TODAY’S BIBLE READING:
BIBLE VERSE(S) FOR TODAY:
Matthew 18:21-22 “Then Peter came to him and asked, ‘Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?’ ‘No, not seven times,’ Jesus replied, ‘but seventy times seven!'”
REFLECTIONS ON TODAY’S BIBLE VERSE(S):
On Sunday mornings at Westside Baptist Church, I am preaching through the book of Hebrews. This past week, our text was Hebrews 12:14-17. It begins with “Strive for peace with everyone…” I noted that a refusal to forgive is a huge problem in our churches and, in my estimation, one of the two primary heart issues that results in the emotional problems that so many Christians are plagued with today.
In this morning’s verse for the day, we see God’s Word telling us once again that we must let offenses go. (We are reminded that God commands what is for our good: do what God says – no emotional problems.) We can’t hold onto hurts. We must forgive even when the perpetrator remains unrepentant. In the rare case that someone actually comes to us and asks for forgiveness, we are obligated to do that even if they come back 490 times (70 x 7). But, if we are counting, we aren’t forgiving.
The seriousness of forgiveness is found in the story Jesus told (Matthew 18:23-35) after these comments. He talked about a man who owed his king millions of dollars. As he begged his king for mercy, his massive debt was forgiven. Then this forgiven man went to someone who owed him thousands of dollars, a paltry sum when compared to the debt forgiven by the king. The debtor pleaded for mercy but was thrown into jail for the offense.
In this story, the point is obvious. Since the original slave was forgiven millions of dollars of debt, shouldn’t he have forgiven someone who owed him only a few thousand dollars? When he had been forgiven so much, how could he refuse to forgive someone else of a much smaller debt? The injustice of this scenario is clear.
Only a moment’s reflection is needed to show the even deeper truth: Since God has forgiven us of our massive sin debt against Him that required the crucifixion of His Son, shouldn’t we forgive those who sin against us? After all, their offenses against us pale in comparison to how much we offended a holy God before He forgave us and saved us.
But, the story doesn’t end here. Jesus said something else that grabs our attention as he brings his point to it’s climax. When the king found out that the slave he had forgiven had refused to forgive someone of a much smaller debt, he responded…
Matthew 18:34-35 “Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt. ‘That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.'”
The king would not have reinstated the original debt. It was impossible to repay before the slave was put in prison – being confined to prison would only guarantee that nothing would be paid back.
So, this “entire debt” and “to be tortured” must simply refer to the king’s punishing his unforgiving slave until he learned his lesson. He had been forgiven all so he must learn to forgive others. Refusing to forgive only means that he will be sorely disciplined until he does.
If God’s discipline took no other form, we know that those who refuse to forgive may end up with things like ulcers, high blood pressure, heart disease, anxiety disorders, and so much more. God has called us to live with an attitude of forgiveness – and it is good for us.
Jesus tells us that this is what our “heavenly Father will do to (us) if we refuse to forgive … from our hearts.” Since we have been forgiven of our massive sin debt against a holy God, it is completely unjust and evil if we do not forgive those around us who have wronged us.
Is it easy to forgive? Nope. In some cases, it would seem impossible. We’ve been hurt so badly that forgiveness seems wrong on every level, especially if we think that forgiving the offender will release them from consequences we believe that they deserve.
But, this is not our call. God is the Judge. He will make things right in His time and in His way. But, as we wait, we are commanded to live in perpetual forgiveness.
We will learn that as we do the difficult thing that God has called us to do, we will not be imprisoned and tortured by the emotional problems so characteristic of those who grow bitter as they refuse to forgive. God’s commands really are for our good.