Stipulations for Forgiveness

Luke 17:3-4, Colossians 3:13

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How easy is it to forgive? You know if you’re in a grocery store and somebody bumps into your elbow, it’s easy to forgive, isn’t it? When they say “Oh, sorry, excuse me.” “No problem.” “Don’t worry.” “I forgive you.” But how easy is it to forgive someone who hurts you deeply? Especially someone who hurts you repeatedly in the same way again and again and again? It’s much more difficult to forgive such a person, isn’t it?

Why is it difficult to forgive? I think part of the reason is we kind of want to be angry for a while because we feel that we’re justified in our anger because we’ve been wronged in such an incredible way. And so we want to dwell in that anger for a while. If we forgive, then we have no excuse to be angry.

Perhaps the second part of it is that we want the person to suffer. The one who offended us, we want them to squirm a little bit, to be uneasy concerning their relationship with us. And so we’re reluctant to forgive. But what is God’s Word say concerning forgiveness? In Luke Chapter 17 verses 3 and 4 Jesus says this

“If your brother sins, rebuke him. If he repents, forgive him. Even if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times returns to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” (Luke 17:3-4)

That first part that Jesus mentions in some ways that’s the easy part, isn’t it? Especially if somebody has wronged us. It’s easy to call someone out and say “Hey, you hurt me. That was wrong. That was terrible.” And how difficult it is to do the second part. When he says he’s sorry, when he repents, to actually forgive him. And note that Jesus doesn’t put any stipulation on it. He doesn’t say when your brother shows that he’s sorry by his tears, when he comes to you three times, and asked for forgiveness, then finally forgive him. Or if he comes groveling to you on his knees or makes all sorts of promises for the future, then forgive him. No, forgive him when he repents.

What if they’ve hurt you badly and they’ve hurt you repeatedly again and again and again. It’s the same thing over and over. They say they’re sorry, but they keep doing it. When I think of the husband that tells his wife that he’s gonna be home for dinner on time and if he’s not he’s going to call. Then he doesn’t call and the dinner goes cold and the wife gets so upset. He says I’m sorry, but the same thing happens again the next week and the next week. Or the friend who’s betrayed you, told your secrets that you confided to them to other people. They didn’t do it just once, but over and over again. Or the child who doesn’t do what he’s supposed to. Who keeps messing up in the same way who refuses to do what he’s supposed to do around the house. Should we really be forgiving even these? Jesus says yes. He says even if your brother sins against you seven times in a day forgive him seven times.

How in the world could somebody be so gracious and merciful to have that sort of forgiveness? Ultimately, we find the way in Colossians Chapter 3 verse 13 where Paul writes

Forgive, just as Christ forgave you. (Colossians 3:13)

The motivation for us to forgive, the reason that we can be so gracious and merciful when it comes to our forgiveness of others, even forgiving those who have repeatedly offended against us, is because of Christ. You see we were like that wicked child who continually stomped on God’s commands for us and found every way in the world to break them. Yet Christ’s love and forgiveness continues, doesn’t it? He continues to forgive all of our sins no matter how much we’ve done wrong and how bad we’ve messed up and even in the same ways. As we repent of our sins, he graciously forgives us for Jesus sake. He assures us all of those sins are taken away in Christ.

So is it easy to forgive? Well, not often. But we can be empowered to forgive because of Christ’s forgiveness, love, and mercy for us. Amen.

Let us pray.

Dear Lord, we haven’t often been merciful and gracious to others when they have offended us. Rather in our anger we have withheld forgiveness. Forgive us these and all of our sins for Jesus sake and help us to carry out the difficult task of forgiving others in our own lives, inspired by your forgiveness for us. Amen.