How Much is Too Much? - Wellington First Assembly

Wellington First Assembly

326 W Botkin Lane, Wellington Kansas ........Family Faith Lessons - 9:30 AM........ Sunday Worship - 10:30 AM


Sunday, September 17, 2017

How Much is Too Much?

How much is too much?
Today, we continue our series looking at how grace impacts the life of a believer.  As Christians, we are called to live a life of grace.  We are challenged to show grace towards others in the community.  We are humbled to receive the grace of others. As believers, we try to follow the pattern of Jesus in how he showed his amazing grace to us.

This week we ask a question, that as children, I’m sure we all had.  How much is too much?  How many times do I have to put up with my brother or my sister bugging me?  What’s the limit?  As children, we always hated hearing the answer.  You gotta be nicer to your sister.  Yes, you have to forgive him.  Where’s the limit?  That’s one of the things we all want to know.  What’s the minimum I can do to get away with passing the class?  How many bites of Brussel sprouts do I really have to eat?  What is the minimum I can do to skate by and not have to put a whole lot of effort into this thing called grace-filled living?

You will be glad to know – you aren’t the only one with this question.  One of our favorite characters, a disciple close to Jesus, asked this very same thing.  I don’t know if anyone is surprised that it’s young, brash Peter stating loudly what others are thinking.  HOW MUCH?  He asks?  What’s the limit?

21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.

How much is too much?

 Jesus answers the question here.  This is one of the rare times that the initial comment is plain and simple; the parable follows it.  Most of the time, we read a parable and then hear the simple truth conveyed in it.
The answer is given in seemingly a straightforward way.  A quantity is used.  Numbers.  No need for sad, sappy stories or emotions.  Just give me the facts!  Give me a number.
If you were like me, I grew up reading this verse in the old King James, where the translation reads 70 x 7.  Most of the modern translations have looked deeper at the context and usage of this phrase and recognize that it is more properly and consistently used in scripture as 70 + 7, or 77.  The point is clear no matter what – that’s still a whole lot of forgiveness!

I love this little cartoon.  One of the disciples responding when hearing this statement.  Oh no, I’ve got to do math too!  As someone has said.  Forgiveness is easy.  Math is hard!
In all seriousness, let’s take a look at this passage.  Before we take Peter to task too much, he asked a decent question – and provided a decent number.

In fact, if we look at our own lives, how many times have you said about something.  I’ll give him one chance, and then I’m out of here.  Maybe if you are really feeling charitable, it’s the 3 strikes and you’re out club. Come-on, 3 chances to get something right is pretty generous!  In fact, the ancient Jewish rabbis, when discussing opportunities to forgive others, actually settled on the three.  For them, it was the sign of true righteousness.  If you forgave someone at least 3 times for the same offense and the other person continued in their sin, you had no culpability and could wash your hands off the situation.

Peter had been around Jesus long enough now.  He knew that by saying the acceptable religious answer probably wasn’t gonna cut it.  So, he got bold, he took a risk.  He thought of how much patience he could bear with someone and doubled it.  Then put another heap on top.  Seven times, he suggested.  The number of completeness, the number of fullness, the number at which even God rests.  Seven times, I can forgive and then walk away.
There was only one problem.  This question and this passage is completely different than the preceding verses that we discussed last week.  In those verses, a person was genuinely unrepentant, wanting nothing to do with the laws of Christ.  If you recall, even then, the demand for grace and forgiveness that Christ places on us was extremely high.
This is a different situation.  In this case, it’s not a pagan unrepentant stranger.  It’s your closest brother, a fellow believer, someone who has truly repented.  Repentance is assumed.  The onus is not upon the one asking for forgiveness – this message is for the one who is to dispense forgiveness – the one who had taken a small offense against themselves.

This question cuts to the heart of Christian community.  Because as much as we might want to, we can’t walk away from the rest of our body.  Our very act of partaking in the communion service reminds us that we are interconnected.  In Paul’s writings, he reminds us that if our foot hurts, our whole-body hurts.  If one section of the human body is sick, the rest of it feels nauseated too.  There is no room for dissension and unforgiveness in the body.  Hurts, grudges, aches – they are like a cancerous tumor – they will eat away at the healthy tissue until the entire body ceases to exist.
So, Jesus answers emphatically.  No, not 1x, like our human capacity might be willing to do, no not 3x, like the morally upright concerned citizens are willing to do, No Peter, not even 7 – although that is going to extreme lengths, but 77.

Some of the older translators tried to capture this linguistic concept by saying 490 – meaning a lot.  But the way this would have been heard by the ancient listeners of Jesus is even more than what we can think of as a literal 77.  They would have heard infinity.  Whenever scripture repeats numbers or repeats words, it is an example of something to the utmost power.  Not just Holy, by Holy of Holies.  Not just Lord, but LORD of Lords.  Not just 7, but 7 and 7.

Yeah, now the math got really hard.  It’s like kids saying the highest number – infinity and then another kid, going infinity plus 1. The number is inconceivable, limitless, boundless, unimaginable.

How much is too much?
But Jesus is not just talking math here.  He is referencing a passage from the Torah, from the ancient history of the people. That passage is not talking about grace, that passage was not talking about forgiveness – It was addressing quite the opposite – VENGENCE.  If you recall, Cain, after murdering his brother Abel, received a mark upon him – so that anyone who harmed him would receive 7 times the penalty.  In Genesis 4:24, Lamech who also kills a man vows that if anyone would come against him, it would make the vengeance promised to Cain look like nothing.  Lamech is recorded as saying this…

If someone who kills Cain is punished seven times,
then the one who kills me will be punished seventy-seven times!” 

