How Many Times Should I Forgive?

Have you ever considered how persuasive and mighty forgiveness is? It has the power to mend relationships, unify churches, knit together a marriage, and deescalate war. It is only through Jesus Christ that forgiveness exists in the world and God is glorified in every manifestation. This is because every sliver of goodness in this world comes from God. Scripture says that, “…I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” (Genesis 8:21). God in his mercy made a promise to never again wipe the ground of humanity, but instead – in his forbearance and longsuffering – fill the earth with his grace and goodness. Therefore, in every act of forgiveness, the justice and mercy of God is displayed in a way that brings Him glory and blesses His creation. For the forgiver, there is love and liberation; for the forgiven, there is relief and blessing. Forgiveness finds its power in Jesus and through it humanity experiences the grace of God.

Consider the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant.

21 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?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.

23 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants.24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.25 And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. 32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt.35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

Matthew 18:21-35, (ESV)

Jesus tells this parable to achieve two goals: first, he is displaying the grace of God that is at work on earth by showing goodness in this world. Secondly, Jesus is teaching his disciples that since God has forgiven them from their enormous sin-debt, they too must be forgiving to their neighbors while on earth. God does save people so that they can then lord their own freedom over other people but to be multiplicators of the grace and mercy given to them. This was the will of God and his intended blessing on earth. By the forgiveness given to every believer, they are called to forgive their own transgressors.

There is a tale of an old wife who lived a long life of forgiving her troublemaking husband. For decades, the husband would bet their house away, come home drunken, and be caught with other women throughout town. After every transgression, she forgave him and they moved on together. It was said that one day, the husband had come into some financial trouble at the local bar and upon hearing the news, the wife went to her bedroom, came back with a shot gun, and shot her husband. At first hearing, one might assume this was insane and out of character for the old lady, but upon searching her house police found a journal that the wife had kept. The journal held a record of every mistake her husband made leading up to 490 forgiven mistakes. On the 491sthardship, she shot her husband.

In a more traditional version of the bible, Jesus is said to have told Peter 7 times 70; equaling 490 times Peter must forgive his brother. The old tale of course is comically ironic, but the point remains. What Jesus was teaching was not that we must forgive each person 490 times (or 77, depending on your translation), but that we are called to forgive innumerable measure because God has forgiven us from what we could never repay. Every Christian has been forgiven of a sin-debt that they could never repay to God, which is why the magnitude of our sin warrants the magnitude of God’s grace and mercy – and in turn, the magnitude of our forgiveness to others.

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