A study of Forgiveness: A Guiding Principle in the Issue of Love – Luke 7:36–50

09 May

“A person who is forgiven little shows only little love”

The present passage contrasts the attitudes of a sinful but repentant woman and the self-righteous. It needs to be studied carefully, for self-righteousness is a serious sin. It is both common and damning.

Simon, a Pharisee, invited Jesus to dinner. Note several things. Simon invited Jesus to his house, but he did not extend to Jesus the common courtesies (Luke 7:44-46). He was rude to the Lord. He was not even sure Jesus was a prophet, much less the Messiah (Luke 7:39).

Why then did he invite Jesus to his house? We do not know; nothing is said as to why. The best speculation is that Simon enjoyed the company of celebrities, and he had heard so much about Jesus that he wanted to meet and talk with Him on an informal and friendly basis.

Jesus ate with both sinners and religionists (Pharisees) (Luke 5:29-30). No one was excluded from His attention or love, even when they lacked the common everyday courtesies and respect (Luke 7:44-46). He sought every man.

The house of Simon was a house of the rich. The rich always had an open courtyard, usually in the center of the house; that is, the house was built around an open courtyard. Sometimes the host would allow the public to stand around in the courtyard and listen to the discussions, in particular when a rabbi or some celebrity was the chief guest.

Notice the attitude of the repentant. The woman was a sinner, a prostitute. She demonstrated what a sinner has to do in coming to Jesus.

She sensed a desperate need. She was either convicted of her sin while hearing Jesus or else she had heard Him before and came under heavy conviction. His plea for men and women to repent and prepare for the Kingdom of God pierced her heart. She knew she was a sinner: unclean, lost, condemned. The guilt and weight of her sin was more than she could bear. She ached for forgiveness and cleansing, for freedom and liberty.

She approached the Lord despite all. She knew that the public scorned and gossiped about her, and the so-called decent people wanted nothing to do with her. What would Jesus do—He who said, “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest….” (Matthew 11:28-30)?

She knew that if she was recognized, the Pharisee might throw her out of the house. He knew about her (Luke 7:39). She thought about the situation, and her thinking turned into hope, and her hope into belief. Surely He who offered such an invitation would receive her.

Before anyone could stop her, she rushed to Jesus and stood behind Him at His feet. (Remember, in the East people reclined to eat. They rested on their left arm facing each other around the table with their body and feet extending out away from the table.)

She surrendered to the Lord in utter humility. Standing there, she was overcome with conviction and emotion. She fell at Jesus’ feet weeping—so broken that tears just flowed from her eyes. She unwound her hair and wiped and kissed Jesus’ feet. Seldom has such love and devotion been shown Jesus.

There was only one thing that could make a prostitute enter a Pharisee’s home—desperation. She was gripped with a sense of lostness, of helplessness, of urgency.

The loosening of her hair to wipe Jesus’ feet was forbidden of women in public. She must have been so desperate she was totally oblivious to the onlookers. The point is this: she was surrendering her heart and life to the Lord, begging Him to forgive her. She was so broken she was unable to speak, but Jesus knew her heart. Words were not necessary (Luke 7:47-48).

She loved much, giving her most precious possession. Perfume was highly valued by women of that day. Apparently, by describing the perfume as he does, Luke is stressing the expense of the perfume and the great sacrifice she was making. It was probably the most costly possession she had, so she was giving it to her Lord. However, there is something more important here. Note what she did with the perfume. She anointed her Lord; anointed His feet in a supreme act of humility and love and surrender.

The behavior of the self-righteous man revealed several things.

  1. The man was considerate, but self-righteous. Note, he only thought these things; he would not say them publicly lest he embarrass his guests. (How like the self-righteous!)
  2. The man considered himself better. He felt he was better than the sinful woman, so he would never allow her to touch him. He would keep his distance, ignore, and have nothing to do with her. But note something else. He considered his judgment and knowledge, opinions and behavior to be better than others. He expected others (Jesus) to judge and act as he did. He thought that if Jesus only knew who the lady was, then He would reject her.
  3. The man sensed no need for forgiveness and repentance. He thought of himself as good enough in two areas.
  4. He was good enough in religion. Note he was a Pharisee, a man who had given his life to practice religion. If anyone was ever good enough, he should have been.
  5. He was good enough in behavior. He was well behaved, decent and moral, just and equitable, respected and highly esteemed. He was not immoral; in fact, he would have nothing to do with immorality. He had not and never would commit a sin that would be publicly condemned. Therefore, he felt as though he had done nothing for which he needed forgiveness.

Jesus told a parable about two debtors. Note several things that say much to the self-righteous.

