Day 9 – How Forgiving Others Impacts Your Forgiveness

Matthew 18:21–35

Imagine you are holding a cup in your left hand, centered above a large bowl. Now imagine a huge pitcher pouring water into the cup until it overflows into the bowl. The cup represents your life, the bowl is the world around you, and the water from the pitcher is the love and mercy (forgiveness) from God pouring into your life. It fills the cup to overflowing so that what naturally happens is love and forgiveness flow out of you to the world around you.

Now, imagine that you don’t want to forgive someone in the world around you. How do you stop the overflow of love and mercy spilling on the world around you? No matter where you move the cup, the bowl moves with you (there is always a world around you). The only option is to put your right hand over the top of the cup. This stops the overflow from your cup.

Now consider the parable from today’s Bible reading. It is easy to think this parable is saying that when I put my hand over my cup and refuse to forgive, God angrily walks away with his pitcher of love and mercy while saying, “Well, if you won’t forgive then I don’t like you anymore and I’m taking my pitcher and going home.” But we know that’s not our compassionate heavenly Father’s character. To understand what the parable means, we need to now imagine that there is a hole in the bottom of the cup. We are not perfect; we desperately need God’s love and mercy because we leak! With our hands over the top, our cups soon become empty (ironically, while God’s love and mercy still runs off our hands and onto the world around us). Do you know what an empty-cup kind of life looks like? I do, because I’ve seen it time and again. It looks like angry, bitter, isolated, and old before one’s time.

While God’s love and mercy flow continuously, it is possible to put ourselves in a position that prevents us from receiving it. Over time, this leads to an empty life of unresolved anger, then bitterness, and finally isolation. It is a life of “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (see Matthew 8:12; 13:42; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30), a living hell. As one of my mentors Dr. Robert Tuttle says, “You don’t have to die to experience hell.”

A common question after this lesson is: What if the person I’m struggling to forgive is me? We will address that question toward the end of next week.

Closing Exercise

Ask God to show you if any unforgiveness is interfering with his flow of love and mercy into your life. If appropriate, share with your group anything God reveals. Pray together, asking God to fill you to overflowing again with his love and mercy.