Pastor David B. Curtis


Forgiveness — A Mandate: Part 1

Matthew 18:21-22

Delivered 06/22/1997

We are going to talk this morning about the subject of forgiveness. An early meaning in English was "to give or to grant". Then, forgive came to mean "to remit a debt; to give up resentment or claim for requital; to pardon an offense."

We often feel that people owe us many things in our human relationships. We feel we are owed courtesy, respect and consideration. Sometimes we think that we are owed reward or status or promotion in some enterprise, or on the job. But we certainly don't always get what we think we are due. Many Christians are thoughtless, selfish, and ungracious. What should a Christian do about all of the debts owed to him? I think the Biblical answer is to forgive them, as Christ forgave you.

Are you aware that we are under a Divine mandate to forgive each other? It is not an option, or a suggestion that God makes to us depending on how we feel. As children of God we are under a mandate to forgive each other.

Ephesians 4:31-32 (NKJV) Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. 32 And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you.
Colossians 3:13 (NKJV) bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.

Why does God command us to forgive each other? Because it is a fact of life that we will be hurt by each other.

None of us are perfect. We all still have the sin principle dwelling in us, and therefore, we will hurt each other.

How many of you have ever been hurt by another Christian? Everyone has. How many of you have ever hurt another Christian? You can count on it, just like death and taxes. When we are hurt, how are we to deal with it, what do we do? This was Peter's question to our Lord. He knew that he would be hurt by other Christians and he wanted to know how many times he had to forgive them. Peter knows that when you forgive someone, chances are that they will turn around and hurt you again. So he asks the Lord this question:

Matthew 18:21 (NKJV) Then Peter came to Him and said, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?"

Peter understood the tendency of man to fail, he knew it very well. So he asks, "How many times do I have to forgive, seven times?" Seven times might not seem like much to you, but Peter was going way beyond the Jewish requirement. Rabbi Jose Ben Hanina said, "He who begs forgiveness from his neighbor must not do so more than three times" Rabbi Jose Ben Jehuda said, "If a man commits an offence once, they forgive him; if he commits an offence a second time, they forgive him; if he commits an offence a third time, they forgive him; the forth time they do not forgive." The Jewish Talmud said a person was to forgive three times and that's it. The Talmud contained rules and instructions by which, in addition to the Old Testament, the conduct of the Jewish nation was regulated. The Jews set so high a value on the Talmud, as to place it generally above the inspired Scripture. Kind of like some folks do today with church constitutions and doctrinal statements.

Peter must have felt he was really being big hearted to go beyond the tradition of the Jews. Peter was like so much of the Church today, just a few steps behind the world. We need to get our standards from God's Word, not from the world, or from tradition, or each other.

2 Corinthians 10:12 (NKJV) For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.

Notice Jesus' answer to Peter.

Matthew 18:22 (NKJV) Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.

It would be hard to keep track of that many. That's the point, you're not supposed to keep track. He is not saying that you stop forgiving at 491. His answer is not to be taken literally! Jesus confronts Peter with the truth, that the spirit of forgiveness really knows no boundaries. He is saying, "Don't keep track." Forgiveness is the mark of a loving person. In 1 Corinthians 13:5, Paul says, "Love thinks no evil." The Greek verb for thinks is logizomai, it implies keeping a record. It is a bookkeeping term that means to calculate or reckon, as when figuring an entry in a ledger. I keep track of my spending on my computer, do you know why? I don't want to forget it, so I log it in a ledger. Love doesn't keep records of the wrongs done to it. Do you know people who are keeping a record of everything that someone has done to hurt them? Why do they keep a record of wrongs done them? So they won't forget the wrongs, so they will be sure that person gets the justice that is due them. There are times when it pays to have a bad memory.

In Polynesia, where the natives spend much of their time in fighting and feasting, it is customary for each man to keep some reminders of his hatred. Articles are suspended from the roofs of their huts, to keep alive the memory of their wrongs-real or imaginary. In the same way many people nurse their hurts, they brood over wrongs done to them until it is impossible to forget them. But love does not keep a record of wrongs done to it, it is quick to forgive.

Proverbs 10:12 "Hatred stirs up strife, But love covers all sins."

