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The Formula for Forgiveness

Forgiveness  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  1:02:16
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Last week’s sermon laid a foundation of forgiveness using Paul’s writing to the church at Ephesus and Colossi. He told both churches; “to forgive one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” As we grow in our understanding of positional forgiveness we will grow in our practice of forgiveness. We have been “totally forgiven” by our Lord and therefore we must forgive others “totally”. Remember our key teaching Christ forgives us; by absolving the sinner, meaning he sets them free from their debt, and by absorbing the sinner’s astronomical debt.
The aim of today’s sermon is to enable Christians in the practice of relational forgiveness. Our context begins in verse one when Jesus calls a child unto himself and begins to teach on the specific theme of the childlikeness of the believer. He emphasizes this teaching by bringing a child into their midst as to magnify and make tangible this vital lesson. We know by the Greek word used that this child was either a toddler or infant.
Jesus speaks directly to the reality that we are spiritual children with all the weaknesses that childhood implies. It is also essential to see that the chapter teaches the church, as a group of spiritually unperfected children how to get along with each other.
There's a great sense of tolerance with children, because we understand their weakness. We understand their ignorance. We understand their inabilities. Being childlike is indicating that we're going to fail. We're still in the process of maturing. There are going to be times when we do the wrong things. But when we do sin, and after discipline has been enacted we also are to be forgiven just as children are to be forgiven.
People can rather easily hold grudges against adults, but it's somewhat abnormal to hold them against children. We tend to forgive children rather readily. As adults we often find it difficult to forgive other adults. Today’s teaching remind us that believers are to be treated like children as it pertains to forgiveness. Forgiveness is the key to the unity of the church. It's the key to meaningful relationships. It's what constantly tears down the barriers that sin attempts to build. Forgiveness tears down the wall of bitterness, anger, and vengence.
You show me a person who cannot release some vengeful, bitter, antagonistic, hateful attitude towards somebody and I'll show you a man who knows either the glory of a man nor understands the forgiveness of God to him. It is the best of a man to forgive. Listen to this, because it is the heart of God to forgive, and when man forgives he radiates that which is true of the image of God. Forgiveness is so basic to God's heart that it certainly should be basic to the heart of God's children. Coming at it another way, you might as well learn to forgive because people are going to need it and so will you.
Children need forgiveness and we are children. We're weak, we're ignorant, we're selfish, we're prone to disobey and we need forgiveness frequently. We are such children. Now our Lord has just concluded a section on disciplining sinners. And he follows it up masterfully with a section on forgiving them. In 2 Corinthians Chapter 2 there was a man in the Corinthian assembly who had sinned. And this particular man had been disciplined by the assembly of believers and Paul says to them in
2 Corinthians 2:6 ESV
For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough,
, "sufficient to such a man is this punishment which was inflicted by the majority." In other words, you've sufficiently punished the man. You've sufficiently made the point. You've done what needed to be done in terms of bringing to bear or rebuke on his sin. So now rather in verse 7, you need to forgive him and comfort him lest such a one should be swallowed up with over much sorrow.
In other words, you've sufficiently punished the man. You've sufficiently made the point. You've done what needed to be done. Now listen to Paul as he instructs them concerning their next step.
2 Corinthians 2:7 ESV
so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.
2 Corinthians 2:7–8 ESV
so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him.
you need to forgive him and comfort him lest such a one should be swallowed up with over much sorrow.
2 Corinthians 2:"Reaffirm," it says in verse 8, "your love toward him." And then he goes on to say, "if you don't do this," in verse 11, "Satan's going to get an advantage of you for we're not ignorant of his devices." And one of his devices is to generate a bitter Spirit and unforgiving heart. And we all need to learn to forgive because we all need to be forgiven and because God has forgiven us. It is the best of a man to forgive and it is the best, if I may say so, of God to forgive. For it is the expression of His loving nature.
2 Corinthians 2:7–11 ESV
so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything. Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.
Verse 7-8 says to "Reaffirm your love toward him." And then he goes on to say, "do this so you will not be outwitted by Satan designs." And one of his devices is to generate a bitter Spirit and unforgiving heart. And we all need to learn to forgive because we all need to be forgiven and because God has forgiven us.
Now after all of this discussion of discipline and how we are to confront the sinner and rebuke the sinner, restore the sinner, and all that, Peter asked a very insightful question. "Then came Peter to him and said, Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him?" It's a good question. See Peter knows the tendency of men. You know why he knows it? Because he knows himself and he knew how many times he needed to be forgiven. He also is talking out of the context of his Jewish background where there were certain hard lines drawn in relation to forgiveness. And he is saying in this whole matter of a person sinning and being restore, you know, the problem Lord is going to be, they're going to do that and we're going to restore them and they're going to go right out and do it again.
Peter’s desire is to understand the formula for forgiveness. He is asking what we today are still asking; “how many times must I forgive?”

