By, Isam Itson III
Matthew 18:21-22 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.
Forgiving others is central to honoring God’s love for us. Especially in relationship to our brothers and sisters in Christ. Practicing forgiveness as a regular way of life does not make us weak; it makes us peacemakers. Earlier in Matthew 18 Jesus tells his disciples how to resolve conflict among fellow members of the people of God. Peter’s question about forgiveness reveals his clear grasp of the challenge to being a peacemaker.
Like all of us, Peter is wrestling with what it means to follow Jesus in his everyday life and relationships. How does following Jesus affect how we act with people? How often does God expect me to let people disrespect and dishonor me? This is where our trust in God’s personal love, honor, and faithfulness toward us is most frequently tested.
Not holding offense against one another requires us to patiently endure other people’s pride, stubbornness, shortsightedness, and denial. Not defining our worth by how other people treat us makes us trust God’s sovereignty as the only judge. Defining ourselves exclusively by our relationship with God challenges us to be as gracious and merciful to others as God is to us. This attitude testifies of God’s power and presence in our lives in two meaningful ways.
First, valuing God’s opinion of us above everyone else’s means that we are free from being manipulated and pushed around by other people. The less we are moved by the opinions and actions of other people, the less power they have to influence and shape our attitudes and actions. The less power others have to influence us the more strength we have available to love people unconditionally. Practicing forgiveness frees us to more genuinely love one another the way that God, in Jesus Christ, loves us.
Second, valuing God’s opinion of us above everyone else’s means that people who disrespect us have to wrestle with their own relationship with God. When someone offends us and we do not hold it against them or fight back they cannot justify their poor treatment of us. Our practice of forgiveness means they have to wrestle with God in order to get their own way. Because in our love they see the power of God’s love to overcome, dismiss, and withstand every external assault against God’s supreme power and authority in our lives. Our love for them proves the reality and power of God’s love for them. When we practice forgiveness God is using us to reveal his power, love, and presence to the people around us.
Like Peter and the other disciples, we are tempted to think practicing forgiveness brings shame upon us. But Jesus says that not being prone to forgiveness is the real shame. He compares it to having a millstone tied around our neck and being thrown into the sea. That was another one of those heinous executions that the Romans were known for. Like crucifixion, it brought shame upon one’s whole family.
The astounding fact is that Jesus’ response speaks to a deeper truth. When we follow Jesus we can never be put to shame, because only God’s opinion matters. No one’s actions against us can diminish us, because our standing, our righteousness with God, is secured by God’s gracious mercy, kindness, and love. Nothing can separate us from God’s love. Nothing can make God stop loving us. So it is impossible for anyone to put us to shame.
1. Continually thank God for his gracious love and personal presence in your life.
2. Continue to honor God’s love the people who offend you.
3. Comfort yourself with the fact that only God’s opinion of you matters.