So watch yourselves! "If another believer sins, rebuke that person; then if there is repentance, forgive.
Even if that person wrongs you seven times a day and each time turns again and asks forgiveness, you must forgive. (Luke 17:3-4)
I don’t intend to follow up just yet on yesterday's context question regarding the first element of this investigation. I will leave it with you to percolate for a while. My plan is that when we have looked at each segment, we will step back and take in the big picture to see where all the pieces fit and how they go together. So keep that in mind as we press forward. I am sure you have noticed that all the segments here come from Matthew chapters 17 and 18. However, in Luke they are heavily pruned, reduced down to a few elements. But then other segments from this portion of Matthew, Luke has used elsewhere and given extensive coverage.
What does today's segment mean?
I have clipped what I wrote in Gem 962 related to the matter of asking for forgiveness.
In Matthew's account when Peter asks "How many times must I forgive a brother? Seven times?" Peter is answering his own question with the standard Rabbinical response seven times. The point in all of it is that seven symbolizes perfection. Forgive until perfection occurs. Ah, but whose perfection – yours or the one who sinned against you? I will leave you to figure that one out! . . . Forgive and keep on forgiving until your brother is perfected from the sin that is in focus. Or you are perfected in your ability to forgive. Both are true. It is not a case of counting to 6, or 48, or 489 and then saying to the sinner who offends you, "That was your last warning. Next time the axe falls on you." There is no limit to forgiveness. There is no limit to God's forgiveness, therefore don't put limits on your forgiveness. Just forgive and keep on forgiving.
The same ongoing willingness to forgive is present in Luke's portion as it was in Matthew, but notice the important change in what Luke has written. Where Matthew has, "If another believer sins against you . . . " Luke's account reads, "If that person wrongs you seven times a day and each time turns again and asks forgiveness . . . " Well, isn't that interesting! Luke has changed two aspects of the focus here. The person in question is specific in Luke's case. Not "another believer" but rather "that person". Who is "that person"? Secondly, he has switched the 7 times from the forgiveness side of the ledger, to the side of the one who wrongs us. It is the wronger who is wronging seven times a day. That is pretty extreme. Who among us can cope with someone who wrongs us 7 times a day? And what's more, each time following their action, comes and asks for forgiveness again, soon after they have wronged us once more. That's really full-on.
Think about something someone has done to you. Focus for a split second on the "wrong" they did to you and then imagine they did that thing seven times a day! That is incredible. That would try the patience of a saint. In this case, each time they come you must forgive. Going back to Matthew's example above for a moment, that would either perfect the believer to the point where they cease to commit that particular sin, or it will perfect your ability to forgive. Some take issue with this thought, on the basis of someone repeating the same sin seven times a day. They say that is farcical. It must be someone committing seven different sins, not the same sin seven times. But isn't that the point of what Jesus is saying? He is using the extreme case to highlight the nature of the forgiveness required.
Many of us don't like to do the rebuking. In fact we will do anything to avoid it. But it is a necessary to help someone through to health and wholeness. It is right and proper to rebuke at the right time. For their own good and for our ability to be able to cope it is right and proper to rebuke their continual practice of sinning.
When we are faced with someone who keeps sinning, or keeps putting the stumbling stone in our way, we would far rather be able to say, "No! You have gone too far now. I can't forgive you anymore." Seven times ok, but the eighth time, watch out. Forty-nine times (7x7) ok, but the 50th time, watch out. Four hundred and ninety times ok, but the 491st time, watch out. We all want that limit, so that once it is exceeded, we can let loose with what the person really deserves. But in Luke's account, when the person has exhausted you with their continual offending day after day, Jesus simply says, "You shall forgive him". The tense of this verb is future but it carries an imperative sense, thus it is translated rightly "you must forgive him". As extreme and all as it may seem, if the person is sinning the same sin 7 times a day, but repents when we confront them, we must still forgive.
What is the context?
Why would Jesus or Luke suddenly follow the preceding segment of causing little ones to stumble with this segment about how many times we must forgive someone? Some see 'watch yourselves' connected to what went before it in the first two verses of the chapter, and others feel it is connected to what follows it. Again, weigh it up in your mind and sort out what you feel is the more natural.
A true friend never gets in your way unless you happen to be going down. Arnold H. Glasow
Forgiveness is not an occasional act. It is a permanent attitude. Martin Luther King, Jr
I don't need a friend who changes when I change and who nods when I nod; my shadow does that much better. Plutarch
Honest criticism is hard to take, particularly from a relative, a friend, an acquaintance, or a stranger.