In yesterday’s post, I explained that I’m working my way through a short series on the topic of perseverance. But, I’m dealing with some different issues related to perseverance and the church, perhaps some topics that we don’t often deal with. For example, yesterday’s post dealt with persevering through temptation.
In today’s post, I’m looking at the flip-side of temptation… persevering through forgiveness. As I said yesterday, temptation will come in the life of every believer. And, when temptation comes, sin will follow. No, no one wants to sin, and no one has to sin, but, then again, no one perfectly follows Jesus Christ.
The question is, what happens when someone sins? In Matthew 18, Jesus broached the subject of dealing with someone who has sinned against you. (Matthew 18:15-20) While this passage is traditionally considered “church discipline,” Peter understood it to be about “church forgiveness.” He asks Jesus,
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 times seven.” (Matthew 18:21-22 ESV)
Peter understood the true implication of Jesus’ words. If someone sins against you, and you – and perhaps others later – go to that person, the person will usually ask for forgiveness. And, for a follower a Jesus, forgiveness must be granted… every time. Even if that person has offended someone and been forgive many times, the believer must still offer forgiveness.
Yes, Peter could see what was coming, and he knew that he would have a difficult time persevering in this kind of forgiveness. He even offered to forgive someone seven times, but Jesus would not accept the plea. “No,” Jesus replied, “Just keep on forgiving and forgiving.”
Of course, forgiveness is an essential characteristic of anyone who is following Jesus Christ. As Paul said, we must be willing to continually bear with one another and forgive one another. How should we forgive? The same way that God forgave us in Jesus Christ… and that’s alot! (Ephesians 4:32; and see also Matthew 6:14-15)
But, even though forgiveness is an essential characteristic of anyone who follows Jesus Christ, that does not mean that forgiveness comes readily or naturally. In fact, forgiveness only comes “unnaturally” when we are willing to give up our rights for the sake of God and for the sake of others.
We cannot whip up within ourselves the kind of grace and love it take to forgive someone – and especially to continually and consistently forgive someone who continually and consistently offends you – not seven times, but seventy times seven (give or take). Only God can give us the faith and courage it takes to continually forgive someone like that. Of course, he often works through his children.
As in the case of temptation, we must help one another persevere in forgiveness. We must be willing to look for and deal with issues of unforgiveness, just as we must be willing to help people deal with temptation.
Can you share any examples with us of times when brothers and sisters helped you persevere in forgiveness or when you helped someone else persevere in forgiveness?