The Heart of the Matter...yet another title referencing a 90s song, but I can't help myself. Do you remember Don Henley's 1990 hit? What was the heart of the matter? The heart of the matter and our topic today is forgiveness. Forgiveness is something that often gets left behind in our world. Christians or not, we've allowed ourselves to believe that we have a right to grant forgiveness only when we want to do so. How wrong! God has a lot to say about forgiveness and why true, authentic forgiveness is imperative, no matter the situation. Let's look at some scripture:
"Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." ~Ephesians 4:32
"Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you." ~Colossians 3:13
The common denominator in these verses is that we are to forgive because we were forgiven by God. Sometimes it takes us a smidge too long to remember that we are not perfect. Even as believers, we all have dirt in our lives. For the sake of transparency, maybe there's a struggle with temptations or addictions in your life (sex, money, food, illicit drugs, prescription drugs, alcohol, etc.). These are burdens that we can often carry without anyone around us knowing. You may not struggle with any of those, but, at the very least, we've all said things we regret and behaved atrociously. None of us are without sin, so how can think we have a right to withhold forgiveness from anyone? The Word reminds us in Romans 3:23 that we ALL have sinned and fall short of God's glory.
But what if someone continues to do wrong? What then? Our world today lives by the "three strikes and your out" mentality and sometimes it's only one strike. It's ironic (dontcha think?) that we set impossible standards for others, but don't require ourselves to measure up to them. Regardless, we are to authentically forgive, forgive, forgive, and forgive. So, how many times do we forgive before we can rightfully refuse forgiveness?
"Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, 'Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?' Jesus answered, 'I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven. '" ~Matthew 18: 21-22
Please know that this doesn't give us justification to tally up transgressions. First Corinthians 13 tells us that authentic love keeps no record of wrongs. We established on Day 15 that we are called to authentically love everyone, no matter what. That means we can't keep a running tab of everyone else's imperfections or wrongdoings. Let's be honest here, if we can honestly keep up with 490 counts of wrongdoing against us, then there's bitterness in our hearts. That brings the problem back on us.
I know it's not always easy. Let's face it, some things are much easier to forgive than others. Even in the hardest of times, we are called to true, authentic forgiveness. Don't get me wrong here, forgiveness doesn't equal complete erasure of a wrong against you. Sometimes there are consequences of sin that are beyond our control, even when confessed and forgiven. Even so, I love this quote by author Lewis Smedes: "You will know that forgiveness has begun when you recall those who hurt you and feel the power to wish them well." That is an attitude of authentic forgiveness. That's the kind of forgiveness we should want to give and receive.
Perhaps the most important reason for forgiveness is that we cannot receive from God what we refuse to others. We simply will not be forgiven by God if we deny forgiveness to others. A life without His forgiveness and grace takes your breath away, huh?
"Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven." ~Luke 6:37
"For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." ~Matthew 6:14-15
Once again, authentic forgiveness isn't always easy and it completely goes against our "it's all about me" society, but we are called to it. We've got to let go of the imperfections and wrongdoings of others. If you're going to live authentically, you've got to be able to forgive others they way God has forgiven you. Forgive and move on. If that sounds too hard, then take it to God. Turn your struggle to forgive over to Him.