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Updated: Feb 24


target: God’s love compels us to forgive

We are continuing our series, Unconditional Love. We have been exploring the fullness and depths of God's love. We looked at how God's Love is Life and how God's Love Makes All Things New. Last week, we considered The Greatest Gift. In these last few lessons, our focus is more on application. How does God's love affect my choices, direction, and actions? 

Through talking with other Christians and in my own experiences, forgiveness is one of those difficult topics. It is a topic that I continue to learn more about. I am continually discovering more about the Lord's forgiveness and my own heart towards forgiveness. At times, forgiveness can be more complicated than we think. There are often misunderstandings about forgiveness, and forgiveness is often emotional. Forgiveness may involve unresolved conflicts and past pain. However, in this passage, as well as others, we see how forgiveness is to be part of our lives as Christians. God's love and forgiveness towards us should compel us to forgive. 

The Lord's Prayer

One of the things central to the message of Jesus is forgiveness. In the gospel account of Matthew, we have a block of teaching, Matthew 5-7, often referred to as the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon is Jesus' kingdom ethic. We see such a contrast between the behaviors and attitudes often present around us and the behaviors, attitudes, and actions Jesus calls his disciples to model in their lives. At the center of the Sermon is Jesus' teaching on prayer, Matthew 6

Matthew 6:9–15 (NIV)

"This, then, is how you should pray:" 'Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.' For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins."

At the heart of Jesus' message is forgiveness. And somehow, my forgiveness of others is connected to God's forgiveness of me. Forgiveness participates in forgiveness. As we have received God's forgiveness, we are expected to share and extend his forgiveness to others. This is the same thought Jesus expressed in the Unmerciful Servant parable (Matt. 18). The servant was forgiven a great debt and was expected to extend the same forgiveness to others. Unwilling to extend mercy and forgiveness, as he had received, angered the master. The heartbeat of the Kingdom of God is forgiveness. As followers of Jesus, we are expected to participate in forgiveness. 

Seven Times?

Moving back to (Matt. 18), the parable of the Unmerciful Servant falls into a larger movement in Matthews's account. Matthew 14-20 Jesus reveals what God's kingdom looks like and what it means that He is God's Messiah. God's kingdom is not about revenge; Jesus's kingdom is not about retribution but forgiveness. This is cleverly woven into the conversation. 

Matthew 18:21–22 (NIV)

"Then 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."

Traditional Jewish teaching of the day was that an offended person needed to forgive only three times. Peter thought he was being very generous in offering forgiveness seven times.

Jesus, in his response, connects us back to an Old Testament story. The words of Jesus, "seventy times seven" or "seventy-seven times," are found in Genesis 4, the account of Lamech.

Genesis 4:23b–24 (NIV)

"I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for injuring me. If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times."

Lamech reveals something natural to all of us: payback. If you have wronged, insulted, or offended me, it's time for revenge. However, all through Jesus' teaching is something different: forgiveness (ref. Matt. 5:1-12; 38-42). Jesus is teaching his followers a new way to live. 

Jesus is not providing a mathematical equation on forgiveness. Unlike Lamech, our forgiveness is to be unlimited. We are to continually extend mercy and forgiveness to others. New life in Jesus follows the ethics of his kingdom. His love compels us to forgive. 

What Forgiveness is NOT

Forgiveness can be misunderstood. As mentioned, forgiveness is often emotional and carries past hurts and pain. As we read Matthew 18, I would like us to think about what forgiveness is NOT. I recently watched a lesson by Tim Mackie on Forgiveness from Matthew 18. These thoughts are adapted from his lesson.2

Forgiveness is not:

ignoring or forgetting
condoning or excusing
tolerating or allowing further abuse
reconciliation or restoration
returning to the way things were before
allowing the offender to escape the consequences

We often need clarification on these and think forgiveness means all of these. It does not! I can't stress strongly enough that a person needs to escape if they are in a harmful situation to themselves or others. Forgiveness does not mean we stay or remain in harmful situations. Forgiveness does not mean we look over wrong situations or excuse harmful or abusive actions. Forgiveness also does not necessarily mean we go back to the way things were. Forgiveness does not mean we suffer through abuse. Forgiveness may mean there need to be guardrails in place to protect. Forgiveness is a difficult topic and often misunderstood. We need to seek God's wisdom, prayer, and, at times, the support of others as we learn about and struggle with the complexities of forgiveness.  

What Forgiveness Is

Forgiveness is a choice that takes one. 

Matthew 18:33–35 (NIV)

"Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. "This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart."

Jesus teaches that forgiveness takes place in the "heart." We understand that Jesus is not talking about the organ circulating blood through our bodies. Jesus is describing our center. The heart is the seat of our emotions, our will, who we are at the center of our being. Forgiveness takes place from the core or center of who we are. And this takes one. 

Forgiveness is a choice we make independent of the other person. It's the decision we make to forgive. This will involve changing my heart or my attitude about others. It will mean extending mercy and compassion to others. It is an understanding that no matter how I have been offended, others are created in God's image, as I am, and worthy of that distinction. 

Forgiveness is remembering who I am and that I have been forgiven. The parable of the Unmerciful Servant speaks to some of the central elements of the gospel. It reminds us of the heartbeat of Jesus' kingdom ethic as we are directed to his prayer and the debt we have been forgiven. His love compels us to forgive. 

Applying Forgiveness

Forgiveness is a challenging topic. Forgiveness is more complex than we sometimes make it out to be. However, as those who follow Jesus, his love should compel us to forgiveness. 

Forgiveness humbles us

As I consider others, I am reminded of my flaws. I am reminded that I am not perfect and that I have caused harm to others in some way. I am reminded of my debt before the Father and how, through his love, I have been forgiven and shown mercy.

Forgiveness is a decision we make 

Matthew 18:32–33 (NIV)

"Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?"

We have a choice to make. Will we choose to forgive others? It's not going to be easy. Sometimes, it may not mean reconciliation. Other times, we may need to put guardrails in place. However, his love compels us to forgive. 

Forgiveness is transformative 

When we forgive others, we participate in God's redemptive work. It frees us from the burden of bitterness and opens the door to healing and reconciliation, both personally and in our communities.

Forgiveness reflects the character of God

Ultimately, forgiveness reflects the heart of God, who forgives us despite our shortcomings. As followers of Christ, we're called to embody this same grace, compassion, and forgiveness towards others.

Will we be a community and a people known for forgiveness?


Scripture references and quotations are from the: Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

  1. The Bible Knowledge Commentary Vol.2, 62. Barbieri states, "Peter was being generous here, for the traditional Rabbinic teaching was that an offended person needed to forgive a brother only three times." 

  2. Mackie, Tim. Lesson Forgiveness


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