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饶恕的力量

作者:道格·巴契勒 牧师日期:2016-11-13 1:40:27浏览数:6470
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一个奇妙的真相:已知最苦的物质,是合成的化学制品苯甲地那铵(Bitrex),也被称为苯酸苄铵酰胺。它常被添加到有毒物质中,如防冻剂、家用清洁剂、油漆、指甲油和灭鼠剂中,以防人们误食。这种物质非常苦,就算稀释到十万分之一,绝大多数人也会立即把它吐出来。

曾听一位牧师分享过一个令人心寒的故事,发生在人们战胜狂犬病之前的很多年。有个法国人被疯狗咬伤,于是去看医生。当确定那条狗的确是疯狗时,善良的医生无奈地告诉病人,说他活不了多久了。听到这个令人痛苦的消息后,这个不幸的人向医生要了几张纸和一只笔,便坐在那里开始狂写一番。

几分钟后,医生善意地打断他,说:“如果你是在写遗嘱的话,那么还有几天的时间,可以更仔细地考虑一下自己的遗产问题。”

没想到那个患者竟然尖刻答道:“不,我没有写遗嘱,我是在列出临终前想要咬的人!”

苦毒,许多人正被它控制着。因为曾受到残酷的对待,所以希望不幸的事情会发生在那些得罪自己的人身上。有些人耿耿于怀好多年,一直被受伤的记忆折磨着。有时他们会非常地气愤,甚至会努力地去促成不幸之事发生。然而,圣经却说这是解决人生痛苦的“最坏方案”。

真正能解决因遭受他人不公对待而来的痛苦的方法,不是去报复,肆意发怒,或冥思苦想,而是饶恕。如果你希望经历在耶稣里的丰盛生命,就必须学会如何饶恕那些曾经伤害过你的人。圣经说:“因为魔鬼知道自己的时候不多,就气忿忿地下到你们那里去了”。(启12:12)撒但是充满仇恨、愤怒和复仇精神的一位,他是我们复仇思想的煽动者。

七十个七次

耶稣有关饶恕的比喻,对于我们这个时代是最重要的圣经故事之一。彼得问他的救主:“主啊,我弟兄得罪我,我当饶恕他几次呢?到七次可以吗?”(太18:21)

你或许会认为彼得的怜悯太少了。只饶恕一个人七次怎么行?我们基本上在一周内,就不得不饶恕自己的配偶七次!但在基督的时代,宗教领袖们教导说,上帝只愿意饶恕人三次。类似于棒球规则中的“三振出局”(即“三击不中,接杀出局”)——在发明棒球很久以前。

彼得知道耶稣实在是有怜悯的,因此他勇敢地把他所学到的饶恕人的次数增至双倍,甚至又额外加上了一次。然而,基督的回答不仅震惊了祂的门徒,也悲剧性地震惊了今日大多数自称为基督徒的人。“我对你说,不是到七次,乃是到七十个七次。”(第22节)

如今,大多数圣经学者都赞同耶稣并不是在设定一个字面意义上的限制。上帝不会坐在天上数算祂已经饶恕了你多少次,否则我们所有人都早已经用完了自己的配额。上帝的怜悯不会在四百九十次(70个7)恩典的配额后耗尽。只要我们愿意悔改,主必赦免。

问题是,上帝要求祂的百姓也照样而行。不要试图记录你饶恕了朋友、同事或配偶不友好的话语或行为的次数。上帝宣称——并已屡次在你我的人生中证明——上帝是“有怜悯有恩典的上帝,不轻易发怒,并有丰盛的慈爱和诚实。”(出34:6)主并不会很快地对我们失望。耶稣曾七次把鬼从马利亚身上赶出去;所罗门说:“义人虽七次跌倒,仍必兴起。”(箴24:16)路加福音又说:“若是你的弟兄得罪你…倘若他一天七次得罪你,又七次回转,说:‘我懊悔了’,你总要饶恕他。”(路17:3-4)

