Sometimes it is easy to forget that Jesus’ disciples were just human. Other times, it is not–like the time Peter asked Jesus how much forgiveness is too much.
Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?” “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!”Matthew 18:21-22 NLT
One thing you need to know about Jesus’ number: while “seventy times seven” is a lot, the number seven signified completeness in the Hebrew culture, so it really meant “an unlimited number”. Or, to put it in more elementary (-school) terms, “Infinity!” Which makes sense because, really…how can you have too much forgiveness?
Another point to consider might be what Jesus said a few verses earlier.
“If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back.”Matthew 18:15 NLT
Notice he advises talking to the offender in private. That is important; people do not like to be called out in public.
But what if you get tired of forgiving somebody? Is it okay to write them off as a bad person?
Right after prescribing the large number above, Jesus told a quick parable (Matthew 18:23-35) to illustrate how important it is to forgive others. It was a story about a king settling accounts with his servants.
One particular servant owed more than he could ever pay, but had his debt graciously erased by the king. Only, the servant did not pay the favor forward. Instead, he had a fellow servant thrown in jail for money he owed him.
This did not go over well in the servant community. They took the matter to the king, who responded in the following manner:
Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt.Matthew 18:32-34 NLT
Jesus concluded the parable by saying that God the Father will treat you the same way if you do not sincerely forgive your fellow believers (verse 35).
When you find yourself wanting to hold a grudge against your Christian brother or sister because they are constantly offending you, it would be good to turn your thoughts toward your own offenses.
Remember the sins for which God has forgiven you. Think about the grace you have received. Then pass that forgiveness along with a grateful heart.
Questions for Group Discussion
- Is there a time when it is okay not to forgive? Why or why not?
- All of the scripture referenced here deals with fellow believers. Should we apply these principles of forgiveness to non-believers as well?
- Should you forgive someone who does not apologize or ask for forgiveness?
Application: Top Ten List
Sometimes it is easier to make a decision when you do a side-by-side comparison. That is what we are going to do here.
- Make a list of the Top Ten Things for which God has Forgiven You. (This requires a high level of honesty and privacy.)
- Pray about your list, thanking God for each one.
- Put the list away somewhere private. (Make sure you will be able to find it when you need it.)
- When you find it hard to forgive someone, do this:
- Read Matthew 18:15-35
- Pray, asking God to help you forgive.
- Pull out your Top Ten List and, on a separate sheet of paper, make a list of the person’s offenses against you—being sure to include ones for which you have forgiven them.
- Hold the lists side-by-side and compare the offenses.
It is not always easy to forgive others, especially repeat offenders. Our hope is that this activity might help you put things in perspective and soften your heart toward grace.