The Standard September 17, 2020
“To dwell above with the saints we love, oh, that will be glory. To dwell below with the saints we know, that’s a different story.” Variations of this unattributed quote speak to the fact that interpersonal relationships, even among Christians, at least occasionally have tension and difficult moments. Regrettably, we not only love each other and show concern but we also hurt one another.
In New Testament times the rabbinical literature taught that someone should forgive an offender up to three times, but not a fourth. The Apostle Peter comes up to Jesus and asks how many times he should forgive a brother or sister who sins against him. Probably thinking the Lord would say a number greater than three, Peter asks if he should forgive up to seven times.
“Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’ But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened. Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed 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 18:22-35)
In this parable Jesus illustrates the enormity of God’s mercy to us and how ridiculous it would be for us to be stingy in extending mercy to others. We have been forgiven on such a large scale that the offenses of others against us seem paltry by comparison. Some translations quote Jesus as saying we should forgive seventy times seven, but the point is not the number but that there is no limit to how many times we should forgive. In not forgiving we tend to build up resentment and bitterness which can end up hurting us more than anyone else. We must forgive even if it is not requested or deserved. Pastor Ray Stedman writes, “Forgiveness, of course, is the virtue we most enjoy, and least employ, in our Christian experience.” You’ve probably heard that refusing to forgive is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Instead, let us follow the example of Jesus which is not necessarily easy but incredibly freeing.
This prayer by Pastor Scotty Smith of Franklin, TN can be ours today. “So, I come to you today for seventy-times-seven grace. I don’t want to be held hostage by my unforgiveness, self-righteousness, and desire for vindication. I humble myself before you, Jesus. This side of heaven, some relationships may never lead to reconciliation. But there’s no justification for tying our repentance to anybody else’s anything. We are to forgive others as you’ve forgiven us, Jesus. It’s as simple and as costly as that. We’re not doormats, but the gospel does call us to be the doorway to stories of redemption. You’ve promised us all the wisdom and grace we need. Until you return, the devil will continue to place Legos in our paths, at opportune moments. But the toxins of bitterness, resentment, and unforgiveness are too deadly to store on the shelves of our hearts. Help us rehearse the gospel, more than the ways people have failed/hurt us, at a ratio of 100 to 1.”