BY PAUL DUNK
You know that person who keeps offending you in some way? They come to you all glossy-eyed and soft spoken, stammering to get "please forgive me" out because it's the umpteenth time they've done this?
Ya that's them. ... also, we're them.
In Matthew 18 Peter asks how many times a person should be forgiven and offers a 7-strike limit.
Jesus met Peter's underwhelming attempt at generosity with overwhelming grace. Jesus said that we are to offer unlimited forgiveness. That's unreasonable.
Grace, is unreasonable.
Jesus appeals to the only conceivable reason we should forgive someone who repeatedly offends us: God forgives us though we repeatedly offend Him.
God has eternally & unconditionally forgiven us of our sin: PAST, PRESENT and FUTURE. Jesus offers God's unreasonable, scandalous level of forgiveness as our guide. Let's be honest, this level of forgiveness is entirely beyond us.
Unless we remember something.
Jesus turned to Peter, who was probably doing the math on "70x7", and taught further on forgiveness with a parable about an unforgiving servant. When we forget that we are recipients of unreasonable, scandalous grace, it's easy to grab our neighbour by the throat.
The grace that saved us from our sin is covering our sin. Daily.
When I forget, downplay, justify or excuse my sin, I'm perfectly poised to play judge and jury over your sin because, let's face it, I'm convinced yours is worse than mine. To be sure, not all sin carries the same consequence and yes, there are varying degrees of impact - but the fact remains that God isn't ranking it. My sin, no matter how I choose to frame it, is never less offensive to God than yours.
Jesus goes on to describe the unforgiving servant as being in prison having been "handed over to the tormenters". He says matter-of-factly that the one who refuses to pardon the sin of others has not received God's pardon for theirs.
"Forgive or your won't be forgiven" - is not a divine guilt trip. It is a gracious invitation to escape the tormenting, emotional hell of unforgiveness that binds us ever tighter to the sin of others.
This prison of unforgiveness keeps us from seeing how we are recipients of God's grace day in and day out. We can't extend forgiveness because we're pre-occupied with justice. The point at the end of Jesus' parable is that the unforgiving servant is never getting out. There was no way to pay his debt before he was in prison, and there's no way to pay it now. He was given unreasonable grace - not reasonable justice.
Forgiveness is never saying the sin done to you is OK. The very act of forgiving means the sin done against you is absolutely not OK.
Forgiveness is only by God's grace. It enables you to release others from their sin and your demand of payment. This frees you from the emotional torment that would otherwise bind you to them because of their inability to satisfy your demands and truly pay their debt.
7 strikes is a reasonable way to deal with your neighbours sin.
70x7 is an invitation to be thankful that God is gracious, not reasonable, with our sin.
God’s grace can pardon anyone.
It pardoned us.
Forgiveness for other's sin comes as we rest in God's pardon for ours.
That's not reasonable. That's grace.
Paul is a graduate of Knox Theological Seminary and the founding pastor of KW Redeemer in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario. He is an MCO race school graduate, but presently his main hobby is drinking espresso because it's cheaper than fixing cars. Paul and Susan live in Waterloo with their three children.