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We are in the middle of a three-part series of messages on promises given to us in the Bible. Given to us assuming we do what the Bible teaches us to do, including the teaching to pray, which we thought about last Sunday, the teaching to obey, which we will think about next Sunday, and the teaching we will concentrate on in this message. The specific teaching to forgive.

Today we will consider some of that teaching, along with a promise given to those who do forgive. For this week’s journey through the Bible, I have three passages to present, along with some stories to share as examples of forgiveness.

The first passage for today is Matthew 18:21-22.

Matthew 18 records a conversation Jesus had with His disciples. In the chapter, Jesus shared several thoughts. He challenged His followers to be like children. Not childish, but child-like in being curious and wanting to learn and being obedient and trusting, in this case, of our Heavenly Father. Jesus also taught His followers to do whatever is necessary to stay away from sin. Jesus challenged His followers to seek any who go astray from His teachings. They need to be found and rescued. He also taught His followers how to handle conflict. Including conflict that arises when one person is sinned against by another person.

Concerning that last teaching, the disciple Peter interrupted Jesus with a question. Peter said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him?” He added a suggestion. “Shall I forgive as many as seven times?”

Peter’s suggestion is interesting because it was the common Jewish teaching that someone should be forgiven three times. That was considered very generous, offering someone one and a second and a third chance. However, the teaching continued that three times of forgiveness was the absolute limit. The Jewish teaching was that it is wrong to forgive beyond that.

Peter knew that teaching, but he decided to offer to be more than twice as generous. Peter suggested he would be willing to forgive someone who sinned against him seven time.

Peter expected to be commended for his generous spirit. However, Jesus did not commend him. Instead, He said, “No. I do not say to you seven times. I say seventy times seven times. That is how often you should be willing to forgive.”

I will mention that in many of the wedding services I have had, this passage is included. It relates to forgiveness being a pillar of marriage. I say in weddings, which I say here, that the hope is that there will be few if any times when forgiveness is needed. Married couples - and people in general - should be polite and caring and loving enough to avoid doing hurtful or sinful things. However, when forgiveness is needed, it is to be given. Not just three times. Not just seven times. But seventy times seven times.

Which leads to the thought that 70 times 7 equals 490. But the point of Jesus is not that we carry a log book with us and record each time we forgive and then, at the 491st time, watch out because we are then free to lower the boom on the other person. The idea is that by the 490th time, forgiveness will be such a habit, it will be continued.

I feel compelled to mention that this in no way is a call for any of us to be doormats in our relationships. Jesus does not teach us to put ourselves at risk physically or emotionally over and over and over again. But He does teach us to forgive the one who sins against us. We may not associate with the person, but we are to forgive. As we will see, there is a reward promised when we forgive. And forgiving can relieve us of hard feelings that can damage us physically, emotionally, and spiritually. As Jesus taught, forgiveness should become a habit.

Forgiveness was given by Rachelle Friedman. 

When Rachelle’s bachelorette party ended, she and her friends decided to go for a swim. Playfully, one of her friends pushed Rachelle into the water, not thinking about how shallow it was at that end of the pool. Rachelle’s head struck the pool's bottom. She broke her neck, instantly paralyzing her. 

Since that push, Rachelle’s life has changed drastically. However, she was able to go ahead with her wedding plans and marry her fiance a year later. And she forgave the friend who pushed her into the pool. I wonder if she had to do that over and over again, maybe approaching 490 times. The same act did not recur, but the memories of it survived through all the rehab.

Rachelle says, “I love my friend and I have no grudge. I am not saying it is right what she did, but I have horseplayed by a pool and pushed people. I have pushed her. What happened was an accident.”

Forgiveness. May it be a habit in our lives,K if for no other reason than what Jesus taught earlier. Matthew 6:14-15. What Jesus taught in this passage was both an encouragement and a dire warning.

The encouragement is in v.14. For if you forgive men their trespasses, your Heavenly Father also will forgive you.” 

