Matthew 18:21-23 – “Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” NKJV
I know some believers who are such incredible literalist they frequently arrive at some amazing conclusions regarding scripture. I had to deal with a situation where a church member had gotten into trouble because during an argument someone struck him. He followed the biblical mandate and turned the other cheek and they hit him on that cheek as well. He then proceeded to give the other person a thorough thrashing and I had to plea to keep him from being arrested for assault. He could not understand the problem for he said, “But I turned the other check and the Bible does not say anything about what to do after that so I took it literally to mean I was on solid ground.”
I remind him and others of this passage and attempted to convey that Jesus was not saying forgive 490 times and then on 491 it is open season. Several protested that we must take the Bible literally and since Jesus said 490 there had better not be number 491. I laughed thinking of the ledger they would have to keep for the 490 sins and possibly in the context the same sin. Imagine being so consumed with revenge and being allowed to retaliate that you kept such a ledger. I cannot fathom that for by the time 491 rolled around the bitterness would have consumed the one supposedly forgiving.
Forgiveness has to have at its foundation a desire for restoration. It cannot be focused on the offense or self for if it is it will prove to be other than forgiveness. Forgiveness cannot be a balance sheet or scale it has to be a matter of choice from the heart that desires to restore the one offending. If I declare that I forgive you and harbor resentment I have not forgiven. I have only exercised the application of a faux balm on my conscience but the root is still there.
Forgiveness is to release into the hands of God and then take my hands off. If I am keeping score I have neither released it to God nor taken my hands off. God clearly says, “Vengeance is mine…” Remember this question was about being offended, wounded, or wronged by a BROTHER. He gives a directive on handling offenses between brothers earlier in the chapter and few, if any, follow that prescription. Few churches are equipped mentally or spiritually to follow that directive. The ultimate end of church discipline, God’s chastisement or forgiveness is restoration. It may not happen but that must always remain the objective.
We do not forget but we, as God, make the decision to never allow that offense to come into play in our dealings with the one forgiven. I am not suggesting that you do not guard against being taken advantage of but you cannot do that to the place that you are cynical and lacking compassion or trust. If you get burned you get burned and you can turn to God for His comfort and protection. Never allow your heart to become hardened or filled with bitterness because of offenses.
Forgive and we will be forgiven! What a promise and provision from our LORD. May the Lord be with you and bless you as you go through this day!