselves at the center and everyone else on the periphery.
One of those difficult teachings that Christ still insists we follow is to forgive our neighbors when they do us harm. When asked how many times we should forgive those who hurt us Christ responds, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” [Matt 18:22] In Luke 17:4, He says, “And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”
Christ tells us that it doesn’t matter how many times a person sins against us, we must forgive him. This is a revolutionary teaching, then and now.
Why Should We Forgive?
We have all suffered injustices at one time or another. I once was asked how I could forgive someone who had hurt me very badly. The person asking me this question stood in awe of the fact that I could move on and be genuinely friendly after all the offender had done to me. To be honest, forgiveness didn’t come easy. I was deeply wounded and didn’t want to let go of that hurt. I was afraid of allowing God to heal me because I feared that I would just get hurt again. I would smile and be nice to the person, but on the inside I was seething. I would cringe if I knew this person was going to be around. I prayed like crazy for God to keep that person out of my path. Yet, God has a sense of humor and often does exactly the opposite of what we pray for, knowing what is best for us in the end.
The more I prayed and the more I studied, the more I understood that we must forgive one another if we ever want to heal. We must forgive one another if we ever want to draw closer to Christ. Forgiveness is not saying that what the person did was right or acceptable, but instead it says that we want and need to move forward; that we want to heal from the hurt. Forgiveness means we surrender our hearts to God and allow Him to take the pain we feel and produce something good come from it.
As I studied about forgiveness I realized that I cannot ask God for forgiveness if I am unwilling to forgive. Christ tells us in Matthew 6:14-15,
“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
We must forgive others if we wish to be forgiven. My heart yearns for the forgiveness of the sins that keep me separated from my Father. It pains me to think of not being forgiven. When I think of how undeserving I am of God’s forgiveness, and yet He grants it to me without hesitation, I know that there is no way I can deny offering my own forgiveness to those who have hurt me so deeply, even if they are not contrite or if they have not asked for my forgiveness.
Forgiving those who trespass against us is difficult. It means abandoning our anger, our pride, and perhaps our own selfish need for retaliation in favor of extending Christ’s love in a manner that is revolutionary.
There is an adage that goes, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” I submit to you that we should change this to say, “Fool me once, fool me twice… I still forgive you.”
Forgiveness Equals Love
While we shouldn’t allow ourselves to deliberately be hurt and we should never be someone’s “doormat”, Christ does tells us that when someone strikes us on the cheek, instead of retaliating we should turn and offer him the other one as well. By doing this we show Christ’s love and this love may just convert hearts and souls for God.
It is easy to believe we are called to love one another and to see the good in each other, especially when those we are surrounded by are peaceful, kind, and loving in return. It is more difficult to love those who hurt us. It can be an arduous task to offer love and forgiveness to those who do not seek our forgiveness and who offer no love in return. However, when we offer our love and our forgiveness to people such as these, we know that we are modeling ourselves after our Heavenly Father who loves us and forgives us even when we may not be worthy of such tremendous love.
What a beautiful gift we both give and receive when we freely forgive.