This, by the way, comes right after Jesus taught His disciples how to pray. He taught what we know as the Lord’s Prayer. Remember the words. “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

The prayer continues, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” but for this message, hear the words, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

The gist is that the way we forgive others is how our Heavenly Father will forgive us. If we need - since we need - to be forgiven over and over again, we need to forgive others over and over again. As many as 490 times and beyond.

Again, if we forgive others their trespasses, God will forgive us. That is to be an encouragement to forgive. But then the dire warning. Verse 15. “But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

Ouch. What a dire warning concerning the importance of forgiving others. But remember we are talking about a promise. What God promises to do for us when we obey His teaching to forgive. The promise is the encouragement. When we forgive, our trespasses - our sins - will be forgiven by God.

I wonder if that was in the mind of Pascale Kavanagh.

As children, Pascale and her younger brother endured constant torments from their mother. The mother often hit them and threw plates in their direction and called them names. Their father tried to get between his children and his wife, but she did not spare him either.

Pascale’s parents were both successful physicians, but their home life was deeply troubled. Her mother had had an abusive childhood, so, Pascale thought, maybe that is what caused her to subject her children to abuse, which  continued into adulthood. Even when Pascale was away at college, her mother would call once a week to berate her about her appearance, her friends, her grades. It felt to Pascale her mother was driving her over an emotional ledge.

After graduating from college, Pascale moved across the country, away from her parents. She eventually got married and, in 2002, had a daughter of her own, who she named Sofi.

Pascale hoped Sofi’s birth would soften her mother, but that did not happen. When Sofi was five, she became independent-minded, and that set Pascale’s mother off. Her rages returned, now directed at Sofi.

Pascale sought help from therapists. She wanted this relationship to stop causing constant pain in her life.

Then, in 2010, Pascale’s mother, at the age of 73, suffered a series of strokes, leaving her brain irreparably damaged. Arriving at the hospital, Pascale was shocked to find her mother unable to communicate or even understand language. As the only relative still living and able to help - her dad and brother had died - she felt duty-bound to help. She sat by her mother’s side around the clock, reading books aloud and just talking to her mother.

Pascale shares that at first, she was angry, but as months went by, her rage at her mother, who was now in such a vulnerable state, slowly dissipated. Finally, one day an exhausted Pascale laid her head in her mother’s lap and forgave her.

The result? Pascale says that for the first time, she had peace.

She adds, “I have become less interested in holding on to all forms of bitterness. I see now that forgiveness is not so much about what you receive from people, but what you give them.”

Forgiveness. May it be a habit in our lives. The reward will be God’s forgiveness of us. What a wonderful promise that is.

Ephesians 4:31-32 is another passage that teaches us to forgive. That teaching comes right after the apostle Paul lists some things we are to get rid of.

Verse 31 is a continuation of a teaching by Paul about how Christians are to live. Specifically in verse 31, proper Christian living includes putting away a number of things. They are bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, and malice.

Bitterness is defined as long-lasting resentment. The word is used to describe the spirit of a person who will not allow reconciliation. Do you. or have you ever nursed a hurt or brooded over an insult? That is bitterness. It is to be put away.

Wrath is defined as a quick anger. Anger that flares up like a flame touching straw. It quickly dies, but the danger is that it quickly blazes up, often causing words that are not well thought out.

Anger is being mad in an ongoing, habitual fashion.

Clamor refers to loud talking, as in raising your voice in an argument. Certainly easy to do, but something Christians are to put away.

Slander can also be worded insulting language. The purpose is to hurt someone else’s feelings or reputation.

Malice is having the intention or at least the desire to do evil. It is wanting bad things to happen to someone else.

All those things are negative. They are to be put away. They are to be removed from the lives of Christians.

In their place, there is to be kindness and tenderheartedness. Those words mean caring for others, being willing to help others, wanting what is good for others, including those who have hurt us or wronged us in some way. 

Hence the next description in verse 32. “Forgiving one another.” How? “As God in Christ forgave us.”

*       *       *       *       *

Forgive those who have trespassed against us. Forgive seventy times seven times - forgive instead of holding resentment, grudges, and hatred. Easy? Not at all. But we are to forgive, not only for the benefit of the ones forgiven, but also for our own benefit, knowing the promise that those who forgive others will be forgiven by God. 

