I heard the following sermon preached at Hillsdale Community Church by Pastor Jeff Smith on the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant found in Matthew 18:23-34.
Pastor Jeff asked, Why is forgiveness so powerful? It shouldn’t be a complicated question. At a basic level, forgiveness is essential to giving and receiving love. But in this crazy demanding world of ours, it’s easy to forget how to forgive when somebody wrongs us. We quickly allow our feelings of indignation to get in the way. Of course, resentment may feel like it’s working its magic for a while. By withholding forgiveness from the person who did us wrong, we experience (if only temporarily) a sense of power. But does this approach resolve matters for what’s good?
Jesus was clear about the better path to take: he warned against withholding forgiveness from others. Because how can we justifiably embrace anger when we have already been forgiven far more than we deserve? The truth is that God has forgiven each of us more than we will ever know. So, with that knowledge, the only proper response from us is to forgive those who have done us wrong. But what happens if we don’t forgive? Does God’s love for us depend on whether or not we extend forgiveness to others?
Here’s the amazing thing: the love of God is given to us as a GIFT regardless of our thoughts and actions it’s not something we earn because of our good deeds; it’s not something we deserve because we’re just that incredibly awesome it’s simply a gift that we’re given. And this undeserved, unearned, unmerited gift of love is the embodiment of GRACE.
I think that’s what Jesus is getting at. Whether or not we forgive other people is a pretty good indicator of whether or not that grace from God is having an impact on our life. It’s a good indicator of whether or not we’ve accepted God’s love for us. Because the more we receive God’s love, the more we allow it a foothold in our hearts – which, in turn, strengthens our capacity for forgiveness. And the more forgiving we become, the more able we are to extend that love to others. So it’s a virtual circle.
Of course, developing the gift of forgiveness takes time and practice. It’s not about perfection but instead about steady progress. Are we more forgiving – less angry – this year than we were last? Are we cultivating the practice of forgiveness over time?
Friends, standing in the unearned love and undeserved forgiveness of God, standing in God’s grace, how dare we do anything but extend that same love and forgiveness to others. The simple truth of the matter is it’s not ours to withhold!