(based on RLCF Bible Study on November 11, 2015)
Have you ever wondered why forgiveness is a commandment? How can God expect us to forgive in some situations? I think it’s much easier to understand why we are commanded as followers of Jesus not to murder. But rebellion against God’s authority is serious whether it be murder or unforgiveness.
“When people live together in reconciliation, there is peace and joy, a bit of paradise. But in a house where people have bitter thoughts in their hearts about each other, where they quarrel and do not forgive, there is a bit of hell… Does anyone believe the words that Jesus spoke? They are true and He will act according to them. We usually do not believe them, because we say that Jesus is merciful. Perhaps we argue like this: Jesus knows our hearts; He knows how difficult it is for us to forgive someone who has hurt our feelings or wronged us unjustly or has said something about us that would ruin our reputation or hurt our family. We imagine that Jesus understands that we cannot deal with such a bitter root in our hearts.” -Basilea Schlink
Imagine you exercised a tiny amount of faith and said to a bush, “be uprooted and planted in the sea” and it obeyed you! (Luke17:6) Imagine praying for a paralytic and seeing them immediately healed! (Matthew 9) Sometimes, we see a bush being uprooted and planted in the sea in our life. Sometimes we see God miraculously heal ourselves or someone else. We may feel like we need these things, but we may not always see them happen and it doesn’t mean we are not walking with the Lord if we aren’t healed or a difficulty is not removed. But in comparison, how often do we need to forgive others? How often are we tempted to look back at our past decisions and circumstances and be bitter toward God? “If I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing…” love “keeps no record of wrongs…” (1 Cor 13) Submitting to God’s authority and forgiving others is something Jesus knew we would need everyday.
There may be times after we have been born again that we have been awestruck just like the crowd in Matthew 9 who watched Jesus say a word and the paralytic was healed. But it is interesting to consider that in these two situations (Luke 17 & Matthew 9) of faith and healing that Jesus also talked about forgiveness. Jesus may have been testing the people in Matthew 9 to see what left them so awestruck: healing or forgiveness. “When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to men.” (Mt 9:8) Jesus has shown us both healing and faith to move mountains are important and He is willing to do it for us but it is more important for us to see that because He was given authority to forgive, so were we! It is not nearly as exciting to forgive someone who has hurt us than to see someone healed. Jesus tests us to see if we will follow Him in both situations.
In Luke 16:27, the rich man begged for a miracle that a dead man would be sent back to earth to warn his brothers to repent. We too may have tricked ourselves or unwittingly allowed Satan deceive us into thinking that we would obey God’s word if something miraculous like someone being raised from the dead appeared to convince us. But we, like the rich man, are told, “if they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” God has given us the authority/power to forgive others and it is a matter of obedience to His word, not a matter of our feelings. Our feelings can cause us to usurp the authority of God & His word in our life.
Jesus has some extremely serious words to say at the beginning of Luke 17. I used to think about people who had committed gross, horrible sins that were the ones worthy of having a millstone hung around their neck and thrown into the sea. But, in the context of this scripture Jesus is talking about forgiveness. The disciples must have had a flash of reality and seen how difficult this requirement was in their daily life and said, “Increase our faith!” We too, are tempted to say a similar thing when we find ourselves in an extremely difficult relationship or an increadibly devastating disappointment, “Lord, I need more faith to go through this without sinning!” Jesus tells us, I have already given you faith, it’s a matter of love and obedience. Of course we do not have a Father who is cold and indifferent to our struggles and difficulties, rather the opposite, we have a Father who tells us to “cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)
Consider how important forgiveness is as it is highlighted in the following verses. “Forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors.” Mt 6:12 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” Mt 18:35 Forgiveness is a real test to see if we are genuinely committed to following Jesus. Miracles of healing, not so much…maybe one of the reasons Jesus asked people to keep quiet about them. But forgiveness is such a blow to our pride: unexciting and will always go against our flesh.
We can thank Jesus that He wasn’t deceitful in describing to us what our walk with Him would be like. When speaking about forgiveness he didn’t sugarcoat it, but rather, He gave us a perfect picture of forgiveness and what it would be like in our daily life in Luke 17:7-10. The example describes a servant working hard all day. Imagine yourself laboring all day, the heat and toil of physical labor have taken their toll and your muscles are tired and aching from a full day of work. Your stomach is growling all the way home and much of your thoughts are about the hot meal soon to come. We can almost smell it, almost taste one of your favorite meals! The dirt and sweat that accumulated all day… a nice hot, long shower is going to feel great.
What is the last thing you would feel like doing when you get home? How about upon arrival, the master of the house lets you know it’s time to wash your hands and prepare a meal for him! As the growling pit of your stomach intensifies, you go against all you screaming feelings and begin to prepare a meal. Here is the key: we can do so with the right attitude! Jesus said this servant did so without an attitude of even expecting a thank you! “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants: we have only done our duty.’” (Luke 17:10)
We so desperately need the attitude of Jesus to be able to say, “we are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty” in our day to day interaction with our wives, husbands, children, church family and all those who God allows in our daily path.
We don’t feel like it most often, but we all can see from Jesus’ life and the words He spoke to us that forgiveness is something God expects us to walk in. For this to happen we need the love of God shed abroad in our heart daily! (Romans 5:5)
“Agape love is the love of God. It is a love that gives attention to people. It is not a love that is attracted by them, nor is it a mutual, interdependent affection. It is therefore an act of the will. When a person loves in this way, it is because they see that someone needs it. Since it is an act of the will, it is the only love that can be commanded. It is impossible to tell someone to fall in love or to have affection for someone else, but it is possible to tell someone to love a person with agape love…This kind of love is sacrificial – a love that is willing to pay any price to care for someone. This is the love that God has for us – while we were still sinners, God loved us.” – David Pawson