When asked by His disciples how often they should forgive others, Christ answered, 'seventy times seven.' In this message Stephen shows us why living by this divine equation can save a broken marriage, a struggling church, and
“Keeping Erasers Handy”
1 Corinthians 13:5b
Pastor Jason of shared these pick-up lines with the students last week, I believe. My 13 year old daughter Charity thought that was the best sermon you’d ever preached. She picked up some real pointers. Thanks so much Jason.
I thought I’d start our session on true love by reading a few of them to you.
- Are you OK? Because heaven is a long fall from here.
- Baby, if you were words on a page, you’d be the Fine Print.
- Can I borrow a quarter? I want to call your mother and thank her.
- Is there an airport nearby or is that just my heart taking off?
- You must be Jamaican, because you’re Jamaican me crazy.
- Do you have a map, because I keep getting lost in your eyes.
- One more, If I could rearrange the alphabet, I would put U and I together.
Jason actually tried these in high school. One girl felt so sorry for him – she later married him to try and help him make it in life. Karen, with God all things are possible.
How do you go from pick up lines like these – and that early romance and excitement to where one couple found themselves some time ago?
It seems that two people found a perfect match recently, according to a French press release. They found their true love in an internet chat room. They were both married at the time they met online, and they were online because they had decided that their spouses would never provide the happiness they deserved. So they went online searching for true love.
The woman’s chat room name was “Sweetie” and her new found love was called “Prince of Joy.” They corresponded for hours, sharing with one another the troubles they were having in their respective marriages. Sweetie was 27 at the time. She later told the French press that she had finally found a true kindred spirit – her true love. Her prince of joy!
She said, “I was suddenly in love all over again. It was amazing!” My prince understood me perfectly . . . we both knew that we could share a friendship we both deserved. We were both stuck in miserable marriages and wanted out. We were the perfect match.
They decided to meet and have their first date. All the arrangements were made; excuses presented to their respective spouses as to why they’d be away for the evening. And then, at their place of rendezvous, they met. Only to discover they were married to one another. Sweetie and Prince of Joy were already husband and wife.
The miserable marriage they had described to each other was the same one. They had believed that the other person was perfect for them – that they were finally in love – only to discover their own self-centeredness and deception had caused them to ignore a relationship they already had and could have been enjoying. They were confronted with the irony of their blindness.
Did the truth sink in? No. According to this report, this couple is now divorcing, accusing each other of being unfaithful.
Adapted from Agence France-Presse, September 18, 2007
So much for finding true love.
How does something like this happen? How do you chip away at a relationship, either in marriage or ministry or industry?
How do you go from “I get lost in your eyes” to, “Go away.”
How do you go from “for better or for worse . . . in sickness and in health . . . for richer or for poorer” to, “I despise this person and am willing to abandon them.”
It’s actually downright easy!
It all begins when a person decides to abandon agape and pursue the loves of the world.
Do you remember those loves from earlier sessions?
Storge is the Greek word for love that says, in general terms, “I love you because you’re in my family – I’m supposed to love you – even though I don’t like you. I’ll sing at your funeral, but I’m not about to go on vacation with you . . . Christmas is hard enough.”
Another common word for love in the Greek world is philia, which says, “I love you because you love everything I love – we like the same music; we both like to hike and travel; we both like crossword puzzles and the same design in furniture.
Our initials, when you put them together, spell “honey” or “sugar.”
Agape says, “I love you even if we have nothing in common.”
Eros says, “I love you because you make my heart beat real fast and you meet my needs.”
Agape says, “I love you and commit my heart to meeting your needs.”
Agape is a relationship laced with grace;
Agape is a church body marked by the humility and deference;
Agape is a marriage without a back door.
Everybody wants this kind of love. This internet chat connection seemed to promise it. People are searching for it. People want to be loved by it.
The pursuit of eros and philia and storge is really a longing for agape.
How come so few have it?
Well, in the next phrase of I Corinthians 13, Paul will answer that question. And in the process he will deliver an assignment that effectively keeps agape alive.
As you’re turning to 1 Corinthians 13, I want to warn you, this is one of the toughest assignments in the list . . . it’s only for those willing to surrender to this lifestyle of love – this kind of living which Paul said is the most excellent way to live.
The assignment to keeping agape alive is refusing to keep score.
Paul writes in the very last phrase of verse 5; “love does not take into account a wrong suffered.”
Now you know why we struggle with loving like this.
We naturally keep a running score.
You create a mental file room where you store all offenses and injuries and hurts. You oil the hinges on the file drawers so they slide open easily and often.