  1. Jesus announced that He had something to say, something critically important. Undivided attention was needed. Every self-righteous person needs to listen and listen closely.
  2. Jesus was a prophet and more—He was the Son of God; therefore, He not only knew the people who were sitting around Him, He knew their every thought. Note that from this point on, Jesus was answering the thoughts of Simon. Simon had never said a word about Jesus not knowing who the woman was nor about his own question about Jesus being a prophet. Simon had only been thinking these thoughts “within himself” (Luke 7:39).

Jesus is the Son of God; therefore, what a man thinks pales into insignificance when facing the One who knows all thoughts, including what one really thinks and feels within. Jesus knows the truth of every thought and feeling within a man. If a person is self-righteous, Jesus knows it. If a person is repentant, truly repentant, Jesus knows it. No one hides anything, no feeling, no thought from Him.

  1. The meaning of the parable is strikingly clear. A glance at the verses and points in the outline show this. Note how clearly the parable illustrates the grace of God in freely forgiving sin (salvation) (cp. Ephes. 1:7; Ephes. 2:8-9; 1 John 1:9; 1 John 2:1-2).

What was the overwhelming need of the self-righteous? To really see Jesus, who the repentant say He is. Note what Jesus asked Simon, “Seest thou this woman, this repentant?” The repentant had much to teach the self-righteous about Jesus. The repentant really sees Jesus, who He really is.

  1. Jesus was the One who deserved more than common courtesies. The host usually showed respect by providing water for the guests to wash their dusty, sandaled feet. The kiss was the accepted greeting among friends, and oil was usually given for honored guests to refresh themselves after travelling under the hot sun. It was expensive, so it was usually reserved for honored guests.
  2. Jesus deserved more than common respect (water); He deserved a worshipful respect. He was seen as Lord and was respected as Lord by the repentant. He was the One who alone could meet the needs of the human heart; therefore, He was the One who was to be worshipped. The self-righteous needed to learn this.
  3. Jesus deserved more than a common greeting; He deserved a humble, brokenhearted greeting. He was approached with a sense of unworthiness and humility. The repentant saw the worthiness of Jesus and grasped something of His awesome person as the Son of God and as the sovereign Lord of the universe; therefore, He was the One to whom all men owed their allegiance, the One who alone had the power to forgive and accept men. The repentant saw Jesus as the One who alone could help her, the One who alone had the power to help, so the repentant approached Jesus and greeted Him with a deep sense of humility and unworthiness. The self-righteous needed to learn this.
  4. Jesus deserved more than a common gift; He deserved a sacrificial gift. He was seen as the hope and Savior of one’s life, so the repentant gave Jesus her life, all she was and had. The repentant surrendered her life and gave the most precious gift she had to anoint her Lord. The self-righteous needed to learn this.
  5. Jesus was the One who had the power to forgive sins. Three simple facts are imporant here.
  6. The woman’s sins were many. Jesus did not overlook her sins, nor the seriousness of them. After all it was her sins and the sins of others that brought about His humiliation, His having to come to this sinful world and to die for the sins of men. However, He forgave her sins despite their awfulness. Every sinner should note this carefully.
  7. Self-righteousness sensed the need for little forgiveness; therefore, the self-righteous loved little. The self-righteous had only a formal, distant relationship with God. His relationship was cold, having only a small sense of sin and sensing only a little need for forgiveness. It was enough to have Jesus present at his table (the table was about the only place many acknowledged His presence).

The self-righteous approach to God…

  • has only a little sense of sin; therefore senses only a little need for forgiveness.
  • is blinded to man’s state of sin, to man’s true being, that of being short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23).
  • has little sense of the need for special mercy and grace, is blinded to God’s Sovereign Majesty and Person.
  • has only a formal, distant relationship with God, has little personal relationship with God.
  • gives little honor to God, makes little sacrifice for God.
  1. Jesus forgave sin. He had the power to forgive the sins of this repentant.
  2. Jesus was the One whom people needed to ask about.
  3. Jesus was the One who did save the repentant. The woman believed Christ to be the Savior, the One who could forgive her sins. Therefore, Christ saved her.

Could two people be more different? He is looked up to. She is looked down on. He is a church leader. She is a streetwalker. He makes a living promoting standards. She’s made a living breaking them. He’s hosting the party. She’s crashing it.

Ask the other residents of Capernaum to point out the more pious of the two, and they’ll pick Simon. Why, after all, he’s a student of theology, a man of the cloth. Anyone would pick him. Anyone, that is, except Jesus. Jesus knew them both. And Jesus would pick the woman. Jesus does pick the woman. And, what’s more, he tells Simon why.

Not that Simon wants to know. His mind is elsewhere. How did this whore get in my house? He doesn’t know whom to yell at first, the woman or the servant who let her in. After all, this dinner is a formal affair. Invitation only. Upper crust. Crème de la crème. Who let the riffraff in?

