Seventy Times Seven

Jesus taught us to be forgiving, and not just for the other person's sake.

If a check bounces, it’s because you didn’t make sure there were sufficient funds in your bank account. If your chocolate soufflé comes out just right, it’s probably the result of painstakingly following the recipe. (However, if it rains in the middle of the afternoon, it is not because you didn’t grab an umbrella before leaving home, even if it feels that way.)

Causality is the principle that every occurrence is the upshot of some other action—that is to say, there’s a definite relationship between cause and effect. Situations, whether problematic or pleasurable, don’t just randomly create themselves.

 

Scene on the Loire, 19th century (watercolour on paper), by Joseph Mallord William Turner

This is not the same thing as fatalism, the belief that all events are predetermined and, therefore, we are powerless to change them. On the contrary, causality involves a certain level of responsibility and choice, at least in situations where people are part of the equation. We see this link between cause and effect in human interactions, perhaps not as obviously as the way a carton of milk left out overnight will greet you with an awful smell in the morning, but in the way words and actions tend to provoke various reactions.

Read Matthew 18:21-35

Before opening your Bible, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal what He wants you to take away from this passage. Then read the section, jotting down your first impressions: What questions do you have? Is anything confusing? Which verses speak into your present situation, and how?

Scripture shows us that cause-and-effect also plays a role in our relationship and fellowship with the Lord. The last section of Matthew 18 paints a vivid picture of the importance of forgiveness, and in the closing verse, Jesus warns His followers about neglecting this teaching or taking it lightly.

There are several other passages that highlight either promises or warnings in relation to forgiveness. For example:

If we admit our sins to God without making excuses and are ready to change our ways, then He will forgive and deliver us (2 Chronicles 7:14).

If we forgive others when they sin against us, then our own prayers of confession will be effective (Matt. 6:14-15).

If we believe in Jesus Christ, then we will not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).

If we place our trust in Jesus and confess Him as Savior and Lord, then we will be saved (Rom. 10:9).

If we confess our sins, then God will purify us (1 John 1:9).

These verses are not saying our salvation depends on us, but there is an action we have to take in receiving the forgiveness and eternal life God freely offers. And this back-and-forth with God doesn’t end at the moment of redemption. Just as our friendships, marriages and other relationships are regularly affected by actions and words—whether for good or bad—so is our fellowship with God either hindered or enhanced by our deeds, choices, and attitudes.

Our refusal to forgive has an impact not only on our relationship with that person but also on our communion with God.

When we feel hurt or angry because of someone else’s behavior, it can be tempting to let the situation become a dividing wall. What we often don’t recognize is how our refusal to forgive has an impact not only on our relationship with that person but also on our communion with God.

Reflect

Write your thoughts in a journal.

• In Matthew 18, Jesus tells His disciples to be generous in their willingness to forgive, to the point that they lose count of how many times they forgive someone of a repeated sin. Many Christians hold God to this standard and expect Him to immediately and unconditionally clear their slate whenever they go to Him and confess their sins. It’s probably safe to say that most of us are not quite so prepared to forgive others when they apologize to us.

• The unfortunate effect of unforgiveness is that our spiritual feet get stuck and we can’t move forward in our walk with God. That’s the point of Psalm 66:18: If we harbor bitterness in our hearts, then we are allowing sin to block our prayers. What’s more, if we are unwilling to obey God in one area, it then becomes difficult to obey Him in another. And if we can’t love a brother or sister in Christ, our testimony will have the potential of confusing observers.

• On the other hand, if we remember how much God has forgiven us, then it’s easier to recognize we’re not in a position to lord someone else’s sin over him or her. If we are willing to extend grace to another person, then we can experience joy in that restored relationship. And if we forgive quickly, we can avoid pitfalls that hinder a thriving and effective relationship with God.

Respond

In each of the following passages, how is forgiveness demonstrated (or withheld)?

• Genesis 45:1-15

• 2 Samuel 12:1-14

• John 8:1-11

• Luke 15:11-24

• Luke 23:33-34

• Acts 6:8-15; Acts 7:55-60

Ask God to reveal relationships or situations that have become a hindrance to your spiritual growth or a source of bitterness. Consider reasons for your difficulty to forgive, and pray for the courage and humility to overcome those obstacles.

Revisit

• Theologian Lewis B. Smedes is quoted as saying, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” Think back to times people have forgiven you. Make a list of situations that stand out, and note the outcome of receiving grace from the person you hurt or offended. Contrast this with situations that were left unresolved and how they affected you.

• Memorize Ephesians 4:31-32.

• Read Matthew 5:22-24 and then make a list of people you need to forgive. Resolve to make peace with them as soon as possible. Once you do, note the outcome. How did extending grace make you feel? How did it affect your relationship with those people? How did it affect your fellowship with God?