圣经中充满了把饶恕与“七”这个代表完全和完美的数字相连的应许。在但以理书第9章中,当先知为他的百姓祈祷时,上帝差遣一位天使宣告说,祂要给背道的犹太人额外的七十个七的恩典时期。[按照预言一日顶一年的原则(民14:34,结4:6),七十个七是实际的490年。]

无情的债主

接着,耶稣分享了一个无情债主的比喻。在这个比喻中,祂强调了两种赦免——你和上帝之间,以及你与邻舍之间。

耶稣解释道:“天国好像一个王要和他仆人算账。才算的时候,有人带了一个欠一千万银子(英文为:一万他连得)的来。”(太18:23-24)

在新约时代,他连得是最大的流通货币——约为25-35公斤重的金属。你能想象出一大堆装满银钱的袋子吗?这可是一笔巨资。的确,这是圣经中所提过的最大金额。你永远无法还清这笔巨款,用几辈子的时间也偿还不清。

很显然,王的仆人一定是得到了一张皇家信用卡,因此可以随意消费王的钱——也许是赴昂贵的商务旅行,入住豪华酒店,并与朋友在奢侈的饭店中大摆盛宴。也可能,他有酗酒或赌博的恶习,以致耗尽了宝贵的国有资金。当其债务如山时,无疑他会生活在持续的恐惧之中,虽然知道交帐的日子业已临近,但却无能为力。

正如事情通常的发展一样,审判之日最终临到了这个欠债的人。“因为他没有什么偿还之物,主人吩咐把他和他妻子儿女,并一切所有的都卖了偿还。”(第25节)在美国,倘若你被卷入了一场经济危机,那么你可以宣告破产。但在圣经时代却不同,你会被投进监狱,家人也要被卖为奴。那是一场灭顶之灾。

当这位仆人眼见自己的财产被席卷一空,且妻儿也将被拖走时,便不顾一切地双膝跪地,在王面前呼求说:“主啊,宽容我,将来我都要还清。”(第26节)当然,这个仆人是绝不可能还清的,王知道这一点。

然而,这位仁慈而善解人意的国王的心,却被那任性不羁之仆人的请求打动了。“那仆人的主人就动了慈心,把他释放了,并且免了他的债。”(第27节)何等奇妙,这位王并未制定一份还款计划,也没有与欠债的人商讨解决之法,而是直接免了他全部的债务。

上帝又是如何对待我们的罪的呢?祂会计算我们所欠的一切债务,并核算要通过几次分期付款来偿清,然后要求我们严格按着还款计划来偿还吗?绝不会!上帝满有怜悯,祂会白白地赦免我们所有的债务。正如这位王免了他仆人的巨额欠款一样。

忘恩负义的回应

故事若在此处结尾,那真是一个美好的结局。但耶稣却接着指出了最重要的一点。“那仆人出来,遇见他的一个同伴欠他十两银子,便揪着他,掐住他的喉咙,说:‘你把所欠的还我!’”(第28节)

与其刚刚体验过的怜悯相比,这个人毫无同情心的行为实在令人震惊。他并未带着一颗感恩之心离开王,而是生气地走开。并且他想起,同伴还欠他约合几个星期工资的钱。这个人为何会如此严厉地要求同伴立即偿还呢?很显然,他并未完全理解王对他的赦免。

试想一下,一万他连得与一百便士(罗马的通行货币)之间的巨大差距。6000便士才等于一他连得。我们欠上帝的债,有如地球到太阳的距离——9300万英里之遥。相比之下,别人欠我们的债,最多只有几码(1码约等于0.91米)。主说,祂愿意赦免我们从地球到太阳的遥远距离,然而,我们却很难饶恕彼此间那极少的12英寸!耶稣之所以对比这两种相差悬殊的债务,是要向我们显明上帝赦免我们有多少,而相比之下,我们又愿意饶恕他人多少。

