|Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” – Matthew 18:21-22
It was difficult to decide what all to cover in last week’s sermon on forgiveness. As followers of Jesus we are called on every day to grant and receive forgiveness. This can come in many different forms and have many different outcomes. We must pray for wisdom and grace. I was asked by a number of you after service about an aspect of forgiveness that I did not have time to address. “What should I do if I ask someone to forgive me, but they refuse?” This is a common situation and a tough position. I would suggest three basic steps: First, make sure your heart is right before the Lord. Be certain that with true humility and contrition of heart you have confessed the matter to the Lord and sought forgiveness for wherever you were wrong. “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!” Psalm 51:1-2. Because of Jesus and His death upon the cross, you will be forgiven of your sins. Know that when you confess your sins, the Lord is faithful and just to forgive your sins (1 John 1:9). We cannot change the past. Give it to the Lord and pray for the ability to live more like Christ going forward.
Second, ask the person you wronged to forgive you. You may have done this before, but I suggest that you try once more with a degree of finality. Pray much before you do this and pray for the right opportunity. If there is no opportunity, perhaps write a letter. If you write a letter, let a trusted friend read it before you send it to make sure the tone is right. Once you have asked forgiveness with clarity and humility, I suggest that you let the matter rest. You have put the ball in the other person’s court. They know where you stand. As you interact with them in the future let your attitude confirm your previous words. Which leads me to the third point.
Third, pray against despair and bitterness toward the unforgiving person. So often this person is a family member of some sort. A person that will not cycle out of your life, but one that keeps the pain of unforgiveness right in front of you day by day. Pray for a work of the Lord Jesus in your heart that you might love that person who does not love you, and may even be your enemy (Matthew 5:43-47, 1 Peter 3:1-2). Pray for the ability to love that person if they have a change of heart after years of separation. Here we look to the father in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). His younger son hates him, wishes him dead, takes his inheritance early and leaves on the worst possible terms. Yet, the father longs for his return and harbors no hatred because he loves his son. However, he does not seek after him in his rebellion. Only the Lord can change another person’s heart. But when the son comes home, he is welcomed and celebrated. Let us always pray and not lose heart (Luke 18:1). May the Lord bring reconciliation where there is now separation – healing where there is brokenness.
Blog post by Vic Carpenter, Teaching Pastor (Sep 5, 2019)