“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.’” [Matthew 18: 21-22]
The Story of the Unforgiving Servant
Back in Bible times, the rabbis taught that people should forgive those who offend them up to three times. Peter thought he was being generous with increasing that number to seven, but Jesus had a different idea. I don’t think that Jesus even wants us to stop forgiving at 77 times. I think He wanted to communicate that it is so crucial that we forgive those that have offended us as many times as it takes, regardless of whether or not they ask for the forgiveness.
The parable in Matthew 18:21-35 tells the story of an unmerciful servant. In this parable, Jesus explains how a master was willing to forgive a servant of his debt, because he knew that the servant was never going to be able to repay him. The servant even asked his master to be patient with him, that he would eventually pay it back, but the master knew the reality. This is the sweet part of the story.
The unfortunate part of the story is that the servant who was forgiven by his master, found a fellow servant of his who owed him money. Despite him just being forgiven by his master, he chose to throw his fellow servant in prison until he could pay off his debt (which in those days, was very difficult to do). The master heard of this situation, and asked the unforgiving servant in verse 33, “shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” and he threw that servant in prison.
Jesus is being very clear here. It is not an option about whether or not we forgive the people that “owe us” or that have offended us. In the last verse of this chapter, Jesus said that our heavenly Father will treat us the same way that He treated that first servant if we don’t forgive others. He actually says that we need to forgive from the heart.
From the heart. As always, Jesus cares about the intentions of our heart. He wants our forgiveness to be sincere. Now this doesn’t mean that once we forgive someone once, from the heart, that it will be any easier to forgive them again. But, each and every time we forgive someone, we allow God to work in our hearts to change our attitude towards them. Forgiving someone does not make what they did was “okay,” nor does it mean that there won’t be any more pain. Forgiving someone is more about you, not the other person.
When we forgive someone, we free our hearts of bitterness and resentment. We allow more room for affection and kindness. We embrace the liberty of letting go, rather than being held in bondage by another person’s poor decision. It’s a brilliant exchange. I’m currently watching Fixer Upper and thought, being able to forgive from the heart is kind of similar to a renovation. To renovate is basically to restore to a good state. So think of forgiveness as a little fixer upper, a renovation, of the heart, if you will.
We Are Undeserving, but our Father Forgives Anyway
God forgives us all the time. With repentant hearts, we can easily access God’s forgiveness by simply asking Him to forgive us. He doesn’t hesitate. He doesn’t tell us to come back and ask when we’re more perfectly polished. He’s eager for us to approach Him with the confidence that He’s good and willing to forgive. This is the gospel. It’s loving of us to forgive others when they’ve wronged us, because we are forgiven by our Father every time we need it. Are we any better than God?
Lord, thank you for your forgiveness. Thank you for giving me the strength to forgive others when it’s difficult. Thank you for being here throughout the whole process. Thank you for being so good to forgive me so that I can forgive others. I want your love to take place in the center of my heart, so that I can live freely and love you and others well. Amen.