What’s in a Number?

Many Christians are being held hostage to a failure to forgive.  They simply refuse to get past hurts and wrongs; they trade their liberty in Christ for the prison of the past.  But there is a Gospel solution to this all-too-common problem:

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?”  Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”  (Matthew 18:21-22)

So what’s in a number?  When it comes to forgiveness . . . absolutely nothing!  Jesus made it clear to Peter that asking how many times he should forgive someone who has wronged him is the wrong question to ask.  Peter probably thought he was being extra-gracious, that by proposing a seven-times forgiveness plan he was far surpassing the righteousness of the Pharisees and teachers of the law.  In that day, Jewish tradition limited forgiveness to just three times and then you could write the offender off.

It’s important to point out that Jesus phrase, “seventy-seven times,” can also be translated “seventy times seven.” In fact, the ESV, NASB, and NKJV versions of the Bible all render it that way. The point Jesus was making to Peter and to us was this:

When it comes to forgiveness, there is no number!

In God’s economy, there simply is no limit to the number of times we are to forgive others.  That is because there is no limit to how many times God forgives us.  He is not keeping score and neither should we!

Peter had a hard time getting past the number.  How about you?  Those who are keeping track of forgiveness simply do not understand; they do not fully comprehend the forgiveness they have received in Christ.  When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He said: “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”  Really?  Is that what we really want God to do?  To forgive us as we forgive others?  The answer is yes . . . but only if the power of the Gospel has freed us to live a life of unconditional forgiveness.

Now, I don’t want to minimize the pain that the wrongs of another can cause.  Some scars last a lifetime.  And that is why it is so critical to pursue a deeper understanding of the Gospel, so that we can be freed to forgive.  The Gospel accounts describe in excruciating detail what happened to Jesus on our behalf. And yet, while hanging on that dirty tree, Jesus prayed: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

I once heard a man say that “Refusing to forgive is like drinking poison and waiting for your enemy to die.”  Jesus knew the damage of an unforgiving heart, and He set the model before us that gives us the power to offer up forgiveness and thus free ourselves from the prison of the past.

To be sure, we can pray for God to deal with every injustice, which He has promised that He will do.  God-centered anger is an appropriate response to injustice, because it is rooted in a concern for God and His Kingdom rather than our own.  And yet it is the power of the Gospel that frees us to leave our righteous indignation at the foot of the cross.

When you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.  (Mark 11:25)

It has been said, “Unforgiveness does more damage to the vessel in which it is stored than the object upon which it is poured.”  To forgive as we have been forgiven is to freely forgive, no matter how many times someone has wronged us or hurt us.  And remember: God never asks us to do anything without giving us the grace to get it done.

This is the Gospel.  This is grace for your race.  NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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