See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled.
Forgiveness is an antidote to needless suffering. In Jesus’s parable in Matthew 18, the first five verses focus on the king and his first slave (vv. 23-27). The compassionate king forgave the slave a massive debt the slave could never repay. This is a picture of what God did for us. You and I owe God a debt we could never repay, but God offers us complete forgiveness. Then in verse 28 the parable takes a turn. This slave who had just been forgiven a debt of $16 billion went out and found a fellow slave who owed him “a hundred denarii” (v. 28). That would be only $16. So this slave, after he had been forgiven a debt of $16 billion, thought, “You know, there’s somebody who owes me some money.” So he went out and found a guy who owed him 16 bucks. He “seized him and began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe’” (v. 28). And the second slave said, “Have patience with me and I will repay you” (v. 29). Sound familiar? It is exactly what the first slave said to the king. But unlike the king, this slave refused to forgive. The Bible says, “He was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed” (v. 30). All for a lousy 16 bucks. When the king heard about this, he was “moved with anger” and “handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him” (v. 34). Then Jesus added the zinger: “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart” (v. 35).
Is Jesus saying that God will torture us if we don’t forgive others? I don’t think so. I think He is saying that when you and I refuse to forgive, we enter into our own private torture chamber. The Bible has a word for unforgiveness; it’s called bitterness. The root word for “bitterness” in the Greek language means sharp, pointed. And just as there are certain smells and tastes that arouse appetites or displeasure in our life because they are so sharp, there are certain experiences in our past that are so painful that whenever we recall them they create the wound all over again. And with that wound comes the possibility of infection. That’s why Hebrews 12:15 says, “See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled.”
You see, you can’t control the offenses that come into your life. You have no choice about what other people do to you, but you can choose what to do with those offenses. You can let go of them and become better, or you can hold on to them and become bitter. Letting go of those hurts produces healing; holding on to them produces infection. The infection of unforgiveness will destroy and poison not only your life but also the lives of everyone around you. If you are constantly probing, reliving, and recalling that hurt from the past, then it will produce an infection of the spirit that will destroy you and everyone and everything around you. Forgiveness is the only antidote to needless suffering in life.
Today’s devotion is excerpted from “Forgiveness on Trial” by Dr. Robert Jeffress, 2015.
Scripture quotations are taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.