LUKE 17:7-10: “Now which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him after he comes in from the field, ‘Come immediately and recline at the table to eat’? On the contrary, will he not say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat, and properly clothe yourself and serve me while I eat and drink; and afterward you may eat and drink’? He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? So you too, when you do all the things which were commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.’ ” NASB
OBSERVATION: What does it take to forgive someone? When I have been wronged or hurt by someone else do I have the fortitude to forgive them? When someone who has wronged me asks for forgiveness am I ready to freely forgive or do I find myself struggling to release them from the sin that they have committed? In the opening verses of Luke chapter 17, Jesus speaks to the issue of someone who has committed an offense and has asked for forgiveness.
- “Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.” Luke 17:3-4 NASB
The disciples probably had no problem with the first part of Jesus’ teaching. When Jesus spoke of the seriousness of someone who brings an offense and causes even the little ones to stumble, the disciples were right with Him. Then, when Jesus said, “If your brother sins, rebuke him..,” no doubt they were ready to obey. However, when Jesus called them to forgive someone who sins against them seven times, if they come back seven times and ask for forgiveness, this is where the disciples (and most of us) start to have difficulty.
I can understand forgiving a person who offends me once or twice, but after that, it becomes increasingly difficult to do so. My natural response to this would be – “If they were really sincere they would have stopped it at the very first offense!” In my natural response, I would send them packing! Yet, Jesus calls us to forgive. In essence, Jesus is saying that if there is repentance it should be greeted with forgiveness – no matter how many times the offender offends. This is when the disciples, in desperation, and seeking understanding, cried out…
“Increase our faith!”
We are usually are not able to forgive others because of our limited human capacity. It is almost impossible to continue forgiving a repeat offender. Our natural response is to store up offenses and hold them against the other person. Many will cut someone off at the first offense, let alone seven or more! Faith is trusting God to do something in and through us that we are not humanly capable of doing. We are not capable of saving ourselves. We are saved by grace through faith – and both are a gift from God! When you read the 11th chapter of Hebrews you will find that all of God’s people had to rely on faith to follow and obey Him. It is no different with the call to forgive.
The disciples were fixated on their quantity of faith as if it were a power resource that needed to be increased before they could respond according to Jesus’ command. I call this bumper-jack faith. It is the concept that we have to keep cranking up our faith until we suddenly have enough to do what God has called us to do. This is especially true with the call to forgive. Jesus immediately confronts this common misconception.
- “But the Lord said, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea’; and it would obey you.” Luke 17:6 NASB
It is never the quantity of our faith that is in question. It is the source of our faith that is important. If we have faith in God, even faith as small as a mustard seed (one of the smallest seeds), there is no limit to what we can do – by grace through faith. This is true in salvation, our walk with Christ, our fulfillment of the Great Commission, and our call to forgive others. Jesus never calls us to forgive others because we feel like it. Jesus calls us to forgive others because it is the very heart and nature of God and it is the proper response of faith!
Hurt, unforgiveness, offenses, and repeated experiences of the same, are impossible to forgive within our limited ability. Yet, it is what we desire and need from God in our own life. Imagine if there was a cutoff limit for forgiveness from God for our failures. How could we face life each day without the full forgiveness and cleansing we receive from Jesus Christ our Lord? Faith brings us to the Lord Jesus Christ for forgiveness. It is this same faith that brings us to others and gives us the grace to forgive them as we have been forgiven.
Yet, there is one more important point I need to understand about forgiveness. When I am called to forgive someone I can view this as a grand gesture toward them. I can almost be puffed up with pride that I forgave them – even though they did not deserve it! Forgiveness begins to be something I see as a measure of my Christian maturity and accomplishment. What was a call of faith can become a source of pride. To this, Jesus once again brings us and the disciples back to reality!
- “So you too, when you do all the things which were commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.”
Forgiveness is not something that I should expect an atta-boy for. It is not something that I should brag about. It is not something that shows how magnanimous I am when compared to others. Forgiveness is what I am expected to give. It is my responsibility because I am a son of God. I did not earn the forgiveness that I have received from Jesus. Therefore, I cannot take any credit for the forgiveness I have extended through faith in Jesus. Forgiveness is a gift that was freely given and is expected to be freely extended to others in faith and obedience to God’s command!
Like most, I struggle with forgiveness. Yet, I do not need to wait until I feel like I can forgive. I do not need to wait until I receive an infusion of faith from heaven. Everything that I need to forgive others God has already given me. All that I need to do is respond in faith and freely give that which I have already received. I must do this with simplicity, honesty, and without fanfare. When I have done so I must say –
“I have only done that which I have been called to do.” I am called to forgive!
Lord, I do not ask You to increase my faith. Rather, I ask You to release within me the faith that You have already given me. When my brother or sister sins against me, and when they ask for forgiveness, let me freely extend the same forgiveness that You have so freely given to me. Let my heart be Your heart!
- “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous, so that He will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9 NASB
In Jesus’ Name!