"If anyone says, 'I love God,' yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen."
I John 4:20 (NIV)
I recently saw a story of a woman who was tortured unmercifully by her country's government for secrets that she had and would not reveal. She was the mother of six children, her youngest still being an infant. Somehow, word got out that she was a spy. Despite her husband's wealth, nothing could be done to release her from prison where she was beaten senseless more than one time. Finally, after two and a half years of non-stop brutality in prison, she was let go in a prisoner exchange program.
I have never known the horrors of physical torture. But I have known the smothering anguish of mental torture resulting from my unwillingness to forgive. Jesus tells this parable in the gospel of Matthew:
"Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?"
Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
"Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
"The servant fell on his knees before him. 'Be patient with me,' he begged, 'and I will pay back everything.' The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
"But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded.
"His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.'
"But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened.
"Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
"This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart."
Matthew 18:21-35 (NIV)
Girlfriends, can we be on our way to heaven and still live a torturous life here on earth? Absolutely. The abundant life that Jesus promised to us is out of reach when we do not forgive each other. It is one of Satan's greatest tactics against the children of God to fight each other and render us useless for God's glory to be shown in our lives.
Have you ever noticed that bitterness toward someone else is obsessive, all-consuming, and doesn't necessarily affect the other person while unforgiveness ravages our own hearts? My girlfriend once read a quote to us in Bible study:
Bitterness is like drinking poison and hoping someone else will die from it.
Hatred is like a cancer. It eats our peace, our joy, and silences the voice of God to our souls. That is the definition of torture to me. And we can believe in Christ for our salvation and never make the connection between how seriously we take Christ's command to love others and our own spiritual health. We are lying to ourselves if we think we can love Christ and hate someone else.
Who is forgiveness for? We may think that if we forgive someone, we are condoning the hurt done against us. That is not what forgiveness is. Forgiveness is taking the chain of hatred from around our necks and opening the prison cell door we have been forced to live in. Forgiveness is for us--not the other person!
It's our choice today. Are we going to continue to fume over what has been done to us or are we going to give the hatred, bitterness, and poison of unforgiveness to the One who can heal the wound in our souls and set us free from its poison?
Jesus, I can so easily separate my feelings and actions toward others from my relationship to You. But Scripture assures me that the way I treat others is an act of worship toward or an act of disobedience against You. When forgiveness is so difficult to live out, please help me to see that the biggest benefactor is not the other person, but me!