The love of this world keeps records of wrongs. Resentment has an amazing memory.
The verb Paul uses here is actually an accounting term for making entries in a ledger. It literally can mean “to count” or “to impute to an account”. It’s one of Paul’s favorite words.
Ralph Earle, Word Meanings in the New Testament (Baker, 1974) p. 239
You could translate this agape assignment, “love does not keep books on evil.”
David E. Garland, Baker Exegetical Commentary: 1 Corinthians (Baker, 2003), p. 618
Agape refuses to:
- Tally points;
- Record offenses in a mental file;
- To keep a journal of injustices;
- To maintain some witness to the wounds of life.
One author wrote, “One of the fine arts in life is to learn what to forget.” He goes on to tell the custom of tribal Polynesians where most of the men are embroiled in either fighting or feasting. It is customary for them to keep certain items to remind them of their enemies and their hatred for them. They literally suspend articles from the interior roofs of their huts to keep alive the memory of their wrongs.
William Barclay, First Corinthians (Westminster Press, 1975), p. 122
We wouldn’t do that, would we?
According to the Bible, accepting the assignment not to keep a record of wrongs is actually vital to developing and experiencing true love.
No one is exempt. Because everyone has been hurt by some form of evil or unkindness. Everyone has had to struggle with forgiveness. Everyone has had to let go of bad memories and give up any desire or even the imagination of revenge.
Adapted from Alexander Strauch, Leading With Love (Lewis & Roth, 2006), p. 72
But the truth remains, we enjoy nursing old wounds. We enjoy nursing our wrath to keep it warm.
Agape says, “Fire the nurse.” Move her out of that room in your heart where you’ve allowed her to set up shop and do great damage.
The choice between becoming a loving person and a resentful person is found in this assignment.
We tend to put our slights and injuries and offenses against us in a pot on the stove and let it simmer . . . whenever you get a chance, you walk over to the stove and stir the pot.
One of the things I love about Christmas time is my wife pulls out this special recipe for hot chocolate. She got it from a woman in our church who introduced us to it one day in her home. It’s the best hot chocolate I have ever tasted. It’s kept in a big pot on the stove and it just simmers all day long. The house is filled with the sweet aroma of this hot chocolate. It’s made of just the right mixture of evaporated milk, sugar, cocoa . . . I don’t know what all, I’ve never watched her making it, I just stand there with my mug, like a beggar, waiting for it to get ready. It’s sooo good!
If you’re interested, Marsha will meet you over here after the service and sell you the recipe.
You just walk by the stove every once in a while and stir it.
I’m afraid that’s what we do with the disappointments of life. Paul would say here, “Agape refuses to simmer hurts on the stove of the heart; agape refuses to walk over and stir the pot.”
Once you’ve restirred the pot, it all comes quickly to a boil.
- A debt that you can’t seem to pay off that wasn’t yours to begin with;
- A parent or boss or coach that was unfair;
- Prejudice or partiality that brought you pain;
- A board member that made life miserable;
- A jury that found the innocent guilty . . . or the guilty innocent;
- A business partner failing to act with integrity and smearing your reputation;
- A doctor making the wrong diagnosis;
- The other guy or gal at work that got the credit you deserved;
- A neighbor who treats you rudely;
- A friend who turned on you;
- A child or parent who won’t speak to you.
Adapted from Charles R. Swindoll, Forgiving & Forgetting (Insight for Living, 1981), p. 3
True Love refuses to the heart’s natural desire to write that stuff down for keeps.
This means you’re gonna have to keep a mental eraser handy. A big one. And be ready to use it often. Daily . . . sometimes moment by moment. Otherwise your ledger will easily fill up over time. Every day, new additions of wrong can be added to the list.
This assignment isn’t difficult – it’s impossible. We’re always losing our erasers.
I love that scene where Peter asked the Lord, “Lord, how often should a man forgive someone who offends him – seven times?” (Matthew 18:21)
Now the Rabbi’s of Christ’s day were teaching that you should be willing to forgive someone 3 times for an offense. But on the fourth offense, you could refuse to forgive him. So Peter’s really stepping up to plate and rather impressively suggesting that the disciples of Christ should be willing to double the current tradition and throw one in for good measure.
“Lord, I imagine we ought to forgive people 7 times.” To which the Lord responded, “I tell you, forgive that man seventy times seven.” And you can just see Peter doing the math. 70 times 7 . . . 490 times?!
No wonder Luke records all the disciples immediately said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” (Luke 17:5) That’s the 1st century way of saying, “You’ve got to be kidding!”
