Persistent Forgiveness

How many times should we forgive a person? Jesus answers the question with an idiom pointing to limitless, persistent forgiveness.

“Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he 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, NKJV)

Suppose you have a horse that you love. On the piece of land where your horse grazes, there is a deep ditch. You come to groom your horse, and you find that it has fallen in the ditch. So, through difficult work and help from others, you finally help the horse get free. You care for it and make sure that it’s not hurt too badly and then you go home. The next morning, you return to check on the horse, and it’s stumbled back into the ditch. Rather than shooting the horse, you work to help it out of its prison again. As often as the horse falls into the ditch, you are ready to help it out until it learns better.

Thankfully, God is persistent in His forgiveness. His enduring love compels Him to offer forgiveness to us through Jesus, even when we are persistent in our sin against Him. The point Jesus is making here is that we who have received such persistent forgiveness should be persistent forgiveness to others. So often, people are looking for reasons not to forgive. Jesus makes the point here that His followers are persistent to forgive.

1. We must be ready to forgive.

When someone sins against us, Jesus tells us to rebuke them. Dr. I. Howard Marshall [The Gospel of Luke, p. 642] notes that the Greek verb for “rebuke” (epitimaō) can mean to “censure” or to “warn in order to prevent an action or bring one to an end.” It does us no good to hold a grudge or to caress and nurse the offense that someone has done to us. If we’re sinned against, we should confront. Yet, the bulk of the responsibility is upon our readiness to forgive when repentance follows our rebuke. The repetition of the sin doesn’t disqualify the need for us to forgive them.

2. Remember how many times God has forgiven you.

We are not usually equipped to measure the sincerity of someone’s repentance. One would think that the continual cycle of rebuke and repentance belies a lack of repentance. Jesus, however, calls us to forgive even when the cycle continues limitlessly. Just as we wouldn’t shoot the horse we love because it keeps falling in a ditch, we should forgive others.

So, we come back to the point of Christ’s love for us. He has forgiven us greatly, and He is faithful to forgive us persistently (1 John 1:9). As His followers, we must exhibit that same commitment and persistence in our relationships with others. We must forgive others, even as God in Christ has forgiven us.

Stop. Take a breath. And pray:

“God, as I submit to Your Spirit, remind me today how You have forgiven me so often so that I might have Your heart of forgiveness for those who sin against me?”


Forgive the Debt

Imagine how wonderful it would be if a kind benefactor to whom you owed a substantial amount of money forgave the debt you owed. That’s what God has done for us through Jesus. He has forgiven the eternally weighty debt of sin that we owed. Now, as one who has been forgiven so much, God calls us to forgive the debt of sin that others owe us.

“Then Peter came up and said to Him, ‘Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’” (Matthew 18:21, ESV)

Through the glorious work of Jesus on the cross, there is forgiveness available to all who receive Him and believe on His name. Now, He teaches us how that His humility and forgiveness calls us to forgive others.

1. Sin is a debt that is owed.

When someone sins against us, there is a debt that is owed. Jesus tells us to approach them in private, so that the relationship has a chance at reconciliation. If there is no restoration from the private meeting, then we should go with two witnesses to arbitrate the dispute. If there is still no restoration, then the church body should be involved. If the individual remains recalcitrant, then the church should consider this individual unredeemed.

There are a couple of important thoughts here. First, this isn’t a spiritual permission slip to punish someone who has hurt us. The goal is to reconcile, not to punish.

Second, this isn’t a spiritual permission slip to take all our personal hurt feelings and lay them at the feet of those who have hurt our feelings. If it doesn’t rise to the level of “sin against us,” then our response is simply to forgive them.

“If you have anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.” (Mark 11:25, NKJV)

If we need to talk to them to get to the place of reconciliation, then certainly do so, but Matthew 18:15 applies to sin against us, not hurt feelings.

