I’m the kind of person who likes to focus on the positive. I’d rather give attention to what I am able to do, rather than what I should avoid. But I must admit this perspective doesn’t always serve me well.
For example, I quite enjoy exercising—I like to lift weights, run, and play hockey. And you would think with this active lifestyle that I would be in decent shape. Unfortunately, the reason this isn’t exactly the case is because I’m not very good at avoiding junk food. Chicken wings, pizza, onion rings, potato chips, and the list goes on. The reality is that I stunt my progress towards greater health by clinging to certain habits.
I fear that this is also true in the lives of many who seek to follow Christ. We read our Bible, we pray, we attend a gathering at our church and we expect that the sum of these activities will translate into progress for our spiritual journey. And yet, concurrently, we sometimes cling to certain habits which stunt our spiritual growth. Yes, there are certain practices which can become barriers to Christian progress. One of those is harbouring bitterness against another. An unwillingness to forgive has the ability to grind our spiritual growth to a halt.
As I survey the New Testament, I note that forgiveness is a HUGE deal. This is no periphery subject. In one account, Peter asks Jesus,
Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times? (Matthew 18:21)
Peter was interested to know if there were limitations to forgiveness. Jesus replies by telling Peter to forgive “seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22). I don’t think Jesus meant for Peter to count to 490. The parable which follows indicates that Jesus wants His followers to forgive without limits. I grant that this is not easy. There might be individuals in your life who you struggle to forgive. I get that. I struggle with this to. And yet I am struck by the clarity of Jesus’ standard (see the parable found in Matthew 18:23-35). Since God has forgiven our sins in Christ, we must forgive one another. The king in the parable states it this way,
Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you? (Matthew 18:33)
I also like the way C.S. Lewis frames it,
To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.
Or, as I’ve heard another put it, “Failing to forgive is to cut off the branch we’re sitting on.”
On Sunday March 22, I spoke on the subject on forgiveness, asserting that our capacity and willingness to forgive will largely determine the ceiling for our growth. Have a listen and let me know what you think. Why do you suspect forgiveness is so difficult?
I certainly don’t regard myself as an ‘expert’ in forgiving others, but I am nonetheless convinced that the follower of Jesus who forgives will be the follower that grows.