Summary: Pride and dishonesty are the main obstacles to forgiveness. But you will never be free if you refuse to forgive. You really don’t have a choice.
“To Forgive is Divine”
Pastor Sean Harder
April 26, 2009
As we look at Scripture today, the themes of humility and honesty are at the forefront of the first half of Matthew 18, and forgiveness in the second half appears to be a product of these virtues. Therefore pride and dishonesty must be the major obstacles to forgiveness. Truth and humility are the core of Christianity though often it’s hard to see.
Let’s look today at some of the characteristics of God’s forgiveness and how we are to follow in His foot steps. In the first two verses we see the principle of:
I. Forbearance (21-22)
In the six verses just prior to our text today we are given very clear instructions on how to approach the Christian brother or sister who sins against us. Many of us are familiar with these instructions and we use them as a model for conflict resolution in the church. Biblical Church discipline by the way, has pretty much gone the way of the Dodo to the church’s peril. But that’s for another time.
Starting now in verse 21 Jesus gives us an indication of how important forgiveness is. He is asked, how many times do I have to forgive the person who sins against me? In Luke 17 verses 3 & 4 we are told to rebuke the person that sins against us, and if he repents forgive him even if he does it seven times in one day.
So now in our text today Jesus is emphasizing this and says not only do you have to forgive three times as required by the Rabbis, seven times as Peter was so proud of here, but 70 times 7. This is likely a reversal of Lamech’s boast of vengeance in Genesis 4:24 where he said if Cain’s revenge is sevenfold, then Lamech’s is seventy-sevenfold.
Amazing how Jesus could come up with this right off the cuff. He knew His scripture. Now some believe this means 77 times, or it could be 490 times but the number is really irrelevant. The point is to never stop forgiving, but as he qualifies above, it is only required if the person repents. This is referring to giving forgiveness, but we always need to forgive in our own hearts for our own sake even if the person never repents.
In fact if we look closer at Jesus words he tells us that we do not have to tolerate sinful behaviour in order to forgive the person. He says in verse 17 that if the person doesn’t listen after going through all the steps, to treat that person as a tax collector or a Gentile.
Here’s how Warren Weirsbe explains what this means:
“That this person can no longer be treated as a spiritual brother or sister, for they have forfeited that position. They can only be treated as one outside the church, not hated, but not held in close fellowship.”
This is basically what God does with us. The door is always open, but there are certain requirements for membership in the Kingdom of God, the main one being repentance. Imagine how many times each of us has asked God for forgiveness. I’m sure he has given it to us many more than 490 times. Our God is the supreme example of forbearance. As far as I can tell He has never punished anyone without giving them a chance to repent, and of course he forgave all sin forever in the cross.
But this is very important. God’s forgiveness is available to everyone, but we need to accept it. Because forgiveness is a choice on the side of the forgiver, it can be given without the other person experiencing the benefits of it. If I don’t accept God’s forgiveness, then I don’t have a relationship with Him, and His forgiveness has no impact on me.
Many commentators I read said that pardon is not salvation. If we truly have received God’s forgiveness in our hearts, it will flow out from the heart. Marcus Dods proposed that “The best assurance that we are ourselves forgiven is the consciousness that the very spirit of the forgiving God is working in our own hearts towards others.”
The same holds true between people. It’s possible to forgive someone in our hearts, but never have a relationship with that person because they don’t accept the forgiveness. Many are skeptical about forgiveness whether it comes from people or God. They may not even allow us to express our forgiveness to them. What I’m saying is that forgiveness is a decision in our heart that may never impact the person we forgive, but it always improves our well being and relationship with God. It is obedience to a command.
I have learned that forgiveness is like turning our wound into a scar. In a state of unforgiveness the offence festers and irritates like a wound that has gotten infected and doesn’t heal, it can even kill us if we don’t take care of it. When we forgive in our heart, it is like cleaning out the wound and causing it to heal. A scar will be there to remind us of what happened, but we don’t even know its there unless we look at it. When we do look at it, it doesn’t hurt anymore, it is just a painless memory.