Peter thought his formula was gracious but it was revealed as prideful.

His formula was three times two plus one.

Jewish tradition taught forgiveness was limited to three times. This teaching was derived from an interpretation of , , , , . The Jews concluded then that the three times you could be forgiven. When you did it the fourth time, you got the blast of God's divine judgment. They said that this justified the limit of three times for forgiveness and of course they misinterpreted the passage. They said this, if three transgressions fills up the measure of God's forgiveness, men can't go beyond God.
When Peter said he thought seven times, he was really going beyond his own tradition. He probably thought he would be commended for his graciousness. Let me state a positive about Peter before I point out all his negatives. Three years with Jesus had greatly impacted his life as he had picked up on the merciful, gracious, kind, forgiving spirit of Jesus. He knew that Jesus would go above and beyond Jewish tradition. It is in this moment that Jesus teaches Peter and the disciples His formula of forgiveness.

Jesus taught the true formula of grace by stating that forgiveness is perpetual.

His formula was seventy times seven.

Peter was still thinking like the scribes and Pharisees. Our fallen human nature is always inclined to think in this way. He was thinking in the measurable and limited terms of law, not the immeasurable and unlimited terms of grace. Law keeps count; grace does not.
The Lord was not extending the legal limit of forgiveness. He was not speaking of law or limits at all. By seventy times seven He did not mean 490. He simply picked up on Peter’s number and multiplied it by itself and then by ten, indicating a number that, for all practical purposes, was beyond counting. Record keeping is not to be considered, and a Christian with a forgiving heart thinks nothing about it. He forgives the hundredth offense or the thousandth just as readily and graciously as the first-because that is the way he is forgiven by God.
Jesus further teaches this in
Luke 17:4 ESV
and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”
). Jesus was not setting a daily limit, but rather the opposite. He was speaking of repeated, regular sinning that is committed many times a day, day after day, and of corresponding repeated forgiveness. He was saying that even if a fellow Christian sins against you every day for seven times each day, you should be ready and willing to forgive him that often. The faithful, godly Christian will never allow his own forgiveness to be surpassed by a brother‟s sin. Reflecting his heavenly Father’s nature, where sin against him increases, so does his gracious forgiveness (cf. ).
Jesus was not setting a daily limit, but rather the opposite. He was speaking of repeated, regular sinning that is committed many times a day, day after day, and of corresponding repeated forgiveness. He was saying that even if a fellow Christian sins against you every day for seven times each day, you should be ready and willing to forgive him that often. A Christian will never allow his own forgiveness to be surpassed by a brother‟s sin. Let us not forget that verse that we hold dear for our own lives
Romans 5:20 ESV
Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,
I warned you last week that this was not going to be easy to hear or do. Jesus formula is astounding. If Peter was standing when asked this question he is surely now sitting. I imagine his face enveloped with a look of astonishment. He is bumfuzzled by Jesus answer. Jesus further clarifies his answer with a parable. The question that should be asked at this point is; why does Jesus feel the need to clarify his answer? Could it be that he anticipated Peter’s next questions?

Why must you forgive seventy times seven?

You have been forgiven an insurmountable debt. (vv. 24-27)

Let’s answer the “why” question first. We answered this question in part last week. We as Children of God have been forgiven a debt beyond our ability to number. If our Heavenly Father has forgiven us to such an extent then we can do nothing but reciprocate this action toward others.

You have been offended in an insignificant way. (v. 28)

We should forgive others because their sin against us is insignificant. It’s like comparing 200,000 years’ worth of wages to 100 days’ worth of wages. We should not be “wowed” when one forgives only when one does not. When we, followers of Christ, are amazed at forgiveness it speaks volumes as to how little we understand our positional forgiveness and how little we practice it in our lives.
The greatest sins that a man commits against a man are nothing. They are pocket change compared to the sins committed against God and He forgives them all. Are we to do any less?

What happens if I don’t forgive seventy times seven?