我时常会遇到一些不肯再去教会的人。当我询问他们:“为什么不再愿去教会”时,许多人便会对我讲述他们在教中的种种遭遇,以及牧师或教友对他们是何等得不友善。他们认为,如果自己不再去教会,就会在某种程度上报复到另一方。但是,离开上帝的家又能带给教会中人以怎样的教训?这实在是没有道理,且正是魔鬼想让我们做的。

永不要因离开教会而陷入魔鬼的圈套。拥有饱满籽粒的麦子中,总会混入有害的杂草,甚至在耶稣所建立的教会中,也有一个犹大。因此,不要因为教会中有硬着颈项的人,而让撒但把你吓走。事实上,那些伤害他人的人,通常也会伤害自己。倘若我们能从其过往的生活中看到他们的痛苦,或许就会对他们产生同情之心。当我们知道他人心中发生了什么时,便会更易于饶恕。

耶稣继续说:“他的同伴就俯伏央求他说:‘宽容我吧!将来我必还清。’”(第29节)请注意:这个欠了很少债务的人与那个欠下巨额债务的人对债主发出了相同的请求。“他不肯,竟去把他下在监里,等他还了所欠的债。”(第30节)

在你指责此人太过无情之前,请先停下来想一想,耶稣或许正在对你的心灵说话。你是否也曾不愿饶恕人?在你今日的生活中,是否仍有这种情况?我们每个人都欠了债,因耶稣甘愿替我们受苦——祂受鞭打,被吐吐沫,被朋友否认,且被钉在十字架上。看看挂在那里的救主,再听一听祂对你说的话——“我赦免了你。”

此刻,你又怎能说:“但是主啊,我就是无法饶恕那个在教会中传我闲话或接管我教会职位的人”呢?如果是这样,你的基督徒经验又在哪里呢?

虽然困难却是必须

作为牧师,我曾听过有些人在孩童时被未悔改的家人虐待的可怕故事。他们应该饶恕这些邪恶的罪犯吗?这是一个极其困难却又合理的问题。

请允许我來阐明——饶恕并不意味着让罪犯逃脱其恶行的责任,有些人需要按照当地的法律而对其行为负责。饶恕也不意味着允许别人长久地把我们当作生理或心理上的出气筒。

饶恕乃是放下苦毒与怨恨。饶恕是选择释放怨恨,把那个人交在上帝手中,并甘愿为你的仇敌祷告。

当你拒绝饶恕伤害你的人时,你正是在允许他们继续伤害你。你会继续成为那得罪你之事的奴隶。耶稣说,要爱你的邻舍与仇敌。有时,伤害我们最深的人,正是离我们最近的人。杀害亚伯的,是亚伯的哥哥该隐;大卫的儿子企图谋杀他;作为上帝的儿女,我们也时常背离祂。因此,永不应忘记:“惟有基督在我们还作罪人的时候为我们死,上帝的爱就在此向我们显明了。”(罗5:8)

让我们面对它——甚至在你饶恕某人之后,或许仍无法忘却所发生的一切。然而马丁路德说:“你不能阻止鸟从你头顶飞过,但你却能阻止它在你头上搭窝。”当你禁不住要反复思想得罪你的人,并再次体验那种痛苦的感受时,要试图为其祷告。起初或许会很难,但你要谨记:除非一个人悔改了,否则他“行事像个自私鬼”是完全正常的。因此,要为那个人的悔改而献上祷告!

