“Father, forgive them!”

There is a great story told by Alexander Solzhenitsyn in his book, A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Ivan’s every day was filled with the horror of a Soviet prison camp. On this day, a prisoner in the camp finds Ivan deep in prayer. The prisoner laughs and says, “Prayers won’t help you get out of here any faster.” Ivan opens his eyes and says words born from extraordinary worship: “I do not pray to get out of prison but to do the will of God.”

So often, we find ourselves trapped in the prison that others have built with the bricks and mortar of wounding words, unfaithfulness, hateful actions, or evil intentions. Their sins against us create a vortex in our soul that sucks up our peace, hope, and joy. Yet, God doesn’t want us to remain locked in this cage, but to live in the freedom that forgiveness delivers.

In the last hours of His life, Jesus cries out to His Father in prayer. While He is being killed by cruel hands, the first words of Jesus are: “Forgive them!”

“And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ And they cast lots to divide his garments.” (Luke 23:34, ESV)

Even while He was pierced for our transgression, Jesus asked God to forgive His enemies. Even as He was being killed, Jesus desired a transformation in the hearts and minds of those who were killing Him. As Jesus prayed, He opens for us the glorious hope of God’s forgiving love, even in the midst of our cruelest crookedness. As Jesus prayed, He opens for us the hard truth that we who have been forgiven must pray for the forgiveness of others, even those who act in cruel crookedness toward us.

1. Prayer gives us a heart of forgiveness like Jesus.

Jesus was more concerned about the mercy shown to sinners than He was the pain He was experiencing. He interceded for the forgiveness of those who were killing Him. What an amazing love! Jesus was always more concerned about others, living and dying for their rescue, even those who were inflicting the horrors of torture upon Him. He prayed for them to taste God’s mercy in forgiveness. Oh, what a Savior!

The longer we live in the lap of the Father and His love through prayer, the more we are immersed in His heart of love. The more we are immersed in the Father’s heart, the more we will want to bless others as His heart longs to bless others. We begin to have the heart of Jesus and care more about God’s mercy for those hurting us than the pain we are experiencing.

2. Prayer moves us from learning to living.

Jesus was modeling what He had taught (Luke 6:27-28). He not only taught God’s will but was also obedient to it. Here is the spirit that should reign in us, the prayer that must flow from our heart. As sons and daughters of God, we must pray for the forgiveness of those who hurt, beat, berate, and kill us.

The longer we live in the lap of the Father and His love through prayer, the more we will live the life of Jesus that we have learned. Asking God to forgive the ones who are wounding us moves us out of merely “hearing” God’s will to “doing” God’s will.

3. Prayer moves us from cursing to blessing.

When someone harms us, it is our natural response to withhold any good thing we possibly can. Yet like Jesus we must seek ways to give good in response for evil. When someone curses us, our natural response is to curse them in return. But Jesus teaches us to bless them with a prayer for their forgiveness.

Jesus calls us to bless the very people who hurt us. It is more than seeking to refrain from hurting them with our words. It is to search out ways to bring God’s favor into their lives. It is in this context a call to return a curse with a gift that would edify the individual and point them to God, like Stephen did for those who were killing him (Acts 7:60).

The longer we live in the lap of the Father and His love through prayer, the more we see His good purpose in the pain that others inflict by their sins against us. As we see God’s purpose in our pain, the more our hearts can become tender to bless those who hurt us.

Stop. Take a breath. And pray:

“Father, forgive those who have sinned against me.”


The Glory of Forgiveness

Arithmetic is a challenging topic for many (including myself). Applying the right formula to a specific problem will give the right answer, but the wrong formula will lead us down a perplexing path. In the same way, when we add up and keep a tally of the wrongs done to us, we’re applying the wrong formula for our relationships. But if we apply forgiveness, we infuse our relationships with beauty and glory.

“The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, And his glory is to overlook a transgression.” (Proverbs 19:11, NKJV)

Because we have “put on Christ” and follow Him, we have a new formula for relating with others. We must deal with others the way He has dealt with us. We forgive those who wrong us so that they might see Christ’s heart of love through the grace that we offer them.

1. The crown of God’s favor.

Solomon tells us that to forgive is our “glory” (tip’ĕrĕth). What makes our relationships beautiful is forgiveness. Our “glory” in forgiveness is the bright crown of God’s approval upon us and His favor upon our relationships. Really, to overlook a sin against us is to exhibit the character of Jesus. This is the kind of arithmetic that leads to health in our lives and relationships.

2. The story of Joseph.

One of the most powerful and poignant pictures of forgiveness in the Old Testament is the story of Joseph with his brothers. Joseph had been sold into slavery because his brothers were jealous of him (Genesis 37:18-28). After years of God’s provision and power in his life, Joseph went from being a slave to a high-ranking official in Egypt. God helped Joseph see a future famine and gave him the wisdom to lead Egypt to prepare for it. When the famine hit the Middle East, Jacob’s brothers came to Egypt on a mission to get food for their families.

The closing scene of the sage is Joseph standing before his brothers as a prince in Egypt. They asked for Joseph to forgive them. The primary term in the Old Testament for forgiveness is nāshā’, which literally means “to carry the burden away.” It is a picture of the guilt of sin being picked up and carried away. Joseph embraced his brothers with loving forgiveness (Genesis 50:15-21). Instead of harboring the wounds in his heart, he showed the kindness of forgiveness.

It’s hard to forgive, but as a follower of Jesus, it is a must! As we listen to the words of Solomon this morning, let’s remember that grace is the attitude of forgiveness. It is the same attitude that God has for us. We have all sinned against God, but He sent Jesus to forgive us, to extend grace to us! As Jesus has forgiven us, we forgive others. The closer our walk with Jesus, the more we will infuse the glory of forgiveness into our relationships.

Stop. Take a breath. And pray:

“God, as I submit to Your Spirit, help me to infuse every relationship with the glory of forgiveness rather than counting up the wrongs done to me in a relationship?”



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?”