Luke 17:3b-4 (NIV) “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”
Jesus is just a few days away from Jerusalem and His ultimate suffering and death. So He takes every opportunity to teach His followers how the kingdom of God works, and how they are to live as residents of it.
In this short teaching, He again addresses the issue of forgiving those who have sinned against us. Most people are good with this teaching in theory, but weak in practice. When someone actually does something terrible to us or to someone we love, it suddenly becomes very difficult to forgive.
This teaching goes right along with Jesus’ answer to Peter in Matthew 18:21-22 when he asked if forgiving his brother up to seven times is adequate. Jesus’ shocking answer was no; he had to forgives seventy-seven time (or, in some versions, seventy times seven times). Here Jesus teaches that even if a brother sins against us seven times in a single day and repents seven times, he must be forgiven completely.
The reason for this requirement is not simply to be nice. Instead, Jesus consistently (and frequently) taught that each person’s forgiveness from God is contingent on us forgiving others when they sin against us. He taught in the Sermon on the Mount that if we will not forgive others, God won’t forgive us (Matthew 6:12, 14-15).
In Matthew 18:23-35, expanding on His answer to Peter, Jesus told the hair-raising parable of the unmerciful servant. In that parable, the servant’s forgiveness was revoked when he refused to forgive a fellow servant a relatively small debt, and he ended up being thrown into prison, “to be tortured until he should pay back all that he owed,” the ten thousand talents (millions of dollars) that had initially been forgiven. And in case His followers missed the point, Jesus finished that parable by saying, “This is how My heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from the heart.” (Verse 35)
That seems unfair to some, but the parable clearly explains God’s reasoning. He has graciously extended forgiveness to those who repent of the dozens, hundreds, even thousands of sins against Himself, the infinite, holy God. But if, after we have had that massive sin debt forgiven, we harden our hearts and will not extend the same gracious forgiveness to those who commit comparatively fewer and comparatively less heinous sins against us, we prove that we are not worthy of His forgiveness, not open-hearted enough to receive it, and unloving enough to step outside of God’s grace. Thus our forgiveness will be revoked, and the penalty for our sins will again be on our record.
Father, of all of the teachings of Jesus, this one seems to carry the strongest import, and have the most devastating consequences if we disobey it. But it is one that far too many of us disregard, minimize, or try to explain away. That’s probably why Jesus taught it so directly, so often, and with such clear explanations. Help us to take this serious and oft repeated and reemphasized teaching to heart, so it changes our perspective and our worldview to be more in line with Your kingdom worldview. Amen.