“So, if my brother sins against me, how many times should I forgive him,” asked Peter.
He didn’t even wait for Jesus to answer.
“Up to seven times?”
“No,” Jesus responded, “up to seventy times seven.”
When it comes to forgiveness the Bible is clear it should be done quickly and generously as soon as the person confesses the sin. Repeatedly, we are reminded to forgive as God has forgiven us. Jesus is even bold enough to say we must forgive if we want God to forgive us.
“When should we forgive our brother?” we might ask.
Based on traditions we might answer our own question.
“As soon as we can?”
“No,” Jesus would most certainly respond, “Now.”
Jesus is ridiculous like that.
I struggle with forgiveness. I can be chill, but every once in a while someone will dance on a nerve. Suddenly, I am struggling with frustration and bitterness. Forgiveness is a difficult process for me. Daily surrendering. Wrestling with God.
What can we do to forgive on time? Here are 4 things that make it easier.
Jonathan and I walked across campus making an effort at small talk when Watson ran up to us and started to yell.
“Why are you trying to one-up me?” He demanded his frustration papable.
Jonathan hurried away respectfully.
“What were you guys talking about?” Watson demanded as he fell into step with me.
I shrugged as I looked for an immediate opportunity to escape. Yes, I had gone on a group date with Watson the day before, but I wasn’t interested at all. I had even asked that we just remain friends going forward. In fact, I had been more interested in Jonathan for quite some time. I was offended that Watson dared to think that he owned me and could chase of other potentials.
Thus, started an icy chill between me and Watson for the rest of our years at university. Watson and I worked together tersely. I regret not simply telling Watson what was wrong. Likely, with his character, he would have repented and our friendship would have been repaired.
Jesus is proactive. If a brother is sinning against us, He counsels us to go to that person and point out how that person is sinning against us. We are also to go to a brother whom we sense has something against us and work to make things right. We are actively working to repair broken relationships before things get to a place were feelings fester and bitterness sets in.
Forgiveness is not something we can do privately in our own hearts toward someone else. Forgiveness is part of a process to rebuild relationships. Thus, repentance is always the prerequisite to forgiveness.
Dispense with bitterness
The mob rushed at Stephen rocks in hand ready to stone him.
“Lord, do not hold this sin against them,” Stephen pleads on behalf of his persecutors.
Stephen’s ultimate desire was that those wicked men could be saved. His prayer was answered. Saul, the ringleader, would soon experience a powerful conversion and become one of the mightiest warriors for the gospel.
Once we have let bitterness fester it becomes more difficult to forgive. We can stop this in the root by not allowing the plant of bitterness to grow in our hearts. We can do this by praying for our offenders and by exhibiting kindness toward them. When repentance does not come quickly, we must intercede on behalf of the offender so the gospel message can change their hearts. We must always work toward reconciliation.
The Unforgiving Servant rushed out from the king’s presence and grasped a man that owed him by the neck.
“Pay me what you owe!” he screamed.
The king had just forgiven this same unforgiving servant a debt that he could not have repaid in his wildest dreams. Yet, he hadn’t accepted the wealth of forgiveness that had been so freely handed to him.
To be able to effectively forgive we have to experience forgiveness. John reminds us that “If we confess or sins, He [God] is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). When we understand the depth of our sin and accept the unmerited favor of forgiveness, we are so overwhelmed that we want to share it with others.
The story is told of Corrie Ten Boom when she was confronted with one of the guards that presided over the camp where her dear sister, Betsie, had died. He walked up to her and she immediately recognized him.
“Miss,” he pleaded still tormented by his evil deeds, “Will you forgive me?”
A struggle began in Corrie’s heart. Memories of those horrible days in the concentration camp and losing her beloved sister rushed in. She pleaded with God for strength.
“Jesus, help me!” she prayed silently. “I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.”
In obedience, Corrie extended her hand and grasped the guard’s extended hand.
“I forgive you, brother!” she cried. “With all my heart!”
God was faithful. Corrie felt the wave of warmth and kindness toward the man who had hurt her so terribly.
Frankly, we cannot forgive. This is not something that is humanly possible. Our selfish hearts want to seek revenge. We don’t want to confront with kindness our brother so he can be saved. However, forgiveness is something we can do through Christ. When we take hold of his strength, He will give us the power to forgive and work for forgiveness right on time.
When was a time when God helped you forgive at the right time?