Summary: A forgiven person is also a forgiving person. If we can’t forgive it may be that we have not really understood and appreciated the forgiveness which has been shown to us by Jesus.
"Forgiven and Forgiving"
Matthew 18:21-35 (text)
Brothers and sisters in the Lord,
Has it ever struck you how often Peter over-estimates his ability to understand the ways of the Lord? Just think about it for a moment. Who stepped out of the boat to walk to the Lord, only to sink into the sea? Peter. Who said he would never deny Christ? Peter. To whom did Jesus say, `Get behind me Satan’? Peter. On so many occasions he just assumes far too much. And the same is happening in this text.
When it comes to the issue of forgiveness Peter assumes that seven times a day is enough. After all the spiritual leaders of Israel would not forgive a man when he come back a forth time for forgiveness. Peter is sure 7 times is ample otherwise people are just going to walk all over you. That is the sort of thinking Peter has in mind. But Jesus comes and He ups the anti … not seven times, but seventy seven times. Or, as your Bible footnote points out, it could also be translated “seventy times seven” which is 490 times. Either way the essence of Jesus’ answer is clear.
In contrast to Peter Jesus makes it clear that you can never forgive enough … our forgiveness must be total. That is a difficult ask isn’t it. Especially when you start to list some reasons why you shouldn’t forgive. If someone is so bad that they sin against you 77 times a day … shouldn’t you try and straighten them out a bit first? Can a person be serious about their faith if they sin against you so much? Wouldn’t it be better to be tough and not forgive until they showed signs of change? If some one has sinned against you … don’t they have obligations as well? Aren’t I just setting myself up to be continually hurt if I continually forgive in this way? Imagine if you were placed in this situation. Called to extend forgiveness to one who sins against you more then 7 times a day. Would you to continue extend forgiveness indefinitely, just as Jesus requires? How would you react to such a person?
Along with Peter we can find many reasons not to forgive, or to have conditional forgiveness. Which is a problem for people who regularly say the Lord’s Prayer. In the Lord’s Prayer these are the words Jesus taught us to pray:- “Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Mt.6:12). But, in the same context, we are also told by Jesus why we pray such words:-
“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins”. (Mt.6:14-15)
So we are put into this dilemma since the regularity which comes with praying the Lord’s Prayer is a regularity which reminds us of our ongoing need to be determined to forgive our neighbour as evidence of the grace which has been shown to us.
How many times shall I forgive my brother? This is not a simple academic question. It is a question that gets to the very heart of our understanding of the grace of the Lord in our own lives. It is also a question that has significant implications for our prayer life. Because if we can’t forgive … something about our relationship to Jesus is being indicated.