Simon is angry. Just look at her—groveling at Jesus’ feet. Kissing them, no less! Why, if Jesus were who he says he is, he would have nothing to do with this woman.

One of the lessons Simon learned that day was this: Don’t think thoughts you don’t want Jesus to hear. For Jesus heard them, and when he did, he chose to share a few of his own.

Simon invites Jesus to his house but treats him like an unwanted step-uncle. No customary courtesies. No kiss of greeting. No washing his feet. No oil for his head.

Or, in modern terms, no one opened the door for him, took his coat, or shook his hand. Count Dracula has better manners.

Simon does nothing to make Jesus feel welcome. The woman, however, does everything that Simon didn’t. We aren’t told her name. Just her reputation—a sinner. A prostitute most likely. She has no invitation to the party and no standing in the community.

But people’s opinions didn’t stop her from coming. It’s not for them she has come. It’s for him. Her every move is measured and meaningful. Each gesture extravagant. She puts her cheek to his feet, still dusty from the path. She has no water, but she has tears. She has no towel, but she has her hair. She uses both to bathe the feet of Christ. As one translation reads, “she rained tears” on his feet (v. 44 msg ). She opens a vial of perfume, perhaps her only possession of worth, and massages it into his skin. The aroma is as inescapable as the irony.

You’d think Simon of all people would show such love. Is he not the minister of the church, the student of Scripture? But he is harsh, distant. You’d think the woman would avoid Jesus. Is she not the woman of the night, the town hussy? But she can’t resist him. Simon’s “love” is calibrated and stingy. Her love, on the other hand, is extravagant and risky.

How do we explain the difference between the two? Training? Education? Money? No, for Simon has outdistanced her in all three.

But there is one area in which the woman leaves him eating dust. Think about it. What one discovery has she made that Simon hasn’t? What one treasure does she cherish that Simon doesn’t? Simple. God’s love. We don’t know when she received it. We aren’t told how she heard about it. Did she overhear Jesus’ words “Your Father is merciful” ( Luke 6:36 esv )?

Was she nearby when Jesus had compassion on the widow of Nain? Did someone tell her how Jesus touched lepers and turned tax collectors into disciples? We don’t know. But we know this. She came thirsty. Thirsty from guilt. Thirsty from regret. Thirsty from countless nights of making love and finding none. She came thirsty.

And when Jesus hands her the goblet of grace, she drinks. She doesn’t just taste or nip. She doesn’t dip her finger and lick it or take the cup and sip it. She lifts the liquid to her lips and drinks, gulping and swallowing like the parched pilgrim she is. She drinks until the mercy flows down her chin and onto her neck and chest. She drinks until every inch of her soul is moist and soft. She comes thirsty and she drinks. She drinks deeply.

Simon, on the other hand, doesn’t even know he is thirsty. People like Simon don’t need grace; they analyze it. They don’t request mercy; they debate and prorate it. It wasn’t that Simon couldn’t be forgiven; he just never asks to be.

So while she drinks up, he puffs up. While she has ample love to give, he has no love to offer. Why? The 7:47 Principle. Read again verse 47 of chapter 7 : “A person who is forgiven little shows only little love.”

Just like the jumbo jet, the 7:47 Principle has wide wings. Just like the aircraft, this truth can lift you to another level. Read it one more time. “A person who is forgiven little shows only little love.” In other words, we can’t give what we’ve never received. If we’ve never received love, how can we love others?

But, oh, how we try! As if we can conjure up love by the sheer force of will. As if there is within us a distillery of affection that lacks only a piece of wood or a hotter fire. We poke it and stoke it with resolve. What’s our typical strategy for treating a troubled relationship? Try harder.

“My spouse needs my forgiveness? I don’t know how, but I’m going to give it.”

“I don’t care how much it hurts, I’m going to be nice to that bum.”

“I’m supposed to love my neighbor? Okay. By golly, I will.”

So we try. Teeth clinched. Jaw firm. We’re going to love if it kills us! And it may do just that.

Could it be we are missing a step? Could it be that the first step of love is not toward them but toward him? Could it be that the secret to loving is receiving? You give love by first receiving it. “We love, because he first loved us” ( 1 John 4:19 nasb ).

Long to be more loving? Begin by accepting your place as a dearly loved child. “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us” ( Eph. 5:1–2 niv ).

Want to learn to forgive? Then consider how you’ve been forgiven. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” ( Eph. 4:32 niv ).

Finding it hard to put others first? Think of the way Christ put you first. “Though he was God, he did not demand and cling to his rights as God” ( Phil. 2:6 nlt ).

