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There are not many things that hurt our pride and flesh more than forgiveness – true forgiveness. The kind of forgiveness the Bible teaches us is not a simple, “it’s okay” after someone apologizes. It’s a deep matter of our hearts.
When my husband and I were taking our premarital counseling courses (which I highly recommend for every couple intending on marrying!) the pastor let us in on a rule that he and his wife had that had at that point translated down through their children as well. Whenever someone wronged a person and apologized, they would not say, “it’s okay”, they would make sure to say, “I forgive you.” The difference there is crucial. Saying “it’s okay” can imply that the wrong they caused you is no longer an issue. It can imply indifference. It can be said but not meant sincerely. I forgive you is a response of the heart. It is inherently Christ-like to forgive.
We are created in the image of a forgiving God. Psalm 103:12 says, “as far as the easy is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” (NIV). Isaiah 43:25 says, “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” Micah 7:18-19 says, “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; You will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.” Jeremiah 31:34 says, “I will forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more.”
CS Lewis once said, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” Forgiveness is a matter of our hearts more than it is even absolution for the recipient. There is no room in our hearts for both Christ and His love and for harbored anger, resentment, and spite. When we forgive, we are in agreeance with Jesus’ heart for us, with what He already accomplished on the cross, and with his unconditional and lasting love. Jesus spoke about forgiveness in Matthew chapter 18. “Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.”
Rabbi Jason Strobel wrote on this passage, “Peter thought he was being very spiritual by being willing to forgive someone up to seven times. So Jesus’ response – commanding him to forgive someone up to 490 times – must have been quite a shock! Everything Jesus did and said was very purposeful. He never wasted a word. So the number of times He instructs us to forgive must have some deeper significance. But what is it? As we have already discussed, every word in Hebrew has a numerical value, and these values frequently communicate deeper spiritual insights. That is certainly the case here. The number 490 is the numerical value of the biblical Hebrew word tamim, which means, “complete”, “perfect”, or “finished”. A person who can’tforgive will always live an imperfect and incomplete life that lacks a true understanding of the “finished” gracious work of the cross. The number 490 is also the value of the Hebrew phrase “Let your heart be perfect” (1 Kings 8:61). Forgiving helps make us complete, and it is key to perfecting our hearts before the Lord. But there are some even deeper connections. In Hebrew the word for “my nativity” (moladati) and Bethlehem (Beit Lechem) – the city where Messiah was born, which means “House of Bread” – each individually adds up to 490. This makes perfect sense, since Jesus was born so that we might be forgiven. And forgiveness is associated with bread in the Lord’s Prayer, which says: “Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:11-12 TLV). Just like a person can’t live without their daily bread, an individual can’t survive without forgiveness. The psalmist wrote, “If You, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?” (Psalm 130:3). We need to learn to forgive and to be forgiven. How do we celebrate the forgiveness Messiah has brought us? By partaking of the broken bread of the Lord’s Supper, concerning which Jesus said, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). Jesus, who is the Bread of Life, was born in Bethlehem, the House of Bread, so that we might both experience forgiveness and extend the bread of forgiveness to others. When we fail to forgive, its like we are spiritually withholding food from a starving person! Forgiveness is not an elective; it is a requirement for followers of Jesus. We must forgive because we have been forgiven by the Lord. Extending forgiveness should not even be dependent on receiving an apology, as Paul wrote: “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13). For this reason, forgiveness is one of the greatest acts of faith and a true sign of faithfulness to the Lord. We must forgive because we have been forgiven. The practical benefit of forgiveness is that it frees us as well as the other person. Unforgiveness keeps you imprisoned and chained to your past, but forgiving is a key that sets you free. Don’t delay! Ask yourself as well as the Lord, “Whom do I need to forgive today?” Do you need to forgive yourself, a friend, or a family member? May the Lord give you the faith and grace right now to forgive in Jesus name.” (Excerpt from The Rock, the Road, and the Rabbi by Kathie Lee Gifford with Rabbi Jason Strobel).