Summary: What does it mean to really forgive?
The meaning of the word "forgiveness" is: to dismiss, to release, to leave or abandon. We hear of a judge that has "dismissed" the charges against a defendant. What that means is that person has been forgiven of any wrong doing. We hear of a person that is released from an obligation, such as a loan or debt. That person has been forgiven. They no longer bear any responsibility for their debt. It’s as though it never existed.
This is what God offers to all through faith in Christ - forgiveness of sin. A chance to have all charges against us dismissed. A chance to be released from any obligation to pay the debt for our sin against God. A chance for it to be as though our sin never existed in the first place.
Because of the forgiveness made possible through the cross, we can be reconciled to God. Forgiveness is key to our having a right relationship with God. It is also key to our having a right relationship with others.
Today we begin a series on "Finding Freedom In Forgiving Others." As we do, I want us to look to our passage for today in the effort to answer the question, "What does it mean to forgive others?"
1. It means forgiving them repeatedly.
Peter suggested, probably with pride, that it was a great thing to forgive someone 7 times. This was being very kind, because according to Jewish tradition, one is expected to forgive 3 times. Based upon a misunderstanding of a text in the prophet Amos, in which Amos repeatedly uses the formula - Amos 1:3 This is what the LORD says: "For three sins of Damascus, even for four, I will not turn back [my wrath]. Verse 6 - Gaza, verse 9 - Tyre, verse 11 - Edom and so on. God brings judgment upon such-and-such a city. Thus they taught that God himself never forgave more than three times.
Peter had gone the extra mile when he says "up to 7 times." But Jesus surprised him. He said, "not seven times, but seventy-seven times." In other words, Jesus told Peter, "Don’t assume that you can count how many times you offer forgiveness and then be done with it!"
We are expected to forgive, again and again - it’s a commitment that is to be sustained every day of our lives. It is not a single action, feeling or thought. Forgiveness is a way of life!
Peter asked how generous he should be, and talked about "limits." He was thinking about quantity, while Jesus was talking about quality.
We should all appreciate this idea of unlimited forgiveness, because that is what we constantly need from God. Jesus says that we are to be forgiving of others in the same way that we would want God to be forgiving toward us when we sin.
Jesus says, "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful." (Luke 6:36). This having been said, this doesn’t mean that we should repeatedly allow ourselves to be taken advantage of by others. That is a scenario where I need to probably avoid the person so as to protect myself. However, there are still several people around me that I do not want to separate myself from, nor should I need to. Those folks, even those who I know love me very much, will have times when they cause me offense on various occasions. My forgiveness should be limitless.
After all, if I have truly forgiven from my heart, then when the next offense occurs, it will be as though they have never done anything to me at all in the past.
2. It means willingly suffering the injustice of their offense.
The king willingly chose to absorb the debt owed him by the servant. This is what Christ did for us at the cross when he forgave us - He willingly absorbed our debt. Likewise, when we forgive others, we do not demand revenge or payment. We leave that up to God. We choose to accept the fact that an injustice has been done to us without demanding that the person guilty of the offense pay for it. We simply choose to let it go.
"To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. ‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.’ When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly."
A mother ran into the bedroom when she heard her seven-year-old son scream. She found his two-year-old sister pulling his hair. She gently released the little girl’s grip and said comfortingly to the boy, "There, there. She didn’t mean it. She doesn’t know that hurts." He nodded his acknowledgement, and she left the room. As she started down the hall the little girl screamed. Rushing back in, she asked, "What happened?" The little boy replied, "She knows now."