In World War II, Corrie ten Boom and her family, whose home was in Holland, helped protect Jews from persecution and worse at the hands of troops of Nazi Germany. Eventually, Corrie and her sister were captured and sent to a concentration camp. The conditions there were beyond horrible. The suffering was extreme.

Through the blessing of God, Corrie survived. Later, in 1947, two years after the end of World War II, she traveled from Holland, where she had resettled, to Germany. She had a message that God forgives. She was scheduled to share that message in some speeches in the defeated nation of Germany.

One evening, Corrie ten Boom was in a church in Munich. Her message that night included the idea of forgiven sins being thrown into the sea, never to be seen again. Her words were, “When we confess our sins, God casts them into the deepest ocean, gone forever.”

The faces in the audience stared back at her, not quite daring to believe. At the end of the presentation, the people stood in silence, collected their coats, and left the room.

All the people except for one person. A balding, heavyset man in a gray overcoat, a brown felt hat held in his hands, made his way forward against those leaving.

When the man got to Corrie, she saw what was under the overcoat. It was at least part of a blue uniform. The uniform of a Nazi soldier.

Suddenly Corrie recognized the man He had been a guard at the concentration camp where she and her sister had been sent. A guard who regularly demeaned and humiliated all the prisoners, including Corrie.

Corrie writes, “The man was in front of me, his hand thrust out. ‘A fine message,’ he said. ‘How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea.’”

Corrie continues, “I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take the man’s hand. He would not remember me. How could he remember one prisoner among those thousands of women. But I remembered him and the torture he inflicted. I was face-to-face with one of my captors. “My blood seemed to freeze.”

Corrie adds, “The man said, ‘You mentioned your concentration camp in your talk. I was a guard there. But since that time, I have become a Christian. I know God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well.’ Again the hand went out. ‘Will you forgive me?’”

Corrie reports she stood there. She realized her sins had again and again and again been forgiven. She knew she should forgive the man in front of her, but what a dilemma after having suffered so severely at the hands of that man.

Corrie stood there, coldness grabbing her heart Then came the thought that forgiveness is not an emotion. It is an act of the will.

“Help,” she prayed silently. With that, she lifted her hand and took the hand of the man. The hand still stretched out to her

Corrie says that at that very instant, she felt a current in her shoulder that raced down her arm and then sprang into the joined hands. Then there was a healing warmth that flooded her whole being, bringing tears to her eyes.

“I forgive you, brother,” she cried. “I forgive you with all my heart.”

For a long moment, Corrie and the former guard - the forgiven guard - forgiven by God and by one of his victims - f grasped each other’s hands. Corrie writes she had never known God’s love so intensely as she did then.

Listen to these additional words from Corrie. “Forgiving is not only a commandment of God, but also a daily experience.” Between 1945 and 1947, she had operated a home in Holland for victims of Nazi brutality. “Those who nursed their bitterness remained invalids. Those who were able to forgive their former enemies were able to return to the outside world and rebuild their lives, no matter what physical scars they had.”

Is that not what is taught by Jesus and by Paul? Forgive the trespasses of others. As difficult as it can be, make the forgiving of others a priority. A part of your life. Forgive seventy times seven times if that is needed. Forgive others and you will be forgiven by God.

We are taught to forgive. It is what Jesus and Paul charge us to do. May praying for God’s strength to accomplish that be in our minds as we sing the closing song, A Charge to Keep I Have.

A charge to keep I have,

A God to glorify,

A never-dying soul to save,

And fit it for the sky.

To serve the present age,

My calling to fulfill,

O may it all my powers engage

To do my Master’s will!

Arm me with jealous care,

As in Thy sight to live;

And O thy servant, Lord, prepare,

A strict account to give!

Help me to watch and pray,

And on Thyself rely,

Assured if I my trust betray

I shall forever die.

Forgiveness. Not always an easy thing to do, but it is worth it because of the promise that when we forgive, we will be forgiven. Let’s take that charge seriously. Help us, Lord, we pray. Amen.

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