Forgiveness: Gift Given or Received?

Luke 6:37-38, 7:47; Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 2:13-14

The Jordan River in Israel is a wonderful picture of the nature of forgiveness. The Jordan starts with waters from four major tributaries north of the Sea of Galilee. These tributaries receive their flow from the snowpack melt of the mountains, which form the Jordan. On its path, the Jordan flows into the Sea of Galilee, a freshwater lake teeming with life. At Galilee’s southern end, the Jordan continues its journey. It provides life all along the Jordan River Valley until it approaches its end at the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea has virtually no capacity to sustain animal or plant life. The Dead Sea is one of the saltiest bodies of water in the world. In fact, it is nine times saltier than ocean water! The Dead Sea has no outlet. Pristine, fresh waters at the Jordan River’s beginning pick up bitterness along the way. When these waters reach their end, with no place for the bitterness to go, the Jordan becomes virtually lifeless at the Dead Sea.


The question posed in the title is sort of a trick question. Forgiveness is a gift given and received. The more pressing question is what do we do with a gift that is received? Just as the Jordan River did not give itself water (it was bestowed by the hand of God), we should give forgiveness away generously. In Colossians 2:13-14, Paul makes a similar comparison regarding forgiveness. Christ gave us forgiveness without regard to any work on our part. God has been and is generous to us! Paul knits this theme in his letter to the church in Ephesus when he encourages believers to forgive others generously being mindful of God’s generosity toward us.


The Luke text is frequently used to speak to personal stewardship and financial support. It has application in this context. However, in its Biblical context, Jesus is calling us to generosity in forgiving others. In fact, Jesus tells us we will enjoy the more abundant gifts of forgiveness as we are liberal in our bestowing of forgiveness to others. When I am putting a very desired but soft item in a container, I ladle as much into the container as I can. Knowing there is the possibility of air being trapped, I tap the container hoping that settling will occur and thus more can be put in. Because of its value, I seek to make as much room in the container to receive more. Forgiveness is just that valuable! We forgive generously so it can come back to us (pressed down, shaken together) generously. Who doesn’t need abundant forgiveness!


The act of forgiving gives us at least a two-fold benefit. First, when we forgive someone, it frees us from having to carry the proverbial monkey on our backs. We don’t have to keep a record of the wrong with the intent of revenge. Literally, it frees our minds to do more God-honoring things. Secondly, when we forgive, it unleashes the capacity for our own healing. An unforgiving spirit is like an unattended, festering sore. It’s ugly! It does no one any good. It creates an environment that can poison and indeed take our whole lives.
Like the Jordan River, the life giving waters of forgiveness have been given to us by God. In the course of our lives, like the Jordan River, we will be touched by the potential for bitterness. That’s what life does. Our choice is whether we allow that bitterness to accumulate into the Dead Sea of our souls or will we allow the life-affirming waters to flow through us as the bitterness falls away? Give life to yourself and others!


Forgiveness: Is an Apology Enough? – Luke 17:3-4; Matthew 18:21-35

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in Heaven.” (Matthew 7:21)

The Matthew 7 text opens with a command for us not to judge. We are charged of God to deal with a person’s actions, but not to pass judgement on the content of their heart. When you hear the words of an apology, are you judging another? Are you allowing pride to keep you from moving on?

So, is an apology enough for me to forgive someone? Yes and No. For the one forgiving, an apology is enough. For the one seeking forgiveness, an apology is not enough. Now, I’m going to get very picky with words. In the Luke text, we are commanded to rebuke (point out a wrong) when we see a fellow believer doing wrong. We are to forgive the person who wronged us. Period! If we are the ones who wronged someone, repentance MUST precede forgiveness. There is an ocean of difference between apologizing and repenting. To apologize is to say one is sorry for the wrong or hurt inflicted upon another. It says nothing about their future intent. To repent is to say not only that I am sorry for the act but, in my heart, I intend not to do it again. Thus, Luke 17:4 concludes with the command that we are to forgive a person in a fault if they say I repent for the act seven times in a day. Hold on! Don’t tune me out yet!

In the Matthew 18 text, Jesus tells us to forgive seventy times seven (verse 22). He then goes on to tell a parable (story) about forgiveness from the kingdom’s perspective. The king in the story is a metaphor for God. The King (God) was willing to forgive the unjust servant his debt. But, take a closer look at verse 26. The unjust servant didn’t want forgiveness. He was sorry for the debt incurred and he wanted a chance to make it right. The unjust servant did not understand his debt was so enormous the only way the account could be settled was for the One (God) owed to forgive the debt. He was sorry, but he was not repentant. It is evidenced by the way he treated the servant who owed him. The second servant used the exact words the first servant used with totally different results, however. When the Master learned of this, he had the unjust servant turned over to the torturers. The unjust servant apologized but his acts validated an unrepentant heart.

So is an apology enough? The answer is, “What do you mean when you apologize?” If in your heart, an apology is equal to the definition of repenting, then an apology is enough. If you know your apology does not rise to the level of repentance, then you must repent. If you are the wronged person, forgive. Take their apology as an opportunity to move on in your own life. You can judge another’s actions, but you cannot know someone’s heart. Forgiveness is a matter of the heart. From your heart, let go and move on. If you are the person who does the wrong, ask yourself what your apology means. Repentance or not?

Sins produce consequence just like a hammer hitting a crystal vase. Regardless of intent, the vase is destroyed. However, God has the capacity to restore that which the world has shattered. When forgiveness takes hold, restoration can occur. Thus, is forgiveness a gift we gift or a gift we receive? Join us in the next edition in this series.