The disciples had questions about forgiveness, just like we do. Sure, we can understand the need to forgive someone once, especially if they repent and seek our forgiveness. But what about the person (say, a family member) who just keeps on doing the same thing over and over and then over and over again? And what if they know they’re sinning, but they still do it? What about them? Where do we draw the line and say, “That’s it! I’m done forgiving you! I’m just going to get bitter now.”

It’s worth noting that it is usually those closest to us (i.e. family members) who can bother us the most. And they are the very people with whom we should have the sweetest fellowship. There are two sins involved in this (at least). One is the sin of the offender; and the other is the sin of the one who takes offense. Taking offense and keeping it is like taking ugly pills. Ever seen the face of a long embittered woman?

This whole forgiveness thing must have seemed a little outlandish to  Peter. He wanted to know just how many times he had to forgive. So Jesus made a point of giving him a number.  Four hundred ninety times. That’s 490.

Here it is in Matthew 18: 21-22:

“Then Peter came to Him and said, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’

Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.'”

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to keep track of that. The point is obviously clear:  we are to have no debt ceiling when it comes to forgiveness. We are to just keep on forgiving, no matter how many times our brother sins against us. You would think that after a while, we might not let it bother us at all any more. Think how comfortable our Christian lives would be then? But that’s not natural for us. Our flesh is uncooperative.

When we forgive, not only are we obeying God, we are doing ourselves a favor. When we forgive, we are blessed; when we refuse to forgive, we cannot expect a blessing. Extending forgiveness frees us. It makes our lives sweeter. Let’s say this guy, whoever he is, is shooting for sinning against you 491 times. If you refuse forgiveness, he won’t get any better, and you will only feel worse. So, if you see my point, it’s better to forgive, and then be braced for the next round. I guess God wants us to get really good at this forgiveness thing because if we do, we’ll be more like Him. I think forgiveness is a little bit like hospitality: you throw the doors open and welcome the poor sinner back in. Lack of forgiveness shuts the door and says don’t come near.

I don’t mean that we should be totally calloused and oblivious when people sin against us. We’re not blocks of wood. I would prefer to call it a light-heartedness. Thomas Watson said it’s better to be the one sinned against than to be the one sinning. A clear conscience is a wonderful thing! Thank God for it.  Then use the other guy’s sin as a sermon to you. Ask God to give you a sharper sense of when you are sinning against someone yourself. And then be quick to seek forgiveness.

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9 thoughts on “70 x 7

  1. Keen insight: “Taking offense and keeping it is like taking ugly pills. Ever seen the face of a long embittered woman?” Yes, I have! And boy, do I want to keep away from that future!

    Bitterness and grace have been much on my mind and heart lately. The other day I began to nurse an offense, when Hebrews 12:15 popped into my head: “See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled…” And for the first time I saw so clearly how that is so, because in my dwelling on those thoughts, I started getting grumpy and irritable with my family. Defiling them! I realized how important it is for me to quickly let things go, without turning them over and over again, and just forgive. I have a feeling I’ll need a lot of practice with that…

    Thanks so much to you and your daughters for your “hard words” through this site and your books…I so appreciate your help in girding me up for my calling!

  2. Thank you. I’m posting this on Facebook this morning. I love the part about how forgiveness brings freedom. I was able to forgive one who sins perpetually against me when God showed me that forgiveness is actually a gift to the forgiver. What a gift! God made it possible for me to forgive . . . so I can be free. And so I can be more like Him! And He has replaced so much of that offence-taking with compassion. That is truly a miracle.

  3. Excellent and convicting post! Would you at some point address the issue of boundaries when it comes to being sinned against? Even though we are called to endless forgiveness, it seems that there must come a point when some kind of boundary is put in place for protection against habitual abuse. Is it really loving the other person to overlook sin that is separating them from God? Obviously, the world puts way too much emphasis on self-protection, but that’s not to say we are to be doormats, right? I’d appreciate your widom on this one!

  4. Wonderful words, and apt reminder, to grow in forgivness, and try to be someone whose spouse/children/family don’t have to deal with this way!
    I have read that in the original the tranlation is something akin to 70 to the 7th power (rather than 70 times 7)… making that ceiling a little higher than I can even imagine!! Convicting, thank you!!

  5. Thank you for your timely post regarding forgiveness and taking offense. My church is going through a bible study on bitterness using this free book:
    http://www.ccmbooks.org/pdf/Bitterness2010.pdf

    Even though I haven’t been able to attend most of the bible studies on this subject, just reading the book has helped me to realize that I am the sinner when I take offense, not the person I choose to be offended by. Unfortunately, my sin nature wants to take offense, but I am aware of it and working on not letting any bitter root spring up within me.

    I pray that this book can bless you and those in whom you might have taken offense.

  6. The last few months I have been living a life of bitterness. I’ve been living with my mother-in-law for the last few months and couldn’t find someone so different than myself. She has taken advantage of my husband and I for so long and sometimes I just want to scream at her. How can I forgive someone who doesn’t understand what they are doing? I don’t want to ask her for forgiveness because I feel as though I’ll start explaining and start to become harsh with my words. I want to be rid of this bitterness because I see how it has affected my walk with Christ in a drastic way, but I have no idea what to do, what to say. Any help? I want it very badly.

  7. I’m so glad to read these posts about generous, free, and necessary forgiveness. Have you ever seen an otherwise gracious Christian stare blankly at an offender because he said, “I’m sorry” instead of, “Will you forgive me?” I have!

    I think we need to *want* to forgive, to be looking for it – not just waiting until we have no other choice.

    Thanks again for the good words.

  8. My excellent pastor has done some very good teaching about Bibilcal forgiveness. He makes the point that a self-centered view of forgiveness (that forgiveness is primarily meant to benefit the forgiver) is not taught in the Bible and does not represent the forgiveness God gives us, which is conditional upon confession and repentence and is a completely selfless act on His part. Rather, the main purpose of forgiveness is the restoration of the repentant sinner. It is not to be confused with the Biblical command to put off bitterness and anger, which is required of the offended believer regardless of whether or not the sinner is seeking forgiveness. For a more thorough explanation, see the following blog post he wrote:

    http://providencebf.blogspot.com/2010/02/biblical-forgiveness.html

  9. Is it possible to have true forgiveness, but also decide the relationship simply cannot be a close one anymore? Are there boundaries one must set in certain cases? For instance, choosing to forgive, but maybe parting ways, or at least altering the depth of communication? This is kind of a loaded question I guess, but I can’t really give a lot of personal context in an open blog comment. . .

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