Again, the use of hyperbole, over the top language.  Jesus uses his hyperbole in direct opposition to the concepts of revenge.  In this new era, this new community of Christ, it is not unlimited vengeance and hatred that should be celebrated – but unlimited grace and forgiveness.

There are some that are willing to go to the ends of the earth to hunt someone down, give them what they deserve.  Jesus wants us to go to the ends of the earth to share the gospel of grace, to give them what they don’t deserve.  How much is too much?  Several principles in the parable that follows give us an idea.  How deep? 

A grace-filled Christian must display deep humility.

To sum up this story again, one man owes the Master a boatload of money.  In fact, the amount is staggering.  While we read 10,000 talents – we forget that the Greek numeral system only went to 10,000 and a talent was the largest monetary denomination there was.  In essence, this means everything!  Just to give you an idea of how much that might be – Remember the time when Jesus was born they had to travel to Jerusalem for the census to pay taxes?  According to ancient documents, the total amount of Roman taxes collected in all of the province of Judea for this once in a lifetime huge tax was only 600 talents.

The second man only owed 100 denarii.  A small number and the smallest coin.
But you will notice that both men did the same thing.  And this is what is required of us.  They lay prostrate.  They put themselves under authority.  They humbled themselves.  They were willing to submit to whatever justice would be meted out. They pled as one without a plea.
Their cases had no merit.  Anything they had to offer was worthless, like counterfeit money. 
Both offered humility, but only one had it deep in their soul.  Forgiving someone is a humbling experience.  It’s humbling for the one asking for forgiveness; it's humbling for the one doing the forgiving.  We get to the core of our relationship in true forgiveness. For a brief moment, our souls are transparent.  We recognize who we are and what God has truly done.

Second, a grace filled Christian must Demonstrate long compassion.

What does it take to be moved to compassion?  In the parable, there is absolutely no way for the first man to make up the monies – ever – not in a million lifetimes.  Yet the Master was moved to compassion.

I think some of us confuse patience with compassion.  I’ll wait until they get it figured out and then I’ll forgive them.  They’ll come to their senses soon enough.  But Compassion is like a laser beam pointed into the sky – the beam of light travels throughout space and time eternally, never-ending.  Patience often wears thin.  Patience is merely a waiting period, a time limit imposed – even if extended.  There are no limits on compassion.

Compassion and Community are integrally a part of each other.  They go hand in hand.  The key prefix of Co- means we are in this together.  For a community to last, compassion must be a core value.  For a community to expand, compassion must be a core motivator.
Even as the Christ breathed his last words, he pled for compassion, he bled for grace.  “Father, forgive them, for they know not” – he uttered.  Compassion goes to the end.  Compassion brought Christ to the cross, Compassion rolled away the stone.

Third, a grace-filled Christian must Develop Wide Risk Tolerance.

Let’s be honest for a moment.  How many of you have ever humbled yourself, focused on compassion, but still feel scared to open up, just in case you are hurt again.  We all feel that way.  Grace helps us develop a wide risk tolerance.  The reality is – even with everything else in play, there is risk.  It’s risky to open up and be possible shot with a poison dart again.  The stakes seem high.  But the stakes are much higher, infinitely higher if we don’t.  We must take the risk to see the relationship we had become restored.  Our relationship may never grow beyond what it ever once was, but we must attempt to get back to the starting place. I’m not gonna deny that at times it will hurt.  Because it will.  But there is a balm of Gilead, a salve that heals all wounds – that is available to those who take risks of grace.

How much is too much?
Peter asked the question.  Jesus’ response tells Peter, “That’s the wrong question.”  It’s not how much is too much, but rather the question should be, Have I been forgiven?  When our petty offenses, worthless pennies in the scale of a billions’ economy, are compared to what Christ has done to forgive us, our only response can be an overwhelming yes, Christ has forgiven me.

  We are to forgive because we have been forgiven.

The conclusion of this parable is a little bit disconcerting.  Because we see in bold print the one thing God cannot stand.  Sinful selfish division in his community.  Ananias and Saphira learned this judgment in the book of Acts when they insisted on lying about how they stole from God and the people.  This passage should literally put the fear of God in us.  There is only one way to lose our redemption, there is only one way for the believer to truly walk away from Christ and receive eternal damnation instead of eternal life.  And that is if we refuse to forgive another, refuse to show even a portion of mercy to a person who has offended us.  I know the offenses might be deep and painful.  But if another believer pleads for forgiveness and we refuse, we are abandoning the gospel of Christ for the gospel of man.  For the Christian, forgiveness is not an option – it is a requirement.

How much is too much?  J.P. Dorsey, a professor at North Point Bible College in Grand Rapids Michigan recently wrote this following statement.  He addresses this question of grace and frames it in the context of the mission of the church.

If the primary purposes of the community of faith are to embody the Gospel of grace to each other and to demonstrate how the Gospel of forgiveness works to the world, one of the least Christian things a person can do is abandon a relationship with another Christian or a faith community because of offense. It is a forsaking of mission and a betrayal of the sacred functions of the community. – J. P. Dorsey

Am I demonstrating the gospel of forgiveness to the world by
embodying the gospel of grace in my community?

Do you know why many people avoid gathering in a church together?  Why they think congregations are full of hypocrites?  It’s because too many people in the church do not forgive each other.  When we fail to forgive in the contexts of our workplace, or schoolyard, or business dealing, we send a clear message to others that the gospel message has not transformed our lives.

I do not want to be that kind of person.  I do not want to be that kind of church.  This is my prayer.  That as a community of believers, we discover the power of forgiveness in our lives.  This is unlimited grace.

Shall we pray.