Is There a Limit to Forgiveness?

A View of the Guiding Light in a World of Darkness is a weekly devotional that seeks to apply Biblical principles to our everyday lives, written by inspirational speaker, Jeremy Curry.

Ephesians 4:31-32

31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Matthew 18:21-35

21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’

30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

1 John 3:19-24

19 This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: 20 If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22 and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. 24 The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.

Twelve years ago today, I woke up late, threw on my clothes as quickly as possible, and rushed to my car to try to make it on time to one of my college classes.  I tuned the radio to my favorite country music radio station only to hear a highly unusual voice.  Instead of my favorite tunes blaring from the radio, national anchorman Dan Rather was reporting and I remember instantly hearing that the Pentagon and the World Trade Center had been attacked and possibly destroyed.  I thought it was a joke played by the morning DJs until I turned to every other preset station on my radio only to hear the exact same news report.  I looked around and saw no one in my neighborhood.  My small piece of the world stood still.  My immediate thought became, “I have missed the rapture.”  My new wife of just over a month had already left for work, but I was certain she had been taken up.  I began driving frantically through various streets to see if anyone else was left.  God gave me a well-deserved dose of, “Don’t forget my commandments” as I thought about all the reasons I must not have been called up with the others.  Who did I not forgive?  Did God forgive me for all of the sins I had committed? Eventually, I realized the rapture had not occurred, but in some of the darkest hours that America has ever experienced, I thought long and hard about my walk with Christ.

It was just the beginning of a dreadful day that America would never forget.  We watched helplessly as the two tallest buildings in the world fell to the ground in smoke and flames.  We saw the look of horror as thousands of people ran for their lives from the falling buildings.  We heard the cries for help and the screams of those who could not be saved as they fell from the towers.  We saw the Pentagon, our biggest symbol of American defense, go up in flames.  We saw the giant crater in the ground created by heroes who brought down United Flight 93. These are memories, images, and sounds that are etched in our minds.  The feelings of sorrow were overwhelming.  In the next few days, America would come together like she never had before to bring the “faceless cowards” to justice.  In the coming months, the sorrow would pass and Americans would show their anger over what had taken place.  It was a natural course of events and emotion over such a devastating loss. We will never forget.  It was a defining moment for our country.

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Each September 11, we relive those moments through the images on our televisions and listen to the frantic calls for help.  Those emotions of sorrow and anger tend to re-emerge.  When you think about those days, how do you feel today?  Do you forgive those who took so many lives?  Do you forgive the enemy who would continue to do their best to destroy our troops?  This is where we see the power of God.  It is where we can see His grace superseding our imagination.  If Osama Bin Laden had asked for forgiveness and for Christ to come into his heart as his personal Savior before he died, God would have forgiven him.  It’s at times like these when I am reminded why I am not God.  As Beth Moore says, “God doesn’t work on sense. He works on grace.”

Fortunately, the things we typically must forgive each other do not cost thousands of lives.  Sometimes they are big things, sometimes they are small things, but God never calls us not to forgive one another.  His grace is a model for everyone we should and must forgive.  When I think about God’s grace for us, I am humbled beyond belief.  When I really and truly stop to think deeply about it, I am brought to my knees.  Chuck Swindoll says it best:

“Grace has to be the loveliest word in the English language. It embodies almost every attractive quality we hope to find in others. Grace is a gift of the humble to the humiliated. Grace acknowledges the ugliness of sin by choosing to see beyond it. Grace accepts a person as someone worthy of kindness despite whatever grime or hard-shell casing keeps him or her separated from the rest of the world. Grace is a gift of tender mercy when it makes the least sense.”

We have all made mistakes that we wish we hadn’t made.  The blood of Jesus washes those away.  Those closest to us can choose to accept or reject us because of our sinful actions.  Our passages this week call for bitterness to be gone, for kindness to shine, and love with forgiveness to prevail “just as in Christ God forgave you.”  If you find those closest to you distance themselves from you after you ask for forgiveness, ask yourself if they are following what Christ asked them to do.  If not, it may be time to cut those relationships.  Attempting to stay close to those who can’t even forgive their closest friends will ultimately lead you to be like them: unforgiving.  Jesus doesn’t call us to forgive others when we feel like it or at a distance.  He asks us to forgive people like God forgave us through Christ.  That is, we are completely reconciled with Him and we will live with Him for eternity. 

If those closest to you exhibit the grace of God, forgiving with “tender mercy when it makes the least sense,” don’t lose those people in your life.  They will remain close to you forever as they emulate God, His commandments, and His love.

How are you forgiving others?  Are you the one forgiving from your heart?  Do you only speak the words “I forgive,” but don’t truly forgive?  Or, perhaps your heart has become cold and bitterness has set in, so that forgiveness seems impossible?  God has no limit on forgiveness.  He forgives when we think it is impossible.  As we read in the parable, when we owe Him far more than we have (including the value of our family), God still forgives.  Are you forgiving like Him?  If not, take this moment, get on your knees and ask God to heal your heart so that you can forgive others as He forgives us.

Maybe it is not others who you need to forgive.  Instead, maybe you need to forgive yourself?  You have something awful in your past you wish you hadn’t done, you find yourself losing relationships with others because of your own sinful actions, or maybe you have deeply hurt those closest to you?  When these things happen, we are often filled with overwhelming guilt.  While others may not exhibit Christ’s grace toward us in these situations as we discussed previously, it is not typically the people in our lives that lack grace that affect us the most. It is our conscious and the Accuser (Revelation 12:10), who accuses us “day and night” before God.  Thankfully, just as God is greater than Satan, He is also “greater than our hearts.”  It will take time and it is a process, but He can take away the pain.

It is time to forgive those who have hurt us.  It is time to forgive ourselves.  God is greater than all we are.  And, if He forgives us, then how can we (as lowly sinners), be conceited enough to think we should not forgive others or ourselves? 

Father, restore us.  Forgive us.  Help us to forgive others as well as ourselves.  Restore broken relationships.  Restore in us a clean heart.  Renew our spirit.  Remind us of Your ways.  Make forgiveness a part of our lives as we remember that You, Father, are greater than us and greater than our hearts.  Bring reconciliation to our lives. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

10 thoughts on “Is There a Limit to Forgiveness?

  1. Great reminder, Jeremy. I personally think that this issue is perhaps the most critical ingredient in our walk with God and our relationship with others. Thank you.

    1. Interesting that He used a number that the people of that era couldn’t even fathom, isn’t it? They didn’t think in terms of millions or billions like we do today. What an awesome reminder of how forgiving our God is! Thanks for the reminder that Jesus says we must forgive others in more places. Do you have scripture you would like to share here about it?

  2. Wow, what a great topic and certainly one of the hardest in all of scripture. I went over this parable a couple times this summer and I was floored by it. At minimum, the servant owes the master around $250,000,000 in today’s money. Likely closer to a billion and the master simply forgave it. But what’s most striking is the end of the parable. Forgive or don’t be forgiven, and that’s not the only place Jesus says that! Thanks for the timely reminder Jeremy!

    1. I think you are very right. It can be so difficult to forgive. Nevertheless, we are called to do it. I pray that we all have the ability to forgive those who have hurt us deeply and reconcile with them just as our Father does.

  3. Great message and very timely. This is one of the hardest things that I think God calls us to do as Christians. Thanks for sharing His Word!

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