Why Should I Forgive?
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
April 23, 2006


Main Passage: Matthew 18:21-35 (NLT)


We bury the hatchet
But leave the handle stickin’ out
We’re always diggin’ up things
We should forget about
When it comes to forgivin’
Baby, there ain’t no doubt
We bury the hatchet
But leave the handle sticking out
~ from “We Bury the Hatchet” by Garth Brooks

That was “We Bury the Hatchet”, a Garth Brooks song that was out in the early 90s. Perhaps you remember it. Perhaps you’ve lived it. It’s a song about a couple who just can’t seem to stop fighting. And every time they start at it, it just snowballs. Every little thing that they think is in the past gets dug up again. This is a relationship that’s in serious trouble… they’re in full scale war, as all the neighbours can attest.

So what’s the problem? Why do they keep fighting and fighting and fighting, and why do all the old things seem to keep coming up again? As the song said…

"We’re always fighting about things
That should be dead and gone"
~ from “We Bury the Hatchet” by Garth Brooks

So what’s the problem? They’re not able to forgive. Oh, they may claim to forgive, but they haven’t really. How do I know that? Because when you forgive someone, it means you aren’t going to continue to hold their offence against them and use it as a weapon. It means you’re going to take whatever someone has done to you or whatever someone has said about you or whatever someone owes to you and you’re going to set it aside. No longer will it be an issue in your relationship with them. No longer will it taint your view of them. No longer will it eat away inside of you and hold you back from being the person you were meant to be. And no longer will it be something that’s hanging over their head. That’s what it means to forgive.

A few minutes ago, Lynn read some of the teaching of Jesus regarding forgiveness. She read about how one day Jesus is talking with His disciples, and Peter asks Him a question. “How many times should I forgive someone? Seven times? Is that enough?” And what does Jesus say? “No, that’s not enough. Not seven times… try seventy times seven. That’s how often you should forgive.”

And then He went on to tell a story about a king and his servant. Over the years this servant had borrowed millions of dollars from the king, and found himself in a position where he couldn’t repay it. And so he begged the king for mercy… and he received it. The king forgave his entire debt. Now, you’d expect the servant to be filled with gratitude and thankfulness. I mean, how do you spell relief?

But there’s no mention of how the servant reacted. It’s almost as if he took the forgiveness of the debt for granted. And instead, he went outside, ran into someone who owed him a few thousand dollars, and demanded that the man repay him what was owed. But when the man couldn’t repay it and even pleaded for more time, the servant refused to show any mercy and had the man thrown into jail.

Of course, when the king heard about this, he was furious. So he confronted the servant… “After what I did for you, and you pull a stunt like this? I had mercy on you even though you owed me millions of dollars. Couldn’t you have shown a little mercy to this man who owed you a few thousand?” And then he had the servant thrown into prison.

And so what I want to do for the rest of our time this morning is this: I want to look at this story a little closer and see what we can learn about forgiveness. And as we do that, we’re going to identify six reasons that you and I should extend forgiveness.


Why Should I Forgive Those Who have Hurt Me?

1. Jesus intends for the gift of forgiveness to be passed on.

Last weekend (Easter) we talked in great detail about what Jesus went through in order to offer you forgiveness. But He doesn’t want that forgiveness to stop with you. Jesus wants you to willingly and joyfully pass that forgiveness on to others who have hurt or offended you. He wants you to extend to them the same forgiveness that He extended to you.

Like the king in the story. The king in the story forgave his servant, and he expected his servant to show mercy and forgiveness to others, too. And that’s what Jesus expects of us. We are to be conduits of His mercy. As the king told the servant…

Matthew 18:33 (NLT)
“‘Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’”

And that’s a recurring theme throughout the New Testament. We’re often told that since we have been forgiven, we should be forgiving. Like in Colossians chapter 3…

Colossians 3:13 (CEV)
Put up with each other, and forgive anyone who does you wrong, just as Christ has forgiven you.

