We would like to make this into multiple blogs. So for the next couple months we will have parts 2 and 3. To start off with, what does this really mean in our lives today and do we practice what the Bible says about forgiveness? In Matthew 18:21 it says, "Then Peter came to Him and said, 'Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times? (v.21) Forgiveness has to deal with perhaps the most unpleasant thing in life, and that is when someone else does us wrong. We're dealing with real wrongdoing. We're not talking about overlooking some type of behavior that is justified by some type of excuse. Forgiveness deals with sin.
If the behavior that forgiveness deals with can be excused, then it doesn't need to be forgiven, it simply needs to be accepted. The reason why forgiveness is so difficult is because it deals with the inexcusable. It handles the unacceptable and it has to relate to the unforgettable. Even the very word forgiveness tells us how difficult forgiveness is. The word literally means "to let go" or "to send away." This is when you release to the Lord any bitterness that you might feel you have a right to have toward someone else. It is the willingness to send the offender and the offense away into the hands of God, and let God take care of the matter. Forgiveness also means to give the life back to start over again, to start anew and afresh. Yet, in our grudge-bearing society, this is precisely what we fail to do.
A grudge is a claim on another person's life. That person has done us wrong -- either a real or a perceived wrong -- and we will not let them forget it. We do not let them forget it because the grudge gives us power over them. We "have something" on them. We can inhibit their life and hold it over them. We can quietly await our chance to get even, to take our revenge. We can make that person live in fear, never knowing when we will ambush them psychologically. But there is an ironic twist to grudge-bearing. Bearing the grudge becomes a life-draining burden. While we are waiting to get even, to right the wrong, the world is out dancing. Grudge-bearing is something like carrying around radioactive nuclear waste, ready to hurl it at our enemy, only to find that the radioactivity is destroying us. Psychologists and ministers alike agree that there is only one cure for the cancer of bitterness, and that is forgiveness.
Now the Apostle Peter asked the question that many people would like to ask, but sometimes are too ashamed to ask. His question was: "How many times do I have to forgive a brother who sins against me?" Now Peter pulls a shrewd trick. He makes a suggestion to Jesus. He says, "Up to seven times?" Peter lived in a time in which life was outlined by rules. Everything was spelled out. You not only knew that you were supposed to forgive a brother, or a sister, or a neighbor, but you knew exactly how many times you were supposed to forgive them. So it is a proper question addressed to Jesus, who, especially in the Gospel of Matthew, is referred to as Rabbi, as Teacher. "How often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?" Jesus said, "I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven." This means, forgiveness is beyond calculation. There are no limits to it. Forgiveness is the oil that lubricates the human machine. Without it, all of life becomes hot and squeaky.