“Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little” (Luke 7:47).
Beloved, in order to properly understand what this text is saying, we must consider what had just taken place prior to the time that Jesus made this statement. Most of us can probably recall the circumstances that led to this truth proclaimed by our Lord. We will take a brief moment to recall why this statement is recorded in God’s Word, and how it is applied to every believer today. In order to do this, we must first take a look at the setting.
First of all, the story begins with an invitation extended to Jesus by a Pharisee named Simon who desired to have Jesus come and eat at his house. Jesus willingly went to Simon’s house, and ate at his table. While they were eating, a woman in the city came into the house with an alabaster box of very costly ointment. One thing mentioned about this woman is that she was a sinner. She approaches the place at the table where Jesus was, trembling in the deep awareness of her sin and misery. Weeping all the while, she washes Jesus’ feet with her tears and dries his feet with her hair. Worshipping him, she continues by kissing his feet. In spite of the stares from those gathered in the room, she continues to honor Jesus by anointing his feet with this costly ointment.
This she did in the presence of all who were there. Her love for the Lord was so great that none of this attention that she received by the others mattered. The Pharisee himself looks at the sight with disgust. In unbelief, he questions the knowledge and righteousness of Christ. “This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner,” he thought to himself. Surely a righteous man would want nothing to do with such a wretch, and would certainly be quick to rebuke her and send her away!
Jesus knew Simon’s thoughts and proceeds in telling the parable of a creditor which had two debtors; one debtor owing 500 pence, and the other 50 pence. When they had nothing to pay, the creditor cancels their debt, and forgives them both. Jesus then asked Simon which debtor will love the creditor the most. We can rightfully say that Simon was using common sense when he told Jesus that the debtor who would love his creditor most would be the one who had the greatest debt cancelled. Jesus then explained that the situation with this woman was no different. Since her sins were many and her debt to the Lord was great; he gave her the assurance that she had been forgiven for all her sins. Hence, her love for her Lord could no longer be contained.
It would be wise to consider this event figuratively, and focus on the contrast between the characteristics displayed by those who are forgiven much and the characteristics displayed by those who are forgiven little.
Simon’s attitude is clearly portrayed as an attitude of pride and self-righteousness. He displays himself to be one who is “forgiven little” by his lack of love and concern for this godly woman, and ultimately for Christ himself. He represents those who look at the law merely from an external aspect, and will hold to their own “good works” to give them a free ticket to heaven. These people establish their own righteousness as if they are the standard for all to imitate. Matthew 23 goes into great detail explaining the kind of attitude that was characteristic of the Pharisees. In Matthew 23, Jesus confirms that, instead of receiving God’s favor, these people receive God’s judgment. Because Simon held this woman in contempt, refusing to acknowledge her to be forgiven, he testified by his lack of love that his sins were not forgiven.
The woman here represents the people of God in the deep consciousness of their unworthiness. Imagine with me, if you will, a child who has just been chastised by his father for doing something wrong. This child can’t bear the thought of being under his father’s wrath and anger. So with fear and trembling, he timidly approaches his father. With true sorrow in his heart, he pleads with his father to forgive him, and not to be angry. He says, “I’m sorry, Dad. I have sinned against you and I’m sorry. Please forgive me!” The woman, by her actions, displays a genuine sorrow for her sins, and in godly faith seeks Jesus, believing him to be the source of her salvation, and there finding hope for deliverance.
One who is truly righteous must look away from himself to Jesus, the “author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). The people of God will only be drawn to Christ and look to him for forgiveness if the Holy Spirit first convicts them of their sin. They may not look at the law externally, but must go deeper to consider the impossibility of keeping the least of God’s commandments. The Holy Spirit does this by giving them a deep awareness that they have provoked the holy God, and stand exposed to his wrath. The believer must be humbled to truly say from the heart, “Surely, I am the chief of sinners! There is no one on earth that could possibly be less worthy of God’s favor than me.”
This broken, humbled sinner will see himself as naked in God’s sight, and in his shame will approach God’s throne of grace seeking to be the recipient of abounding mercy and love. He comes to Christ in holy fear, by faith believing that he will “in no wise be cast out” from communion with his Savior and Redeemer. He comes to Christ, believing not only that those sins are forgiven, but that he is still loved by God. He finds all of his own righteousness to be filthy rags, and seeks salvation outside of himself. By faith, he looks to the cross of Christ and the work accomplished on that cross.
The church, the true Israel of God, consists of these people who have tasted and seen that the Lord is good. These are they which have heard the voice of their Redeemer saying, “Neither do I condemn thee; go, and sin no more.” The one who has been forgiven much will abound in the work of the Lord, seeking to bring hope to the believer who is under a heavy burden of sin. Paul exhorts the church at Ephesus to be “kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:32).
The most striking feature to notice here is that those who are the recipients of an overwhelming amount of forgiveness will seek to show love throughout their lives. This love is shown in obedience to the command of Christ. Jesus says, “This is my commandment that ye love one another; that your joy may be full.” Those who love will live thankful lives, and be full of happiness and joy. They will seek not their own welfare, but will seek to be used by God to bring hope in the life of another.
After Jesus teaches his disciples and us the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6, he says, “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (verses 14, 15). This passage brings out the necessity for us to truly forgive from the heart. Others will see our joy and respond by saying, “Truly, this love and joy is a clear testimony that this person has been with Jesus, and he has experienced the forgiveness of sins.”