And in Ephesians 4;

Ephesians 4:32 (CEV)
…Be kind and merciful, and forgive others, just as God forgave you…

If you have been forgiven, then you have all the reason in the world to forgive others. Something else about forgiveness is…


2. Jesus expects our forgiveness to be complete.

Let’s go back to the question Peter asked Jesus…

Matthew 18:21 (NLT)
Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”

You know, Peter gets a bad rap about this question. I mean, we tend to think that Peter asked this question because he didn’t want to have to forgive. But let me try to put it into context for you. Because Peter is actually being quite generous. You see, the Rabbis of that era maintained that you only had to forgive three times. Kind of like, three strikes and you’re out!

So Peter is actually going above and beyond their standard. In fact, he more than doubles it when he asks if seven times is enough. Surely Jesus would be pleased with such generosity and forgiveness. Way back in the 70s, I used to watch Eight is Enough. Well, here’s Peter asking if Seven is Enough. And how does Jesus respond?

Matthew 18:22 (NLT)
“No!” Jesus replied, “seventy times seven!”

So it wasn’t enough. Not seven times, but seventy times seven times.

Now, let me ask you a question. What’s the unlucky number? 13. What’s the lucky number? 7. When you go to the grocery store and buy a package of hotdogs, how many hot dogs do you expect to find in the package? 12. If a hockey team goes out and plays their hardest, you say they gave what? 100%. If someone does an excellent job, you’d rate them a what out of what? 10 out of 10.

Numbers mean something to us. And they meant something in Jesus’ day, too. In Jewish culture, Numbers often reflected much more than just numerical value. For example, the number four was the number which represented the earth, like the four seasons (the times of the year, not the hotel chain). Seven was the number of perfection. Six was the number of man—falling short of perfection. Thus the number 666 used to refer to the Beast or to the Antichrist. And the number ten was the number of completeness.

So when Jesus said seventy times seven, He was using a mathematical formula that his audience would have readily understood to mean more than just a literal number: 70 x 7… 10 x 7 x 7… completeness x perfection x perfection. He’s talking about total, complete forgiveness.

And he knows if the forgiveness you offer is complete or not. He knows if you’ve really forgiven, or if you’re holding a grudge or seeking revenge.

I read a story this week about the lunch line at a school cafeteria. At the head of the table was a large pile of apples with a note that said, “Take only ONE. God is watching.”

Moving further along the lunch line, at the other end of the table was a large pile of chocolate chip cookies, where a child had written a note; “Take all you want … God’s over there watching the apples.”

In the story that Jesus told, don’t you find it interesting that the King found out? He found out what the servant did. He’s like a mother who has eyes in the back of her head. My mother always knew when I was up to something. It was impossible to hide anything from her. And it’s impossible to hide anything from God, too.

Psalm 11:4 (NLT)
…The LORD still rules from heaven. He watches everything closely, examining everyone on earth.

If you have an unforgiving spirit, then God knows. You may have hidden it real good from everyone else, but I guarantee you that God knows. You can’t hide it from Him. He wants and expects you to forgive completely, and He knows if you’ve done it or not.

Now, you may be thinking… “But some things are just too big. You don’t know what this person’s done to me! You don’t know how they’ve hurt me.” You’re right, I don’t. But that doesn’t change the fact that God expects our forgiveness to be complete. And to prove it, He extended complete forgiveness to you and to me. His forgiveness covers everything. There’s nothing that’s withheld from His forgiveness. And as hard as it may be, that’s how He wants us to forgive others. Take a look at this next reason we should forgive…


3. We will never be able to out-forgive Jesus.

How much did the servant owe the king? Millions. How much did the second man owe the servant? A few thousand dollars. Still a substantial chunk of change, but not even close to what he had owed the king.

Now catch this: Jesus never said that what people do to you is trivial or unimportant. What He did say was that we must be willing to forgive even the big stuff.

In the New Living Translation which we’ve been looking at this morning, the currency in the story has been converted to dollars so we’d be able to read it and understand it. Let me show it to you in the New International Version…

Matthew 18:23-24 (NIV)
“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him…

Now, understand, the word talent here is not the same word we use to refer to abilities. A “talent” was a form of currency. And as you already know, 10,000 talents would be worth millions of dollars today. Now let’s see what the second man owed the servant…

Matthew 18:28 (NIV)
“But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii.”

