The Basics of Forgiveness
21 Then Peter came to Him and said, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?"
22 Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. —Matthew 18:21-22 (nkjv)
Jesus consistently taught and demonstrated the necessity of forgiveness, and in today’s passage, Peter was on the receiving end of one of these teachable moments (Matthew 18:15-20). Peter thought he was being a forgiveness machine by suggesting to Jesus “seven times” as a good standard of repeated forgiveness. Jesus’ response here was not that you can count up to 490. Jesus wasn’t saying, Forgive 490 times and then, ding! They’re out! He’s saying you can’t put a limit on forgiveness. His answer and the story that follows in Matthew 18:23-35 teach us that God’s expectations of forgiveness are so high we cannot meet them without His supernatural help.
Just what is forgiveness? Forgiveness is a decision to release a person from the obligation that resulted when they injured me. To personalize this you might say, “I chose to release you from the obligation that resulted from your injuring me.” For example, if I grabbed your Bible from your hands, clearly now I owe you. I’ve taken something that’s yours without permission. Your forgiveness would be the decision to release me from the obligation that resulted when I injured you.
I used to say forgiveness is hard because you don’t require payment of the obligation. But as I’ve reflected more deeply on this, I’ve realized that the one who does the forgiving bears the cost. When you choose to forgive, you pay the debt. In the simple example above, if you forgave me, you may need to buy a new Bible.
Now let’s bring this to bear on how we live. If someone dishonored you, or treated you with disrespect, those are incurred debts. If someone has robbed you of your purity, you have to—with God’s grace and with the support of my brothers and sisters—pay what they owe in forgiveness.
The debt has to be paid. That’s what the cross is all about. Just as our massive sin-debt had to be paid by the Son to satisfy the Father, so forgiveness even between people involves the one who forgives paying the debt. It can’t just be left unpaid. If someone has sinned against you, by forgiving, you pay their obligation. You absorb it. You cover it. You get beyond it. You will have to deal with it and get past it without them. You pay, because forgiveness is a decision to release a person from the obligation that resulted when they injured you.
Now you can see why authentic forgiveness requires God’s grace and His help! If there are unsettled offenses in your life right now, even acknowledging them may be difficult, much less extending forgiveness. But it starts between you and God. He wants you to forgive those people and will make it possible. Ask for His help. It’s for your own good. God wants us to forgive so we can appreciate again the wonder that He forgave us in Christ.
· How easy is it for you to forgive others?
· How would you describe the way God has forgiven you? What does His forgiveness cover?
Lord, today I have a glimpse of the depth and length of Your forgiveness. You have not only forgiven my sinfulness at the cross; You have chosen to consistently forgive my daily confirmations that I’m still fully capable of sinning. Thank You for drawing me away from repeated sin by Your forgiveness. Thank You for receiving my repentance and pouring grace over my head. Help me grow in my capacity to forgive others as You have forgiven me. In Jesus’ name, amen.