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Forgiveness is Not an Option — It's a Mandate

October 2009
By: Mark Hiehle
Someone once said that life would be easy if you didn't have to deal with other people. Because we are not perfect, and no one else is perfect either, there will be conflicts, disagreements, misunderstandings, and problems. When dealing with relationships, there always will be problems. Because of emotions and situations, nothing ever stays the same. A pastor who did a lot of counseling was once asked what he was going to do when he retired. He said that he was going to become a funeral director — that way when he fixed someone, they would stay that way.

Dealing with other people is something that we will always have to do. Other people can and will hurt us — sometimes unintentionally; sometimes with malicious intent. If we are not careful, we can allow a hurt or an offense to take root within our heart. A bitter root of resentment can wrap itself around our heart. It can strangle and steal our joy, strength, and even our very life. Whoever said "Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me" lied. Both hurt and leave wounds that cause scars. Bruises will heal, but words can devastate us for life. Words can repeatedly stab at our hearts for years or even a lifetime as we hear them echo in our minds. What do we do when people hurt us and cause pain?

Pause for a few moments and read Matthew 18:21-35. As we listen to Jesus and apply Scripture to our life, we must understand that forgiveness is not optional.

How Many Times Must We Forgive?

In the account recorded in Matthew, Peter asked Jesus if seven was a good number of times to offer forgiveness. In his mind (from a typical human nature perspective), that number seemed very generous and benevolent. The problem is that our sinful nature takes over after about four times of offering forgiveness. Instead of focusing on reconciliation, we turn to retaliation. In other words, if our goal is to forgive a set number of times, like seven, after about four, we start thinking of how we will level punishment, or how we will get even.

Jesus, however, responds with a number that blew Peter out of the water. Jesus said that we are to forgive not seven times, but 70 x 7 (also translated 77). Think for just a moment what Jesus was really saying: 490 times. We really shouldn't be counting. Just like breathing in and out, which we do naturally and without thinking, so we are to forgive the same way. An offense comes in; we are to give out forgiveness. Forgiveness is to be our natural response as a Christian.

Story of the Unmerciful Servant

Look at the story Jesus told to drive home the truth to Peter and us that forgiveness is not an option.

The first servant owed 10,000 talents. In our economy, that would be similar to $7 million. The typical average wage at that time was about 17 cents per day. How this servant became $7 million in debt is hard to imagine unless he made bad investments with his master's money, which probably was the case. The servant pleaded on his knees to have more time to pay off the debt. There was no way this man could ever pay back the debt, but the master forgave the debt completely. He removed the account from the ledger never to remember what was owed. In response, the servant went out and found a man who owed him 100 denarii, or about $17. Déjà vu, we hear the same plea. Without pity, the first servant throws this man into prison. When the Master hears of it, he calls the man in and says, "I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?' And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt."

The truth is that when we decide not to forgive, we literally allow those we hold an offense against to become our jailer, or as some translations put it, our tormentors. Jailers = tormentors (those you can't forgive). You can never get away from them. You think about them, stew over them, and replay the offense in your mind. No matter where you go, they come back to mind. They go on vacation with you. Like a ball and chain, you drag them around with you. You are never free, because they keep you bound and steal your joy and strength. If, however, you allow God to help you forgive, He has the ability to free you and bring purpose from pain. This is what happened with Joseph in the later chapters of Genesis.

Purpose from Pain

Joseph, rejected and abused by his brothers, sold as a slave, lied about, and forgotten chose forgiveness rather than bitterness. After all the hurt, rejection, and pain that Joseph's brothers inflicted upon him, he had a heart of forgiveness when they were reunited. He was also sensitive to understand that God used his circumstances to bring about good (Genesis 50:20).

If family members, co-workers, board members, or volunteers have hurt you, know that God can turn what Satan meant for harm into something of purpose and blessing. Know that today is not the end of the story for you and what you have experienced. The final chapter has not yet been written, and there is nothing that God cannot turn around.

How to Deal with Those Who Wrong You

Go to God first. Tell Him, not others, about the wrong (v. 31).

Rehearse God's mercy given to you. What has God forgiven you of? If God forgave us, shouldn't we also forgive? (v. 33).

Forgive from your heart (v.35). Forgiveness is not a feeling, but rather a choice. In order to forgive from the heart, we need God to fill us with His love and grace (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).

Forgiveness is not an option — it is what we are to pray for and how we are to live. Remember how Jesus told us to pray:

"Pray then like this: 'Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil'" (Matthew 6:9-13).

Pastor Mark Hiehle is the senior pastor of the First Church of the Nazarene in Chickasha, Oklahoma. While pastoring, Mark continues to write and speak for PCC banquets on behalf of life. He can be reached through

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