Summary: If you and I want to have relationships that last for the long haul, then we must be willing to extend forgiveness to others. Here’s another way to say it: In every relationship you have, you will constantly be called on to forgive and to ask for forgiv
The Standards of Grace
I heard about a man who really loved dogs. He devoted his life to them he read about them, studied them, and even gave talks about them to other dog lovers. One day he decided to pour a new sidewalk in front of his house. His neighbor watched from his window as he smoothed out the last square foot of cement.
Just then, a large dog appeared and walked through the fresh cement, leaving paw prints behind. The man muttered something under his breath and smoothed out the damage.
He then went inside to get some twine so he could put up a fence around the sidewalk. But, when he got back outside, he discovered some more dog tracks in his fresh cement. He smoothed out the cement and put up the fence.
He then went into the house. Five minutes later he looked outside and saw some more paw prints. He was really mad now. He got out his trowel and smoothed the cement one more time. As he got back to his porch, the dog reappeared and sat right in the middle of the sidewalk.
He went inside, grabbed his gun and shot the dog dead. The neighbor rushed over and said, “Why did you do that? I thought you loved dogs.” The man thought for a minute and said, “I do, I do like dogs. But that’s in the abstract. I hate dogs in the concrete.”
That’s how many of us feel about our theme for this morning. We love to hear about forgiveness in the abstract, but when it hits close to home, we hate it in the concrete.
Relational viruses attack every friendship. Tensions arise. Wrongs are done. Lies are told. Trust is broken. Since we’re imperfect people, we’re bound to have trouble with forgiveness. I’m convinced that relationships are built not on a standard of perfection, but on our ability to ask for forgiveness, and upon our willingness to extend forgiveness. In other words, grace must impact both our friendships and our forgiveness.
If you and I want to have relationships that last for the long haul, then we must be willing to extend forgiveness to others. Here’s another way to say it: In every relationship you have, you will constantly be called on to forgive and to ask for forgiveness.
Forgiveness is costly -- it’s not easy to ask for forgiveness and it’s certainly not easy to extend forgiveness to those who’ve wronged us. Proverbs 18:19 says that, “An offended brother is more unyielding than a fortified city, and disputes are like the barred gates of a citadel.”
Forgiveness is the virtue we most enjoy and least employ. There are at least two reasons why we struggle with forgiveness:
Forgiveness is not natural. That’s why it’s so hard to do.
Forgiveness is not fair. Our sense of justice wants to be vindicated.
Of all the people in the Bible, Peter stands out as the most mathematical of the disciples. He was a stickler for detail, always trying to pin down the precise meaning of everything Jesus said. Do you remember when Jesus engineered a miraculous catch of fish? It was Peter who sat down and counted each squirming one to find out that they caught 153. If you were to take your Bible and count the number of times that Peter messed up, you’d discover that he needed forgiveness on at least 7 different occasions.
Being a numbers-guy, one day Peter came up to Jesus and asked him a question in Matthew 18:21, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times? I find his question a bit amusing. Here’s Peter, the one who needed personal forgiveness on at least 7 different occasions himself, being concerned with how many times he had to forgive someone else. He was trying to discover a mathematical formula for grace.
When you think about it, we all have some barriers that keep us from giving the gift of forgiveness to others. We have a threshold that we don’t want to cross, a limit we won’t go beyond. I can think of at least three barriers of an unforgiving heart:
Revenge “I’m going to get even!”
Resentment “I’m going to stay angry!”
Remembering “I’ll never forget!”
We’ve all asked this question at one time or another. “How many times do I have to forgive this guy? I’m getting tired of it. Why does he keep hurting me like he does?” Peter may have been thinking of a time when somebody wronged him and he had extended forgiveness. But, this same person did something to hurt him the next day. Again, Peter forgave him. A couple days later, his friend lied to him. This time, Peter reluctantly forgave him but now he’s ticked off. Peter wanted Jesus to help him set some forgiveness limits. Peter wanted to know when it’s OK to say, “That’s it. You’ve messed up one too many times!”