15 This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. 16 However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life. (1 Timothy 1:15–16, NKJV)
God’s forgiveness is deep and wide. Note what motivates, mandates, and maintains God’s forgiveness of our sins. 1) God’s love. Paul said, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” and he considered himself to be the prototype, the chief of sinners. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son to save us by His death (Jno. 3:16). Without God’s love, we cannot be saved. 2) God’s mercy. Forgiveness is the compassion applied, and God is rich in mercy toward all who call on Him for forgiveness (Eph. 2:4; Rom. 10:12). 3) God’s longsuffering. His forgiveness hinges on His longsuffering toward sinners. He does not want anyone to be lost. He wants every sinner to come to repentance. That’s why He is longsuffering toward us (2 Pet. 3:9). He could punish us all for our sins without patiently giving us opportunities to repent. His “forbearance and longsuffering” ought to “lead us to repentance” (Rom. 2:4). Do not think God cannot save you. Paul’s forgiveness is an example for all believers. Like Paul, have faith to “arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). Do not take God’s love, mercy, and longsuffering for granted. The day of the Lord will come, and we must be ready (2 Pet. 3:10-13). His longsuffering is for our salvation (2 Pet. 3:14-15).
3 So He spoke this parable to them, saying: 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ 7 I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance. (Luke 15:3–7, NKJV)
Jesus taught the parable of the lost sheep in response to those who complained He “receives sinners and eats with them” (Lk. 15:1-2). This slur was against Jesus and those who came to hear Him. The record shows Jesus was teaching these lost souls, not endorsing their sins. The parable illustrates the compassion of the Lord toward the lost. His work of teaching them the gospel was heaven’s work of seeking and saving the lost (Lk. 19:10). The parable also reflects heaven’s joy when one sinner who repents. We cannot escape the linkage of the sinner’s repentance to salvation. God is seeking the lost, and when the lost repent, they are “found” (saved). Instead of chastising Jesus for trying to save sinners, these complainers revealed themselves as ones who needed to repent; they needed saving, too. Like Jesus, compassion for the lost drives us to teach them the gospel, persuading souls to repent toward God and have faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:20-21).
26 The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ 27 Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt. (Matthew 18:26–27, NKJV)
The parable of the unforgiving servant testifies to the depth and breadth of God’s compassion and forgiveness (Matt. 18:21-35). God’s extraordinary mercy is vividly displayed when contrasted with the ungrateful and unwilling response of the forgiven servant toward his fellow servant’s plea for mercy (Matt. 18:28-30). We fail to grasp the magnitude of God’s forgiveness of our own sins when we refuse to forgive those who sin against us (Matt. 18:31-35). We must not comfort ourselves with a selfish (if not self-righteous) limit to our willingness and responsibility to forgive others. Peter asked Jesus whether forgiving a sinner “up to seven times” would be sufficient. Jesus said, not “up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven” (Matt. 18:21-22). Christians forgive others “from the heart” without regard to the amount and frequency of the sins. God’s model of forgiving us in Christ is how, with tender hearts, we forgive one another (Eph. 4:31-32). We reflect God’s mercy toward us when we do. The heartbreaking truth is that if we do not forgive others, our heavenly Father will not forgive us (Matt. 18:33-35; 6:14-15). Thank God for His merciful forgiveness that shows us how to forgive others.
17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. 18 Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:17–18, NKJV)
Just as the wisdom that is “earthly, sensual, and demonic” has identifiable traits (bitter envy, self-seeking, pride, lies, and confusion, Jas. 3:14-16), so does the wisdom from above. God-approved wisdom is marked by dignified purity, and so is “consecrated to the service and glory of God” (Lange). With God as its object, wisdom from above has a social character that reflects innocence toward men and women. This wisdom is peaceable (not warring, Jas. 4:1). It is gentle – mild, moderate, fair, and just in its judgments and treatment of others. Approved wisdom is “willing to yield,” it is easily entreated, “open to reason” (ESV). Wisdom hears all the evidence instead of entrenching itself without reason against it. It is full of mercy and it bears the impartial, genuine fruit of compassion. Because of its nature, heavenly wisdom plants the seeds of peace (not hostile confusion, Jas. 3:14-16), and so produces peace (Matt. 5:9). Let us pursue the wisdom that is from above and bear the fruit of righteousness.
21 Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18:21–22, NKJV)
We are impressed by the love, forbearance, and compassion it takes to forgive those who sin against us. Peter may well have thought forgiving his brother seven times went over and beyond the normal expectations of forgiveness. But, Jesus used Peter’s figure as a springboard to explain the limitless nature of genuine forgiveness. His hyperbole of “seventy times seven” is not to be taken literally, but as emphasizing the boundless nature of forgiveness. His lesson is driven home as we contemplate our heavenly Father’s complete (and repeated) forgiveness of our sins. Moved with compassion, God forgives us completely when we seek His mercy (Matt. 18:23-27). Refusing to forgive those who sin against us reveals an unmerciful heart that prompts God’s just anger against us (Matt. 18:28-35). Let us meditate on how God forgives us. He does so promptly, compassionately, lovingly, completely, and repeatedly. We marvel at the depth of God’s compassion for us, at the breadth of His forbearance toward us, and at the magnitude of His love that readily takes us back into His fellowship (1 Jno. 1:9). “For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, and abundant in mercy to all those who call upon You” (Psa. 86:5). How we forgive others must imitate God’s forgiveness of us.
