Summary: How often should we forgive?
Intro, Purpose, Plan
How often should we forgive? How much forgiveness do we need? What does it mean to forgive from the heart?
Let’s explore the difficulty and necessity of compassion and mercy, forgiveness from the heart.
We will look at Matthew 18:21-35 and what Jesus taught about forgiveness.
Matthew 18:21 Is Forgiveness Limited
How often must we forgive people? Are we expected to be gullible victims? Jesus taught about forgiveness, but how often must we be abused and bruised by others and still forgive? That is essentially Peter's question in Matthew 18:21, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Ancient Jewish teaching could have suggested with forgiveness, 3 strikes and you're out. So, Peter's suggestion of 7 times, may have seemed quite generous to him. A question in response to Peter might be, how often ought we imitate God's forgiveness? If the answer is only 7 times, then we are all in trouble.
Matthew 18:22 Forgiveness without Count
What’s Jesus’ answer to how often we must forgive? In Matthew 18:22 Peter was given an answer. “Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” Forgiveness often accompanies deep personal pain, but we can’t change the past. It’s a choice, despite pain and despite lack of trust. Holding grudges hurts us deep in our souls. Forgiving blesses us forever. Jesus' answer, 70x7, means hyperbolically don’t keep count of how many times we forgive. If we track the number of times we gave someone forgiveness, then perhaps we have not really forgiven at all. True forgiveness sets no limits.
Matthew 18:23-34 The Unforgiving Servant
What does the parable of the unforgiving servant teach us? A king’s servant borrowed a huge fortune (Matthew 18:23-34) and lost it all placing his whole family in slavery to debt. He asked for debt forgiveness. The king had compassion and forgave the astronomical debt. That servant then violently confronted a fellow servant, who owed him a very small amount, and had him thrown into prison. The king was angry at this lack of compassion. The king jailed his unforgiving servant and let him be tortured. This parable informs us how important compassion and mercy are to God. He demands that we, the forgiven, must also compassionately and mercifully forgive.
Matthew 18:35 The Gift of Forgiveness
What if we refuse to forgive? God doesn’t give us that option. In Matthew 18:35 Jesus says, “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.” Peter wanted a mathematical count for forgiveness, like seven times and then no more forgiveness. With hyperbolic language, 70x7, Jesus taught that compassion and mercy must last a long, long time from the heart. There is no room for lack of mercy. We confess our sins, remembering the great debt we owe God, and forgive those who trespass against us. Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.
Forgiving Churches are Healing Places
Are some people loners because they are deeply hurt and haven’t learned forgiveness? A healthy local church is the ideal place to heal and learn to love. Forgiveness does not mean trust. It is foolish to trust any human being, even ourselves (Psalms 118:8; Micah 7:5; Jeremiah 17:5; Psalms 118:9; Psalms 118:8-9). We must learn to trust the only One who is completely trustworthy, God. What we need to learn in church life is forgiveness. How wonderful it is when we are among a group of Christians where there is forgiveness. Human trustworthiness is an unrealistic expectation. Alone we don’t learn forgiveness. Forgiving churches are wonderful.
The Rare Gift of Forgiveness
What is a rare gift that we give others and ourselves? It’s the gift of forgiveness. It is hard to find this gift. Most people hold unhealthy grudges and refuse to let them go. We preserve resentment like a precious treasure. It’s not a treasure. It’s a stinking carcass that we safeguard and bow down to and kiss as we remember the past. It’s our egos and hurt feelings, and we refuse to let go of them. Instead of forgiving and getting over it, we imprison ourselves in bitterness and inward anger. Jesus said to forgive from the heart, because only by doing so will our hearts experience freedom and healing.
The Christian Difference
Why is Christianity different to any other religion? We don’t need endless reincarnations, never attaining sinless perfection, working to reach nirvana. We believe in forgiveness, not to avoid forgiveness or to kill and terrorize. Christian history repeatedly fails this ideal, but no other religion offers a free pardon for our sins. We don’t earn our way into God’s favor. Forgiveness is completely undeserved, given to those who ask and are learning to forgive. We are not Christians because we are perfect like Christ. We are Christians because we participate in God’s kingdom of forgiveness and we are learning to be like Jesus and forgiving from the heart because we are forgiven.