How Can We Learn to Forgive?

It's obedience vs. pride.

Luke 17:1-10 (ESV)

And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

“Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”

It hasn’t been that long since Jesus taught the concept of forgiveness using the parable of the prodigal son. That parable illustrated the stupidity and sinfulness of unforgiveness, but it didn’t say that forgiveness is easy.

When Jesus says here that you must forgive seven times, he’s implying unlimited forgiveness (see Matt. 18:22). The disciples feel incapable of such things and so ask Jesus to increase their faith. Jesus replies that if they had faith as large as a mustard seed, they could do a lot more than just forgive.

Faith is more black-and-white than quantitative.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. – Hebrews 11:1 (ESV)

The last paragraph seems pointless, but in context it makes sense. Jesus is saying that to forgive your brother, all you have to do is follow orders.

It’s a simple matter of obedience.

Pride is the enemy in all this. It’s why we don’t obey. It’s why we don’t forgive. It’s why our faith is weak. Everything good is interdicted.

Ask God to search your heart and root out pride. The quickest way to purge pride is to be totally embarrassed. I’m not saying to pray for that; a more merciful cure will do just fine.

But don’t hold back. Pride infects us all, and any cure is worth the pain. Find a good mirror.

An honest friend is the best kind.

The weekly study guides, which include discussion questions, are available for download here:

Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.

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