revjoaquinwillisweb.gifDid you know forgiveness and joy are the flip sides of the same coin? Who comes to mind when you think about forgiveness? When you think of them, do you get angry and lose joy?

It is hard to have joy when you’re upset. In the parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matthew 18:21-35), Peter asked Jesus, “How many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me, seven times?  Jesus [answers] seventy times seven.”  Then He tells a parable on forgiving debt, to teach Peter the principles of forgiveness.

C.S. Lewis said, “Forgiveness is a beautiful word, until you have something to forgive.” Gary Inrig, in his book, The Parables, tells a story of a man bitten by a rabid dog during the days when there was no cure. He was told he was dying and to get his affairs in order. He asked for paper to write. The doctor returned to find him busily writing and said to him, “I’m glad to see you writing your will.” The man quickly replied, “This is no will, it is a list of people I’m going to bite before I die.”

The natural tendency of humankind is to get revenge. We don’t just get mad, we get even. In fact, we seek revenge with interest, saying to ourselves, “I’m going to make you pay and you will never do that to me again.”

Throughout scripture, Peter is the hardheaded one, so he knows forgiveness is tough. Rabbis then taught that forgiving three times is enough and you don’t need to do it a fourth time. Wanting to impress Jesus, he doubled the number and added one, but Jesus shocked him by telling him to multiply his seventy by  seven.
How many times do you forgive sins against you? Is it important that they first ask your forgiveness before you forgive them?

Many are confused about forgiveness.

Forgiveness is not acceptance of bad behavior, or forgetting about it, or ignoring it, or avoiding the sinner, or even becoming indifferent to him or her. Forgiveness isn’t needed in matters of disagreement, because forgiveness deals with sin, matters that are inexcusable, unforgettable, and downright unacceptable.

When we forgive, we erase the act, we let it go. It is in the letting go of the wrongs that we truly forgive. In relationships, forgiveness is the prerequisite of reconciliation. Before it happens, though, there must be confession and repentance. Reconciliation takes time because it involves rebuilding trust. Forgiveness is granted; it cannot be bought or earned.

Revenge is not the way of Christ. He calls us to forgive over and over and over again. Many cannot forgive once and get it right. The Lord is asking us not to count or even keep track of how often we forgive. We all crave protection from further hurt but Jesus says let them slap you. In fact, according to Matthew, 5:39,  He says, “Turn to them the other cheek.”

If you have been unforgiving, ask yourself, “What damage is my example giving to others?” It is hard to keep joy in life while living in anger and madness. If you’re looking for joy, examine the flip side of the matter: forgiveness. If you’ve been unforgiving, it’s costing you joy. If you want joy, try being genuinely forgiving. If you want complete joy, let go of what is making you mad, angry or sad.

Forgive whoever it is that is stealing your joy. Bear in mind people steal joy, because joy is God-given, it cannot be stolen through things such as money, houses, clothes or cars that destroy happiness. They cannot steal joy; only people can do that.

Inrig states, “Forgiveness is found in the forgiver. The reason forgiveness is found in the forgiver is because it is an act of grace.”  Like it or not, it is the forgiver who pays the debt the forgiven owes.

This is the whole message of the gospel. The debt we sinners owe to a Holy and loving God is paid by the debt-holder Himself, God through His Son Jesus, who, through His death on the cross, paid our debt to His father, our God.

Jesus knew the flip side of joy is forgiveness. This is why, in the midst of all His pain and suffering, His first word from the cross was, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

The Rev. Dr. R. Joaquin Willis is pastor of the Church of the Open Door at 6001 NW 8th Ave.,
Miami.  To contact the church, call 305-759-0373 or e-mailt