2. Forgive the debt owed.

When Peter heard the teaching about forgiveness, he asks Jesus how often he should forgive someone who wrongs him. It is a clear question that many of us have asked. In response, Jesus told the story of a master who was owed a large debt by an individual. When the debtor begged for mercy, the master forgave him the debt. The response of the forgiven debtor, however, was somewhat surprising. He went to a man who owed him money and demanded payment. The forgiven debtor would not forgive. When the master heard the news, he was incensed.

“So also My heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:35, ESV)

The picture of forgiveness (aphiēmi) in this passage is to release someone from the debt that is owed. As those who have been forgiven the debt of our sin, God demands that we forgive the debt that others owe us. God has forgiven the greatest of debts, and we should follow His pattern of forgiveness when others have offended us.

We need a life marked by grace toward others. We aren’t supposed to be fault-finders, but we are grace-givers to others. It is this mark of grace in our forgiving others that shines God’s glory in our relationships.

Stop. Take a breath. And pray:

“God, as I submit to Your Spirit, awaken my heart to forgive those who have sinned against me?”

God’s Heart for Others

When I was a teenager, I played golf pretty regularly with a couple of friends. Two great parts of our game was the “mulligan” and the “gimme.” Most will know what they are. A “mulligan” is getting a free hit on the tee, and a “gimme” is getting a free putt into the hole from a reasonable distance. My friends didn’t have to give either to me, but they would because they wanted to make sure that I would give them a “mulligan” or “gimme” when they needed it. Although it was purely selfish on our part (to receive the same benefit when needed), the “mulligan” and the “gimme” were acts of kindness, compassion, and forgiveness.

“And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32, NKJV)

God offers kindness, compassion, and forgiveness to sinners. God expresses His heart for those near and far from Him with these transforming characteristics. If you are a follower of Jesus, you can describe each experience of God’s heartfelt work in your life. And He expects those of us who have experienced God’s kindness, compassion, and forgiveness to show those same characteristics in our relationships. God expects us to do more than what is normal or natural. He has equipped us with His presence to shape our life and relate to others in a powerful way that is more than the norm.

As a new creation in Jesus Christ, we now have a new way of life, supernaturally powered by the Spirit of God. God has poured out His love into our hearts so that we live in a state of contentment as His children. As God’s people, we have been sealed by the Spirit so that we become more and more like Jesus. The Spirit of God leads us so that we reflect God’s character in our relationships.

1. Immerse others in kindness.

One characteristic of God that the Spirit ignites in the soul of His people is kindness (krēstos). Kindness is the grace God gives us to be helpful, to bless, and to demonstrate love to another. Someone once wrote:

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

People around us are struggling and when we respond to them with active kindness, it can make an eternal difference in their lives. Kindness doesn’t come naturally to us. It is something that the Spirit produces in us toward others.

2. Nourish others with compassion.

The Spirit ignites compassion in our hearts for others (eusplagchnos). As followers of Jesus, we deal with one another from a heart of love that feels deeply and personally what the other is going through. We need the Spirit to awaken sympathy in our hearts toward others. Compassion is more than feeling sympathy for someone. It is feeling sympathy that moves us toward another, so that we join them on their journey.

3. Fuel your relationships with forgiveness.

When faced with hurtful words and hateful actions, we must respond to others the way God has responded to us. We must forgive (charizomai). The verb here is formed from the noun for “grace.” It is the act of extending grace with another person. Rather than holding onto resentment, we must extend grace. Rather than boiling in a settled wrath, we should extend grace. Rather than clanging complaints and abusive speech, we should have our words covered in grace. The model of our forgiveness is God’s forgiveness of us as sinners. This is the forgiveness He brought to us through Jesus Christ.

Forgiving those who wound us is challenging to say the least. Our natural response is to focus on the hurt that another has caused us. The supernatural response is to focus on God’s grace to us. Forgiveness toward others then flows from the life-shaping knowledge of how God has first forgiven us. To forgive is not the same as fixing the situation completely. There’s a difference between the two. When we pave our relationship with forgiveness, the other person may not walk down the road to reconciliation. But it remains our job to forgive.