The Lord’s point was this; don’t carry a calculator and as soon as you hit 490 you’re free not to forgive. His point was, “forgive as a way of life . . . don’t hold a grudge as a matter of practice . . . don’t add up the account in your heart as a matter of surrender to the Spirit of God . . . keep the ledger clear.”
You know the disciples were thinking, “How in the world are we gonna be able to love anybody with that kind of grace and forgiveness. We don’t make erasers in Galilee that can last that long.
The Lord will go on and tell them that when you recognize what God has chosen to forget regarding our own account, you should be motivated to forgive others.
In fact, following the disciples reaction to the 490 point, the Lord went on to tell them a story to illustrate the utter hypocrisy of being an unforgiving person.
The Lord said to his disciples, further in Matthews account (Matthew 18:23-35), “Imagine a King settling his accounts with his employees. One day he called one of his employees in who owed him 10,000 talents. Since the man was unable to repay the King, the King ordered that this man and all his family be sold as slaves and the money to be given to the King. The man was desperate for mercy and he cried to the King, “Please have patience with me and I will repay your. And the king had compassion, Jesus said, and forgave him the entire debt; wiped it off the books.
By the way, 1 talent was equivalent to 15 years of labor. Obviously the Lord is exaggerating this man’s debt since no man could have become indebted to his boss for the equivalency of 150,000 years of labor – unless he had stolen the king’s own money.
Obviously, the only hope for this man was this incredible act of love and mercy. And the King gave him mercy.
The man got up from his knees and went out and while he was walking home bumped into one of his co-workers who owed him 100 denarii, which was the equivalent of 3 months labor. The co-worker begged for mercy and promised to pay it back. But the man refused to forgive his debt and threw him in prison.
When the king found out about it, he threw the ungrateful man out of his kingdom and put him in the hands of his torturers until he could repay the debt, which of course he couldn’t do.
Here’s the point. Are you having trouble erasing the debt of offenses against you? Then you must have forgotten the debt of your offenses against Christ, which He forgave you!
Have we forgotten the weight of our own sin?
This is the gospel of agape.
Paul used this same verb (logizomai) in Romans 4:8, listen to this amazing erasure of redemption, “Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.” Same word used for the action of agape.
“BLESSED is the man – that’s putting it mildly – whose sins have been erased from the ledger of God’s accounting.”
Paul used the verb again when he wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:19, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their sins against them.”
In other words, those who are reconciled to God through Christ have had their files of sin cleared out. Beloved, your record is clean.
In fact, the ledger isn’t entirely clear. If you take a closer look, in the place of sins which we have committed against God is the deposit of Christ’s righteousness which has been imputed to our account – same accounting word is used – the righteousness of Christ has been imputed - credited – entered to our personal account in the ledger of God. (Romans 4:11)
That’s like taking your checkbook out and discovering you don’t have any money. You don’t have to use your imagination on this one. But then you go to the bank to ask them if they’ll not charge you overdraft fees because it took 3 days before you realized you were overdrawn . . . I’m speaking hypothetically here! But the bank manager comes out and shakes your hand and gives you a handful of candy because evidently Bill Gates got your bank account number and transferred into your empty account all of his wealth. Imagine, looking at your account balance and seeing a billion dollar plus deposit.
Ha . . . you can drive on past the Dollar Store and go directly to Target . . . you’re loaded.
Listen, Jesus Christ credited to your account the wealth of His righteousness. You didn’t have any. All you had in that account was sin. He withdrew that and paid all the fees and all the administrative charges against you and then transferred His righteousness into your account.
The same word used in 1 Corinthians 13.
Now does forgiving mean forgetting? Can anyone truly forget offenses and injustices and hurts and pains? No.
Paul doesn’t say in 1 Corinthians 13 “Don’t ever get hurt; don’t be offended; ignore the pain.” He says, “Keep your eraser moving.” Choosing to love with agape means choosing to forget.
How do you forget?
Webster caught the Biblical nuance of this as he defined “forget”: listen to this – to cease to remember – to leave behind – to fail to think of – to neglect either carelessly or willfully – to cease thinking of something.
Random House Webster’s College Dictionary, (Random House, 1997): forget
What a great description of agape’s willing forgetfulness of offenses.
We tend to record our blessings in the sand and forget them; but engrave our offenses in granite and never forget them.
And what a great cost that is to our peace of mind and to the joy of our salvation.
Wayne Grudem wrote, “Where love abounds in a fellowship of Christians, many small offenses, and even some large ones, are overlooked and forgotten. But where love is lacking, every word is viewed with suspicion, every action is liable to misunderstanding, and conflicts abound.”
