"Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven." -Matthew 18:21,22
490! That's how many times Jesus told us we're supposed to forgive someone. Seventy times seven equals 490. The picture below will put this better into perspective...
That's how many times God wants us to forgive others. No matter how many times someone has hurt us, we are to forgive them. Many wives leave their husbands, and commit the sin of divorce, because they refuse to offer anymore forgiveness. The same is true of many husbands. Divorce is a sin, and no one has any Biblical grounds for divorce. Some people think that Jesus approved of divorce in the case of adultery; but, He certainly did not. Matthew 5:32 clearly states, "But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving (except) for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery." All Jesus was saying is that a spouse cannot be guilty of causing the other spouse to commit adultery in a divorce, if the other spouse is ALREADY committing adultery. You can't close a door that's already closed. You can't start a car that's already started. You can't fill a cup that is already filled. And you can't be guilty of causing your spouse to commit adultery, if they're already guilty. Jesus never gave anyone permission to divorce a spouse who is an adulterer. If this were the case, then Matthew 5:28 gives every wife the Biblical right to divorce her husband if he even lusts (in his mind) upon another woman. Jesus clearly taught in Matthew 5:28, that a man who lusts upon another woman IS an adulterer! Therefore, it is obvious that Jesus wasn't giving anyone permission to divorce in Matthew 5:32. Jesus was simply stating that if you divorce your spouse, which is a sin, you will also be causing your spouse to commit the additional sin of divorce if they remarry.
Jesus NEVER approved of a divorce. In fact, Jesus condemned divorce altogether in Mark 10:3-9...
"And he answered and said unto them, What did Moses command you? And they said, Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away. And Jesus answered and said unto them, For the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder."
I realize that divorce often seems like the only way out, the easy way out, and offers the hope of a better life; BUT, Jesus became obedient unto death the Bible says in Hebrews 5:8. Christ is our example. Jesus was beaten, abused, despised and rejected, laughed at, spit upon, ostracized, slandered, betrayed, falsely accused, and ultimately crucified. He is our example to follow.
How About Those Who Refuse to Make Reconciliation?
"That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified." -1st Thessalonians 4:6
Now if someone does us wrong, and refuses to make reconciliation, then we have every right to expect God to avenge us one day at the judgment. This promise is made to us in Romans 12:19, "Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord." We are not to avenge ourselves, i.e., take the law into our own hands. If justice fails, then we are to trust God to remedy the matter--and He will give us justice! Yet, we can still forgive those people who hurt us in the meanwhile. We don't have to like them. We don't have to tell them we forgave them, and shouldn't, because they have not made reconciliation yet. We don't have to associate with them. BUT, we can forgive them, and place them into God's hands for judgment. In other words, If you hurt me and refuse to make it right, I am not going to hate you. I am going to go to God and say, "Lord, this brother has defrauded me, and refuses to make reconciliation with me. He has hurt me. I don't want to live with a burden of hatred Lord, so I am now placing this brother, and his evil against me, into your sovereign hands. You promised to avenge me in Romans 12:19, and I am claiming this promise. You also promised to avenge me in 1st Thessalonians 4:6. I do ask that justice be met; but I need to let this go, for my sake, and trust you Lord. I trust that you'll make everything right one day Lord, just as you have promised." This is how we should deal with injustices committed towards us. Life is too short to live with a burden of hatred. The best cure for hurt feelings, etc., is to go soulwinning. I'll pass out Gospel tracts if I'm having a bad day. It really brings things into perspective when you focus on the things of God.
God's Love and Infinite Forgiveness is Our Divine Example
"The discretion of a man deferreth his anger; and it is his glory to pass over a transgression." -Proverb 19:11
The most important thing to remember, is that Jesus forgave us of our many sins. Ephesians 4:31-32 states, "Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you." We are supposed to forgive others; not just seven times, but 490 times! That is, unlimited forgiveness, just as Jesus Christ offers to all men. Isaiah 1:18 is an invitation from God, "Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool." The Hebrews word for "crimson" is "worm" (from which dye is made). God is literally saying to all men ... "If your life is so messed up that it's like a garment stained with permanent dye, I can make it as white as wool." This cleansing is found ONLY in the precious blood of Jesus Christ, "...and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin" (1st John 1:7). So if God was willing to forgive us of all our sins, for Christ's sake, then we should also be willing to forgive others ... even if it means 490 times.
When it's Hard to Forgive: Forgiveness vs. Justice!
Oftentimes, in court, a guilty criminal will apologize to the victim (or the victim's family), asking for forgiveness. In one particular case, an 11 year old girl had been abducted, raped, and killed. The monster was brought to trial, and in the courtroom he asked the girl's mother for forgiveness. What would you say if you were that mother? Probably what most of us would say ... "I hope you rot in Hell." Surely, this would be an understandable response from any parent. It's important to understand and distinguish between forgiveness and judgment. A mother may actually forgive such a criminal of his heinous crime; but, the man still must to go to the gas chamber for justice to be met. So you see, forgiveness and justice are two separate things. Just because I forgive you, does not relieve you of your responsibility to make reconciliation with me, or a loved one. So let me ask you a question ... does a mother have to forgive the monster who brutally murdered her 11 year old daughter, if he asks for forgiveness? No, of course not! But, if you don't forgive that person, then you will die with him, because of the hatred you possesses towards him. In such a situation, we would be wise to place such an individual into God's hands for judgment. This is in addition to the punishment they will receive here on earth. No one is going to get away with anything. If someone commits an unbearable crime against us or a loved one, we don't have to accept, like, talk with, or have any contact with such a person; but, IN OUR HEART we need to forgive them by placing them into God's hand for judgment. We shouldn't tell the person we have forgiven them, because JUSTICE has not yet been met.
