Wednesday, February 9, 2005

How to Forgive By Faith

If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, “Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,” and it would obey you. (Luke 17:6)
Wait a minute — did I get the right verse for today’s topic? What do mustard seeds and mulberry trees have to do with learning how to forgive? Well, Jesus was talking about offenses and how to deal with them:
Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him: and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, “I repent,” you shall forgive him. (Luke17:3-4)
Now, people don’t generally mind rebuking a brother. In fact, it comes quite naturally (at least in our fallen human nature). But when Jesus said to rebuke, it wasn’t a license to act mean and nasty, or to be self-satisfied (which often seems to be what we take “rebuke” to mean). When someone offends us, we want to “tell them off.”

That’s not what Jesus was talking about. Yes, there are times when we must deal seriously with a matter, and we should never back down from that. But we must always be careful to do it in love, seeking the good of the other person involved.

We don’t mind repentance, as long as it is somebody else who is doing it. If someone offends us, and then comes back and apologizes — well, we can often just go ahead and let it go, and it makes us feel, you know, sort of magnanimous. (We have a nasty habit of making everything about us, don’t we? It’s the fallen nature again.)

But seven times in one day? That’s pushing it. I mean, how much of this treatment are we supposed to take? Plus, its one thing when they offend us, and then they repent. What about when they don’t repent? Are we still supposed to forgive?

Yes.

In another place, Jesus said, “Whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses” (Mark 11:25). No repentance mentioned here, not even a hint. Just forgive.

Okay, that really tests our limits now, doesn’t it? But we’re not in bad company, because it tested the disciples as well. When Jesus told them to forgive the brother seven times, the disciples suddenly became aware of a great inadequacy in themselves, particularly in their faith.

The apostles — that’s what Luke calls them at this point — said to Jesus, “Increase our faith” (Luke 17:5). Yeah, if they were going to have to offer this kind of forgiveness, they were really going to need to reckon with their faith.

You see, like everything else in the Christian life, forgiveness is a matter of faith. For when we forgive, we are giving up something. Will God “make up the difference” for us? It takes faith to trust Him to do that.

So Jesus began talking about mustard seeds and mulberry trees: “If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you” (Luke 17:6).

Faith is like a mustard seed, and like a mustard seed, it must be planted to do any good. The size of the seed is not important. What you do with it is. But how do you plant the faith “seed?”

Jesus tells us: “Say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,” and it will obey you.”

Ah, yes. You plant your faith “seed” by what you say. It is the same way with forgiveness. Forgiveness requires faith, and faith is a seed that you plant by what you say.

So the way you forgive is to say, by faith, “I forgive.” You may not feel like you have forgiven. You may even feel anger rising up again because of the offense. But you must cease from being moved by your feelings and stand with your faith: “I forgive.” As often as the offense comes to mind, and as often as feelings of anger rise up, reassert your faith: “I forgive.”

As you take your stand in faith and forgive, you will eventually find that the offense has been uprooted from your life. It is no longer chained to you — you have released it by faith. It is no longer a stumbling block for you — you have removed it by faith. It has been cast into the sea, by faith. Now you are free to move forward in your life.