This same Greek word, logizomai, is often used in the NT to represent the pardoning act of God toward those who trust in Jesus Christ for their eternal salvation.

Romans 4:8 (NKJV) Blessed is the man to whom the LORD shall not impute sin."

We have all sinned against God:

Romans 3:10 (NKJV) As it is written: "There is none righteous, no, not one; Romans 3:23 (NKJV) for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

Because of our sin we deserve death, eternity in Hell.

Romans 6:23 (NKJV) For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

But to all, who in faith turn to Christ, trusting in his death to pay their sin debt, God marks the record book as "paid in full."

In God's record book, the only entry after the names of those who have put their trust in Him is, righteous! Christ died to pay our sin debt, and to all who trust in him, he takes their sin and gives them his righteousness. If God so completely and permanently erases the record of our many sins against Him, how much more should we forgive the much lesser wrongs done against us? We are to forgive, as we have been forgiven.

Ephesians 4:32 (NKJV) And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you.

Jesus was telling Peter that there should be no limit on forgiveness. How often should we be willing to forgive someone? As many times as they sin. We, as Christians, are to be like our Father in Heaven. He is forgiving and so are we to be. We are to imitate Him.

Matthew 5:48 (KJV) Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

How forgiving is God?

Isaiah 38:17 (KJV) Behold, for peace I had great bitterness: but thou hast in love to my soul delivered it from the pit of corruption: for thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back.

It literally reads, "you have put my sins between your shoulder blades." Think about that, can you see what's between your shoulder blades? Think about it in relation to the omnipresence of God. To put our sins behind the back of omnipresence, is to do away with them totally. God keeps no record of our wrongs done to him. The only thing in the ledger is that we are "righteous."

Isaiah 43:25 (KJV) I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins.
Jeremiah 31:34 (KJV) And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.

Think about these verses. Does the Almighty, Omniscient, Immutable God suddenly have a laps of memory.? No. God knows everything about my life. He is very much aware of every sin I have committed. When He blots out transgression, it is not that He actually loses knowledge of it. Rather, He blots it out of the record book. He treats me as if I had not sinned. He remembers it no more against me.

Isaiah 55:7 (KJV) Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

If God were to be as reluctant to forgive, as we are in forgiving those who sin against us, we would be in serious trouble. As Christians, we are forgiven people. We are likewise called to be forgiving people.

Micah 7:18-19 (NKJV) Who is a God like You, Pardoning iniquity And passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not retain His anger forever, Because He delights in mercy. 19 He will again have compassion on us, And will subdue our iniquities. You will cast all our sins Into the depths of the sea.

God our Father is forgiving, and so are we to be. Let's look at some Biblical examples of how saints of the past exercised forgiveness. How do you measure up to these saints in your forgiveness of others?

Acts 7:60 (NKJV) Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, "Lord, do not charge them with this sin." And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

Who said that? Stephen. When? When he was being stoned to death for preaching the gospel. And we think that we are being persecuted! Has anybody in here been stoned? Let me clarify this for Cheryl, I'm not talking about pot. I mean stoned by rocks. In 2 Samuel, we have the story of David fleeing Jerusalem as Absalom is taking power. David is running for his life. Yet in the midst of this trial, he is still forgiving of those who wrong him.

2 Samuel 16:5-13 (NKJV) Now when King David came to Bahurim, there was a man from the family of the house of Saul, whose name was Shimei the son of Gera, coming from there. He came out, cursing continuously as he came. 6 And he threw stones at David and at all the servants of King David. And all the people and all the mighty men were on his right hand and on his left. 7 Also Shimei said thus when he cursed: "Come out! Come out! You bloodthirsty man, you rogue! 8 "The LORD has brought upon you all the blood of the house of Saul, in whose place you have reigned; and the LORD has delivered the kingdom into the hand of Absalom your son. So now you are caught in your own evil, because you are a bloodthirsty man!" 9 Then Abishai the son of Zeruiah said to the king, "Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Please, let me go over and take off his head!" 10 But the king said, "What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah? So let him curse, because the LORD has said to him, 'Curse David.' Who then shall say, 'Why have you done so?'" 11 And David said to Abishai and all his servants, "See how my son who came from my own body seeks my life. How much more now may this Benjamite? Let him alone, and let him curse; for so the LORD has ordered him. 12 "It may be that the LORD will look on my affliction, and that the LORD will repay me with good for his cursing this day." 13 And as David and his men went along the road, Shimei went along the hillside opposite him and cursed as he went, threw stones at him and kicked up dust.

