Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? “Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:21–22)
Here Jesus deals with one of the most important ingredients of the Christian system. I say important because after teaching the disciples the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus explained, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” (Matthew 6:14). So if we ever expect to see the inside of heaven we must forgive. Not just once or seven times, but without ever not forgiving. Seventy-seven times infers never-ending forgiveness.
To illustrate the importance of forgiving, Jesus followed this command with the story of a man who owed his master ten thousand talents. He begged for forgiveness, and his master canceled the debt. Then that man went to a man who owed him just one hundred talents and demanded payment. When that man begged for forgiveness, the man whose large debt had been forgiven refused and had him thrown in prison. When the master heard this, he turned the wicked servant over to the jailers till he paid the debt that could have been forgiven if that servant had not been so unforgiving. Jesus said that’s how our heavenly Father will treat us if we don’t forgive.
When I served with World Vision, I had a Chinese friend from Macao. He told me how he became a Christian. He was in business with a partner, and his partner stole from him, ruining the business. He was so bitter over it that his bitterness was eating him up. His former partner was getting along fine, but my friend was literally getting sick over his bitterness. He said he searched in his Buddhist belief system for an answer to his problem but found none. There was no provision in his religion for forgiveness. He learned, however, that Christianity had a forgiveness concept, so he converted, understood that God had forgiven him, and learned how to forgive his partner. Right away, he had peace.
Once, I wrote a sermon on this concept, which I titled “Forgive or Else.” There is no alternative. In Hebrews 12:15, the Bible says if we don’t conquer bitterness we will be troubled and many will be defiled. So the benefits of obeying this command are wonderful. We enjoy God’s forgiveness and all the rewards He has prepared for us. The consequences of not obeying this command are clear. Jesus gave the warning: If we don’t forgive, God can’t forgive us.
Lord, Your forgiveness is amazing. Your Word is filled with wonderful descriptions of how our sins have been forgiven, forgotten, blotted out, cast into the deepest parts of the sea, and removed as far as the east is from the west. Thank You! How can we help but live in that way toward others? Help me, Lord, to forgive as I have been forgiven.
–Adapted from Encountering Jesus: Praying the Commands of Christ into Your Life by Norval Hadley. This book is available at prayershop.org. Use the code CONPSP3 at checkout to receive an additional 10% discount.
Praise God, who fills you with rich spiritual food (Isa. 55:2). Thank God for not allowing you to go hungry for spiritual nourishment. Confess any craving you may have for things which are not spiritually satisfying (55:2). Commit yourself to daily feeding on Jesus, the living bread (Jn. 6:51). Ask God to instill in you a hunger for the Word of Life.
Pray for any persons you know who are dying spiritually. Pray for opportunities to invite them to the sumptuous wedding banquet of the king (Mt. 22:2-10).
“Prayerless pews make powerless pulpits.” —Anonymous