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.