Peter asked Jesus just how many times he had to forgive someone, and he used the Old Testament number of seven. (Genesis 4:24) But Jesus answered Peter’s question by saying, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” So it’s not really about numbers, it’s more about our response to that transgression against us. When we forgive someone, we’re letting go of resentment…we’re refusing to take offense…and we’re not allowing a root of bitterness to grow. For just as God forgives us, we must forgive others. (Matthew 6:14-15)
In this very well-known and often quoted Scripture, we like to gloss over the first part and instead focus on the end…the promised things God will do for us. But in doing so, we miss two small but very important words contained in this verse. The first, is how this Scripture starts, “If My people…” “If” puts the burden and responsibility squarely on our shoulders to follow through with the conditions God has placed here…namely, for us to have a radical change of heart, mind, and spirit. It is only at that time and after that is completed, (marked by the second important word, “then”) that God will forgive and heal the land. You could call these prerequisites…things God requires of us beforehand…not because He’s a mean tyrant, but because He’s a good and just God.
None of us is immune to grief, suffering, and troubles…for they are just part of this journey we call life. But it’s good to reflect on the attributes of the Lord spoken of in this Scripture today. God’s love for us is everlasting and unconditional…for there is nothing in and of ourselves we can do to obtain this love…it is a free gift given by grace not our works. But also there is nothing so terrible we can ever do that this love can’t reach us. Mercy and kindness are central to God’s character, and it’s out of this great love for us that we can find forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
The area of our lives that the devil is most easily able to gain a foothold… is when we have unforgiveness in our hearts. II Corinthians 2:10-11 tells us that we need to forgive in order that Satan might not outwit us. When we harbor unforgiveness, we allow the devil to capture a place in our heart…setting up a position – a base of operations for further advancement against us. We need to remain then vigilant…forgiving and forgetting quickly, so as not to allow him the ability to take advantage over us.
God is ever merciful and kind towards you…regardless of how badly you act towards Him. It tells us in Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” We need to reflect the mercy God first showed us by forgiving others. Forgiveness is so very powerful…because it’s the starting point for both parties to begin the road towards healing. For without forgiveness, there will never be a release from all the negative and dark emotions of resentment, anger, and bitterness. For without forgiveness, you are never really set free from the past.
The concept in this Scripture is very clear…forgive so that you may be forgiven. So why yet do we find so much pleasure in holding onto grudges? What starts out as a simple miscommunication or disagreement, morphs into something with a life all its own. Anger simmers, and shifts into resentment…frustration stews over how we’ve been wronged, and slowly changes into spite and hard feelings. Holding grudges only harm ourselves…they allow the root of bitterness to take hold and flourish within…and they prevent God from working fully in our lives.
Jesus was explaining to Simon Peter that the number of times we need to forgive one another is just arbitrary. It’s not about keeping a score card on that other person…for the act of forgiveness not about them at all. Forgiveness stems from the unlimitless capacity to forgive that Jesus first showed us while we were still sinners. So as Christians, we are compelled to show each other the same kind of forgiveness…for forgiveness comes out of love for the Lord and each other. The act of forgiveness is for our benefit, not others. For if we allow unforgiveness to fester inside, blame escalates, and with it, growing bitterness, which leads only to spiritual blight.
To walk in love means that the love of God has become so ingrained in you that it has become part of your personality. I come from a long line of stoic German farmers who are not huggers, so when I became a Nurse, I had to train myself to touch people…sometimes in very intimate ways, in potentially embarrassing procedures. And over the years, showing compassion and God’s love through touch just became part of me. We all need to determine to walk in love. To respect rather than disregard…to forgive rather than condemn…to show mercy rather than harshness…to be kind rather than cruel.
In Paul’s letter to the Church in Corinth he’s stressing the need for forgiveness. One of Satan’s favorite tricks is to draw us into a attitude of unforgiveness towards others. He exploits our feelings of resentment and anger, and sadly our soul deteriorates as bitterness takes over.
Sometimes we manage to banish ourselves from God’s presence by bad decisions we’ve made…sometimes the Lord disciplines us by starkly exposing our disobedience and lets us think about it in the desert for a while. Either way, God promises His forgiveness and reconciliation to all who seek Him.