Summary: What does it mean when I forgive someone?
Today we begin a series on “Finding Freedom In Forgiving Others.” I want us to look to our passage for today to answer the question, “What does it mean to forgive?” We’ll consider two thoughts today and consider three more in the next message in this series.
1. It means forgiving them repeatedly.
Did you hear about the man who was sitting in a coffee shop, across from a woman who was engrossed in her newspaper. One of the headlines blared: “2 Brazilian Players Recruited.” She turned to the man and quizzically asked, “How many is a Brazilian?”
If you don’t get this joke, here’s a hint. Brazilian is not a number! Her misunderstanding reminds me of another numerical misunderstanding in the Bible. The one mentioned in or passage for today.
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. This was based on a misunderstanding of a text in the book of Amos.
Amos repeats the formula - Amos 1:3 “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. 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! And if forgiveness is going to be a way of life, I will be called on to forgive others repeatedly. Why?
A) People are imperfect.
The other people that we share space with on this planet are imperfect human beings, who will knowingly or unknowingly say or do things that will hurt us or offend us. And on occasion they will even hurt or offend us by not doing or saying things! Because human beings are
imperfect, they behave imperfectly!
I will find myself having to forgive a variety of individuals a certain number of times; and I will find myself having to forgive certain individuals a variety of times. Because people are imperfect.
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.
“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” - Luke 6:36 (NIV)
“Mercy, like the regions of space, has no limit, and as these stretch away before the traveler who looks out from the farthest star, so the loftiest intellect and the largest heart can discover no bounds to mercy. Like our Father in heaven, we are to forgive without stint,
forgiving as we expect to be forgiven.” - Donald Guthrie
This having been said, forgiving someone this doesn’t mean we should repeatedly allow ourselves to be taken advantage of. That is a scenario where I need to probably avoid the person so as to protect myself.
However, there are still several people that I do not want to separate myself from, nor should I. Those folks, even those who I know love me very much, will have times when they cause me offense on various occasions. So my forgiveness should be limitless.
“Forgive each other the same as God forgave you through Christ.” - Ephesians 4:32 (Easy to Read)
But in case you haven’t noticed, I’m not God, and neither are you. We have a ways to go in being more Godly when it comes to forgiveness. Which brings us to another reason why I will be called on to forgive others repeatedly.
That’s because . . .
B) I am imperfect.
Because I’m imperfect, I’ll not always get forgiveness right with just one try. I may choose to forgive a person today, then have to choose to forgive the same person again tomorrow for the same offense; and then maybe even have to make the same choice again the following day.
You see, my goal in forgiving others is to get to the place where I am able to forgive “from the heart” (verse 35). We’ll talk more about this in the second part of this message.
But, you see, if I have truly forgiven “from my heart”, then that means when the next offense occurs, it will be as though they have never done anything to me at all in the past; and most of us have to grow into that kind of complete forgiveness. So, in order to get where we need to be in truly forgiving others, we will have to forgive others repeatedly.