怨恨的结果

当我们放任不饶恕人的心时,会发生什么事呢?耶稣在继续这个比喻时,为我们深入地探究了其结果:“众同伴看见他所做的事就甚忧愁,去把这事都告诉了主人。于是,主人叫了他来,对他说:‘你这恶奴才!你央求我,我就把你所欠的都免了。你不应当怜恤你的同伴,像我怜恤你吗?’”(太18:31-33)

当我们接受基督的赦免时,心就会被软化。我们就会变得同情他人,甚至会同情那些深深地得罪过我们的人。使徒保罗教导说:“并要以恩慈相待,存怜悯的心,彼此饶恕,正如上帝在基督里饶恕了你们一样。”(弗4:32)应当慷慨地饶恕人,正如主慷慨地饶恕了我们。

耶稣在主祷文中强调了这个模式:“免我们的债,如同我们免了人的债。”(太6:12)基督将对这个重要祷告的唯一评论,放在了饶恕的行为上。祂解释说:“你们饶恕人的过犯,你们的天父也必饶恕你们的过犯;你们不饶恕人的过犯,你们的天父也必不饶恕你们的过犯。”(第14-15节)

一位年迈执拗的将军,曾对伟大的基督教传道士约翰·卫斯理说:“我绝不饶恕,也永不忘记。”卫斯理回答说:“那么你正在焚毁自己必须经过的桥。”

一颗不肯饶恕人的心,会带来严重的后果。在王责备了他的仆人后,经上说:“主人就大怒,把他交给掌刑的,等他还清了所欠的债。”(太18:34)在此,基督为我们总结了一个发人深省的观点:“你们各人若不从心里饶恕你的弟兄,我天父也要这样待你们了。”(第35节)饶恕他人不是选择,而是命令。但是基督徒不应视饶恕人为一种职责,遵守律法也是一样。要知道:当你做这两件事是你因里面基督之爱的自然流露时,你就悔改了。饶恕,开启了极大祝福的天国之门。

圣灵是在何时大大地沛降于早期教会之中的?门徒曾争论他们中间谁为大,谁会在天国中坐在耶稣的旁边。然而,当他们看见他们的救主死在十字架上时,才意识到原来他们在离弃祂的罪上都是有份的。

基督升天之后,他们聚集在马可楼上祈祷。痛哭流涕,彼此认罪,互相饶恕。于是圣灵就降在他们身上,正如他们同心合意地聚在一处一样。当上帝的子民悔改并彼此饶恕时,末世的教会也必得到晚雨圣灵。

从心发出

需要注意的是:这个比喻并不是在教导我们说,上帝只有在我们彼此饶恕之后才会赦免我们。正相反,主乃是先赦免了我们。事实上,除非基督先赦免你,否则你里面是没有力量饶恕他人的。这个比喻告诉我们,王先赦免了他的仆人——他亲自树立了一个榜样让他的子民去效法——然后,他希望他的仆人也能如此行。

遗憾的是,这位忘恩负义的仆人,并没有饶恕的精神。他没有让王的慈心改变他的心。当这位仆人没有照样饶恕别人时,他所欠的债务就又回到了他的账上。

当基督赦免我们时,我们也必须以同样的精神行事。然而,饶恕并非一项法律上的交易,那个向耶稣提问的彼得的想法太过机械,他企图遵守律法的字句,却完全不顾上帝要我们从心里去顺服的愿望。只有在我们主动去爱、去饶恕我们的仇敌时,才会向他人彰显出上帝最美的特质。

耶稣的脸

著名的意大利画家列奥纳多·达·芬奇,曾受托为意大利米兰修道院的餐厅画一幅壁画。其成果便是“最后的晚餐”——全世界最受瞩目且挚爱的艺术品之一。它描绘了耶稣与其门徒坐在餐桌旁,并指出在他们中有一个人会出卖祂的场景。

达·芬奇作画期间,与另一位著名的意大利人画家米开朗基罗发生了争执。传记作家瓦萨里写到:他们曾“非常不喜欢彼此。”二人都嫉妒对方的作品,并常在公众面前互相发表诋毁性的言论。

据说当达·芬奇在画最后的晚餐中犹大的脸时,他想出了一个很阴险的主意,就是要用他对手米开朗基罗的脸来做叛徒犹大的脸。他认为这是一个绝佳的方式,来铭刻他对仇敌的感受。当前来看他作画的人意识到米开朗基罗的脸对应的就是犹大时,他们便倒吸一口气。而达·芬奇却感受到些许暂时的胜利。