How do you think that you would respond in a situation like this? You're in a great trial, a loved one is trying to kill you and take over your kingdom. The last thing that you need is someone aggravating the situation by throwing stones at you and cursing you. Would you have told Abishai to take his head off? I think that David understood the truth of:

Proverbs 19:11 (NKJV) The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, And his glory is to overlook a transgression.

Man is at his best, when he is forgiving. It is the glory of a man that he should forgive another. And it is the mandate of a Christian. We are to forgive those who have wronged us.

Now, you might say, "but you don't know what they have done to me." I might not, but God does, and he is the one who commands us to be forgiving.

You really can't afford not to be forgiving because of the high cost of unforgiveness. There are physical consequences to not forgiving others. A study at one hospital revealed, through personal interviews with patients suffering from mucous colitis, that resentment was the most prominent personality characteristic, occurring in 96% of the victims. The more serious ulcerative colitis, also can be caused by emotional turmoil. The ulcers in the colon can truly plague the sufferer, who often gets little help from any medication. The only surgical procedure of any avail is the removal of the colon and the entire rectum. That's a high price to pay for not being willing to forgive.

The grizzly bear, who can whip any animal in the west, will only let one animal eat with him, a skunk. He knows there would be a high cost of getting even. Physically, there is a high cost for unforgivenss, but there is a higher cost spiritually.

Matthew 6:12-15 (NKJV) And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors. 13 And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. 14 "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 "But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

What are these verses teaching? Are we saved by forgiving others? Will we lose our salvation if we don't forgive others? No. I think that what is in view here is not judicialforgiveness, but relational forgiveness. Judicial forgiveness views God as a judge. God looks down and says, "You're guilty, you have sinned and you must be punished." But all who have trusted in Jesus Christ have their sin debt paid in full by His work.

Romans 8:1 (NKJV) There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.

God says, "I declare you forgiven, by virtue of your faith in Jesus Christ." By that judicial act of forgiveness, all of your sins, past, present, and future are completely forgiven. You are justified forever.

I think that what is being referred to in this passage, is relational forgiveness. Although our sins are forgiven, we don't stop sinning. When we sin and will not repent of that sin, it effects our relationship with God. We don't stop being His child, but we loose an intimacy, our communion is broken. We restore our communion through confession of our sins.

1 John 1:9 (NKJV) If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

The gospel brings judicial forgiveness, and obedience, along with confession of sin, will bring the joy that comes from relational forgiveness. Look with me at:

John 13:1-11 (NKJV) Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. 2 And supper being ended, the devil having already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray Him, 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, 4 rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. 5 After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. 6 Then He came to Simon Peter. And Peter said to Him, "Lord, are You washing my feet?" 7 Jesus answered and said to him, "What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this." 8 Peter said to Him, "You shall never wash my feet!" Jesus answered him, "If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me."9 Simon Peter said to Him, "Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!" 10 Jesus said to him, "He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you." 11 For He knew who would betray Him; therefore He said, "You are not all clean."

Notice verse 8, "if I do not wash you, you have no part with me." The Greek word for "part" is meros, which means fellowship, relationship, or intimacy. With that statement, our Lord turned the physical act of washing the disciples feet into a tremendous spiritual truth. Verse 10 makes it clear that they had already been made righteous by faith. They didn't need another bath. How many times does God make a person righteous? Once! All that is necessary for me to do is keep the fullness of the relationship open by having my feet washed. And before we ask the Lord to wash our feet, we have to make sure we have forgiven others. That is the prerequisite.

Psalms 66:18 (NKJV) If I regard iniquity in my heart, The Lord will not hear.

Our relationship is hindered by sin, and unforgiveness is sin!

What do we do when someone sins against us? Should we just try to act like it didn't happen, should we ignore it?

Luke 17:1-5 (NKJV) Then He said to the disciples, "It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come! 2 "It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones. 3 "Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. 4 "And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, 'I repent,' you shall forgive him." 5 And the apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith."

