Can you recall what provoked the disciples to exclaim, “Increase our faith!”? Was it provoked by the Lord’s prophecies regarding the deprivation and suffering that they would face? Or the fact that they would be hated by all men? Was it the Lord’s pronouncement that they would perform great miracles? Or did they make this plea when He revealed that, rather than taking the throne in Jerusalem and leading them in a successful rebellion against iron-booted Rome, He was going to suffer and endure a shameful and an anguishing death? Or might it have been after His resurrection, when they once again wondered if it was time for Him to restore the kingdom, and His response was to vanish from their sight in the ascension?
We might well imagine any one—or all—of those instances to have occasioned the cry cited above. Remarkably, it was none of those challenging situations that elicited their earnest response but these simple words: “Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him” (Lk. 17:3, 4).
The truth is that many men and women have received devastating news, have been bereft of someone they relied on and trusted, someone they had pinned their hopes on, or someone they had loved, and have endured with courage. Many have suffered bravely for a noble cause or to protect a loved one. But to truly live out the virtues of Christ, to manifest His character—specifically by forgiving—made the disciples realize that this would test them beyond the faith they already had.
Someone has observed that no act is more Christlike than that of forgiveness. And whether that is absolutely true or not, it is certainly true that few demands on believers require as much grace, charity, meekness, and humility on the part of an injured or offended believer than that of forgiving someone who has caused us deep and personal injury. We must wrestle with hurt feelings, anger, resentment, bitterness, desires for retribution and revenge. We must confront questions about the fairness of life. We wonder at our misery in view of the oblivion in which our injurer seems to live. We may even find ourselves questioning God’s actions in permitting the offense or allowing the offender to thrive unpunished.
“Increase our faith!” the disciples cried, little knowing that the One who had commanded that they forgive would soon be the recipient of the greatest injury to ever occur in all history and would Himself plead, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (23:34). They could scarcely know that the One demanding them to be forgiving would shortly be dying to satisfy God’s righteous judgment against their many sins so that they might be justly forgiven by a holy God.
Yes, truly forgiving another requires faith. It also requires the deep humility that comes from a clear, biblical recognition of the breadth and depth of our own sins. Furthermore, forgiveness is fostered by the love that springs from a genuine appreciation of the cost Christ paid in order to provide us with forgiveness. And true forgiveness grows in the rich soil of our indebtedness to exhibit the love of Christ. “We love, because He first loved us,” John explained (1 John 4:19). Moreover, we are to “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ has forgiven” us (Eph. 4:32).
If we cannot forgive someone, the truth is that we have not come to grips with the magnitude of our own depravity. We have allowed ourselves to be victims, forgetting that we have been the greatest of victimizers against God and against His Christ. We also have failed to realize that God has allowed the injury for a worthwhile purpose and has afforded us with the additional opportunity to reap the blessing that comes from Christlike behavior: exercising forgiveness. And the wonderful truth is that few circumstances offer such a rich opportunity to demonstrate the transformation wrought through redemption in Christ as does the need to forgive someone a deep injury. “Father, increase our faith!”
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