Vol.XVI No.XII Pg.3
February 1980

Futile Figuring

Dan S. Shipley

"Then came Peter and said to him, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? until seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times; but, Until seventy times seven." (Matt. 18:21, 22)

There are times when it is best to forget the arithmetic. One such time, as Jesus implies here, is when it involves extending forgiveness. Since God will not forgive the unforgiving (Matt. 6:14, 15), any limitations imposed on man's showing mercy would also limit his receiving it. The parable introduced by Peter's question makes this very point. Like the unmerciful servant, every Christian has received infinitely more than he could ever pay out in the coin of forgiveness. Why, then, this business of score keeping? Why taint mercy with a spirit of reluctance? Where mercy is needed, counting is criminal. The important thing is not "how many", but to forgive from a truly merciful heart (Matt. 18:35).

Another time when "How many?" becomes a needless concern is when it is applied to the number who will be saved. An inquirer apparently had this in mind when asking Jesus, "Lord, are they few that are saved?" (Lk. 13: 23). Without involving Himself in the arithmetic of the matter, Jesus shows at once where the concern should be: "Strive to enter... The important thing is what about ME? — and whether I am striving to enter. The business of saving self (Acts 2:40) deserves priority because that's where we can do most. Only with a striving ME can we help the few to be many. A similar, but equally fruitless, concern of some involves itself with how many will be in heaven (not the same, with them, as how many will be saved). They wrongly envision a whole host of saved dwelling in an earthly kingdom, but only 144,000 making up the "little flock" of priests and kings in heaven. Again, the important thing is my striving, but for what? — certainly not a glorified earth-bound existence! The only eternal abode of the saved is in heaven. That is where the inheritance of the righteous is reserved (1 Pet. 1:4); that is where our hope is laid up (Col. 1:5); and that is where Jesus has gone (1 Pet. 3: 22) to prepare a place in which the redeemed can be with Him (Jn. 14:2,3). Its inhabitants are not limited by a fixed decree of God, but only by a striving by faith to do His will from the heart (Matt.' 7:21).

Yet another area of futile figuring concerns the time of Christ's return. Some have been so bold as to set specific dates, the coming of which did not bring Christ, but only frustration and disappointment. Yet, in spite of such failures, "wiser" ones keep on figuring and letting us in on what the Lord said no man or angel could know (Matt. 24:36). The important thing is that He is coming, not when! What difference should that make to the faithful? Admittedly, our time IS short! — not because we know Christ is coming soon, but because we will be leaving soon! But for now, God's longsuffering continues. The time is too short for idle pursuits and hindering speculations. We must look carefully to how we live — and be wise, redeeming the time.