Teaching 11: When We Don't Forgive

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When We Don't Forgive

For me and many others, the teaching we are reviewing from Jesus today is quite frightening! It is a very clear teaching about what happens when we choose to live with a spirit of unforgiveness. This teaching is found in a parable in Matthew 18.

Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

At this, the servant fell on his knees before him. "Be patient with me," he begged, "and I will pay back everything." The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. "Pay back what you owe me!" he demanded. His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, "Be patient with me, and I will pay it back."

But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

Then the master called the servant in. "You wicked servant," he said, "I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?" In anger, his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.  - Matthew 18: 23-35 (NIV)

For me, this parable can be very personal and frightening! Jesus is very clear in this teaching that we are to forgive others. God has forgiven us our sins, therefore, we should forgive others of their wounds against us. God went to great lengths to offer us complete forgiveness. How can we consider holding unforgiving grudges against our brothers, sisters, and family in Christ?

Look at what happens towards the end of the parable. The master turns the unforgiving servant "over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed."

Then look at the very last part of this passage again at what Jesus specifically says about what this parable means. Jesus said, "This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart."

Ouch! This means that if we do not forgive others, then God will allow, or even cause, negative events to come into our lives! The purpose of these negative events is to cause us to learn to forgive. This parable of the unforgiving servant is a very serious spiritual teaching with serious consequences if it is not understood and followed.

There is a 16th century painting by an unknown artist that depicts a scene from the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant as if it had taken place in the 1500's. The painting captures the stubborn bitterness on the face of the unforgiving servant, as he is handed over to the jailer who may punish and even torture him. The jailer, even though he wears a nice top hat, appears, by the features on his face, to be just as stubborn and unforgiving as this unforgiving servant.

I don't know about you, but I don't want to go anywhere with this hat wearing, fancy clothed jailer! The jailer doesn't look like a forgiving person. Wait...? Does that mean the jailer also depicts a reflection of me, when I don't forgive? When I am unforgiving, do I also desire to see others "get what is coming to them?" No! I don't want to be like that! Lord, help me to forgive, every day! I want to remove the burden of unforgiveness upon my heart, and I desire genuine and complete freedom from emotional bondage that the habit of unforgiveness pressures upon our lives. I want to forgive not merely for the sake of the person who hurt me -- but I want to forgive in order to stay genuinely close with you, Lord!

Take a look at the painting here:

Then look at the last verse of this passage again. Jesus says that you must forgive from your heart. In other words, just saying "I'm sorry," or "I forgive you" may not be sufficient. God looks into our hearts, and He knows the true state of whether or not we have authentically forgiven or whether we are harboring grudges, revengeful thoughts, and other symptoms of unforgiveness.

When we do not forgive in our hearts, we invite trials, troubles, and difficult times in our lives. Some of these trials may even feel torturousThis is why it is often said, that when we forgive, we don't really do it for the other person -- we do it for ourselves, in order to free ourselves from the prison of unforgiveness!

Now, I want to insert here that forgiveness and reconciliation are not synonymous. Forgiveness is always required by God; reconciliation is not required. In fact, God recommends, as found in the Proverbs, that we do not reconcile with people who are quick to anger, nor those who actively abuse wine or other substances, nor with those who stir up dissention, nor those who lie, nor those who refuse to genuinely apologize or admit when they are wrong. If you have been wounded by someone with one or more of these characteristics, you may be relieved to know that you are required to forgive, but you are encouraged not to reconcile (Proverbs 22:24, 16:28-29, 6:16-19). This doesn't mean that you continue to harbor harsh feelings toward the person. Instead it may mean that you still care about that person and genuinely pray for an increase in their well being, but do so from a distance.

So we pray, pray, pray each and every day for the ability to forgive. We ask God to reveal to us areas of unforgiveness and judgmental attitudes that are residing in our hearts. We confess those areas every single day! And then we re-confess them when those attitudes of unforgiveness return in our hearts. See, most times, forgiveness in not immediate, it is a process of renewal in our hearts. This is especially true when we are first learning how to forgive. We may have to ask for the ability to keep forgiving the same person for the same event day after day. This parable teaches us that, when we keep our hearts pure by authentically confessing areas of unforgiveness and grudges each day, we will likely avoid many troubles in our lives -- and we may also avoid some "tortourous troubles."

In the beginning, if we are not used to praying for a forgiving heart, then we may consider keeping a list in our journals of the people we need help with forgiving. (We may want to use "code names" or "coded initials"  if we don't want anyone finding this journal and reading our list!) Praying over that list, we will ask for a forgiving heart for each person on our list. We will ask God to release the anger and bitterness inside us over whatever offense occurred.  Then we will check our list daily before prayer time. Has an unforgiving attitude returned towards a person on that list? Has someone new made their way onto our list? Then we pray for a new dose of forgiving ability. Doing this daily will become a significant link in our ability to experience and follow a close and intimate walk with the Lord.


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