接下来,到了其伟大艺术品的最后一步——画耶稣的脸。当他设法捕捉基督的形像时,他要画基督的脸,却总因感到不满意而擦掉。在接下来的几周里,他画了一遍又一遍。他已经画完了耶稣的身体,然而就是无法画出祂的正脸——那个无限仁慈又良善的面容。

绝望之下,达·芬奇做了一个祷告,他祈求上帝能够让他画出表现基督的仁爱与慈怜的面容。“主啊,求你帮助我看到你的面容。”他恳求上帝。

最后,有一个声音对他的心灵说:“除非你能换掉犹大的脸,否则你就无法看到耶稣的脸。”达·芬奇被征服了。他想到耶稣在十字架上祈求天父赦免那些钉祂的人,并想到自己是如何因一点点的侮辱而生气的。于是,他擦掉了米开朗基罗的脸,并画上了我们今日所看到的犹大的形像。只有在达·芬奇放下他对米开朗基罗的苦毒,并除掉心中的怒气时,他才能清楚地画出基督的形像。

有些人因拒绝饶恕他的仇敌,而无法看到耶稣的面容。我们是那么坚决地要报复他人,以致所能看到的尽是他人如何的错待了自己,如何伤害了自己。这样,我们便是那忘恩负义的仆人,我们无情地要求那欠我们债的人全部还清。但正是这颗复仇的心,使我们无法完全看到基督,并得到祂的赦免。

在你的生活中,是否需要擦去某个仇敌的脸呢?你需要写一封信、打一个电话或与伤害你的人聊聊天吗?是该放下的时候了,说“我赦免你”的时刻已经来到——它或许始于你祈求上帝的赦免之时。总之,当你免了某人的债时,你就必看到仁慈之君的面容。

英文字体:【

英文:

The Power of Forgiveness

by Pastor Doug Batchelor

An Amazing Fact: The most bitter-tasting substance known is the synthetic chemical denatonium, sometimes known as Bitrex. It is added to toxic substances, such as antifreeze, household cleaners, paints, nail polish, and rat poison, to prevent accidental swallowing. It is so bitter that even when diluted to 10 parts per million, most people will instantly spit it out.

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I once heard a pastor share a chilling illustration about a man in France who was bitten by a rabid dog. This was years before a treatment had been discovered for rabies. When it was determined the dog was indeed rabid, a kind doctor told the man he had only a short time to live. Upon hearing this distressing news, the unfortunate man asked the doctor for some paper and a pencil and then commenced writing furiously.

After a few minutes, the doctor interrupted. “If you are writing out your will, you have time. Think carefully about your estate; you still have a few days.”

The patient replied sharply, “I’m not making out my will. I am making a list of all the people I’m going to bite before I die!”

Bitterness. Some people are controlled by it. They have been treated cruelly and wish bad things would happen to their offenders. Some brood for years, tormented by memories of the wounds they received. Sometimes they are so angry that they make sure something bad does happen. But the Bible says that this is the very worst possible “solution” to resolve the hurt in our lives.

The real solution to dealing with injustice from others is not vengeance, unchecked anger, or bitter brooding. It’s forgiveness. If you want to experience an abundant life in Jesus, you must learn how to forgive those who have hurt you. The Bible says, “The devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time” (Revelation 12:12). Satan is the rancorous, angry, and vengeful one—and he is the instigator of our thoughts of revenge.

Seventy Times Seven

Jesus’ parable about forgiveness is one of the most essential Bible stories for our time. Peter asked his Savior, “How often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” (Matthew 18:21).

You might think Peter was a bit stingy with his mercy. Forgive someone only seven times? We often have to forgive our spouses that much in a single week! But in the time of Christ, religious leaders taught that God was willing to forgive you only three times. It was “three strikes and you’re out”—long before baseball was invented.