A denarius was worth about a full day’s wages. And so this man owed him thousands of dollars… about four months wages, not counting weekends. That’s pretty substantial. If someone owed me that much, I think I’d want them to pay me back. How about you? But still, not even close to what the servant had already been forgiven by the king. In fact, the servant had himself been forgiven a debt 600,000 times greater than the man he wouldn’t forgive.

You know, I think the reason many of us don’t want to forgive others is because we’ve forgotten what it was like to be in spiritual debt. We’ve forgotten how much we’ve been forgiven ourselves. But there is nothing that we will ever have to forgive someone for that will compare to the multitude of sins for which God has already forgiven us. He forgave us for treason against our Creator. When Jesus was on the cross, He offered forgiveness to the ones that put Him there, including us. Don’t you think we can forgive the person who cuts in front of us on the highway? Or who butts in line at Tim Hortons? Or even someone who broke a family heirloom or cost us thousands of dollars? Don’t you think?


4. An unwillingness to forgive negatively affects us AND others.

One of the common themes of the Bible is that of community. We live in community with each other. When one of us hurts, the rest of us are supposed to help. When one of us succeeds, we’re all to rejoice. When one of us stumbles, we’re to help that person get right again. What affects one of us affects all of us.

It’s that way with sin. The sin of one person can affect a great deal of people. For example, King David in the Old Testament. He sinned against God, and as a result there were far reaching effects. In fact, David’s sin against God cost 70,000 people their lives. (2 Samuel 24)

When we foster an unforgiving spirit it has far reaching effects. It’s like tentacles stretching out from our sin. In the case of the servant in our story, his unforgiveness negatively affected the man who owed him money. But it went beyond that. It also affected the community… all the other servants saw what had happened and they were very upset. And so they told the king about it and the king had the servant thrown into prison.

So think about the servant’s family. If he was thrown in prison for his lack of forgiveness, it obviously took him out of their lives. And since the king was originally going to sell the servant’s wife and kids as slaves, it’s reasonable to think that the same fate awaited them now.

Our unforgiveness will become a cancer in our lives. And if it’s not taken care of, it will eat away at our very souls. And it has a negative effect on everyone around us.

On the other hand, if we do offer forgiveness, that has a positive effect.

Proverbs 17:9 (NIV)
He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.

It’s in everyone’s best interests, including your own, to forgive offenses. Not doing that only causes trouble.


5. As followers of Jesus, our willingness to forgive (or lack thereof) reflects on Jesus.

If you have children, then you know that what they do reflects back on you. They carry your family name. They represent you. It’s the same way with us as children of God.

We’ve talked before about how the term “Christian” literally means “little Christ”. When people look at us, what they should see is a representative of who Jesus is. We carry His name, and everything we say and do reflect back on Him. If we are forgiving, that reflects back on Him. If we are not forgiving, then that also reflects back on Him. And there have already been enough people who have rejected Jesus because of the actions or attitudes of those who bear His name. Paul alluded to this when He wrote…

Ephesians 5:1-2 (NLT)
Follow God’s example in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love for others, following the example of Christ, who loved you and gave himself as a sacrifice to take away your sins.

We’re to follow the example of Jesus, who was willing to sacrifice Himself in order to offer us forgiveness and take away our sins. If we are to truly follow Him and follow His example, how can we be willing to do any less? Look at what else Paul wrote…

2 Corinthians 5:19-20 (NLT)
For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. This is the wonderful message he has given us to tell others. We are Christ’s ambassadors…

What does an ambassador do? He represents someone else. The message he communicates needs to be consistent with the message of the one he represents. That’s why Frank McKenna, a Liberal, resigned as ambassador to the U.S. after the Conservatives won the last election. An ambassador carry’s out the purpose of the one they serve. And what does this verse tell us was Jesus’ purpose? To reconcile the world to Himself by releasing them from their sin… to make people right with God through forgiveness.

In the story Jesus told, the servant represented the king, and he made his king look bad. And when we come across as unforgiving, then we make our King look bad.


6. If we refuse to forgive, forgiveness will be withheld from us.

Back to the story. When the servant refused to forgive the other man and the king found out, what did the king do? Jesus told us…

Matthew 18:34-35 (NLT)
“Then the angry king sent the man to prison until he had paid every penny.
“That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters in your heart.”

