Forgiving Far Beyond Seven Times

by Kevin Burton

   Somebody done somebody wrong is a common song on earth.  To err is human.

   To forgive is divine and it’s not a math equation. 

   The apostle Peter tried to make it into one, as recorded in the book of Matthew. Peter never did things in half measures.  So when he asked Jesus about forgiveness, his question was “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” (Matt. 18: 21 NKJV).

   That’s the question today for our series, Ten Questions from the Bible. 

   Jesus quite often answered a question with a question.  One such questioning answer here could be, “How many times would you like God to forgive you?”

   Before we go there, let’s look at where Peter was coming from with that seven times question.  We get help today from www.gotquestions.org.

   “Peter, wishing to appear especially forgiving and benevolent, asked Jesus if forgiveness was to be offered seven times,” reads the website.

   “The Jewish rabbis at the time taught that forgiving someone more than three times was unnecessary, citing Amos 1: 3-13  where God forgave Israel’s enemies three times, then punished them. By offering forgiveness more than double that of the Old Testament example, Peter perhaps expected extra commendation from the Lord.”

   Surely Peter wasn’t expecting Jesus’s response, Matt. 18:22, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”  

   “When Jesus responded that forgiveness should be offered four hundred and ninety times, it must have stunned the disciples who were listening,” the website reads.  “Although they had been with Jesus for some time, they were still thinking in the limited terms of the law, rather than in the unlimited terms of grace.”

   The NASB reads “up to seventy-seven times,” instead of “seventy times seven.”    Don’t even trip over that difference. Jesus wasn’t talking about numbers anyway. By way of explanation, He told a story.

    “Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.  And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.  But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made.”

  “The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt.”

   “But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’  So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt.” 

   “So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done.  Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’”

    “And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.” (Matt 18: 23-35 NKJV).

   You know my default method of forgiveness?  It comes from the term “forgive and forget.” I just do the forget part.  I do my best to eliminate the person’s physical presence and obliterate all memory of the person. This completely fails Jesus’s “from the heart” test. 

   Only the Spirit of God living within me can help me turn that around.
   “By saying we are to forgive those who sin against us seventy times seven, Jesus was not limiting forgiveness to 490 times,” the website reads. “If we are forgiven the enormous debt of sin against a holy God, how much more should we be eager to forgive those who sin against us?”

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