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Jesus said that the devil’s agenda was to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10). We see this on full display in the aftermath of the first sin in the way relationships humans had with each other changed.
God said to Eve, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (Genesis 3:16). Dr. Henry Halley commented, “The last two lines of this verse could be paraphrased, ‘You will now have a tendency to try to dominate your husband and he will have the tendency to act as a tyrant.’” And to Adam, God said that he would now have to work harder than ever before to harvest the food he needed for survival, which undoubtedly caused stress in his relationship with Eve. In the very next chapter, the strained relationship between Cain and Able resulted in the first homicide (Genesis 3:17-19, 4:1-8).
In these relationships, intimacy was stolen, closeness was killed, and life was destroyed.
An irreplaceable tool for avoiding this heartache and destruction that sin causes in our relationships is forgiveness.
Peter asked Jesus, “How many times should I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” (Matthew 18:21). In reply, Jesus told a story about a man who owed the equivalent of 20 years of a day laborer’s wages and a man who owed about three months of a day laborer’s wages. The first man who owed so much was forgiven entirely of his debt, but he wouldn’t forgive the paltry amount that was owed to him by the second man.
To the forgiven but unforgiving man, Jesus said, “Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” (see Matthew 18:22-35).
That should be our standard: Not how others treat me, but how God has treated me! Not how much others owe me, but how much God has forgiven me!
Do I want God to put a quota on how many times I can be forgiven? Do I want there to be a limit on how big of an offense God will forgive in me?
Of course not!
That’s my standard. I must show the same mercy to others as I have been shown by God.
If my forgiven sins are forgotten sins (and they are), then I need to treat my brother and sister the same way. This is why Jesus told Peter to stop counting the number of offenses. We are to treat every offense as though it was the first and only offense.
The man who owed so much money asked for more time to repay his debt. But the master did more than that: He forgave the debt—he wiped it off the books completely, as though it had never happened!
When God forgives our sin, He separates our sin from us as far as the east is from the west. He keeps no record of the offense ever having occurred (Psalm 103:10-12).
This is to be our standard too. We are to forgive others as God has forgiven us. Forgiveness will restore intimacy, closeness, and life to our relationships.
This is difficult to do. As Peter pointed out, a brother or sister—someone close to his heart—had sinned against him. But this is why Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us” (Matthew 6:12). Or as Eugene Peterson paraphrases that verse in The Message, “Keep us forgiven with You and forgiving others.”
May the Holy Spirit help us in this important work of ongoing, complete, and restoring forgiveness!
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