What is the first step, when someone sins against you? Rebuke them, or admonish them. The idea is that you go to them and let them know that they have sinned against you. The first step is not to go to others and tell them how you have been wronged by so-and-so. It is not to get angry and begin to think up ways of getting even. And it is not to pout and stop speaking to the person. The first thing you are to do is go to the person who has offended you, and tell them their offence. Notice what it says, "if he repents, forgive him." That is a conditional clause. He might not repent, and then again he might. If he doesn't repent, do we still need to forgive them? Yes & No. Yes, we are to forgive them in the judicial sense-- we are not to try to get vengeance, make them pay for what they have done. But we won't experience full forgiveness relationally until they repent of the sin. Our fellowship will be broken. In some cases repentance will include restoration. Let's say that I stole something of yours, you found out and rebuked me, and I repented. Do I have to give your property back? Yes, true repentance would involve restitution.

We are to forgive them by not holding it against them. We are to hold no bitterness or grudges against a person no matter how they may have wronged us or how deeply we were hurt.

We are to take the sins of others and, according to the literal Greek of the word, forgive, which is aphiemi, to send forth, or send away. It involves the remission of the punishment, due to sinful conduct. And it involves the complete removal of the cause of offences. Lord Herbert said, "He who cannot forgive others, breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass." A saint of long ago said, "Revenge, indeed, seems often sweet to men; but, oh, it is only sugared poison, only sweetened gall, and its aftertaste is bitter as hell. Forgiving, enduring love alone, is sweet and blissful: it enjoys peace and the consciousness of God's favor."

I'm sure you've heard the old adage, "forgive and forget." We don't have the ability to forget wrongs that were done to us. Can you make yourself forget something? I can't. Forgiveness doesn't mean forgetting. To forgive is to treat the person as though the offence was not committed. We see this spirit of forgiveness exemplified in the life of Abraham Lincoln. One of Lincoln's earliest political enemies was Edwin M. Stanton. Fosdick points out that no one treated Lincoln with more contempt than did Stanton. He called him "a low cunning clown," he nicknamed him "the original gorilla" and said that Du Chaillu was a fool to wander about Africa trying to capture a gorilla when he could have found one so easily at Springfield, Illinois. Lincoln never responded to the slander. And when, as President he needed a secretary of war, he chose Stanton. When his friends asked why, Lincoln responded, "because he is the best man for the job." Lincoln treated Stanton with every courtesy. The years wore on. On the night of April 14, while attending a play at Ford's Theater in Washington, Lincoln was shot by assassin John Wilkes Booth. In the little room, where the President's body was taken stood that same Stanton, and, looking down on Lincoln's silent face, he said through his tears, "There lies the greatest ruler of men the world has ever seen." His animosity was finally broken by Lincoln's forgiving spirit. I'm sure that Lincoln didn't forget all that Stanton had done to him, but he treated him as if the offences were never committed. Forgiveness is not a option, it is a mandate. We are to be like our Father in heaven, and He is a forgiving God. We are His representatives and we are to model his character. In a world where revenge is a virtue, the forgiving person will stand out, they will be noticed for God's glory. Forgiveness isn't easy, but it is commanded.


1. Realize that God is working through the actions of your offender. See them as God's agent in your growth in sanctification. This is how Joseph saw his brothers.

Genesis 50:20 (NKJV) "But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.

This is how David viewed Shimi, as God's agent. Don't view your offender as working independent of God.

2. Thank God for the benefit He plans through each offence.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NKJV) in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
Romans 8:28 (NKJV) And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.

God, in His sovereignty, could have kept the offence from happening, but He allowed it for a reason.

3. Expect to suffer as a normal part of Christian living.

2 Timothy 3:12 (NKJV) Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.

We're to forgive any and all who sin against us. No matter how many times they do it , or how severe it is. The genuine spirit of forgiveness recognizes no boundaries. It is a state of the heart, not a matter of calculation. We are to forgive without ever stopping.

The person who sees the greatness of his own forgiveness by God's love, will himself, in love, be forgiving. He forgives in love because his heavenly Father has forgiven in love and he desires to be an imitator of His Father.

Think about how your relationships with others would be if you practiced being a forgiving person. Think about what a testimony you would have if you practiced forgiveness.

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