"You have heard it was said, 'Love you neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes the his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Matthew 5:43-48
Forgiveness is a difficult concept to grasp. It is difficult to grasp how a holy and righteous God can forgive a filthy and rotten sinner like me. But God made a way through the sacrificial death of His only Son to redeem me and restore me into a right relationship with Him. Redemption and restoration are direct results of God's love for me through Jesus Christ. Redemption and restoration are the end results of repentance, turning away from sin toward God and receiving His overwhelming forgiveness. 1 John 1:9 says, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." I thank God for forgiving me of my sin and redeeming me! I thank God for cleansing me, purifying me, and making me more like Jesus each day!
As if that is not difficult enough to grasp and to comprehend, Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:14-15, "For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive you." Even Jesus' disciples had a difficult time with this. Peter asked Jesus about forgiving others in Matthew 18:21. "Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, 'Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?'" That sounds pretty reasonable, right? I'll give you seven chances to get right with me...fair enough. After that, forget it! But Jesus responds to Peter's question in verse 22: "Jesus answered, 'I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.'" Uh oh! That's a lot of forgiveness! And I thank God for a lot of forgiveness, because I know that I have wronged Him more than seven times, even more than seventy-seven times! God loves us, and God forgives us over and over and over again. Jesus not only taught His disciples and followers about receiving forgiveness from God, but He also taught them about allowing God's forgiveness to flow through them. He taught them to forgive others, even those who harm them. He lived it out loud, even for those who persecuted Him and nailed Him to the cross. Luke 23:33-34 says, "When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals - one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, 'Father, forgive them, for they do no know what they are doing.'" One of the greatest acts of forgiveness is to forgive those who hurt you the most, even your enemy. Maybe that is why Jesus said in Matthew 5:44, "But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." Maybe that is why Paul said in Romans 12:17-21, "Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' says the Lord. On the contrary: 'If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." Through God's love and God's power in his own life, Stephen was able to put God's overwhelming forgiveness into practice for his enemies. Acts 7:59-60 says, "While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.' Then he fell on his knees and cried out, 'Lord, do not hold this sin against them.' When he had said this, he fell asleep."
I don't know who has wronged you. I don't know if it was your family, your friends, or even your enemies. But I do know this: if you are a true Christ follower, you must not only receive God's forgiveness in your own life, you must also give God's forgiveness to others. True Christ followers who embrace forgiveness and walks with the Lord daily are not ones who try to get revenge on enemies or ones who have hurt them. True Christ followers are not ones who try to force their enemies out into the cold or away from God's love. True Christ followers are ones who love...love God, love others, love even their enemies. Today, you have a choice. You can choose to walk around in unforgiveness and hate and misery, which Satan loves. Or you can choose to walk in forgiveness and love and joy, which only God can give. Remember, it starts with me (you). I have to repent of my (your) sin and turn to God. He will forgive me (you), and He will give us the love and the power to forgive others...our family, our friends, and yes, even our enemies.