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Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?" - Matthew 18:21 (NIV)
When Paul McCartney wrote the song “Let It Be” in 1968, he was sharing with the audience a comforting dream about his mother. The words of wisdom that “Let it Be” sung so beautifully have comforted listeners for many decades since its release in 1970. It’s a beautiful song birthed from comfort in the midst of pain.
Perhaps the greatest pain in life is the pain of hurt caused by others. Peter asked Jesus about forgiveness once. He had seen Jesus lay the groundwork for God’s ultimate desire for all humanity through His teaching and miracles. Peter knows Jesus is different and better than the average person. He says, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?”
I don’t know about you, but seven times seems like a pretty generous amount. After the fifth time you’ve interrupted my sentence I’m likely to give you a full piece of my mind. After your brother takes your stuff, your friend talks behind your back, or your business partner ruins your business and life, “once” seems like enough. When we have been hurt it takes a lot of internal fortitude to offer true and real forgiveness. So when Jesus answers and says we should forgive 77 times (or 70 times 7 in some translations) Peter must have let out an audible gasp.
Achieving God’s standard of forgiveness is not possible on our own. We have to have a divine intervention to accomplish this. The inspiration for the song “Let it Be” came from a dream. The inspiration for forgiving others comes from God Himself. This week we are invited to a hard teaching of Jesus and into the reward that results in forgiving others completely.
In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart. - Matthew 18:34-35 (NIV)
Yesterday, we took a look at the beginning of a conversation between Peter and Jesus. Peter asks a pretty straightforward question: “How many times should I forgive someone?” Jesus answers in story form. His story is about a guy who was forgiven an unfathomably large debt. Scholars debate the modern equivalent but suffice it to say it would take the average person several lifetimes to pay back what was owed. In an extraordinary act of mercy and kindness, the king forgave the debt of his servant.
The warm fuzzies that wash over Peter and others listening to Jesus are quickly interrupted because the guy that was let off the hook goes after a guy who owes him some chump change. He gets aggressive and has the guy thrown in jail. It’s audacious! Some informed onlookers notice this and tell the king. The king is blown away by how small this guy acts and has him punished for his originally defaulted loan.
It’s the closing lines of this story that get me. In the verse that opened our devotional, Jesus said that if we don’t forgive others, God won’t forgive us. This is one of those scriptures that I want to argue with. When I’ve been hurt by the actions of someone else, I want retribution, revenge, and other types of comeuppance.
How can God tie “innocent” me and my ultimate forgiveness with that jerk who just cut me off in traffic, weaseled his way ahead of me for a promotion, used a lawyer to steal my inheritance, or tempted my spouse into an affair? Either Jesus is insensitive, disconnected from pain, terribly unfair, malicious, or He knows more than me about His Father in Heaven, about what is best for me, and about what my soul needs in order to navigate any number of injustices in life.
The writer of Hebrews summed up what kind of perspective Jesus has when He calls us to forgive from our hearts. Let’s read this verse several times over today and ask God to help it sink deep into our hearts.
Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. - Ephesians 4:31-32 (NLT)
Each week my family participates in a very healthy ritual. It involves a collection of things among us that, when built up, cause irritation, dysfunction, unhealth, and distraction. If we miss a week, it causes some problems. If we miss two weeks, we’re really in a bad way. If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m talking about taking out the trash.
In the verses from Ephesians up top, we hear Paul’s instructions to believers. He’s telling them to “take out the trash.” He tells them to rid bitterness, rage, anger, etc. from their lives. There’s also another healthy practice to employ, and that is forgiveness. When forgiveness is not tended to early and often, the trash begins to pile up in our souls and psyche. Before long, it starts to get in the way, it begins to stink, and it disrupts our lives.
Our motivation for forgiveness comes from a compelling consideration—the recognition of just how much God has forgiven us. If you are like me, you are painfully aware of just how much “garbage” God has removed from your life and how much rotten sin He has forgiven. If we are to enjoy the freedom and cleanliness of God’s forgiveness, we are required to offer that same forgiveness to others.
Today, list out any name that, when recalled, causes you to feel tense. Pray over each name and ask God if there is anything for which you need to forgive them. Pray this prayer with their name inserted. “Father, because you have forgiven me so much, I choose today to forgive [name the person] for [the offense they did to you].”Share Tweet
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. - Romans 8:28 (NIV)
There are times when my kids say things they don’t mean. It’s mainly when I am making one of my sons apologize to the other son. There is still unresolved anger and blame in their hearts when I’ve told them they need to apologize and offer forgiveness. They are saying the words, but they don’t always mean them.
Maybe you are like me and have tried to forgive someone, but it hasn’t really clicked. You have said that you forgive them and have tried really hard to do it, but it hasn’t actually settled in your heart. A grudge persists, and there are still revenge fantasies rolling around in the back of your mind. I think at this point, it’s no longer about the other person—it’s actually more about us and our lack of trust in God.
I believe that the freedom to forgive lies in our belief that God is in control and can be trusted. If we truly believe that God is in control, then we will be able to move past any situation(s) that resulted in our harm. This is articulated best by Joseph from the Old Testament. After a harrowing family ordeal, he famously shared the idea that what man intended for harm, God used for good. He believed God could be trusted and forgave his brothers for torturing him and selling him as a slave.
On Wednesday, I encouraged you to make a list of people you may still have forgiveness issues with. Today, review that list and ask God to give you the faith you need to truly forgive them. If we don’t trust God to handle, on our behalf, the wrong done to us, then we most likely won’t resolve to completely forgive them. God either works all things together for the good for those that love Him and have been called according to His purposes, or He doesn’t.
If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. - Romans 12:18 (NASB)
All week we’ve talked about forgiveness. As C.S. Lewis once said, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea… until they have something to forgive.” It’s not easy, but it matters to God and matters to us. At this point in our conversation, it may be helpful to distinguish what forgiveness isn’t.
Much of this is inspired by work from my friend and fellow staff devotional writer, Gary Black. (Thanks, Gary!)
So, as far as it depends on us, let’s move forward with the aim of living at peace with everyone. We can trust God fully with our lives—our past, present, and future.
Join us in worship this Sunday as we gather, sing, listen to a message from God’s Word, and take communion to remember Jesus’ great sacrifice to forgive us. In addition to our physical campuses, check out our online campus that meets every Sunday at 10am.
If you sense the need for more help with forgiveness, let us help you take the next step via our counseling referral process. Simply click here.Share Tweet