We’ve all heard the story of the Good Samaritan that Jesus told in Luke 10. A seldom noticed element of the story is the Samaritan’s use of “oil and wine” in treating an injured man found by the road. Oil and wine were a commonly applied wound treatment in Biblical times. The wine was poured to cleanse the injury. The oil covered the wound and reduced inflammation.
Like oil and wine, forgiveness has two parts. Through faith in Jesus, our sin is washed by the mercy of God. We remember this with Communion, receiving the wine as the blood of Christ. Likewise, forgiveness toward others removes the inflammation of bitterness. If we look on our own sin as a wound, we need both the oil and the wine of forgiveness. In teaching His disciples how to pray, Jesus instructed,
“And forgive us our sins, For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.” (Luke 11:4 NASB).
In a healthy Christian walk, our thankfulness for the mercy we’ve received gives us the grace to forgive those who have sinned against us. Forgiveness from God and forgiveness toward others are two streams of grace that cannot exist independently. This is so important that we are cautioned that our relationship with God is at risk if we fail to forgive others.
“For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” (Matthew 6:14-15 NASB).
This is the nature of forgiveness in God’s eyes. Our appreciation for the mercies we have received causes us to “pray it forward.” Having received the mercies of God without personal cost, we freely extend forgiveness to those who are in our debt.
Forgiveness and Restoration
To the Lost, who we forgive, the intent is a demonstration of the mercy and patience of God. Genuine spiritual forgiveness is an amazingly foreign concept in a world that still adheres to the adage, “an eye for an eye,” (Exodus 21:24). Coming to fulfill the Law, Jesus lifts the standard for God’s people.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.” (Matthew 5:38-39 NASB).
Forgiving a brother or sister in the Lord, has the additional dimension of maintaining unity in the Body of Christ. Jesus discusses forgiveness and restoration within the Church in Matthew 18. For more extreme cases, careful instructions are given in Matthew 18:15-17 regarding how to restore a believer who has chosen to return to sin. Peter cites rabbinical teaching and inquires how often he must forgive.
“Then Peter came and said to Him, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.’ ” (Matthew 18:21-22 NASB).
Choosing to Forgive
'To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.' Lewis B. Smedes Click To Tweet
Forgiving others is one of the toughest decisions a Christian can make. As I choose to forgive, I release any perceived right I have for retaliation or personal offense. Though the consequences of a sin may be out of my control, I have lifted a spiritual burden from the accused, and from myself, as well. Lewis B. Smedes once said, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”
In Matthew 18, Jesus tells a story of a servant that owed his master well over a million dollars in today’s currency. The servant begged for mercy and the master forgave the debt entirely. Leaving his master’s presence, the servant found a man that owed him the equivalent of a few dollars. Though he had been forgiven a million dollar debt, the servant harshly refused to grant mercy to a man who owed a much smaller amount. The master heard of these events and became violently angry with the servant’s ingratitude. The master revoked his mercy toward the servant that owed him the enormous sum and handed the man over to the “tormentors.” (Matthew 18:23-35).
We don’t forgive others so we can get forgiveness; we forgive others because we have obtained mercy. Receiving forgiveness from God but retaining the sins of others results in our own torment. Our Master has forgiven debts we could never repay. It is a small thing to overlook the shortcomings of others in light of the grace and peace we have received in Christ.