In Luke 17, Jesus briefly addresses the topic of forgiveness. Notice verse 1 says that it is impossible for offenses or stumbling blocks not to occur. In other words, there are going to be times when people get offended or hurt and become angry. Jesus wasn’t condoning this, but He was more than aware of our weakness and propensity to sin. Although believers are forgiven, possess new natures, and are indwelled by the Holy Spirit, we are not perfect. We still sin and fall short of perfect obedience. (Notice verse 3, “Take heed to yourselves.”)
Now, Jesus does speak about the one who causes the offense, but I don’t want to focus on that. Notice that he tells believers that if his brother sins or offends him, he is to rebuke the brother. That doesn’t mean that it is to be done in a mean-spirited or confrontational manner. It simply is meant to bring it to the attention of the brother (or sister). If the brother repents, then you are to forgive the brother.
Believers are to desire restoration to the point that they are willing to bring the issue to the attention of the offending party. If the offending party realizes the offense and asks forgiveness, then the offended party is to extend forgiveness. That does seem pretty reasonable to most believers although that same number wouldn’t be as quick to rebuke or confront the brother. Instead, we are often content to pout or allow the hurt to grow into unhealthy attitudes.
Do we truly stop to consider that the person may not have realized we were offended? Why are we so prone to jump to the conclusion that the hurt was intentional? We assume the worst so often. We then get prideful and wait for the person to come and beg our forgiveness although the person may not even realize that there is a need for restoration.
Returning to our text, Jesus goes on to tell the disciples that if a brother sins against them seven times in a day and asks for forgiveness seven times in that same day, they are to forgive him. Contemplate that! If someone blows up in anger and talks down to you and ask for forgiveness an hour later, you are to forgive that person. Six more times that day, the same thing happens, and there is to be the same reaction. We are to forgive that person!
Any honest person would probably say what I am thinking, “After the second time, I’d tell that person to take a hike. There wouldn’t be five more opportunities to replay this scenario. I don’t like the Groundhog Day scenario.”
That is a natural response that is NOT to characterize us. As believers, we are different and are supposed to resemble the God who loves us and sent His Son to be our sin-Bearer. We are to walk in the power of the One who lives in us. We are to extend forgiveness because we have been forgiven, no matter how many times or how often there is a need or opportunity.
The seven times is not meant to be taken in a “literally wooden” fashion. In other words, we are not meant to keep count and then withhold forgiveness on the 8th occurrence. The point is that we are NOT to withhold forgiveness. We are to be willing to grant forgiveness and not hold grudges. We have no choice in the matter. If Christ is our sovereign LORD and has commanded it, we are to obey. PERIOD! Again, it is virtually unthinkable humanly speaking and impossible in our own strength. That is why the disciples claimed, “Increase our faith,” (v. 5).
Before you completely reject this idea, I want you to consider one more thing. How many times has Jesus forgiven you for the same sins?
How many times have you lost your temper?
How many times have you been impatient?
How often do you take God or His grace and blessings for granted?
Do you always stand up for the truth of the Gospel?
Do you ever worry more about what others will think of you than what Jesus will think of you?
Do you love others in the same way you love yourself?
Do you always rejoice and never grumble?
Are your thoughts always pure?
Are you a faithful, consistent intercessory, prayer warrior?
Do you ever covet what other people have?
You get the picture? That is just a short list of all of the ways we fail God, daily, in the same areas. Instead of saying, “You have reached your limit. No more forgiveness for you,” He says, “I have forgiven you all of your sins for My Name’s sake.”
Psalm 103:8-14 state:
“The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness. He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever. He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.”
If God has done this for us, how can we justifiably refuse to extend forgiveness to others? Ask God for the grace and empowerment to forgive others, no matter what they have done to you.