Now I ask you, what’s wrong with that picture? How do you make money? By working. Where did the king send the man? To prison. What kind of job do you expect he’d be able to find there? There’s no way the man would ever be able to pay back what he owed. Even if he wasn’t in prison, there’s no way he’d be able to pay back millions. But there he is stuck in prison, with no hope at all.

And that’s the point. We can’t pay back the incredible debt we owe to God. That’s why we so desperately need His forgiveness. But He makes it clear that if we refuse to extend that forgiveness to others, then our own forgiveness will be null and void. Jesus had said earlier…

Matthew 6:14-15 (NLT)
“If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

Wow, that’s pretty powerful. Did you catch that? God is more than willing to forgive you for anything and everything you’ve ever done wrong. But He expects you to show the same love and mercy and compassion and forgiveness to anyone and everyone who has ever wronged you, or His forgiveness will be taken off the table.

“He that cannot forgive others breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass if he would ever reach Heaven; for everyone has need to be forgiven.”
~ George Herbert

Your relationship with God is directly affected by your forgiveness of others. If that doesn’t motivate you to forgive, nothing will.


I was channel surfing the other day and I came across the brand new music video by the Dixie Chicks. Maybe you’ve seen it. They got in trouble a few years ago for what they said about George W. Bush and they were basically exiled. I’m not going to venture into all of that, but there were a couple of things they said in the song that caught my attention…

"Forgive? Sounds good. Forget? I’m not sure I could.
They say time heals everything, but I’m still waiting."
~ from “Not Ready to Make Nice” by the Dixie Chicks

We do have that phrase, “forgive and forget”, don’t we? Well, that sounds wonderful, but is it really possible? I would say it depends on what you mean by “forget”. If you’re talking about removing it from your memory, I would have to say no. I don’t believe we can do that. When someone hurts us and apologizes and we say, “Forget about it,” what are we saying? Are we saying, “It will never ever come up in our memory again”? No, because we can’t promise that. But what we are saying is, “Don’t worry, I’m not going to hold this against you.”

That’s what it means to forgive and forget. Not that the hurt will never emerge in our memory again, but that we’re not going to hold it against them any longer. And that can take time. It can be a process. When the wounds go deep, they don’t always heal instantly. But if you truly forgive… then over time, the pain and the memory will fade. You may never fully forget, but it won’t dominate you. And perhaps you will actually forget some of the details. But if you keep reliving the experience and if you cling to that one moment in time and if you refuse to let it go, then you will never get past it.

And forgiving like this doesn’t mean that you have to subject yourself to the same hurt time and time again.

“Most people today confuse forgiveness and trust. When a leader falls, forgiveness is to be instant, based on grace. But trust must be rebuilt over time, and it is based on a track record. Forgiveness eliminates the guilt of our actions, but it does not eliminate the consequences or scars of our actions.”
~ Rick Warren


Forgiveness. It’s not always easy. In fact, it’s never easy. But it becomes easier as you remember how much you yourself have been forgiven, and as you allow the love of God to flow freely in and through your life.

Ephesians 4:2 (NLT)
Be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.

I really don’t know who of you may be harbouring some grudges. I don’t know who’s holding back forgiveness. But if it’s you, then let me encourage you to let go. Refusing to forgive does nobody any good. In fact, it does an incredible amount of harm… to you and to everyone around you. So if you find yourself in that position… someone has hurt you and you’ve refused to forgive them… or perhaps you’ve even refused to forgive yourself… then I’m going to pray a prayer, and I’d invite you to pray along silently. Let’s pray…

Jesus, thank you for offering forgiveness to me. I know that I could never repay the debt I owe, and I am so thankful that I don’t have to. Thank you for your great mercy.
And I realize that because of Your forgiveness for me, you want me to forgive those who have hurt and offended me. But I need to confess, that’s not always easy. Even now, I’m thinking about someone I’ve had a difficult time forgiving.
So this morning, I am deciding to forgive them. And I pray that you will help me through this process. Help me reach the point where I am no longer holding a grudge or wanting revenge. Help me to move past this anger and this hurt, and to move on in life.


Major source: How Can I Forgive Others? by Joseph Vest



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