Related Topics:  Forgiveness

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

22 Jesus said to him, I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.

23 For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves.

24 When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him.

25 But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made.

26 So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, `Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.'

27 And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt.

28 But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, `Pay back what you owe.'

29 So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, `Have patience with me and I will repay you.'

30 But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed.

31 So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened.

32 Then summoning him, his lord said to him, `You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.

33 Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?'

34 And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him.

35 My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart."

14 and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

14 For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.

15 But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.

16 For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved;

9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

18 If I regard wickedness in my heart, The Lord will not hear;

1 Then Joseph could not control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried, Have everyone go out from me." So there was no man with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers.

2 He wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard of it.

3 Then Joseph said to his brothers, I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?" But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence.

4 Then Joseph said to his brothers, Please come closer to me." And they came closer. And he said, I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt.

5 Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.

6 For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are still five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvesting.

7 God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance.

8 Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh and lord of all his household and ruler over all the land of Egypt.

9 Hurry and go up to my father, and say to him, `Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay.

10 You shall live in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children's children and your flocks and your herds and all that you have.

11 There I will also provide for you, for there are still five years of famine to come, and you and your household and all that you have would be impoverished."'

12 Behold, your eyes see, and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see, that it is my mouth which is speaking to you.

13 Now you must tell my father of all my splendor in Egypt, and all that you have seen; and you must hurry and bring my father down here."

14 Then he fell on his brother Benjamin's neck and wept, and Benjamin wept on his neck.

15 He kissed all his brothers and wept on them, and afterward his brothers talked with him.

1 Then the LORD sent Nathan to David. And he came to him and said, There were two men in one city, the one rich and the other poor.

2 The rich man had a great many flocks and herds.

3 But the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb Which he bought and nourished; And it grew up together with him and his children. It would eat of his bread and drink of his cup and lie in his bosom, And was like a daughter to him.

4 Now a traveler came to the rich man, And he was unwilling to take from his own flock or his own herd, To prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him; Rather he took the poor man's ewe lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him."

5 Then David's anger burned greatly against the man, and he said to Nathan, As the LORD lives, surely the man who has done this deserves to die.

6 He must make restitution for the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing and had no compassion."

7 Nathan then said to David, You are the man! Thus says the LORD God of Israel, `It is I who anointed you king over Israel and it is I who delivered you from the hand of Saul.

8 I also gave you your master's house and your master's wives into your care, and I gave you the house of Israel and Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added to you many more things like these!

9 Why have you despised the word of the LORD by doing evil in His sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the sons of Ammon.

10 Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.'

11 Thus says the LORD, `Behold, I will raise up evil against you from your own household; I will even take your wives before your eyes and give them to your companion, and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight.

12 Indeed you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, and under the sun.'"

13 Then David said to Nathan, I have sinned against the LORD." And Nathan said to David, The LORD also has taken away your sin; you shall not die.

14 However, because by this deed you have given occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also that is born to you shall surely die."

1 But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.

2 Early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people were coming to Him; and He sat down and began to teach them.

3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court,

4 they said to Him, Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act.

5 Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?"

6 They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground.

7 But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her."

8 Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground.

9 When they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court.

10 Straightening up, Jesus said to her, Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?"

11 She said, No one, Lord." And Jesus said, I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more."]

11 And He said, A man had two sons.

12 The younger of them said to his father, `Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.' So he divided his wealth between them.

13 And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living.

14 Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be impoverished.

15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.

16 And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him.

17 But when he came to his senses, he said, `How many of my father's hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger!

18 I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight;

19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men."'

20 So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.

21 And the son said to him, `Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'

22 But the father said to his slaves, `Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet;

23 and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate;

24 for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.' And they began to celebrate.

33 When they came to the place called The Skull, there they crucified Him and the criminals, one on the right and the other on the left.

34 But Jesus was saying, Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among themselves.

8 And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people.

9 But some men from what was called the Synagogue of the Freedmen, including both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and argued with Stephen.

10 But they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.

11 Then they secretly induced men to say, We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God."

12 And they stirred up the people, the elders and the scribes, and they came up to him and dragged him away and brought him before the Council.

13 They put forward false witnesses who said, This man incessantly speaks against this holy place and the Law;

14 for we have heard him say that this Nazarene, Jesus, will destroy this place and alter the customs which Moses handed down to us."

15 And fixing their gaze on him, all who were sitting in the Council saw his face like the face of an angel.

55 But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God;

56 and he said, Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God."

57 But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one impulse.

58 When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul.

59 They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!"

60 Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, Lord, do not hold this sin against them!" Having said this, he fell asleep.

31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.

32 Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.

22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ` You good-for-nothing,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, `You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.

23 Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you,

24 leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.

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