If you were to look up the word “forgiveness” on the Merriam-Webster website you wouldn’t just find the definition, you would also find the popularity of the word. Currently the word forgiveness is scoring in the bottom 40% of words. Now I don’t think there’s a scientific algorithm attached to that number, but I do think there’s something we can learn about the drop in people’s desire to forgive. Well, don’t worry if you have a hard time forgiving, it seems Peter was interested in learning how to forgive as well.
Matthew 18:21 (NLT) 21 Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”
So as we stop here for a moment there’s a little flushing out that needs to be done. The first question we naturally have is, where did Peter get this number seven? Well, there is speculation as to why Peter chose seven, especially since Jewish Rabbis of his day limited opportunities for forgiveness for a given sin to three times.
So maybe in typical Peter fashion he’s showing his desire to go big or go home. He’s also probably referencing seven because it is the number that communicates completion. Either way, it’s not Peter’s question that garners attention, rather it’s Jesus’ answer that shocks the disciples.
Matthew 18:22 (NLT) 22 “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!
Now, as you can imagine, Jesus is not suggesting keeping track until you reach 490! Rather he’s communicating, “Never hold grudges.” They would have expected an actual number, but by saying 70×7, Jesus knocked them for a loop. Not giving the disciples the opportunity to catch their breath, He goes right into a parable.
You have to know, the last line of the parable is one of the most important in our reading. Matthew 18:35 (NLT) 35 “That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.”
Forgiveness is a serious topic in God’s word, just look at a few references from the book of Matthew:
Matthew 5:23-24 (NLT) 23 “So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, 24 leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.
Matthew 6:14-15 (NLT) 14 “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. 15 But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.
Remember, the Lord forgave you, SO YOU MUST FORGIVE OTHERS. How soon we forget and become like the servant in the parable. We experience forgiveness but we stop offering it to others around us. There is power in forgiveness. Think about the difference between saying I’m sorry, verses asking for forgiveness.
Anyone can say I’m sorry and not mean it. Look at how many ways kids can say “I’m sorry” (under their breath, not making eye contact, rolling their eyes, etc). You can say sorry with zero conviction or repentance in your heart. Truthfully, “I’m sorry” is meaningless without more context. Now think about the power of asking for forgiveness. These verses don’t reference accepting an apology, they say, extend forgiveness!
The Heart of the Matter
In closing, Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo put it beautifully in their book, On Becoming Childwise, “Why is this forgiveness thing so powerful? Simply, it gets to the heart of the matter. Our hearts. When you say ‘I’m sorry,’ you’re in control of that moment. You control the depth and sincerity of your sorrow. But when you seek forgiveness, the one you’re humbling yourself before is in control. You’re asking something of that person that you cannot get without his or her consent–forgiveness. It is this humbling effect that so wonderfully curbs a child’s (and a parent’s) appetite for going back and doing the same wrong thing again,” (p. 139)