Here, Jesus is speaking about the standard we use to either judge and condemn people or forgive and share with others. For not only in the verse prior to this one but elsewhere in the Gospels we hear Jesus speaking about our accountability. In Matthew 7:2 Jesus exhorts us by saying, “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” So with the same measure or standard we use to evaluate the worth of someone… it will be used to evaluate us. But in contrast, the measure or proportion we use to forgive and contribute to the needs of others…it will be used to bless us.
Peter asked Jesus just how many times he had to forgive someone, and he used the Old Testament number of seven. (Genesis 4:24) But Jesus answered Peter’s question by saying, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” So it’s not really about numbers, it’s more about our response to that transgression against us. When we forgive someone, we’re letting go of resentment…we’re refusing to take offense…and we’re not allowing a root of bitterness to grow. For just as God forgives us, we must forgive others. (Matthew 6:14-15)
I am my worst critic. I lie in bed at night annoyed with myself that I didn’t accomplish everything I should have. Or I’m aggravated at myself for not speaking up when I could have. I react with self-loathing as I play back the events of the day… as the “I should have, I could have, I would have’s” run in a loop through my mind. What’s so sad is… most times, I’m beating myself up over things no one else even knows about. They’re things that are only important to me…so why am I so perturbed? In a word…it’s guilt. Self-directed anger is fueled by guilt…and it doesn’t need to be guilt heaped on us from someone else…for we can do that all by ourselves! But this guilt-ridden self-anger can be changed by the last few words of this verse…for it says to “search your hearts and be silent. Selah” That means we listen and not speak, allowing the Holy Spirit to whisper truth into our heart and mind. It means then we pause and ponder these truths not allowing our mind to race negatively. It’s positive reinforcement, Holy Spirit style.
In this very well-known and often quoted Scripture, we like to gloss over the first part and instead focus on the end…the promised things God will do for us. But in doing so, we miss two small but very important words contained in this verse. The first, is how this Scripture starts, “If My people…” “If” puts the burden and responsibility squarely on our shoulders to follow through with the conditions God has placed here…namely, for us to have a radical change of heart, mind, and spirit. It is only at that time and after that is completed, (marked by the second important word, “then”) that God will forgive and heal the land. You could call these prerequisites…things God requires of us beforehand…not because He’s a mean tyrant, but because He’s a good and just God.
None of us is immune to grief, suffering, and troubles…for they are just part of this journey we call life. But it’s good to reflect on the attributes of the Lord spoken of in this Scripture today. God’s love for us is everlasting and unconditional…for there is nothing in and of ourselves we can do to obtain this love…it is a free gift given by grace not our works. But also there is nothing so terrible we can ever do that this love can’t reach us. Mercy and kindness are central to God’s character, and it’s out of this great love for us that we can find forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
The area of our lives that the devil is most easily able to gain a foothold… is when we have unforgiveness in our hearts. II Corinthians 2:10-11 tells us that we need to forgive in order that Satan might not outwit us. When we harbor unforgiveness, we allow the devil to capture a place in our heart…setting up a position – a base of operations for further advancement against us. We need to remain then vigilant…forgiving and forgetting quickly, so as not to allow him the ability to take advantage over us.
Most of us would be quick to deny any root of bitterness in our lives…but let’s think about it for a moment. Do you hold a grudge against someone who in your eyes disrespected you? Or are you resentful against someone who hurt your pride and caused you pain and embarrassment? You may not be able to even remember the details of the incident…but still anger rises up every time you think of that person. A root of bitterness can take on many faces and lie deep within…so deep that we even lie to ourselves about its very existence. But know that bitterness poisons your life and hinders God’s work in and through you. The answer is forgiveness…allowing the past to be the past. For forgiveness is not meant for the perpetrator, but for yourself.