Have you heard this before: Say you’re sorry right now! Go apologize to your brother! Say it like you mean it! I am not leaving until I hear an apology! Why do I have to be the one to apologize? I am not saying sorry again! I will never forgive you! Saying, “sorry” can be the beginning of the long road of forgiveness, but it is a journey that is worth it.
The Bible explains two types of forgiveness. There is “vertical” forgiveness from God to us, and “horizontal” forgiveness from us to others. It seems that it is often easier for people to accept forgiveness from God than to live it out with others, but what you do with forgiveness will radically change your life and relationships.
Unforgiveness can crawl into your spirit so gently and can breed bitterness and resentment. It can divide families, marriages, churches and nations. Unforgiveness has been called the cancer of the soul and unchecked it can eat you alive.
Jesus also shows us what lack of forgiveness will do to us. He compares unforgiveness to a prison.
In Matthew 18:21-35, Jesus answers one of his disciples on how many times he should forgive his brothers who has done something wrong to him. Jesus responds with the challenge to continue to extend forgiveness. He illustrates his point with a story about a man who had a huge debt to pay his employer. There was no way possible in his lifetime for the man to repay his boss and he faced a long prison sentence. He man pleaded for mercy. Moved with compassion the boss decided to cancel the debt of the man. There was great rejoicing and those who witnessed this display of grace were captivated by the employers generosity.
When the man left “debt free” he found one of his fellow workers who owed him a small amount of money and had him thrown into jail until he could repay his debt. When the employer heard about this situation, he decided to have the man put into prison until he could pay back his original debt and said, “‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’” (verses 32-33). Then Jesus shares verse 35, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”
Jesus stresses the importance of receiving forgiveness from God and extending it to others.
Understand this: unforgiveness is a self-inflicted prison. It is self-induced torture. It is a ball-and-chain of your own making. No matter what anybody did to you first, forgiveness or unforgiveness is your own choice. God tells us to forgive for our own good, more than anyone else’s.
Forgiveness brings freedom and finishes the debt. We can have the opportunity to close the door on past hurts, even if the memory sill exists. Are you in prison? Are you keeping someone else prisoner?
Turn the key and let both of you go free. Will you forgive? It can be a long road, but worth the journey.
Frank Alioto is the pastor of The River Covenant Church. He also serves as a chaplain with Central Emergency Services.