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Forgiveness is a Two-Way Street

Forgiveness is a Two-Way Street

Do you ever think, “My life would be nearly perfect except for the 8 or 12 or 25 people who have made it miserable?” And is it possible that there are other people who think their lives would be nearly perfect if we hadn’t have made them so miserable?

Relationships have the capacity to be one of the greatest sources of joy in our lives, but they also have the power to inflict some of the deepest pain we will ever experience. Sometimes it’s because the little things add up over the months and years. At other times, it happens because of what they did in a single moment to us…or what we did in a single moment to them. And that’s it – we are DONE with them or they are OVER us. And there seems to be an irrevocable death sentence over the relationship.

Initially the pain was so great that we hated them. But to move on, rather than hate, we just eventually pretended like they don’t exist. But has this brought us the peace and freedom we long for?

Relational hurt tends to follow a pattern. Grudges start to grow in our hearts. Bitterness begins to set in. And our anger that may have started off as righteous anger now seems like it’s got a grip on our entire life. We crave revenge and retaliation, but these never seem to deliver what they promise. Is it possible that repentance and reconciliation could actually be more satisfying than revenge and retaliation?

To discover how to deal with the aftermath of what’s been done to you or what you have done to others, we’re stepping into a brand new series today. We’re calling it Time To Make Up.

I have a deep sense that this will be one of the most challenging series we’ve ever done. But I also believe it could be one of the most powerful series we’ve ever done. Stay with us when it gets hard, because I think healing and freedom could be on the other side of what right now seems impossible. So here’s the ask from me to you over this series:

Will you keep yourself open to whatever God wants to teach you, even if it leads you to do something you promised yourself you would never do?

Let me tell you a little about how this series came to be. Over the past year, I’ve found myself in numerous conversations with many of you about this topic. You’ve told me what you have done to others and what they have done to you. We have people who are estranged from their parents. There are others in this Epic community who no longer talk to their siblings. We have individuals in our church who used to be close friends who now do everything to avoid having to see each other.

While I can’t imagine everything you have walked through, I believe this is for all of us, regardless of what we’ve done or what’s been done to us. So much of my content for this series has been shaped by this book by Tim Keller, called Forgive. I got it to help me teach this, but God is using it to do a deep work in my heart.

There is a text in Scripture that will help us frame the whole series.

Matthew 18:21-35 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. Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.”

“But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’ But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened. 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?’ 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.”

Peter asks a question that shows he’s making an assumption that most of us also have.

We assume there should be limits when it comes to forgiveness.

He’s wanting to know, “At what point do we cut people off and never forgive them again?” Peter thinks he’s putting the number way up there when he says, “up to seven times?”. He thinks he’s being really generous with his forgiveness capacity. The common teaching from rabbis during this time was that you were to forgive the offender up to three times. We even have a saying that fits with this – three strikes and you’re out.

Jesus says, “77” or “70 times 7”. Don’t get stuck on which number Jesus means. The point Jesus is making is that there should be no limit to forgiveness. Why is it hard for us to fathom that there’s no limit to us offering someone else forgiveness?

Most of us assume God has limits for how many times He is willing to forgive us.

To make his point, Jesus does what he always does – he tells a parable. The kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. Jesus says that one of them owed the king 10,000 bags of gold. A bag of gold was also called a talent. One talent was equal to 20 years wages. If the servant lived 100 years and worked all 100 of them – he would only have 5 talents. But he owes 10,000 talents. Let’s think through how much this is. Let’s assume your salary is $50,000. A talent would equal $1 million. And there’s 10,000 times that much. 10 billion dollars. What is Jesus doing? He’s telling us that we also owe our Master an amount that we cannot pay back.

A debt has to be paid. Debts don’t go away on their own.

Forgiveness is always costly.

The king demands payment. The servant can’t pay, so the king decides that the servant and his family be sold to pay the debt. It was common to be sold into slavery in order to pay your debts.

The servant begs for mercy and promises to pay back the king. The king isn’t dumb; he knows the servant will never be able to pay his debt. In a great act of mercy, he cancels the debt and lets him go. The king absorbs the debt.

This same servant found someone who owed him a fraction of the amount he had just been forgiven of. He demanded payment. This servant begged for mercy, but this man refused to give it. He threw him into prison until he could repay it.

Forgiveness is a two-way street.

From Jesus: “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from the heart.”

At face value, Jesus seems to be saying that if we forgive others first, then God will forgive us. But he couldn’t mean that, for at least two reasons.

The message of the Gospel is that Jesus died for us while we were still sinners. By grace we have been saved and forgiven of our sins. We cannot earn forgiveness; that’s why it is called the gift of God.

The other reason is that if we don’t experience forgiveness first from God and have his Holy Spirit living within us, we will not have the resources necessary to forgive everyone for everything they do to us.

So what is Jesus saying? He’s telling us that if we can’t forgive others when they sin against us, it’s probably because we haven’t actually received God’s forgiveness for our sin. Or because we don’t really know what our sin cost God to forgive us.

When we realize how great our debt is and that God canceled it completely – at great cost to Himself, how can we withhold forgiveness from others?

Reflecting on this parable, Keller says here’s what we’re doing when God forgives our sin but we withhold forgiveness from each other:

“We’re all servants acting like kings.” Tim Keller, Forgive

“Forgiveness, then, is a form of voluntary suffering.” Tim Keller, Forgive

Forgiveness is great in theory, but how do we offer it to people who have brought the deepest pain into our lives? This will never be easy, but I think it has something to do with realizing the price Jesus paid to forgive us of our sins. But we must go further. We have to actually receive the great mercy and forgiveness Jesus is offering us.

Are you merely inspired by the price Jesus paid to forgive you or have you truly experienced the full forgiveness Jesus is offering you?

In our text today, Peter had limited space in his life for abundant forgiveness. But after denying Jesus and experiencing His forgiveness and restoration, he found a whole new capacity for forgiveness. So much so that he wrote this:

1 Peter 4:8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.

Above All.


Love Covers.

A Multitude of Sins. Not just 1x, 2x or 7x.

Starting next week, we will get into how we actually practice this. But for today, here’s one more big idea from Peter.

1 Peter 2:23-24 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”

Through the voluntary suffering of Jesus, you have been healed. Forgiveness is always costly.

If we’re going to be serious about orienting our entire lives around Jesus, this will include our response to sin against us. “Jesus, help me forgive others as you have forgiven me.”

And if you’re a person who deeply needs to be forgiven, welcome to the club. Jesus has enough mercy for everything you’ve done and for everything you are. He’s literally dying to forgive you – but way more than that. He’s not stopping at forgiveness; He’s going all the way to full reconciliation with you.

Let’s hold off until next week for all the horizontal forgiveness stuff. Today, let’s get clear on if we’ve really received His forgiveness.

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