Need more patience? Drink from the patience of God ( 2 Pet. 3:9 ). Is generosity an elusive virtue? Then consider how generous God has been with you ( Rom. 5:8 ). Having trouble putting up with ungrateful relatives or cranky neighbors? God puts up with you when you act the same. “He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked” ( Luke 6:35 niv ).

Can’t we love like this?

Not without God’s help we can’t. Oh, we may succeed for a time. We, like Simon, may open a door. But our relationships need more than a social gesture. Some of our spouses need a foot washing. A few of our friends need a flood of tears. Our children need to be covered in the oil of our love.

But if we haven’t received these things ourselves, how can we give them to others? Apart from God, “the heart is deceitful above all things” ( Jer. 17:9 niv ). A marriage-saving love is not within us. A friendship-preserving devotion cannot be found in our hearts. We need help from an outside source. A transfusion. Would we love as God loves? Then we start by receiving God’s love.

We preachers have been guilty of skipping the first step. “Love each other!” we tell our churches. “Be patient, kind, forgiving,” we urge. But instructing people to love without telling them they are loved is like telling them to write a check without our making a deposit in their accounts.

No wonder so many relationships are overdrawn. Hearts have insufficient love. The apostle John models the right sequence. He makes a deposit before he tells us to write the check.

First, the deposit: God showed how much he loved us by sending his only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love. It is not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. ( 1 John 4:9–10 nlt)

And then, having made such an outrageous, eye-opening deposit, John calls on you and me to pull out the checkbook: “Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other” (v. 11 nlt).

The secret to loving is living loved. This is the forgotten first step in relationships. Remember Paul’s prayer? “May your roots go down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous love” ( Eph. 3:17 nlt ). As a tree draws nutrients from the soil, we draw nourishment from the Father. But what if the tree has no contact with the soil?

I was thinking of this recently as I helped our daughter Tonia disassembled her Christmas tree (we have used a fake one for years). She had removed the ornaments and I helped carry out the tree, and sweep up all the needles. There are thousands of them! The tree is falling apart. Blame it on bad rooting. For two weeks this tree has been planted in a metal bowl. What comes from a tree holder?

Old Simon had the same problem. Impressive to look at, nicely decorated, but he falls apart when you give him a shove or two.

Does bumping into certain people leave you brittle, breakable, and fruitless? Do you easily fall apart? If so, your love may be grounded in the wrong soil. It may be rooted in their love (which is fickle) or in your resolve to love (which is frail). John urges us to “rely on the love God has for us” ( 1 John 4:16 niv, emphasis mine). He alone is the power source.

Many people tell us to love. Only God gives us the power to do so.

We know what God wants us to do. “This is what God commands: … that we love each other” ( 1 John 3:23). But how can we? How can we be kind to the vow breakers? To those who are unkind to us? How can we be patient with people who have the warmth of a vulture and the tenderness of a porcupine? How can we forgive the moneygrubbers and backstabbers we meet, love, and marry? How can we love as God loves? We want to. We long to. But how can we?

By living loved. By following the 7:47 Principle: Receive first, love second.

Want to give it a try? Let’s carry this principle up the Mount Everest of love writings. More than one person has hailed 1 Corinthians 13 as the finest chapter in the Bible. No words get to the heart of loving people like these verses.

And no verses get to the heart of the chapter like verses 4 through 8 .

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. ( niv )

Several years ago someone challenged me to replace the word love in this passage with my name. I did and became a liar. “Gary is patient, Gary is kind. Gary does not envy, he does not boast, he is not proud.…” That’s enough! Stop right there! Those words are false. Gary is not patient. Gary is not kind. Ask my wife and kids. Gary can be an out-and-out clod! That’s my problem.

And for years that was my problem with this paragraph. It set a standard I could not meet. No one can meet it. No one, that is, except Christ. Does this passage not describe the measureless love of God? Let’s insert Christ’s name in place of the word love, and see if it rings true.

Jesus is patient, Jesus is kind. Jesus does not envy, he does not boast, he is not proud. Jesus is not rude, he is not self-seeking, he is not easily angered, he keeps no record of wrongs. Jesus does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. Jesus always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Jesus never fails.

Rather than let this scripture remind us of a love we cannot produce, let it remind us of a love we cannot resist—God’s love.

Some of you are so thirsty for this type of love. Those who should have loved you didn’t. Those who could have loved you didn’t. You were left at the hospital. Left at the altar. Left with an empty bed. Left with a broken heart. Left with your question “Does anybody love me?”

Please listen to heaven’s answer. God loves you. Personally. Powerfully. Passionately. Others have promised and failed. But God has promised and succeeded. He loves you with an unfailing love. And his love—if you will let it—can fill you and leave you with a love worth giving.

So come. Come thirsty and drink deeply. The person who comes to Christ must come with a broken and contrite heart.

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Posted by on May 9, 2019 in Forgiveness


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