11 And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 When Jesus heard that, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” (Matthew 9:11–13, NKJV)
Did Jesus condone sin by eating with sinners? No. A careful reading of today’s text shows Jesus knew these people were sinners, because He alluded to their need for a physician. Was He “judging” them? No. They were sinners – “sick” in sin. Far from condoning sin or “judging” people unjustly, Jesus showed mercy by calling sinners “to repentance” while eating with them (Luke 15:1-2). Those who complained against Jesus for doing so had no mercy in their hearts for sinners. Why? Because they did not see their own sin and their own need for mercy. All have sinned, but not all sinners see their sin and how much they need mercy. These self-righteous complainers had no compassion toward sinners because they refused to deal honestly with their own sin (Luke 18:9-14). We learn to be merciful toward others by learning we need mercy, too. Mercy does not ignore sin, it calls on sinners to face their sin and to repent. That is what Jesus did. The Pharisee offers his sacrifices to God, yet forgets to be merciful (Matthew 23:23-24). And, he complains against those who shows God’s mercy to sinners. What a dreadful place to be!
And forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. (Luke 11:4, NKJV)
Would you be forgiven of your sins if God forgave you the way you forgive others? Do you ask God to forgive you because you forgive everyone who sins against you? That is how Jesus said to pray to our heavenly Father about our forgiveness (see Matthew 6:12). God considers whether or not we forgive others when we ask Him to forgive us. Therefore, we need to examine our forgiveness of others. Forgiving those who sin against us is an action of faith which is necessary to be forgiven by the Father (Matthew 6:14; Luke 17:4-5). It is futile to expect God to forgive us when we will not forgive others. Jesus said, “But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:15). The devil tempts us not to forgive others. He entices us to withhold from others the very things we need from God – mercy, compassion and forgiveness. We will lose our souls if we give in to his temptation. We are delivered from the temptation to withhold forgiveness by our own need for God’s forgiveness. Remember, it is the merciful who obtain mercy (Matthew 5:7).
38 But He, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and did not destroy them. Yes, many a time He turned His anger away, and did not stir up all His wrath; 39 For He remembered that they were but flesh, a breath that passes away and does not come again. (Psalm 78:38–39, NKJV)
God shows repeated kindness and mercy to us. With reoccurring compassion, God did not fully destroy His people when Israel sinned against Him over and over. Psalm 78 rehearses the sad history of Israel’s rebellion against God. He gave Israel great and marvelous blessings by delivering His people from Egyptian slavery and sustaining them through the wilderness on the way to the promised land. Yet, Israel continually rebelled against God and provoked His wrath. He punished them, but He also had compassion on them by not pouring out His full wrath upon them. God shows “mercy to thousands, to those who love (Him) and keep (His) commandments” (Exodus 20:6). While He is “slow to anger and great in power,” He “will not at all acquit the wicked” (Nahum 1:3). God’s forgiveness is abundant. He is ready and able to forgive. But we must not tempt God by refusing His will, thinking His mercy gives us freedom to sin. Like Israel, we must turn away from our sins, love Him and keep His commands (Luke 13:3, 5; 1 John 1:9). God knows our failures and sins. He is full of compassion and forgiveness. Turn to Him for mercy to escape His wrath.
36 But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. 37 Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. 38 Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” (Matthew 9:36–38, NKJV)
“I want to be a worker for the Lord” is a sentiment we put in our hearts in song and by the instruction of God’s word. Today’s passage teaches at least three things we must possess to be workers for the Lord. First, we must be conscious of the lost (v. 36). We must see the souls around us as God sees them. We are in contact with lost souls every day who need rescuing from sin. Second, we must be moved with compassion toward the lost. We must be driven to help them find the Good Shepherd who can lead them to green pastures of spiritual rest and fulfillment. Third, we must have commitment to be a worker. Commitment toward doing God’s work drives us to pray for laborers and prompts us to be laborers. We must labor when we are hopeful, and we must labor when we grow weary (Galatians 6:9-10). The Lord’s harvest is ready. Souls are lost, and salvation is available. The gospel is God’s power to save. Let us labor every day to take the gospel to the lost and to bring in the Lord’s harvest.
59 And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.” (Acts 7:59–60, NKJV)
The heart of Stephen is revealed as his life is taken by cruel men and horrible means. Accused by false witnesses, he spoke the truth to people who were “stiff-necked uncircumcised in heart and ears,” who resisted the Holy Spirit by refusing the word He gave them through the prophets (Acts 7:51-52). As they rushed upon him in hatred and hurled stones at him in anger, Stephen sought God’s mercy for them. When someone sins against you, how do you react? With anger? With hatred? Do you try to harm them in some way? The way of the righteous is different. When wronged, the righteous trust in God, as Stephen did. He had the heart of compassion that each Christian must develop (Colossians 3:12). Even in the face of great injustice, rise above the fray. Keep your trust in the Lord Jesus. Keep your heart pure. Keep your conduct righteous. And, thank God for men like Stephen, who set such a worthy example to follow.