Christ calls us to forgive everyone to a superhuman degree. When we do, we are bearing witness to the ultimate example of forgiveness.
Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”
“No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!” (Matthew 18:21-22)
If Jesus wants us to love our neighbors and our enemies, it should come as no surprise that Christ calls us to forgive others when they wrong us. After all, how can we really love others if we wish to maintain bitter grudges against them in our hearts?
Are you someone who is struggling with forgiving a certain person for a terrible thing that caused you immense pain? For you, that previous paragraph can sound as dry as sand and as impossible as climbing Mount Everest.
Actually, that’s the point. Jesus knows when forgiveness for the unforgivable is needed, we can never hope to do so on our own ability. We need Christ’s empowerment if we ever hope to forgive others from our heart.
Surrendering to Forgiveness
Why would Christ call us to forgive others, especially when they have done evil? Because it’s part of surrendering everything we have to Christ.
One of the things Jesus asks us to surrender to Him is our (sometimes justifiable) seeking revenge against those who wronged us. The Bible tells us to leave that to God (Romans 12:19).
Forgiving others is not easy, because surrender is not easy.
The more willing we are to surrender to Christ, the more we will find ourselves forgiving people, perhaps not even understanding how we are able to do it.
It is also possible the person you are forgiving won’t understand, either. When you decide to forgive someone, they may want to know why. It is through this type of forgiveness that the gospel can be shared.
Christ calls His followers to a superhuman level of forgiveness. Forgiveness that is not humanly possible. A level of forgiveness that we can only arrive at because we are staying surrendered to Christ.
Forgiveness is on an As-Needed Basis
In today’s passage, we see Peter had some understanding of the need to forgive. But He was still trying to understand forgiveness on the basis of his ability to do it.
That’s why he asked Jesus “what’s the limit”? Peter wanted to know if there was a point beyond which a person can wrong us where he could say “enough!”
I am not sure where he got the idea of 7 times being enough of a limit. It may have been the prevalent Jewish law of the day. Maybe Peter was thinking of a particular situation. Or he may have just been pulling a number out of the air.
No matter: Christ calls us to forgive others without limits. He answered Peter to forgive 70 times 7. Some translations may render this in different terms, such as 77 times.
The point isn’t how many actual times Jesus said. Christ calls us to forgive as much as is necessary.
Forgiveness Because We Are Forgiven
In the parable, the servant owed an extraordinarily large amount of money, and was facing losing everything – even his family – against the debt.
The debt was so large, it’s impossible it would have ever been paid out of the servant’s lifetime of earned wages. In desperation, he said he would pay it all back, even though he knew it was impossible.
And yet, this impossibly high debt – that he could never hope to pay for himself – is forgiven him, completely.
But when it came time for him to forgive what was owed him by someone who owed him far, far less, he threatened the borrower. This person even used the exact same phrase with the unmerciful servant in asking for mercy, but the wicked servant would have none of it. Instead, he physically accosted this man and threw him in prison.
Jesus is using such a wide gulf between what the one person was forgiven and what that person refused to forgive to drive home the unfairness of one who is forgiven withholding forgiveness. If we are Christ’s followers, God has pardoned us (Micah 7:18-19). If we withhold forgiveness, we are the unmerciful servant in this parable.
And of course, how can we not see the comparison to Christ Himself, who forgave us an immense, unforgivable debt. How can we refuse to forgive others when we are living in a state of forgiveness?
Jesus further explained that if His disciples withhold forgiveness, we will face God’s discipline. When we don’t forgive others, it makes God angry, and according to Jesus, we can anticipate God will not leave it unchecked. This is how important it is to Him.
Forgiving the Unforgivable
This is not to deny the difficulty – in some cases, extreme – in forgiving some people. It’s possible that there’s been a person on your mind the entire time you’ve been reading today’s passage.
Let’s face it; there are some people we will never be able to forgive on our own power.
And that’s precisely the point. It is yet another example of the importance of abiding with Christ. When we do, things will become possible for us that were previously unimaginable. That’s because Christ will empower us to forgive those we cannot forgive on our own.
If we forgave on the basis of the other person’s actions or attitudes, there are few people we would feel right about forgiving. We might even be tempted to think we would be doing right in some cases by not forgiving a clearly degenerate person.
Christ calls us to forgive people for what they have done to us based on the fact that we have been forgiven everything we have ever done.
We don’t forgive based on deservedness because nobody deserves it. There is no amount of good anyone can do to make up for their sin against others or against God. However, God forgives us based on His mercy (Titus 3:3-7).
Christ calls us to give unexplainable mercy to the world, so that we can explain the mercy of Christ to the world.
More Bible verses about forgiveness: