During a period of heavy rainfall in Sydney I asked a friend, “Are you enjoying the rain?” I was somewhat taken aback by her reply but eventually saw how she had made a very interesting answer to my simple question. She replied, “I have no problem with the concept of rain. It’s the practicalities I have difficulty with.” She was right of course. Rain is wonderful because it renews the earth and brings plants to life and delights the farming community when it falls at the right time. But the practicalities are not always easy to manage. Rain brings problems with slippery roads to travel on, children being cooped up inside the house unable to go out and play, the tramping in of mud and so on.
I have thought about her reply a lot as it has applications in many areas of life. It certainly applies in the area of forgiveness. Many, many people have no problem with the concept of forgiveness. They think that it must be a good thing to be forgiven by God or by other people. It must also be good to be able to forgive those who hurt you rather than carrying ongoing bitterness in one’s heart. But the practicalities involved in asking someone for forgiveness or actually forgiving someone seem much less attractive to them. That it is why it is helpful to have examples of people who not only believed in the concept of forgiveness but who also went on to practise it.
We see such examples in the New Testament in Jesus, Stephen and Paul whose lives we will examine in this chapter. But first we will look at a contemporary example in a woman named Helen who knew of those examples and was encouraged to act as they did in forgiving those who hurt her.
A TRUE STORY. (Names have been changed to ensure privacy and confidentiality)
My wife and I had been prayer counselling a young woman for over an hour and we seemed to be getting nowhere. It wasn’t surprising because she didn’t seem to know what her problem was either. Her doctor had months before sent her to a psychiatrist because Helen had just dropped her bundle and wasn’t functioning either as a mother of a couple of small children nor as a wife. Successive trips to the psychiatrist had not made her any better. In desperation she asked that Carole my wife and I pray with her even though she was from another parish. Her minister gave his approval.
What do you do when you have tried to find some breakthrough when talking to someone in need and nothing is happening? If you are wise, you pray. I suggested that we spend some time in prayer just waiting on the Lord for His help. My unspoken prayer to God that night was something like this, “Lord she really does need help. The psychiatrist hasn’t been able to help and we’re not doing very well at the moment so would you as THE Counsellor take over and show her or us what the problem is?” We spent a few minutes in silent prayer.
“I hate them. I hate them. I hate them.” These words from Helen broke the silence as she banged her fists on the sides of the chair in which she was sitting. I remember thinking at the time, “Now we’re getting somewhere. Thank You Lord!” My question of course was “Helen, whom do you hate?” Her answer was both emotional and immediate, “My fellow missionaries.” The story unfolded that Helen and her family had served on a Mission field, living in community where they were the only married couple with children. It seemed that everyone had “helpful” advice on how she should bring up her children. The advice was readily forthcoming but less and less appreciated by Helen as time went on. The only way she felt she could cope was to return home early from the Mission field.
In our presence Helen asked God to forgive her for harbouring resentment and bitterness for such a long time. Then she named the people who had wounded her and forgave them one by one. She also forgave them of the things they had said or had done that had hurt her so deeply. We knew she was genuine when she asked God to bless her former fellow missionaries wherever they might be.
Some months later Helen told us that after that night she had seen her doctor who told her that she did not have to return to the psychiatrist. Her doctor could see that she was obviously healed and normal. She also told us that she had written to her fellow missionaries and invited any of them to stay with them when they were returning from the Mission field. With obvious joy she told us what a delight that had been to her when several did come and they had enjoyed wonderful fellowship together.
God enables us to turn the “concept” of forgiveness into a “practical” forgiving of those who hurt us.
1). THE EXAMPLE OF JESUS. (In His life on earth)
Luke 23:33-34 “And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ And they cast lots to divide his garments.”
Jesus asked His Heavenly Father to forgive those responsible for His crucifixion. What a motley collection of people they were. We look at those for whom He asked forgiveness from God.
- The whole company. Lk 23:1. It meant members of the Sanhedrin, the governing body of the Jews. They had decided to kill Jesus but had no authority under Roman law to do so. So they brought Jesus to Pilate the procurator of Judea who could give such permission. The leaders of Jesus’ own people had rejected Him and wanted to destroy Him. Jesus forgave them.
- 23:2. Pilate took sides against Jesus as well, though he tried to evade responsibility for Jesus’ death. Jesus forgave Pilate.
- 23:8. Pilate sent Him on to Herod who was glad to meet Jesus, hoping He might do one of His signs. Jesus forgave Herod.
- The chief priests and the scribes. 23:10. While Jesus was before Herod, they stood by, “vehemently accusing Him”. Jesus forgave them.
- Herod and his soldiers. 23:11 They treated him with contempt and mocked him. They dressed Him and sent Him back to Pilate. As Herod and Pilate united in their mutual rejection of Jesus they formed a bond with each other. Jesus was meant to die to bring reconciliation with God and between fellow humans for those who accepted Him. But these rulers, Herod and Pilate were united in their rejection of Him. Jesus forgave them all.
- The chief priests and the rulers and the people 23:13. Pilate called all these people together and told them that he and Herod had not found Jesus guilty of the charges they had made against Him. He told the crowd that his choice was to punish Jesus and let Him go. However they demanded that a rebel and murderer named Barabbas be released rather than Jesus. “But they all cried out together, “Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas”– . They wanted Jesus to be crucified. Pilate released Barabbas and handed Jesus over to the Jews to do what they wanted to do with Him. The result? 23:30, “They crucified Him.” Jesus forgave them.
It can be seen that there were many people indeed who were involved in Jesus’ crucifixion. Many of them had heard His teaching. Others had also seen the miracles and healings He performed. Yet in spite of all this evidence, they were willing to see Jesus be put to death. They were accountable even though many were ignorant as to what was really happening.
What was Jesus’ response to all this rejection by so many people?
23:34 “And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.'”
They were crying out for His death. He was praying that God would forgive them. But was it true to say as Jesus prayed that these people did not know what they were doing? Perhaps it was true to a large extent. Many of those opposed to Jesus may have been guilty of blind prejudice so that they did not recognise that Jesus was the long-promised Messiah. Paul wrote in 1Cor 2:7-8, “But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”
It is probably true that if the religious leaders had really understood who Jesus was they would not have had Him crucified. However they were not without fault because they should have known what their scriptures had to say about the coming Messiah. They should have known about His role as the Suffering Servant in Isaiah. They should have taken Jesus seriously when they heard His teaching and witnessed God’s power at work through Him.
Jesus prayed that they might be forgiven. Did it mean that they were in fact forgiven? His prayer did not seem to have much effect on many of those who heard Him pray for their forgiveness. Luke records what happened immediately after Jesus prayed. Lk 23:35 “And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, ‘He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!’ 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37 and saying, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!’ “
Forgiveness is only available to those who turn to God in repentance and ask for His forgiveness. But Jesus’ words were powerful. To pray for forgiveness when one is suffering cruelly at the hands of those being prayed for, would leave a strong memory in the lives of those who heard Him. He was praying that they would eventually recognise their sin and turn to God for forgiveness. Even His prayer could be seen as a fulfilment of the prophecy regarding the Suffering servant in Isaiah 53:12 “Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.” They were transgressing against Him even while He was praying for them.
There was more than blind prejudice present that day. In this appalling scene we see two lights in the darkness.
- One was a criminal who recognised that Jesus was indeed a King. He entreated Jesus, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus promised, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
- The other was the centurion at the scene who heard Jesus cry out His last words on the cross, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” His response as he saw and heard Jesus, was to praise God saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!”
It would be almost certain that as the gospel was later preached throughout the surrounding countries that the story of Jesus’ prayer for His persecutors in Lk 23:34 was also shared with those wanting to know more about Him. Such a person may have been Stephen our next example.
2). THE EXAMPLE OF STEPHEN. Acts 7:60
Stephen was one of the seven chosen to wait on tables to ensure that the Hellenistic widows did not miss out on the distribution of food. (Act 6:1-5). The qualifications of the seven outlined by the apostles were that they might be “men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. 4) But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
The choice was made and the seven were prayed over and had hands laid on them for their ministry, 6:5. Luke made special mention of Stephen. He described him as “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit,” 7 and as being, “full of grace and power… doing great wonders and signs among the people.” 8 Not only that but when his ministry was later challenged Luke records of Stephen, “But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking, 6:10. Moreover as he faced his accusers, those who sat in the Council saw that his face was like the face of an angel, 6:15. He appeared in every way to be a genuine instrument of God.
When challenged, he began to outline the history of Israel and spoke of times when God’s people had rebelled against Him and His servants. Stephen recounted the rejection of Moses, Acts 7:39-40 and other times when they rejected God’s servants. Acts 7:41-50. The climax came when he challenged his hearers with having the same rejection. 7:51, “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. 52 Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, 53, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”
The reaction of the hearers to Stephen was predictable, 54, “Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him.” He was telling them the truth but they were in no mood to hear it from his lips. He knew the intentions of their hearts and began to pray. Again Luke recorded what took place, Acts 7:55 “But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” Luke recorded also his words, 56 “And he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.'” His words show that he believed that Jesus was alive and standing at the right hand of God. By these words he was proclaiming that Jesus was the Son of Man (Jesus’ favourite title for Himself as the Messiah) and divine. His prayer that followed was addressed to Jesus as “Lord Jesus”.
The next reaction of the crowd was to prevent Stephen’s voice from being heard any longer, 7:57 “But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him.” Not only that but they went further in their sin and rejection of Stephen by casting him out of the city and stoning him, 58 “Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.”
It is significant that Luke mentioned the presence of Saul (later known as St Paul). Not only was Paul present but he was in favour of Stephen being put to death as Luke wrote in Acts 8:1, “And Saul approved of his execution.”
What then was Stephen’s response to the uncontrollable reaction of the crowd to him? Even as they continued to stone him he cried out to Jesus, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit”, Acts 7:59. Then in words reminiscent of those uttered by Jesus on the cross, he prayed for his enemies, “‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep.”
Stephen as he faced death may have been consciously following the example of Jesus in His final moments.
|The Death Of Jesus||The Death Of Stephen|
|Lk 23:46 Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!”||Acts 7:59 And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”|
|Lk 23:34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”||Acts 7:60. And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”|
Stephen was praying for his enemies. His prayers in verses 59 and 60 show that he believed that Jesus was the Messiah, that he was divine and that He would judge the world. He asked Jesus not to hold this sin against them. What sin? The sin of rejecting the purpose of God in having him stoned to death. God had been at work through Stephen as His servant and now the leaders and the people were in the process of killing him. Yet another servant of God would be killed by God’s people.
There was only one hope for the murderous crowd. It was through receiving God’s forgiveness. Only then could they escape judgement on the day of Judgement. Stephen graciously prayed for their forgiveness. Until they were forgiven they were accountable. They had sinned against him in seeking to stone him to death. But they had also sinned against God in the murder of Stephen the servant of God.
The example of Jesus in His death may have motivated Stephen to ask forgiveness for his enemies in the same way.
But did Stephen’s example influence anyone? It seems that later it did touch the life of the young man Saul of Tarsus who was holding the coats of those who stoned Stephen to death. This action showed his consent to what was happening on that day. Saul met the living Jesus on the road to Damascus and became Paul the believer and the apostle to the Gentiles.
Many years later in Jerusalem Paul shared details of his life and of these events. He spoke of praying to God just after he became a believer, in these words, Acts 22:19 “And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves know that in one synagogue after another I imprisoned and beat those who believed in you. 20 And when the blood of Stephen your witness was being shed, I myself was standing by and approving and watching over the garments of those who killed him.'” Paul had sinned against many believers. He knew he had sinned against Stephen as an individual. He had sinned against God. What was God’s response to his prayer, Acts 22:21 “Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles”
God had forgiven him and was now commissioning him to be the apostle to the Gentiles. The example of Stephen eventually had a great effect on Paul. He could see that in retrospect that Stephen was God’s “witness”. There may be significance in the use of that word. It is ( μάρτυς = mártus) which can mean “witness” or “martyr”. Paul may have had in mind that when Stephen was stoned to death (his blood was shed) he was actively witnessing to His Lord and at the same time becoming a martyr for his faith in Jesus.
3). THE EXAMPLE OF PAUL (Formerly Saul of Tarsus)
i). PAUL NEEDED TO BE FORGIVEN BY GOD
We have seen above in the story of the death of Stephen that Paul was involved. Act 7:58 “Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.” Luke then added that Paul was guilty as he also approved of Stephen’s death, Acts 8:1 “And Saul approved of his execution.” There are many other references to Paul’s sins when he was known as Saul.
Paul guilty of the persecution of believers
Act 8:3. “But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.”
Acts 9:15-16. In Damascus Ananias “informed” God regarding how dangerous Paul was. Acts 9:13 “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.”
But Saul the persecutor met the Risen Christ and was transformed by that experience. He was to discover that God had a purpose for his life. God told Ananias what that purpose was and that he should go and pray for Paul to receive his sight, Acts 9:15 “But the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.'”
Paul recognised his sin as a persecutor. Act 22:4 “I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women, 5 as the high priest and the whole council of elders can bear me witness. From them I received letters to the brothers, and I journeyed toward Damascus to take those also who were there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished.”
Paul became a changed man
When people saw the transformation in Paul they were amazed, Act 9:21 “And all who heard him were amazed and said, ‘Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?'”
ii). PAUL NEEDED TO FORGIVE FELLOW HUMANS
There are many references to the difficulties Paul faced as a believer. He wrote of many of those difficulties in 2 Cor 11. Verse 23 “Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one–I am talking like a madman–with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. 24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.”
As this passage shows there were obviously many people he needed to forgive for the difficulties they had placed on him and for the hurt and pain they had caused him. He had been persecuted in many of the cities he had visited but he later wrote to the churches in those places to encourage the believers. He was concerned for the spiritual state of the people who had rejected him in his missionary journeys. He wasn’t going to hold on to bitterness against them but had let it go as he forgave them.
Ephesus. One such city was Ephesus where many had rejected his ministry. He wrote about his experience in the city, 1Cor 15:32 “What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus?” Paul wrote deeply about forgiveness when he sent a letter to the church there. Paul had known God’s forgiveness of him. He knew he had to forgive others as he had been forgiven by God. Because he had done it, he could teach it with authority. In Eph 4:31 we read, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” God had forgiven Him in Christ. Now as one in Christ, Paul forgave those who had sinned against him.
Jerusalem. Acts 21:26-31. Paul had brought Gentiles into the temple. He was accused of defiling the temple. Many reacted against Paul and his companions and were seeking to kill him. Acts 21:30 “Then all the city was stirred up, and the people ran together. They seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple, and at once the gates were shut. 31 And as they were seeking to kill him, word came to the tribune of the cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion. 32 He at once took soldiers and centurions and ran down to them. And when they saw the tribune and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. 33 Then the tribune came up and arrested him and ordered him to be bound with two chains. He inquired who he was and what he had done.”
Paul was able to bear testimony to what God had done in his life in Christ. The crowd listened to him but when he mentioned that God had chosen him to go to the Gentiles they exclaimed, “Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live,” 22:22. The inference from Paul that God was interested in the Gentile people was too much for them to bear. They wanted Paul killed. Here was another group of people Paul needed to forgive.
Galatia. Paul had established the church in Galatia but later had the sadness of hearing that false teachers had come in to try to turn the people against him and the message he had brought them. However Paul didn’t give up on his Christian brothers and sisters in Galatia. He forgave their failure to uphold the teaching he had given them. He wanted the best for them. He was forthright and honest in dealing with them. His usual salutation was shortened as he immediately told them what was concerning him, Gal 1:6 “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel–7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.”
Later in chapter 3 Paul again wrote strongly to those whom he saw as having been led astray by the false teachers, Gal 3:1 “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. 2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?”
Paul really cared about his friends in Galatia. He wrote to encourage them to walk by faith as they had begun to do at the beginning of their Christian lives and not to rely on works of the law. They had originally received him and his ministry with open arms, Gal 4:13 “You know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first, 14 and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus.” The false teachers didn’t really care about them in the same way he did. He described his attitude thus, Gal 4:19 “my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!” In his forgiving love he didn’t want them to remain as they were. He wanted them to become what God could make them, by His Spirit within them. They could become more like Christ Himself by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
Philippi. Paul remembered the city of Philippi. He remembered it also as a place where he had been badly treated. He had cast out an evil spirit from a girl but the owners of the girl had him brought before the magistrates. A severe beating took place, Act 16:22 “The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. 23 And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. “ Paul later wrote to the Thessalonians about his experience in Philippi, 1Thess 2:2 “But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict.”
He also remembered the city with joy having seen God at work through his ministry there. Not only was a girl set free of an evil spirit but God miraculously opened the prison doors where Paul was imprisoned. It happened when he was in the process of praising God. The end result was that the jailer and his family believed in the Lord and were baptised. A nasty experience had led to a joyous outcome.
When Paul later wrote to the church in Philippi he looked back with affection to his fellow believers who had come to mean so much to him, Php 1:3 “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.”
These were not the words of a bitter man struggling to forgive those who had been involved in his assault and imprisonment. His confidence was in God who could transform people, Php 1:6 “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. 7 It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8 For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.” He had transformed many of those in Philippi who had become his dear friends as is seen in Php 4:1 “Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.”
Paul had been in an attitude of praise and thanksgiving when he had been imprisoned in Philippi. God had moved powerfully at that time. Later when he wrote to them as friends he stressed the importance of rejoicing in the Lord and handing everything over to Him in prayer (as he had done in prison in Philippi many years before), Php 4:4 “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
It seems that the believers in Philippi had initially given Paul a large degree of support. Later that support had faltered. But Paul forgave them and told them he knew it was difficult for them to continue to give him the support he so much appreciated. But they had revived their concern, Php 4:10 “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity.”
Others may have found it difficult to forgive those who had treated them badly or who failed in their support, but not Paul. He was able to trust in the Lord in the good times and in the bad. He encouraged them to adopt the same attitude he had, Php 4:11 “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
2 Tim 4. Paul took a pragmatic view as he shared with Timothy his concerns about those who had been with him as he ministered. Some people had disappointed him or caused him harm but he didn’t dwell on what they did or didn’t do. He just mentioned it in passing.
- He had been deserted by a friend. 2Tim 4:10 “For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica.”
- Someone had brought great harm to him and posed a threat to Timothy as well, 2Tim 4:14 “Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. 15 Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message.”
- Paul looked for support when he went on trial but there was none, 2Tim 4:16 “At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me.” But he added in words reminiscent of Jesus on the cross and Stephen when he was being stoned to death, “May it not be charged against them!” He wanted them to repent of their sin and know God’s forgiveness. In that sense he had forgiven them as well.
- Humans may have failed him but the Lord didn’t, 2Tim 4:17 “But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth.”
- Paul’s confidence in God continued even as he wrote to Timothy, 2Tim 4:18 “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”
Is it possible to forgive people who have still not repented of their sin against us nor asked for our forgiveness? It is an important question because that is precisely where many people are today in their experience. How can you forgive if people don’t say “Sorry!”
We will look more at that question in a later chapter. However suffice it to say that we see in this chapter three people who were sinned against in very significant ways but who found it in their hearts to forgive those who sinned against them.
Such forgiveness was perhaps unknown in the world of Jesus’ day. It must have been an incredible shock to hear Him answer Peter’s question about how often one should forgive. Seventy times seven seemed to be an impossible task for His hearers.
Jesus didn’t just teach about forgiveness, He practised it. We see that in those incredible words from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Stephen had the same attitude as Jesus towards those who were stoning him to death, Acts 7:60, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
Paul also had to forgive many people and he did. He commanded the believers in the churches in Ephesus and Colossae to forgive others in the same way God forgave sinners, Eph 4:32 “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” AND Col 3:13 “bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
These three humans found it possible to forgive by the grace of God and set an example for others to follow. Forgiving others is necessary according to the word of God. It is also possible by the grace God gives us in His Son and in the gift of his Holy Spirit who can motivate us to forgive in love.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER
1). Have you found it difficult to forgive people who hurt you and have never said to you, “I’m sorry!”
What help might you find in the examples of Jesus, Stephen and Paul?
2). Do you feel that there are some people you could never forgive? If so what answer do you have for those who say forgiveness is a choice we make?
3). In all honesty do you really want to forgive the people who hurt you or your loved ones? If not, how can you change so as to be willing to forgive?
Blog No.212. Jim Holbeck. Posted on (Good) Friday 14th April 2017.