Forgive Seventy Times Seven

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!

“Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him. In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars. He couldn’t pay, so his master ordered that he be sold—along with his wife, his children, and everything he owned—to pay the debt.

“But the man fell down before his master and begged him, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.’ Then his master was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt.

“But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars. He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment.

“His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it,’ he pleaded. But his creditor wouldn’t wait. He had the man arrested and put in prison until the debt could be paid in full.

“When some of the other servants saw this, they were very upset. They went to the king and told him everything that had happened. Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ 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.”
-Matthew 18:21-35

What if someone hurt you in some way.  That is not too hard to imagine, because many of us get hurt by people all the time.  I heard a man tell his story of being hurt by the written words from someone.  He reacted by being very angry with the person.  He got so angry, that he said he hated the other person for a time.  After calming down, he sensed the Lord tell him that he needed to ask their forgiveness.

Think about that for a minute.  He was the one who had been hurt, so didn't he have the right to be angry?  Wouldn't you rather hear that the Lord prompted the man to confront the other person, and tell them they should ask for forgiveness?  But, God did the opposite!

What is profound to me, is that so often, I believe that we think we have a right to unforgiveness that is expressed in anger, hate, and contempt toward the one(s) who hurt us in word or deed.  Our anger is often cloaked or disguised in sarcasm or a passive-aggressive freeze-out towards the person who we really have not forgiven.

We do get angry and when we do, we need to release it, or process it out: eliminate it.  We cannot stay angry and get bitter.  That is what the verses mean that say, "don't let the sun go down on your anger and (thereby) don't give the devil a foothold (Eph. 4:27)

When we do not forgive, we stay stuck in the past and we punish our selves for the hurt someone else did to us.  Someone has put it this way: that we look at that person who hurt us, or we perceived to have hurt us, and we drink poison that ruins our own lives.

We don't want to let them 'off the hook', but in so doing, we drink poison.  We are tortured, rather than being at peace and in freedom.  We reason that they don't deserve forgiveness.  And, they are not even asking for it, so why give it, we say.

When we get into this mindset, we are stepping away from the gospel and forgetting what's been done for us, and forgetting Jesus command that his disciples - those who are really following him and learning to live out his words - to be forgivers.

Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.

It is not about how wrong that other person is or what they did.  Let's assume it was wrong, even evil perhaps.  We still get to forgive.  Jesus is our example, when he said, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do", as he was crucified.  And I say, "we get to forgive", meaning, that we get to let Christ live through us in these moments of forgiveness.

You might say, "it is too hard".  But that is the purpose of Jesus telling this story.   The seventy times seven part means, to forgive again and again, until it becomes second nature.

Imagine that you were forgiven a debt of millions, a hundred million, and it is unlikely that you are going to have that kind of money, over your whole lifetime.  You incur that impossible to ever pay debt.  You offer to try to pay it somehow, but the debt is forgiven by the King.

Then, you have the opportunity to forgive someone's debt that owes you twenty bucks.  And they tell you they don't have it, so you press charges.  Do you see the absurdity?  One hundred million versus twenty dollars.

We are under grace and much grace has been given to each one of us, as Christians, and the Lord asks us to give grace back to others.  If we cannot see this or live in it, some would say that maybe we need to reexamine our own salvation.  Are you saved and do you understand what has been given to you?  In light of that grace, that forgiveness, how could you not be gracious, and forgive others?

What does Jesus mean when he says that if you do not forgive, then God will not forgive you?  And Jesus paints this picture, in the the parable, of being turned over to the torturers, until the guy pays the impossible debt.  What does this mean?

Since you were never called to mete out unforgiveness and punishment, you become blocked from being who you are supposed to be - a person of love, walking in the fruit of the Spirit.  That is the life of being handed over to the torturers.  You drink poison, while looking at the people who hurt or harmed you.  Guess who the poison goes into and harms?  It does not harm that person who hurt or harmed you.

We actually think we are punishing the one who hurt us, but we punish ourselves; and that is why Jesus paints such a shocking picture, to try to teach us not to do that.  Forgive.

There is a distinction between hurt and harm.  Many things hurt us that do not harm us.  Sometimes, we get confused and blow a hurt up into a harm.  Many things in life hurt and some things do harm and there is a difference.

When you just take Jesus at his words and forgive, you get out of the way.  I am a forgiven person who forgives.  I am not the judge or even a junior judge.  I can and do hurt and I can forgive and also be hurt at the same time.

When I am hurt and forgive, I also turn to God, for comfort (2 Cor. 1:3-4).  Christianity and it's founder, is not a humanistic psychology that teaches us a better way of life.  Christianity is a God-centered life, surrendered to a savior, who gives us his life to live out, here in this present darkness (Eph. 6:12).  We are in a spiritual battle, which God has already won (Col. 2:15), which plays out now in a clash of kingdoms, where God displays his power through a weak people (Eph. 3:10), you and me, who are forgivers.  Forgiveness is the currency of the kingdom of God.

Forgiveness is not enabling or siding with evil.  Forgiveness is not saying the bad is ok.  Forgiveness does not absolve people of responsibility.

We also need to forgive ourselves.  You may be living out an unchristian life towards you own self, with unforgiveness.  Judging yourself, then meting out punishment to your self is way beyond the life in Christ.  We are never called to torture or selves, or what scripture calls 'the old man'.  We die to our selves, our sinful nature.  It is dead.  If it tries to come to life, like a ghost, tell it that it is dead, and move on in our living life in Christ.

Sometimes we think we have forgiven someone, but we really have not.  It is fake, false, pseudo, incomplete, or insincere.  In his book, Caring Enough To Forgive: True Forgiveness, David Augsburger writes about true and false forgiveness.  In the prologue, Augsburger says:

Forgiveness as it is frequently practiced is a process of denial, distortion, isolation,  or undoing which leads to behaviors of avoidance, distancing, and spiritual alienation.  Any stance of superiority, super-spirituality, or unilateral self-sacrifice reduces the possibility of real repentance and reconciliation.
Biblical agape is equal regard which refuses to stand up over another or live in denial, avoidance, or distance.  Thus it continues loving and living out the works of love as a genuine invitation to mutuality of forgiveness.  It sees the real focus of forgiving not in individualistic release from guilt and proof of goodness, but in interpersonal reconciliation, wholeness and life together in Christian community.
Perhaps Jesus said the seventy times seven word, because he meant that we need to keep forgiving, even the same person, until we process the forgiveness, unto agape love.

Sometimes, we think we have forgiven someone, but we really have not.  True forgiveness comes from the heart.  We need to be specific in our prayers of forgiveness.  We need to be aware of how we blame those who hurt us and try to somehow punish them through how we live and behave, and see the linkage and forgive that person.

Here is a messege I found on this topic that was good: The Currency of the Kingdom - Forgiveness, a sermon by David Levy