Our relationships need to be more than natural. Rather than the normal way of doing relationships where they “punch” at us and we “counter-punch” in the same way, we need to relate to people supernaturally empowered by the Holy Spirit. We need to be kind, compassionate, and forgiving.

Stop. Take a breath. And pray:

“God, as I submit to Your Spirit, will You empower me to be kind, compassionate, and forgiving to others?”


Faithfulness, Gentleness, Self-Control

None of us want chaotic, confused, and futureless relationships. We want relationships that are filled with vitality, but we have a power problem. Our toxic emotions seem to have great strength, and we can feel powerless against them. Yet, God has given us the power we need in the Holy Spirit. God has given us His powerful presence to give us victorious strength, but we must conform our walk to the way of the Spirit.

“And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” (Galatians 5:24-26, NKJV)

As followers of Jesus who have killed the power of the old life through faith in Jesus, we live in the Spirit. To “walk in the Spirit” means that we conform to the ways of the Spirit. We submit our life, including our emotions, to the Spirit’s design of new life in us. God is working His power in us right now by His Spirit for His good pleasure.

As we allow the Spirit to transform our emotions, His fruit produces specific fruit that bring health and clarity in our relationships. He produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and generosity. The final three pieces of the Spirit’s fruit show the blessings that the Spirit’s power works in our relationships as He transforms our emotions.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23, NKJV)

1. Faithfulness

When the Spirit transforms our emotions, faithfulness characterizes our relationships. “Faithfulness” (pistis) is being dependable. Springing from the love we experience from God, we yearn to be faithful to God in every aspect of our life, including relationships. Because God is faithful to us, we are trustworthy and dependable in our relationship with Him and others.

2. Gentleness

When the Spirit transforms our emotions, gentleness characterizes our relationships. “Gentleness” (prautēs) is the obedient submission to God’s will and the tender acts of love and grace when considering the feelings of others. Because of God’s love poured in our hearts by the Spirit, we demonstrate tenderness toward others.

3. Self-Control

When the Spirit transforms our emotions, self-control characterizes our relationships. “Self-Control” (engkrateia) is the discipline to refrain from a path that is purely self-serving. For the sake of demonstrating the character of Christ, we seek what is beneficial to others, not merely ourselves.

Stop. Take a breath. And pray:

“God, as I submit to Your Spirit, will You transform my emotions so that they produce the fruit of the Spirit in my relationships.”


Patience, Kindness, Generosity

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23, NKJV)

When we first meet Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, he is an impatient, resentful, and miserly man. The fruit of his emotions built a wall around his heart so that he had no healthy, satisfying relationships. But then he was visited by visions of the past, present, and future which transformed his way of feeling and living. His new emotions set him on a trajectory toward life-giving relationships.

More than mythic tales of transformation, God is at work in the hearts of followers of Jesus to transform our emotions. This transformation becomes real-life experiences as we surrender to the Holy Spirit and His fruit fills our hearts with heavenly emotions. If you have a hard time believing it, just remember what God is doing in you right now by the power of the Spirit.

“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13, NKJV)

The Spirit gives us strength as we experience hope. The more we submit to the Spirit, the more we trust Him. The more we trust God, the more we experience the confident expectation that He will lead us to the best. The more we hope in Him, the more we experience love, joy, and peace. The more we feel love, joy, and peace, the more our other emotions reflect a life satisfied in Jesus.

1. Patience.

The term, makrothumia, is patience, steadfastness, and endurance. It is a state of emotional strength and calm in the face of misfortune. When the Spirit’s fruit infects our emotions, we will have patience, enduring personal grief and pain for the sake of a better relationship.

2. Kindness.

The Spirit ignites kindness (chrēstotēs) in the soul of His people. Kindness is an emotional response of love to the needs of another. God displayed His kindness, His loyal love, toward us through His patience with us in our sin and kindness in sending Jesus to die for sinners that we might have life through faith in Him. When we stay close to the heart of God through a constant yielding to the Spirit, His kindness saturates our emotions so that we feel kindness toward others.