Here's a good example: Someone defrauds you ought of a large sum of money. You reluctantly take that person to court, in an attempt to recover your financial losses. You didn't want to go to court in the first place; but were left no other options, because the defendant refused to make reconciliation. You may decide to forgive this person before you ever get to court; but you don't let the defendant know, because you want justice. Your personal feelings of forgiveness are separate from your demand for justice.
Another good example is a husband and wife. Let's say the wife leaves the husband and files for divorce. The husband loves his wife and doesn't want the divorce. His wife is making horrible false accusations against him in an attempt to take away the house, the kids, his paycheck, his retirement ... she wants everything! The husband may forgive his wife at the very start, because he loves her, and knows she's tired after years of marriage; however, that husband now must hire a lawyer to defend himself, and likely pay tens-of-thousands of dollars in legal expenses. The husband is forced into the court system. If he refuses to do this, his wife WILL get everything, and he'll be put out into the street (which is a horrible evil). So even though the husband has already forgiven his wife, he must fight for JUSTICE!
Understanding this Biblical concept will help you to forgive people. Just because we forgive people IN OUR HEARTS, does not alleviate or excuse them from their due punishments--the scales of justice MUST be balanced! The scales of justice between man and God were balanced at Calvary, when Christ shed His blood for our sins. Eternal life is a free gift, available to anyone who wants it, i.e., to those who realize their sinfulness, and turn to Jesus Christ in faith for the forgiveness of their sins. However, the scales of justice must also be balanced between man and man. Just because Jesus forgave your sins, doesn't mean that you are not responsible for your crimes against others. All wrongs must be righted. God expects us to make reconciliation. This truth is shown in Luke 19:8, "And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold." Zacchaeus didn't say, "Oh boy, now that I'm saved, I don't have to right my wrongs against others, because God forgave me of all my sins." No, Zacchaeus made his soul right with God, and then men.
Refusing to Forgive
"But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." -Matthew 6:15
Forgiveness is not an option. God expects us to forgive those who seek it from us. Now if someone has hurt us, and refuses to reconcile, then we can only place them into God's hands (or sinfully avenge ourselves--Romans 12:19). We can forgive them in our heart; but still expect to be avenged. This is a promise from God (Romans 12:19). We have every right to expect to be avenged; yet, we can still forgive that person in our heart, so we can move on with our life, and let go of any bitterness. I remember the morning that Oklahoma City Bomber Tim McVeigh was executed. A radio host asked one of the 168 bombing victim's mother if she was going to feel a sense of closure. That mother said something I'll never forget. She said, "I've already forgiven him, and killing him won't do anything for me. She said if a poisonous snake bites a person, that person has one of two options: hunt down the snake to kill it, while the poison kills you at the same time; or, tend to the wound, let the snake go, and live." That is so good! We should all learn to let the snakes go, and live! God will get the snakes in His own way, and in His own time.
Forgiveness, whether we want to admit it or not, is often a PROCESS. It requires much time for some wounds to heal. A Biblical example of this is the hostility between Jacob and Esau. Those two brothers didn't talk to each other for 20 years! Jacob had horribly cheated Esau. Twenty years later, Jacob sent many gifts to Esau, in an attempt to apologize for his evils against Esau. Esau accepted the gifts, and was reunited with his long lost brother. Sometimes forgiveness is extremely difficult, but no Christian should ever say that they CANNOT forgive someone. We don't have to like the person, or talk to them. We don't have to smile at the person, or shake their hand. We don't even have to tell them that they're forgiven; but, we need to forgive them eventually. And please keep in mind that forgiveness has nothing to do with justice, so you still have every right to expect full accountability and judgment of someone who has wronged you or a loved one. At what point should we tell someone that we have forgiven them? When they have made complete reconciliation, or justice has been justly met. On the cross, Jesus prayed for the soldiers who had just crucified Him, saying, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do." Carefully notice that Jesus NEVER prayed this prayer concerning the religious Pharisees! Why? Because they knew what they were doing (Mark 7:7). There are many issues to consider, and umpteen possible circumstance concerning forgiveness; but, we need to be JUST (fair), by looking for opportunities to forgive others, and make things right. For those who hurt us, and arrogantly refuse to reconcile, then we simply need to place them into God's hands for judgment, forgive them in our hearts, and leave them be!
On more thought ... forgiveness and trust are also completely separated. Just because we forgive someone from stealing from us, doesn't meant that we have to trust them again. So forgiving is not necessarily forgetting--it all depends on the transgression. A man who gets angry and deliberately calls me a %#&#% hasn't lost my trust. I might be very careful what I say around him in the future; but, he hasn't done anything to lose my trust. On the other hand, a man who gets angry and kicks my dog is a different story. I'll never trust him alone with my dog again. Trust takes years to earn, and seconds to lose. So it's important for us to keep in mind what forgiveness is NOT. Forgiveness doesn't mean trust. Forgiveness doesn't mean justice has been met. If a man kills his brother, the parents may forgive the guilty son the next day; but, the son must now go to prison for justice to be met. If a man lies to me, I will not completely trust him anymore. So we can forgive people, even though we may not trust them anymore, and even though justice has not yet been served.
God's Simple Plan