You live inconsistent to your profession. (vv. 28-35)

Some people question whether or not this man was a Christian. Our text beginning in verse one establishes this teaching for believers. His forgiveness is genuine, if not; the remainder of this parable means nothing. It is not a parable about genuine salvation. It is a parable about forgiveness, namely forgiveness between fellow Christian’s. What makes this parable even more powerful and dramatic is that this man was truly forgiven.
This brings into light a dark place for many of us in this room. We are more like this servant than we care to admit. Though we might find his action appalling and unbelievable they are but a true reflection of ourselves. We who have been forgiven an insurmountable debt are often inconsistent to forgive the insignificant sin that has been sinned against us. We cry out for mercy before the Father but seek swift justice with our brother.
He was consistent in the fact that he sought out the one who owed him a debt. However, he was inconsistent when he asked for full-payment rather absolving the debt.
In Titus chapter three, listen to what Paul says.
Titus 3:2–6 ESV
to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,
In other words, he says, don't treat people like you used to. Look at what Christ has done for you. It's the same idea. Sadly the church has been riddled all its lifelong by the tragic sin of unforgiveness and the consequent bitterness and hostility and discord and I really believe that this is to go against your new nature, because I believe that if you're in the kingdom, you're a merciful person. Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy. That's our newness. It’s only the flesh that rises and makes us merciless.
So consider the source. If you're not forgiving, that's your sin, your flesh, vaulting itself into prominence. When you do that, you will cut yourself off from that relational forgiveness with God that makes the communion sweet.
Until you forgive that other one, the Lord isn't going to open up the flow of communion with Him.

You invite the involvement of other believers. (v. 31)