Peter, knowing Jesus was indeed merciful, bravely doubled the number of times he had been taught to forgive someone and even added one for good measure. But Christ’s response shocked not only His disciple, but—tragically—shocks most professed Christians today. “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven” (verse 22, emphasis added).

Now, most Bible scholars agree that Jesus wasn’t setting a literal limit. God isn’t sitting up in heaven checking off the number of times He has forgiven you; otherwise, all of us would have already exhausted our quota. God’s mercy doesn’t run out at 490 allotments of grace. As long as we are willing to repent, the Lord will forgive.

The issue is that God asks the same of His people. Don’t keep track of how many times you’ve forgiven your friend, co-worker, or spouse for his or her unkind words or actions. God claims—and has proven time and again in your life and mine—that He is “merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth” (Exodus 34:6). The Lord does not quickly give up on us. Seven times Jesus cast devils out of Mary. Solomon said, “A righteous man may fall seven times and rise again” (Proverbs 24:16). The Gospel of Luke adds, “If your brother sins against you … seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him” (Luke 17:3, 4).

The Bible is full of promises that connect forgiveness with the number seven—a number representing completeness and perfection. In Daniel chapter 9, when the prophet prayed for his people, God sent an angel to declare that seventy weeks (70 times 7 for 490 literal years) of additional mercy would be extended to the wayward Jewish people.

The Unmerciful Debtor

Jesus next shared the parable of the unmerciful debtor, in which He addressed two kinds of forgiveness—between yourself and God, and between yourself and your neighbor.

Jesus explained, “The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents” (Matthew 18:23, 24).

A talent was the largest currency in New Testament times, anywhere between 56 and 75 pounds of metal. Can you picture a giant heaping pile of bags of silver? It was a ridiculously large sum. Indeed, it is the largest sum of money mentioned in Scripture. You could never pay back this kind of debt, not even over many lifetimes.

The king’s servant must have had a royal credit card and, evidently, had been freely spending the king’s money—perhaps going on expensive business trips, staying in luxurious hotels, and feasting lavishly with friends at posh restaurants. He might have even had a drinking or gambling habit that drained precious government resources. As he amassed this mountain of debt, surely he lived in constant fear, knowing that a day of reckoning was coming. But he could not help himself.

As it always does, judgment day finally caught up to this debtor. “As he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made” (verse 25). In America, if you get into a financial crisis, you can declare bankruptcy. In Bible times; you were thrown into prison and your family could be sold into slavery. It was an unmitigated disaster.

When the servant saw all his possessions being carried from his house and his wife and children being hauled away, in desperation he fell on his knees before the king and cried out, “Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all” (verse 26). Of course, the servant could never repay his master, and the king knew it.

Yet the heart of the compassionate and understanding king was touched by his wayward servant’s pleading. “The master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt” (verse 27). Amazing! The king didn’t set up a payment plan or negotiate a settlement with this debtor. He simply forgave it all.

How does God deal with our sins? Does He calculate our balance due, divide it into a certain number of installments, and then enroll us in a payment plan? Not at all! God has compassion and freely forgives all, just as the king forgave his servant this enormous debt.

An Ungrateful Response

Now, this would be a nice place to end the story, but Jesus went on to make His most important point. “But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’ ” (verse 28).

This man’s heavy-handed actions are shocking in light of the mercy he had just experienced. He didn’t leave the presence of the king with appreciation; he walked away mad. He convinced himself that his buddy still owed him what amounted to a few weeks’ wages. Why was he so harsh, demanding that he be paid back immediately? Evidently, his own forgiveness from the king did not sink in.

