Every Offense, A First Offense
Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 1 Peter 4:8
Peter has always been my favorite disciple, mostly because he wears his flaws openly—like a pair of garish plaid pants. He’s impetuous and prickly, yet he’s also loyal and passionate.
In Matthew 18:21, he asked Jesus what he thought was a valid question: “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me?” Then he added a postscript that he assumed would display his humble, generous spirit: “Up to seven times?”
Jesus, of course, directed Peter to the root of the problem rather than the fruit of the problem. An unforgiving spirit is the product of a proud heart. Peter wanted to limit forgiveness because his attitude was “after seven times, this other person really needs to learn a lesson about not offending me and everyone else. If I keep forgiving him, how is he ever going to learn that lesson and become righteous like me?”
Jesus told Peter a parable about forgiveness to demonstrate how he could learn to forgive others without keeping a tally of their offenses or his own acts of mercy. Jesus pointed out that if we focus on our own sinfulness—how often we sin against God and how often He forgives us—we should be motivated to extend that same grace to others. The Greek word translated “forgive” is aphiemi, which means “to send away” or “to let go.” Used in a court of law, it meant “to acquit.” To acquit someone is to declare that individual “not guilty.” God acquits us and holds no grudges; He asks us to do the same for other people.
It is never my job to “fix” other people. That’s God’s job. My job is to allow the love and forgiveness God pours out on me to spill over onto other people. 1 Corinthians 13:4 reminds me that God’s love “keeps no record of wrongs.” If I extend that love to others, then every offense they commit remains a first offense. And everyone deserves a second chance, right?
Read the parable Jesus told in Matthew 18:23-35. How does this story illustrate what it means to “forgive your brother from the heart”?
Joseph had a lot of experience in “keeping no record of wrongs.” What was his attitude about his brothers’ offenses? (Read Genesis 45:4-15; 50:15-21.)
Read Luke 17:1-10. Why do you think Jesus added a lesson on “duty” after he gave a lesson on “forgiveness”?
A vivid object lesson of forgiveness is given in Leviticus 16:20-22. What did the goat released in the desert symbolize? How can we apply that same principle to those who sin against us? (To get a fuller picture of the live goat’s role on the Day of Atonement, also read Leviticus 16:1-19.)
See another devotion: Forgiveness.
Denise K. Loock