Biblical Motivations to Forgive

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This last Sunday I preached on forgiveness.  There were more questions and responses to that sermon than I can count.  Forgiveness is definitely something that is difficult and to some degree we all struggle with.  A book that has been helpful in my understanding of forgiveness is by Chris Brauns, and it is titled, Unpacking Forgiveness: Biblical Answers for Complex Questions and Deep Wounds.

One thing that I was unable to talk about during the sermon was the motivations God gives us to forgive.  So here are 3 motivations that we have to forgive.  The first two points are foundational truths that can be applied to forgiveness while the third point specifically addresses forgiveness.

  1. Forgivness is how we pursue God’s glory.
    1. God has created us to glorify Him.  Therefore when we obey Him we are glorifying Him.   When we obey Ephesians 4:32, “forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” God will be glorified.  Obedience to God glorifies God.  And not only is God glorified when we forgive but we maximize our joy. And that is the next point.
  2. Forgiveness is how we pursue our joy.
    1. All of humanity pursues happiness.  We are hardwired that way.  Blaise Pascal said, “All men seek happiness, this is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end.  The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views.  The will never takes the least step but to this object.  This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves” (Brauns).
    2. God created us to image Him, to reflect Him in all that we do.  In Ephesians 5:1 it says, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.”  When we image God we are living as God created us.  We are fulfilling the very purpose that God created us for.  And it is when we image God we will experience great joy.
    3. The beauty of these two truths is that forgiveness is not some bitter pill that we have to swallow so that God is glorified, rather we can pursue forgiveness because it glorifies God and maximizes our joy.
  3. Forgivness is critical for our salvation.
    1. In Matthew 6:14-15 we read, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
    2. Now Jesus is not saying that His forgiveness is conditional upon our forgiveness.  That would mean we earn God’s grace through works, and that is not the case.  Rather, Jesus is saying, we can have confidence that our sins are forgiven when we forgive others.  And thus if we do not forgive others we should not think that our sins will be forgiven.  The point is, forgiveness is to characterize the followers of Jesus.
    3. Matthew 18 is a goldmine for understanding forgiveness.  In verse 21, Peter asks Jesus, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?  As many as seven times?”  Here Peter thinks 7 is a big number.  Jesus responds by saying, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.”  490 is a much bigger number than 7.  But forgiving someone 490 times is not the point.  Rather Jesus is saying  as a follower of Jesus you are to forgive.  Right after these verses, Jesus gives a parable on forgiveness to explain what He means.
    4. Here is a summary of the parable.  A servant is brought before the King.  He owes the King ten thousand talents which is a ridiculous amount money.  One talent is equivalent to about 20 years of wages.  Obviously this guy has no chance of paying the King.  So what does the King do?  He forgives the man the debt.  Here we see that this King must have immense riches to forgive such a debt.  We also see how gracious and merciful this King is.  But the story is not over.  The servant who had just been forgiven leaves the king and then runs into someone who owes him money.  The amount was 100 denarii.  A denarii is about a days wage.  So it’s a decent amount of money but nothing compared to what the servant had just been forgiven.  So what does this servant do?  He begins to beat this other person and then throws him into jail until he can pay what he owes.  Other servants saw this and they quickly told the king.  The King then summoned this servant and said, “You wicked servant!  I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.  And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?  And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers until he should pay all his debt.”
    5. So what do we learn here?  God has mercy on us so that we will have mercy on others.  In fact, one way we know we have tasted God’s great mercy is because we are merciful to others.
    6. What does it mean that the servant is thrown to the jailers?  We should not think that this him getting his hand slapped.  The servant is not just experiencing a “timeout” because of bad behavior  No, the word jailers can also be translated torturers.  And because of the immense debt the servant owes, we should not think that the servant will ever be able released.  I believe Jesus is giving us a picture of hell here.
    7. And in verse 35, Jesus closes this teaching by saying, “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”  Jesus is pretty clear here.  He is not beating around the bush.  If we do not forgive then we will not experience the eternal blessed presence of God.  Everyone who has experienced the forgiveness of God is called to forgive.  Jeff Vanderstelt said, “What God has done to us He also wants to do through us.”  God has forgiven you that you would forgive others and thus reveal the amazing gracious forgiveness of God.
  4. So why should we as believers forgive?  When we forgive others, we are glorifying God and maximizing our joy.  Our forgiveness of others also demonstrates that we have been forgiven by God.  Let us joyfully pursue forgiveness that we would glorify God, grow in joy, and have our faith strengthened.


Photo by timlewisnm