Think about the vast difference between 10,000 talents and 100 denarii. It took 6,000 denarii to equal one talent. It’s as if our debt to God is like the distance from the earth to the sun, a 93-million-mile divide. By comparison, the debts others owe us are at most a few yards. The Lord said that He is willing to forgive us the vast distance between the earth and sun, yet we struggle to forgive each other a measly 12 inches! Jesus contrasted these absurdly differing amounts of money to show how much God has forgiven us in comparison with how little we’re sometimes willing to forgive each other.

I often meet people who have quit attending church. I ask them, “Why don’t you go anymore?” Many tell me stories of how they were treated poorly or how a church member or pastor was unkind to them. They feel that if they stop going to church, they will somehow get even with the other party. But how does moving away from God’s house teach anyone a lesson? It just doesn’t make sense, and it is exactly what the devil wants us to do.

Don’t ever fall into the devil’s trap by withdrawing from the church. There will always be noxious weeds mixed in with the good grain. Even Jesus had a Judas in His church, so don’t let Satan scare you away because of stiff-necked people. Indeed, those who wound others have often been wounded themselves. If we could see the pains from their pasts, we might have more empathy toward them. It is easier to forgive others when we know what is going on in their hearts.

Jesus continued. “So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all’ ” (verse 29). Notice that the servant who owed a much smaller amount gave the exact plea as the servant who owed a much larger amount. “And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt” (verse 30).

Pause before you point an accusing finger at this man’s cold-hearted response; consider that Jesus might be speaking about you. Have you ever been unwilling to forgive others? Is that happening in your life right now? Each one of us has a debt that Jesus willingly suffered to take off our plate—He was beaten, spit upon, denied by His friends, and nailed to a cross. Look at your Savior hanging there. Listen as He tells you, “I forgive you.”

How can you then say, “But Lord, I just cannot forgive that person at church who gossiped about me or took over my church office”? What does that say about your Christian experience?

Difficult but Necessary

As a pastor, I have heard terrible stories of people who were abused as children for years by unrepentant family members. Should they forgive these evil perpetrators? This is a very difficult—and fair—question.

Let me clarify—forgiveness does not mean we let offenders off the hook for their bad behavior. Some people need to be held accountable for their actions by the laws of the land. Nor does forgiveness mean we let people constantly use us as a physical or emotional punching bag.

Rather, forgiveness is giving up bitterness and resentment. It is choosing to release malice, putting the other person into God’s hands, and being willing to pray for your enemy.

When you refuse to forgive others who have hurt you, you are giving them permission to keep hurting you. You continue to be a slave to their offense. Jesus told us to love our neighbors and our enemies. Sometimes the people who hurt us most deeply are those closest to us. It was Abel’s own brother, Cain, who slew him. David’s son tried to murder him. As children of God, we have turned our backs on Him repeatedly. We should never forget that “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8, emphasis added).

Let’s face it—even after you forgive somebody you might not be able to forget what happened. But Martin Luther said, “You can’t keep the birds from flying over your head but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.” When you are tempted to ruminate on some individual who offended you and relive the feelings, try praying for him. It might be hard at first, but remember, until a person is converted, it is perfectly normal for him to act like a selfish devil. Pray for the person’s conversion!

Results of Resentment

What happens when we indulge an unforgiving heart toward others? Jesus delved into this consequence as He went on with His parable. “When his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ ” (Matthew 18:31–33).

When we receive Christ’s forgiveness, it softens our hearts. We will have compassion on others, even toward those who have offended us. The apostle Paul taught, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). We should generously forgive just as the Lord has generously forgiven us.

Jesus emphasized this pattern in the Lord’s Prayer. “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). Christ’s only commentary on this important prayer addressed the act of forgiveness. He explained, “If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (verses 14, 15).

An old, crusty general once told great Christian preacher John Wesley, “I never forgive, and I never forget.” Wesley responded, “Then you are burning the bridge over which you must pass.”

