One evening, as a husband was sitting quietly, reading his newspaper, his wife walked up behind him and whacked him with the back of her hand. “What was that for?” he asked. “That was for the piece of paper I found in your pants pocket!” she replied. “It had the name Mary Lou written on it.” “Oh, that was from two weeks ago, when I went to the race track,” the man said. “Mary Lou was the name of the horse I bet on.” The woman thought for a moment, then hung her head. “Oh, honey,” she said quietly, “I’m so sorry. I should have known there was a good explanation.”
A few days later the man was watching a ball game on TV when his wife walked up and whacked him on the head again. He asked, “What was that for?” She replied, “Your racehorse just called.”
When it comes to forgiveness, how much is enough? How much do we need to forgive? How often should we be doing all we can to wash away the stains which weaken the bonds between us, which take their toll on our own sense of well-being — our very own peace, not to mention the peace between us?
People come in all different sizes, shapes, and colors, but they have one thing in common—they all make mistakes! We make a lot of mistakes. That is why God sent Jesus to die on the cross — to erase our mistakes. When we do something wrong, we can ask God to forgive us and because of Jesus, He will erase our mistakes and we can start over again, and again, and again.
The parable of the king and the man is designed to show one great truth-the duty of forgiving our brethren, and the great evil of not forgiving someone when we are offended. It also teaches us the following lessons:
- Our sins are great.
- God freely forgives them.
- The offences committed against us by others are small.
- We should, therefore, most freely forgive them.
- If we don’t, God will be justly angry with us and punish us. God will forgive if we do not.
Rabbinic tradition taught that a brother could be forgiven three times for the same offense, but not four times. Peter, trying to be a better-than-superior law keeper, doubled that and added one-seven times. He did not expect Jesus’ response, which is not congratulations but a correction. Whether the phrase should be rendered “seventy times seven” or seventy-seven is not important; Jesus teaches us that believers in Christ have been forgiven far more than they will ever be asked to forgive. They must cultivate a spirit of forgiveness, not a habit of counting offenses.
Peter knew the power of forgiveness. He made many mistakes during his time with Jesus, the biggest of which was denying Jesus three times on the night of Jesus’ crucifixion. Each time Jesus forgave him. Peter still didn’t get the fact that because we are all sinners, real, enduring, reconciling forgiveness is beyond our control. It must be a gift received from God to be a gift unleashed and shared for others.
We are not to limit our forgiveness to any fixed number of times. As often as someone hurts us and asks for forgiveness, we are to forgive them. It is their duty to ask for forgiveness, and it is our duty to forgive.
Under Hebrew law, a debtor and his family could be sold into slavery until the debt was paid. Jesus isn’t giving us a lesson in economics or philanthropy. He points out that there is something more than a debt that has been paid. It’s the eternal mercy of God overcoming our sin debt. When we receive God’s love and forgiveness, it changes things. It’s the power and blessing of God, received by faith that is to be put to good use in our lives and in our relationships.
The king’s act of mercy represents God’s mercy to us. We have sinned. We owe more to God than we can pay. Instead of casting us off, God has mercy on us. When we ask for forgiveness, He forgives us.
The story of the man who refused to forgive someone who owed him money was used by Jesus to teach us that the offences which our fellow men commit against us are very small and insignificant compared to our offences against God. Because we have been the recipients of God’s mercy, who are we to suddenly demand justice from others? God’s compassion calls for us to do the same toward others. Anything less is hypocritical.
God expects His children to take on His likeness. If they do not resemble Him in their willingness to forgive, they prove they are not His children. God is rich in mercy and grace, but He is also holy and just, so those who refuse to forgive should not imagine that God would welcome their unforgiving hearts into His kingdom.
The nature of forgiveness is a profound aspect of reconciling grace. Forgiveness is hard. It means that the forgiving person as the innocent one resolves his/her own wrath over the guilty one and lets the guilty one go free. Forgiveness benefits us and frees us for the option of living.
Forgiveness reveals a deep awareness of sin. We can’t change the facts. Forgiveness costs the innocent one, for he resolves the problem in love. Forgiveness conditions us to forgive others for we are forever accountable for our privilege of freedom.
Refusing to forgive inflicts inner turmoil on us. If we refuse to forgive, God will refuse to forgive us. It isn’t worth the misery. We are to forgive as we have been forgiven. We are encouraged to release the poison of all that bitterness. We are encouraged to let it out before God and declare the sincere desire to be free.
Holding on to our anger is not good for our physical health either. Research shows that holding on to anger increases our chances of a heart attack, cancer, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and other illnesses. On the other hand, forgiveness boosts our self-esteem and lowers our blood pressure and heart rate. Forgiveness also helps us sleep better at night and boosts a positive change in our attitude.
