Forgiveness is like money. Everybody loves to get it; but not many of us give it to others as generously as we should.
If you have ever found it impossible (or even just plain ol’ difficult) to forgive someone, chances are you have bought into one of the many misconceptions about forgiveness. Jesus refutes three of the most common forgiveness myths in Luke 17:3-10.
Myth # 1. Before I can forgive, the other person has to first prove that they have changed.
When a person sins against you, should they apologize? Yes! Should they change their ways? Yes! But do they have to do these things before they are forgiven? According to Jesus the answer is, “No!”
In Luke 17:4, Jesus says,
“If [your brother] sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”
This statement is an unambiguous, though admittedly hard, word of instruction about when we should forgive others.
Hurt people often feel entitled to see proof of the offender’s changed ways. Of the person we think, “Sure, you may have apologized but I want to see evidence of it. Show me that you mean it!” As sensible and instinctual as that sounds, it is not biblical. This feeling is rooted in our own sense of self-righteousness and pride.
In contrast to this attitude, Jesus stresses our obligation to forgive a person who (by all outward appearances) DOESN’T change. Think about it: the man mentioned this verse commits (what is likely) the same exact sin seven times in one day against the same exact person! What a jerk!
Given how quickly the story unfolds, there is no time allowed for him to change his ways. The man literally sins over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. In fact, his only fruit is a pattern of negative, sinful fruit. He hasn’t changed one bit. Even still, Jesus insists that each time his apology should be met with forgiveness. Some would say, “That’s crazy!” God says, “No, that’s the radical nature of true forgiveness.”
Biblical forgiveness does not come on the basis of a person’s deeds, but on the basis of their words alone. If we insist on waiting for evidence that a person has changed before we forgive them, then we are demanding something that God does not. God’s clear instructions must not be annulled by our emotional fine print.
Myth #2. Before I can forgive, I have to have more faith.
Sometimes we think that our inability to forgive comes from a lack of faith. When we wrestle with forgiveness issues we assume, “I’m just not a spiritual enough person. Maybe if I were a spiritual giant like Billy Graham or Mother Theresa, I could forgive them. I just need more faith.” The apostles sure thought this way. After Jesus gives this clear teaching about forgiveness, the disciples reply in verse 5,
“Increase our faith!”
These men knew just how radical this idea of instant, face-value forgiveness was. The disciples were saying, “Lord, this is too hard for us. You’ll have to give us more faith if you want us to forgive other people so freely.” Again, this sounds sensible, even logical. But Jesus says that their request for more faith is merely an excuse.
In verse 6, Jesus uses the example of a mustard seed. With this itsy- bitsy seed in view, He spoke about doing great, even impossible, things with just a tiny amount of faith. His point? One such impossible thing that we can do is forgive those people who have hurt us deeply, severely, or repeatedly.
Jesus says that when it comes to forgiveness, a lack of faith is not our problem; a lack of obedience is. We don’t have to wait for God to give us more faith to forgive someone; instead, we need to put what little faith we have into action.
Myth #3. Before I can forgive, I have to “feel” ready.
Modern psychology teaches us that before two people rectify, the victim must first feel emotionally prepared. Jesus, on the other hand, explains to us that forgiveness is not a matter of feelings, it is a matter of duty.
To make His point, Jesus gives a parable in Luke 17:7-10. It is the story of a servant who plowed his master’s field, sheered his master’s sheep and tended his master’s farm. At the end of the day, the man is understandably tired, hungry, and weary. However, as he walks in the door, his master gives him yet another chore, “Make me something to eat first, then afterwards you can rest.” Being emotionally drained and physically exhausted, it’s easy to imagine the servant saying, “What?! Are you nuts?! Don’t you see all I’ve already done for you?! Make your own dinner!!” Again, such a response sounds logical and intuitive, but it is not right. Despite being tired, hungry, and weary the servant should obey his master’s demand.
Jesus, then, concludes with this question, “[The master] does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he?” In other words, the servant had an obligation to obey his master whether he felt like it or not. This, Jesus says, is like our responsibility to forgive others.
Very often, after being hurt, people are emotionally weary, physically exhausted, and relationally tired. Based on these feelings, they may even decide to withhold forgiveness. Understand something: our emotions are good for many things, but decision-making is not one of them. Jesus says, “It does not matter if you feel ready. It is your duty as a good servant to forgive. Obey your Master.” If you are waiting until you feel ready to make amends, chances are you will never get there. Typically, forgiveness has to be spoken and granted before it is ever felt.
In the end, forgiveness is not always easy; but, it is always right. Our willingness to forgive others is a measure of how well we appreciate the forgiveness that we have received from God. Trade in these myths for a new forgiveness motto:
“Forgive one another as God in Christ has also forgiven you.” (Eph 4:32)