The Beauty in Forgiveness (Matthew 18:21-22)
By: Betsy St. Amant Haddox
Matthew 18:21-22 (ESV) Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.
Forgiveness can be a tricky thing. After all, we’re commanded to do so as believers. While we understand the ‘forgive” part, we’re not gifted this side of eternity with the “forget” capability. And that can make the forgiving part a lot harder.
The disciples weren’t quite sure how it all worked, either—hence Peter’s discussion with Jesus in Matthew 18. They were still thinking in terms of the law. According to Amos 1:3-13, God forgave His people three times before exacting punishment. In Peter’s day, this was a popular passage that the Rabbis taught from on the subject. Peter possibly assumed that by suggesting seven times—more than double the assumed appropriate amount—he would get brownie points with Jesus for being extra gracious. But Jesus had an answer that blew them all away. “Seventy times seven.”
As Christians today, we know Jesus didn’t literally mean 490 times, though there can be days with our children and spouses that we feel like surely, we’ve met that quota by now! This instruction from the Lord doesn’t mean that at 491 times, we can hold a grudge and be free and clear of the command to forgive. He was implying endless times. Endless grace—like God gives to us.
Now, when it comes to forgiving the same offense, or similar offenses, from the same person in our lives, this command from Jesus doesn’t mean to become a doormat or accept abuse or inappropriate behavior. It’s also important to note that Peter is asking about “my brother”. He didn’t mean his biological sibling, but rather, was referring to a fellow believer—family, spouses, friends, church members, etc. A brother seeking forgiveness from another brother (believer) implies repentance. There’s a difference between someone toxically, repeatedly treating someone poorly, and someone messing up, seeking forgiveness, and having a repentant heart that truly aims to not repeat the offense (even if they do fail again).
Peter was still focused on the law when he asked this question of Jesus, and Jesus was focused on grace when He answered. At the end of the day, when we withhold forgiveness from a brother in Christ, we’re essentially saying that the work of Jesus on the cross wasn’t sufficient for this offense. Yikes! That’s obviously not the heart posture we’re supposed to have as believers, or should even want to have. If the person seeking our forgiveness is a true believer, then their sin was already covered on the cross through Jesus’s sacrifice and blood. Who are we to withhold forgiveness if Jesus offered it freely?
If the person seeking forgiveness isn’t a believer, we’re still instructed to forgive. The penalty for that sin does fall not on us to dole out (Romans 12:19) but will be dealt with eventually one way or another by our righteous Judge—God Himself. There is also the hope that one day that unbeliever will be a believer, and your forgiveness could be a seed planted that helps point them to the life-changing grace of the Gospel.
Betsy St. Amant Haddox is the author of more than fifteen inspirational romance novels and novellas. She resides in north Louisiana with her hero of a hubby, two total-opposite young daughters, a vast collection of coffee mugs, and an impressive stash of Pickle chips. Betsy has a B.A. in Communications and a deep-rooted passion for seeing women restored in Christ. When she’s not sweating it out at Camp Gladiator or trying to prove unicorns are real, Betsy can usually be found somewhere in the vicinity of a white-chocolate mocha—no whip. Look for her latest novel with Revell, The Key To Love, coming October 2020. Visit her at http://www.betsystamant.com.
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