Forgiveness is the gift that keeps on giving when our giving gives out. It’s the power of the Lord’s Prayer unleashed in our lives in the relationships that we hold dear. Do we want to live with the junk of past hurts? No. If we want to give every day a chance, Jesus says that we must get rid of the trash. We are to give others the grace we have been given. When there is no possibility for an ongoing relationship, especially when the one who has wronged us is unreachable or dead, forgiveness can free us from bitterness and the desire for revenge.
When we sincerely confess our sin, we admit to ourselves that we have hurt someone else. To ask for forgiveness repeatedly is to admit that we do not have the ability or power to change that truth in us. If we need to ask forgiveness from someone, it will help us if we ask God to give us humble hearts and a spirit willing to change. If we are being asked to forgive, it will help us if we ask God to help us to look to Him to help restore the person back in our heart without bitterness.
There are three reasons why we need to forgive:
- Because God forgives us
- Because resentment leads to self-torture
- Because we need forgiveness every day
Every time we remember the hurt we have received, we make an intentional choice to say, “God, that person really hurt me, and it still hurts. Because I want to be filled with love and not resentment, I am choosing to give up my right to get even and wish bad on that person. I am choosing to bless those who hurt me. God, I pray you’ll bless their life—not because they deserve it. They don’t. I don’t deserve your blessing either, God. But I pray that you’d show grace to them like you’ve shown to me.”
Forgiveness is something that we need every day. We must ask for forgiveness. We must accept forgiveness from God and from others. We must offer forgiveness. It must be continual. It must be enough, and it must be employed.
Forgiveness is not a matter of social grace or necessity. Forgiveness is integral to the Christian lifestyle. As God always forgives sinners, the sinner should always forgive others. This is the most precious gift in the world. We squander this gift so easily when our selfish hearts shut Him out. When we realize our fault and return to Him, He forgives us and renews His life in us. Forgiveness lies at the heart of our faith in God and our love of one another. Forgiveness, which we receive from God, is what God expects from us in our dealings with each other.
The enduring gift of forgiveness began at the cross. Jesus paid the price for our sins. God forgave our sin debt because Jesus paid it for us. We owe our lives to a Holy God because of our sins and failures, but God took the payment of Jesus’ life in our place. Because of God’s great love for us in Christ, He forgives us. He lets us go in His peace. He releases us from the burden of debt and allows us to live in His freedom.
The story of Ruth Bell Graham and Jim Bakker is a story of forgiveness. Many of you might remember evangelist Jim Bakker’s public disgrace. During his darkest days, Jim Bakker found friends in evangelist Billy Graham and his wife Ruth. Billy visited Jim in prison several times. The first Sunday after Jim was released from prison, Ruth hosted him at her own church. She publicly showed her support for him by sitting with him. She showed God’s love. The language of love is always the language of forgiveness. Love is not love unless it is essentially the spirit of forgiveness.
On Ruth’s tombstone at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, North Carolina, is an inscription that she requested herself. It reads, “End of construction. Thank You for your patience.” She lived in an area of North Carolina where construction work was always going on. At the end of every construction zone was a sign with that message on it. She said once that it is a wonderful image for the Christian life. “A work under construction until we go to be with God” she said. We are also works under construction. We need the patience of others to the very end. In return, we must freely give and receive the extravagant forgiveness that Jesus commands.
- Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013, pp. 1314-1315)
- Augsberger, M.S. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 24: Matthew (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982; p. 18)
- Dr. Neil Anderson, “The Cost of Forgiveness.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
- Charles R. Swindoll, “When You Are Offended, Part 1.” Retrieved from email@example.com
- Charles R. Swindoll, “When You Are Offended, Part 2.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Rev. Gregory Seltz, “Forgiveness, the Gift That Keeps On Giving.” Retrieved from email@example.com
- Max Lucado, “Taking Out the trash.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
- “The Voice of the Lord for Tammuz 26.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- “A Humble Heart and Willing Spirit.” Retrieved from email@example.com
- Pastor Rick Warren, “How Often Should You Forgive?” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Doug Fields, “Finding Freedom in Forgiveness.” Retrieved from www.homeword.com
- Pastor Rick Warren, “Why Should You Forgive?” Retrieved from email@example.com
- Charles R. Swindoll, “Be Forgetful.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Daniel B. Clendenin, Ph.D., “Accepting One Another: The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant.” Retrieved from www.journeywithjesus.net
- Karl Jacobson, “Commentary on Matthew 18:21-35.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org
- Pastor Edward Markquart, “Pockets of Poison: The Need for Forgiveness.” Retrieved from www.sermonsfromseattle.com
- The Rev. Dr. Robert M. Zanicky, PCUSA, “The Freeing of Forgiveness.” Retrieved from www.day1.org
- “Over and Over Again.” Retrieved from www.Sermons4KIds.com
- The Rev. Janet Hunt, “Forgiving ‘Seventy-Seven’ Times.” Retrieved from www.dancingwiththeword.com
- Daniel Clendenin, Ph.D., “Never Judge, Always Forgive.” Retrieved from www.journeywithjesus.net