Mine Creek Baptist Church
The Choice of Forgiveness
By Preacher Chris Rathbone
Many years ago, I struggled with trying to forgive someone who had hurt me deeply. The feeling of betrayal that was in my heart was almost crippling to me spiritually. For many months it seemed the situation was on my mind continuously. First thing in the morning and the last thing on my mind before sleep, if I was able to sleep. There was a wide range of emotions that seem to come and go. Some days it was anger. Some days it was a broken heart and tears. Often I would experience feelings of wanting revenge, rehearsing in my heart the words my flesh wanted to say to the one who had harmed me. Many prayers were prayed asking God to help me forgive. I knew what the Lord would have me to do, but carrying it out was the hard part.
One of the most well-known portions of scripture that deals with forgiveness is found in Matthew 18:21-35. Peter asks Jesus how many times he should forgive a brother that has sinned against him. Peter even suggests that 7 times might be sufficient. Jesus answers Peter “seventy times seven.” Jesus isn’t necessarily saying that after 490 times you don’t have to forgive someone, but rather he was painting a picture of unlimited forgiveness. Jesus teaches a parable in the following verses about a certain king who took account of his servants. There was found a servant who owed him “ten thousand talents”. Some disagree on exactly how much money this servant owed. However, it is believed to be equal to several million dollars in modern money. The point is that there was no way this servant would be able to come up with the money. The king commanded that the servant and his family be sold along with all his possessions. The servant realized his situation and fell down before the king and begged for the king’s patience and he would pay him. Even though he promised to pay the debt, more than likely there was no way he could. An incredible event then takes place. The king is moved with compassion, sets the servant free and forgives all his debt. Can you imagine that?
The parable doesn’t stop there. Jesus teaches that the same servant who had just been forgiven so much went out and found a fellow servant who only owed him a few dollars. He laid hands on him, even grabbed him by the throat and demanded payment. His fellow servant fell at his feet and begged for patience in paying what he owed. However, there was no compassion in his heart. He had his fellow servant put in prison till the debt was paid. There’s no way a man can work to pay his debt if he is in prison!
When his fellow servants saw what he had done in refusing to forgive, they told the king about what had happened and this servant who had been forgiven so much was brought before his lord. The king called him a wicked servant and said to him, “I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: Shouldest not thou have had compassion on thy fellow servant, even as I had pity on thee?” His lord was angry with him and had him delivered to the tormentors (prison) till he paid the debt he owed. Jesus also gives a warning that the same shall be done to us if we don’t forgive others their trespasses.
You see in this parable, the servant who refused to forgive was placed in a prison of his own making. Had he remembered the compassion and forgiveness that he was given and extended the same to others, he would not have been placed in prison. By his own doing, he was in a prison of unforgiveness. A prison that only forgiveness would have helped him avoid.
The Lord begin to deal with my heart using this parable with my own forgiveness. He helped me to first of all realize once again what a great debt of sin that He had forgiven me. Secondly, he helped me to realize that if Jesus was willing to forgive me, I should choose to forgive others. Even if my old flesh doesn’t feel like it wants to.
I’d like to tell you that all this happened immediately, but it didn’t. Matter of fact, I must confess that it took probably a couple of years. Have I forgotten what happened? No. But I have chosen to forgive what happened. Yes, it was a choice that Jesus helped me make because in my flesh I didn’t want to. Payback is what my flesh wanted, but in my spirit, Jesus wanted me to choose forgiveness because of how much He had forgiven me.
There are some things that Jesus reminded me of through that experience. First, how much He loves me to forgive me like He did. There wasn’t any way I could pay the debt of sin that I owed, and Jesus forgave me by his grace and mercy. I did not deserve forgiveness, but He gave it to me. Another thing he reminded me of is that He expects me to extend forgiveness to others. Even when it’s hard to do so.
There’s also some things Jesus taught me through that experience. When we choose to harbor unforgiveness towards someone, we put ourselves in a spiritual prison. We seem to believe we are getting back at someone but truthfully we are only harming ourselves. It costs us spiritually because as long as we have the sin of unforgiveness in our hearts our relationship with Jesus will never be what it should be. We put ourselves in prison and the whole time we’re there the key to get out is ours and we refuse to open the door.
We must remember some things also. There are people who will hurt us and know they have hurt us, and they will ask for forgiveness. There are people who will hurt us and know they have hurt us, and do not care, and will probably never ask for forgiveness. There are people who will hurt us and possibly don’t know they hurt us because we never told them. The key of forgiveness is not held by the ones who may have harmed us, but the key is ours. Forgiveness is more for us then it is the offender. Its sets us free from the torment of this prison we are in, so we can move on. If we choose to hold on to the hurts of the past it will keep us from healing in the future. We’ll be confined endlessly with invisible chains that will hinder where God wants us to go in our relationship with Him.
This issue has been on my heart for a while. I felt as though there is someone who will read this that needs to choose forgiveness and be set free from that prison. I want you to realize that you aren’t the only one who struggles with unforgiveness. With the help of the Lord, you hold the key to freedom from this prison. It’s not easy but it is possible. Even if the offender never asks you for forgiveness, Jesus asks you to forgive anyway. It’s for you, not just them. It will take time, prayer, and a whole lot of Jesus my friend! Why not start this New Year by opening the door of the prison of unforgiveness. Choose forgiveness…..because Jesus did for you.
In Christ, Preacher Chris