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.
4 But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God: …6 by purity, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love, 7 by the word of truth…” (2 Corinthians 6:4-7, NKJV)
Kindness is produced in those who are led by the Spirit of God (Galatians 5:22, 18). It is a mark of those who serve God. According to the apostle in the passage above, God is not served where kindness is absent. Kindness carries the idea of graciousness, usefulness and serviceability toward others. Like love, kindness looks outward toward others, treating them with grace. “Be kind to one another” is not a suggestion, it is a commandment of God (Ephesians 4:32). We cannot mask unkind words and deeds behind the facade of “boldly speaking the truth.” Neither does kindness prevent speaking the truth. Indeed, truth must be spoken boldly in love, not with unkind, harsh and rude words (Ephesians 4:15). Kindness comes from being “tenderhearted” – being compassionate and sympathetic toward others (Ephesians 4:32). The sin of unkindness separates Christians from God and from one another. Works of the flesh like hatred, contentions, jealousies, and outbursts of wrath display themselves in unkind words and treatment of others (Galatians 5:20). By kindness, may we always commend ourselves as ministers of God.
“And Jesus, when He came out, saw a great multitude and was moved with compassion for them, because they were like sheep not having a shepherd. So He began to teach them many things.” (Mark 6:34, NKJV)
Teaching the gospel to the lost is an act of compassion. We do not accept the judgment that clear, decisive teaching to sinners about their sin and salvation “runs people off” and “hurts people’s feelings.” We should notice this verse occurs on the day Jesus fed 5000 men with five loaves and two fish (Mark 6:35-44). Jesus did not feed the people to gather an audience. His first act of compassion upon seeing the crowd was to “teach them many things.” At the end of the day, when the teaching was over, Jesus challenged His disciples to feed the crowd (Mark 6:35-38). His miraculous feeding of the multitude met a temporary need of the body. The gospel satisfies the eternal need of the soul. Instead of offering food in an attempt to get people interested in the gospel, let us be moved by the compassion Christ, and feed their souls with the life-giving gospel of God. We are not showing compassion when we remain silent, instead of teaching the gospel to the lost. We will be held accountable for such lack of compassion (Acts 20:26-27).
17 But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, 19 and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.” (Luke 15:17–19, NKJV)
Pride prevents repentance and salvation from sin. It is only when we realize the depth of our sin against our Father in heaven, that we become willing to entertain the thought of returning to Him in search of His compassionate forgiveness. God is always ready to give it. Just as a father whose child has wandered far away from him, wasting the blessings of the father’s love, God is always ready to receive and forgive the sinner who repents and abandons sin with a servant heart. There is no doubt that God compassionately forgives repentant sinners. The real question is, when we sin, will you and I humble ourselves before God, repent, and come to Him and cast ourselves upon His mercy?
1 Then Job answered and said: 2 “I have heard many such things; Miserable comforters are you all! 3 Shall words of wind have an end? Or what provokes you that you answer? 4 I also could speak as you do, if your soul were in my soul’s place. I could heap up words against you, and shake my head at you; 5 But I would strengthen you with my mouth, and the comfort of my lips would relieve your grief.” (Job 16:1–5, NKJV)
Job’s friends not only gave him terrible counsel about the cause of his suffering, they spoke without comfort or compassion. Most of us long for the reassurance of comforting words when faced with the loss of a loved one, the pain of a disease or the uncertainties of life. Let us develop an ability to be sympathetic toward others, or even empathetic, when we have faced trials we see in others. Like us, others need a word of comfort and encouragement to strengthen them in moments of weakness (Matt. 7:12). We can increase our compassion toward others by living outside of ourselves, by actually pausing from our own hectic lives to see and respond to the needs of others. We will all face trials in life. Too bad all will not respond to those trials with words of consolation and actions that soothe the aching soul.