“Then Peter came up and said to him, ‘Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.'” (Matthew 18:21-22)
In this passage Jesus teaches a lesson on the necessity of forgiveness. Jesus tells His disciples, He tells us that we have a duty to forgive, an obligation, a responsibility to forgive those who have offended or sinned against us, primarily to those within the fellowship of the Kingdom of God.
Doesn’t this agitate you? If someone came and cursed you and belittled you seventy-seven times in one day, you would have to forgive him. Once you could do this, two or three times maybe, but by the fourth time most of us would be ready to smack that person around. Maybe you have felt that something someone did to you was unforgivable, or someone did something evil to one of your loved ones, your wife, your son or daughter, your parents, or perhaps a friend. How would you feel toward a person who abused your child? How would you feel about someone who has murdered or accidentally killed someone you love? Would you think to yourself “I can’t forgive that person? That person did something that was unforgivable?” Despite how we may feel about forgiveness, Jesus tells us that we have an obligation to forgive those who injure us.
What Jesus wants us to do is what he did for us. Didn’t He forgive us while we were still sinners? Didn’t He forgive those who crucified Him? He did not wait for our response before He took steps to forgive us. Since we are forgiven in this manner, we ought also to do the same.
Forgiveness is the choice of the injured party. In forgiveness, I no longer require or expect the offender to change. Reconciliation is dependent on both parties acknowledging the truth about the behavior. This is impossible if offenders continue in the offensive behavior, especially if they are emotionally abusive or hostile. I cannot be reconciled into a relationship that is harmful to me. Forgiveness does not mean that I cannot set boundaries on the relationship to avoid further injury.
Forgiving does not mean that I forget the injuries, deny or minimize them. Forgiveness does not ignore the pain, the emotional hurt or the seriousness of the offense. Forgiving means that I relinquish my desire to exact judgement. When we withhold forgiveness it is almost always because we want justice. But that justice has already been satisfied on the cross. I must let go of revenge: the debt owed me cannot be repaid. Which of the offending party’s sins were not forgiven at the cross? If we continued in unforgiveness any longer, we would be making a mockery of the cross.
Forgiveness is the duty of every Christian. God has canceled an enormous debt of sin for each of us. We have no right to withhold forgiveness of a debt which is minuscule in comparison.