An unforgiving heart brings serious consequences. After the king rebuked his servant, the Bible says, “His master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him” (Matthew 18:34). Christ’s sobering point concludes, “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses” (verse 35). Forgiving others is not optional; it is mandatory. But for a Christian, forgiving others shouldn’t feel like an obligation, no more than keeping the law should feel like an obligation; you will know you are converted when you do both as a natural outflowing of Christ’s love in you. Forgiveness opens heaven’s doors to great blessings.

When was the Holy Spirit poured out in great measure on the early church? The disciples had bickered about which of them would be greatest and who would sit next to Jesus in the kingdom. But when they saw their Savior dying on the cross, they realized that they were all guilty of forsaking Him.

After Christ ascended to heaven, they gathered in an upper room and prayed. There were many tears and apologies. They forgave one another. Then the Holy Spirit came upon them. Just as they came together in one accord, so will the church in the final days receive the latter rain when God’s people repent and forgive one another.

From the Heart

To be clear, Jesus’ parable does not teach that God forgives us after we forgive each other. Quite the contrary, the Lord forgives us first. Indeed, you have no power within yourself to forgive others except as Christ has first forgiven you. The parable tells that the king first forgave his servant—he set the example he wished his people would follow—and then expected his servant to go and do likewise.

But the ungrateful servant did not have a forgiving spirit. He did not allow the compassion of the king to change his heart. When the servant wouldn’t forgive in turn, all that he owed was put back onto his account.

When Christ forgives us, we must walk in that same spirit. Yet forgiveness isn’t simply a legal transaction. Peter thought of it in a mechanical way, attempting to follow the letter of the law and completely overlooking God’s desire that we obey from the heart. When it is our motive to love and even forgive our enemies, only then will we reveal to others the most beautiful attributes of God.

The Face of Jesus

The famous Italian artist Leonardo da Vinci was commissioned to paint a mural on a monastery dining hall in Milan, Italy. The result was The Last Supper, one of the most recognized and beloved works of art in the world. It depicts Jesus sitting with His disciples at a feast table just after He told them that one of them would betray Him.

During the time da Vinci was working on the piece, he got into an argument with another famous Italian—Michelangelo. The biographer Vasari wrote that they had “an intense dislike for each other.” The two were jealous of each other’s work and often made disparaging comments about one another in public.

Legend has it that when the time came for Leonardo to paint the face of Judas in The Last Supper, he got the sinister idea of using the face of his rival, Michelangelo, to be the face of the betrayer. He felt it was a great way to immortalize how he felt about his enemy. People came by as he worked and gasped when they recognized the face of Michelangelo as Judas. Leonardo felt some temporary vindication.

But then came the last step in his grand artwork—painting the face of Jesus. As he tried to capture the image of Christ, he would paint His countenance but would feel dissatisfied and wipe it away. For the next few weeks, he did this over and over again. He had Jesus’ body completed, but he couldn’t create the right face—that magnificent countenance of mercy and kindness.

In desperation Leonardo prayed that he could paint the face that would express the love and compassion of Christ. “Lord, help me to see Your face,” he pleaded with God.

Finally, a voice spoke to his heart, saying, “You will never see the face of Jesus until you change the face of Judas.” Leonardo was convicted. He thought about Jesus on the cross praying for the forgiveness of those who crucified Him, and about how offended he himself had been by petty insults. He erased Michelangelo’s face and painted the image we see today. Only when Leonardo let go of his bitterness toward Michelangelo and removed the offense could he clearly paint the image of Christ.

Some of us cannot see the face of Jesus because we refuse to forgive our enemies. We are so determined to pay people back that all we can see is what they have done wrong. We are the ungrateful servant, demanding our debtors pay up in full, yet our vengeful hearts keep us from fully seeing Christ and receiving His forgiveness.

Do you need to erase the face of an enemy in your life? Do you need to write a letter, make a phone call, or talk with someone who has wounded you? It is time to let it go. The moment has come to say, “I forgive you.” Perhaps it begins by you asking forgiveness. Either way, when you strike out the person’s debt, you will see the face of your compassionate King.