3. Generosity.

The Spirit leads us to acts of goodness (agathōsynē) toward others. This is a feeling of generosity toward another. We know that it is easy to become infected with feelings of resentment, but God has given us His Spirit who gives us a new heart.

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.” (Ezekiel 36:26-27, NKJV)

As we surrender ourselves to the Spirit, the emotions of resentment are transformed to generosity. No longer do we have to be infected with the spirit of Ebenezer Scrooge. Through this exquisite submission, the Spirit fills our heart with heavenly emotional responses. He transforms impatience to patience, complaint to kindness, and resentment to generosity.

So, today, do the hard work of submitting to the Spirit so that your emotions are transformed from toxic to healthy.

Stop. Take a breath. And pray:

“God, as I submit to Your Spirit, will You transform my emotions so that they produce the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity) in my relationships.”


Love, Joy, Peace

Emotions bear fruit in our relationships. If our emotions are toxic, then we will grow toxic fruit with others. But if our emotions are healthy, then we will grow healthy fruit.

But how do we minimize the toxic and maximize the healthy emotions that we need? There are fantastic Christian counselors who provide wonderful insight and give us powerful tools to understand more fully the “how” and “why” of our emotions. I encourage everyone to spend some time talking to these Christian professionals so that we get a handle on our emotions (Call First Norfolk for recommendations).

We also have a constant Counselor with us who guides us through our emotional journey: the Holy Spirit. When followers of Jesus allow the Spirit to set the trajectory of their lives, their emotions will flow toward health.

“I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.” (Galatians 5:16, NKJV)

The most powerful way to have victorious, satisfied relationships is to submit continuously to the Spirit. He leads and we follow. “Walk in the Spirit” is a continuous action by which we constantly, moment by moment, live intimately in-tune with God through the Spirit. We stop, take a breath, and pray. The Spirit listens, gives leadership, and loves us so that our emotions bear the fruit of the Spirit in our relationships.

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace…” (Galatians 5:22, NKJV)

1. Love.

The fruit of the Spirit is love (agape). The source from which all the other ingredients of the fruit flow is the love of God poured into our hearts and expressed in our relationships with others by the Spirit who dwells within us. This love is the love of God unveiled in the giving of Jesus for sinners (1 John 4:9). As we persistently yield to the Spirit, the Spirit ignites God’s love in our heart. He warms our soul with a love that satisfies us completely so that we can.

2. Joy.

Joy (chara) flows from the love of God poured in our heart, and through this love we become ambassadors of this joy with others. This joy is not a mood, like being happy or “not sad.” It is the state of the soul satisfied in fellowship with God regardless the circumstances. Therefore, as we relate to others, we are ambassadors of joy because we are ambassadors of Christ, satisfied in fellowship with God by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.

3. Peace.

Peace (eirēnē) in Scripture is the fullness of life. It is the knowledge that our future rests in the hands of a loving Father who loves us perfectly. It is the comfort that our troubles do not have the final say, but the Lord of Love is working today on our behalf. Peace is not a seasonal remedy for a perennial malady. This peace is forever through the gracious love of God to humanity through Jesus Christ the King!

When the Spirit transforms our emotions, the love of God warms our heart, produces joy that time and circumstances can’t touch, and gives us a satisfaction and fullness in our soul. Our emotions flourish in the soil of the Spirit’s presence and grow the fruit of love, joy, and peace. Because we know that we are loved, we can love others more fully. Because we have joy, we can lead others to joy. Because we have peace, we aren’t trying to control others in a selfish way.

So, today, do the hard work of submitting to the Spirit so that your emotions are transformed from toxic to healthy.

Stop. Take a breath. And pray:

“God, as I submit to Your Spirit, will You transform my emotions so that they produces the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace) in my relationships.”