David Walls & Max Anders, Holman New Testament Commentary: I & II Peter, I, II & III John, Jude (Holman, 1999), p. 73
That works in the church . . . in the home . . . in the marriage . . . on the campus . . . in the shop . . . everywhere.
Can we learn how to love like this? Yes.
It is no coincidence that the Spirit of God would inspire Peter, of all the Apostles to write, “Keep fervent in your love for one another, because love – agape – covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8)
You say, “But I just can’t forget . . . I can’t seem to cover it up.” You’re right. You can’t. Agape is impossible. And this assignment might be the toughest one in the list for you to surrender to the Spirit to accomplish in your life.
But God, the great forgetter of our sin – who chooses to remember our transgression no more (Hebrews 8:12);
“I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more." (Jeremiah 31:34)
God is choosing to neglect willfully . . . cease thinking of … to leave behind, the record of our sin.
We all know the amazing biography of Joseph who was offended and hurt and abandoned by his own family . . . his own brothers no less. What we often overlook is when Joseph and his wife had their first baby – a son – Joseph named him Manasseh – the Hebrew name means “to forget.” The record in Genesis makes sure we understand the significance of this event and how he was able to make such a statement of faith in the sovereign purposes of God; Genesis 41:51 records, “And Joseph named the first-born Manasseh, “For,” he said, “God has made me forget all my trouble . . .”
Do you think Joseph remembered it? Absolutely . . . but he was choosing to leave it behind.
Ladies and Gentlemen, we allow God to do the erasing.
When you refuse to keep score, you always end up winning. Peace is yours . . . joy is yours . . . release and freedom are yours. You ultimately win.
The one who keeps his list will only break his own heart over and over again, reliving the offense . . . feeling again and again the pain of the injury . . . hearing the insult all over again as the ledger grows longer and longer.
Agape is the key to escape the prison cell of bitterness and resentment.
Agape is the way out and on and up.
Every week, one author wrote, Kevin Tunell was required to mail a dollar to a family he’d hurt deeply; they had sued him for 1.5 million, but settled for $936 dollars, to be paid to them one dollar at a time. The family was to receive the payments over the course of 18 years. They didn’t want to forget what he’d done. He had gotten drunk . . . and then drove his car into their daughter’s car, killing her on that first Friday in January. Tunell was convicted of manslaughter and drunken driving. He was 17. She was 18. Tunell spent time in jail, then seven years campaigning against drunk driving – even though the courts had only required he campaign for one year. But he often forgot to send his dollar to the family. Four times the family has taken him to court. He insisted he wasn’t defying the order, and even offered gave the family two boxes of checks covering the payments until the year 2001 – an extra year thrown in. The family denied the request. They didn’t want him to forget – and they didn’t want to forgive. It wasn’t about money. It was the weekly reminder they wanted to haunt him with . . . 936 reminders for the next 18 years of his life and theirs – to haunt him wherever he lived and whatever he did that he had taken their daughter’s life. There would be no forgetting and there certainly would be no forgiving.
This author asked, “Few people would question the anger of this family . . . and grief . . . but . . . are 936 payments enough? When they receive the final payment will they be able to put the matter to rest? Is 18 years worth of restitution sufficient?
Citation: Max Lucado, In the Grip of Grace (Word, 1996); Preachingtoday.com/forgiveness
This family had sentenced themselves to a life of private haunting. They were the ongoing victims. And every Friday, for 18 years they suffered all over again their bitter hatred toward this young man.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I praise God that our offenses against Him are not paid back, one dollar at a time . . . one prayer at a time . . . one act of penance at a time.
No, this is the agape of God whom we have sinned against. This is the forgiveness of Christ whom we put to death.
It was my sin – O, the bliss of this glorious thought;
My sin, not in part, but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord, O my soul!
Horatio G. Spafford , It Is Well With My Soul,
Listen, the willingness to accept this assignment of agape and live with an eraser handy comes only when we stay near the cross of Christ and recognize our own sin which He has chosen to forget. And imitate Him.
Without Christ we cannot love like this. You cannot experience true love without experiencing the love of God and a willingness to demonstrate His love to others through condescending humility and conscious self-sacrifice.
We are most like wild animals when we devour and kill;
We are most like men when we criticize and condemn;
We are most like Christ when we forgive and choose to forget.
Spirit of the Living God, fall fresh on me;
Spirit of the Living God, fall fresh on me;
Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me;
Spirit of the Living God, fall fresh on me.
He is Lord, He is Lord,
He is risen from the dead and He is Lord;
Every knee shall bow, every tongue confess;
That Jesus Christ is Lord.