“When his fellow servants," here's a group of Christians who saw what was done. They saw the whole thing.
Jesus illustrates the process that he taught back in .
They would have seen this unforgiving servant and they would have gone to him. Then they would have taken two or three with them, then they would have told it to the whole assembly and then they would have put him out if he didn't respond.
Apparently they have exhausted that capacity. This servant who is determined to get his due out of this guy is resistant to all their efforts. So when his fellow servants saw what was done, apparently, they've seen it firsthand. They've been involved in the process. They did the only thing they had left.
“They were greatly distressed” and some translations render it “they were very sorry.” I love that. These people are acting in accord with the new creation.. They know the standard God has established and they know how God longs for forgiveness and they understand the holiness of His law. They understand the importance of unity and they further understand the richness of fellowship and this is why they are sorry.
It's a strong word for distressed. This word means excessively grieved, violently grieved. It is a beautiful thing when Christians become concerned about another Christian's sin. They are violently, excessively grieved about this, because there's a lack of response to the law of God, the will of God, and the way of God. This lack of repentance is disrupting their fellowship. What do they do? "and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place.”
What do you do when you've done all the steps of discipline and the person hasn't responded? Then where do you go? You go to the Lord don't you? I see this as these people coming before God with a broken heart. It's a beautiful picture. If believers would be this concerned about each other's sinfulness, oh what a healing thing there would be in the fellowship. They go to the presence of the king. It assumes in my mind they've already been to the servant and been unsuccessful in getting him to respond. And it says “and they went and reported." The word “reported” is a strong and complex word. They gave him a careful detailed outline of everything.
They told him everything. They said we've tried everything we can to settle this thing and we just come to you as a last resort.
What was the response of the king?
Matthew 18:32 ESV
Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.
You will incur the discipline of the Father.
You will incur the discipline of the Father.
Now some people get nervous here and they so oh, he can't be a Christian. God would never say that to a Christian.
What is wickedness? Sin.
Do Christians sin? Yes.
Could God say to a Christian; “you sinful person?” Yes, in , Paul affirms his sinfulness even as a believer and so the Lord is simply affirming what is true about the guy.
He then affirms once again the basic principle of the whole parable. "I forgave you all that debt." This is the interpretive key. He doesn't back off and say boy it must not have worked or maybe the transaction never was made. No, he reaffirms the reality of that full forgiveness when he says; “because you pleaded with me” Here is a broken person aware of his sin, brought to conviction, pleading for God to be merciful and it was out of that pleading that he was saved and forgiven and loosed from the debt. I believe a correct interpretation is that it was a real forgiveness. He says, "I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me." And then in the next verse we find "should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you"
He says, "I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me." And then in the next verse we find "should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you"
Look again at verse 33 and note the word mercy. This is a beautiful thought. He said, "should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you" How did he have compassion? He absolved the sinner by absorbing the sin.
There is nothing more liberating. It is utterly liberating.
Look at
g fell on his knees, imploring him, „Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything6.” Here is a broken person aware of his sin, brought to conviction, pleading for God to be merciful and it was out of
Matthew 18:34 ESV
And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt.
This verse makes a certain type of Christian nervous. They say, oh this can't be a Christian.
Is the Lord angry with a Christian? Sure. The Lord gets angry every time you sin, don't you think so? What makes Him angry? Sin makes Him angry and if He wasn't angry, there's something wrong with His holy nature.
The Lord has holy indignation against evil, even in your life and mine. He was angry and he delivered him to the tormentors, to the jailers, to the inquisitors till he should pay all that was due unto him. Now this can't be a Christian. What are we doing with this Christian turning him over to the inquisitors, the tormentors? You don't think that could be a Christian? Look at Hebrews Chapter 12 for a minute.
Hebrews 12:5–6 ESV
And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”
In the King James the word chastises is translated “scourges”. Every Christian feels the tormentors. Every Christian feels the scourging. Every Christian at some point in time is going to feel the inquisitors putting the pressure until we confess and repent.
, “And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?” 9 This is to children now of God, sons, believers, Christians. “My son, g do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him.” 10
Verse six says, For
h the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.11 In the King James the word chastises is translated “scourges”. Every Christian feels the tormentors. Every Christian feels the scourging. Every Christian at some point in time is going to feel the inquisitors putting the pressure until we confess and repent.
If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons.
Hebrews 12:7 ESV
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?
The Christian will be turned over to the inquisitor. You say, now what is the point here? The point is that the inquisitor sort of put you under the gun, under the stress, under the difficulty, under the pressure, under the chastening until you confess your sin.
If you're not forgiving someone the Lord will put you under chastening. He'll apply the pressure to you until your response is right. I think that's what he means at the end of verse 34 when it says, "till he should pay all that was due."
In 1 Corinthians it said among the Corinthians that some of them were weak. They'd literally lost their physical strength because of illness. Some of them were sick, which seems perhaps even more severe and some of them were dead.
says there is a sin unto death. I believe ; is referring to a believer who's literally put out of the church. Satan destroys his flesh. His spirit will be saved. I believe there is discipline and chastening to every son that God loves and that's when he puts us in the hands of the inquisitors or the jailers or the tormentors, parabolically speaking, who apply the pressure to us until we admit our sin and confess our sin and in this case, it is the sin of unforgiveness.
Do you feel the inquisitors or the tormentors in your life? Do you feel the pressure and chastening being applied? Do you have the liberty, joy, and freedom promised to the children of God? If not, maybe you ought to look at your life to see if there is unforgiveness. As long as it’s there you are not going to experience relief from these inquisitors.
Now, I think hat's what the parable is saying, plain and simple. The sinner will satisfy God. He'll pay what can be paid. He'll satisfy the debt when he is broken, repentant, and contrite in heart and steps into the sphere of obedience. Fellowship is restored. Chastening in a sense then makes us pay, that's what it does. Chastening makes us pay with a view, not just to punishment as such, but to refinement as a goal. You don't punish your child just with that in mind. When your child does something bad, you don't just whack them around so that you can deliver the punishment. You do that with a view to changing their behavior, right? To modifying their behavior so they'll do right next time. God is doing the very same thing.
Jesus gives his sermon summation in verse 35. “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you." And again the “you” is the group of disciples who are believers, genuine ones. “if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”" He's not saying this to unbelievers because there's one thing unbelievers can't do and that's they can't act like God toward each other and forgive.
So as Christians, this is a strong, strong word to us, it is a powerful passage and its summation is drawn in verse 35. “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you." And again the “you” is the group of disciples who are believers, genuine ones. “if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”" And I promise you one thing He's not saying this to unbelievers because there's one thing unbelievers can't do and that's they can't act like God toward each other and forgive.
This is a loving Father saying to his children; you've been forgiven therefore forgive or be chastened.
One old saint of long ago said:
"Revenge indeed seems often sweet to men, but oh it is only sugared poison. Forgiving, enduring love along is sweet and blissful. It enjoys peace and the consciousness of God's favor, by forgiving it gives away and annihilates the injury. It treats the injurer as if he had not injured and therefore feels no more the smart and sting that he had inflicted. Forgiveness is a shield from which all the fiery darts of the wicked one harmlessly rebound. Forgiveness brings heaven to earth and heaven's peace into the sinful heart. Forgiveness is the image of God the forgiving Father and an advancement of Christ's kingdom in the world. Your unalterable duty is clear. As surely as we are Christians, men who have experienced great compassion who see in every man a brother in Christ and are going forward to God's righteous judgment so surely must we forgive.
A great commentator on this parable is William Arno who wrote this:
"A traveler in Burma after fording a certain river found his body covered all over by a swarm of small leeches busily sucking his blood. His first impulse was to tear the tormentors from his flesh. But his servant warned him that to pull them off by mechanical violence would expose his life to danger. They must not be torn off lest portions remain in the wounds and become a poison. They must drop off spontaneously and so they will be harmless.
The native prepared a bath for his master by the concoction of some herbs and directed him to lie down in it. As soon as he had bathed in the balsam bath, the leeches dropped off. Each unforgiven injury," says Arno, "rankling in the heart is like a leech sucking the life blood. Mere human determination will not cast the evil thing away. You must bathe your whole being in God's pardoning mercy and these venomous creatures will instantly let go their hold and you will stand up free."
You must bathe your whole being in God's pardoning love. That's the parable. You must see how much you have been forgiven so that you can forgive just as you have been forgiven.
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