Forgiving the Repeat Offender
Key Verse to Read and Treasure:
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 (NLT)
Peter was intrigued by what Jesus said moments before, concerning forgiving a brother—which could be defined as a fellow Christian, relative, sibling, or spouse—who sins against you, and he wanted Jesus to clarify it for him. After all Peter was familiar with what the prophet Amos had written about forgiving, “that for three transgressions or even four if someone asked forgiveness (or even if they didn’t) they should not be turned away but forgiven. Forgiveness should not be withheld” (Amos 1:3). This is the only kind of forgiveness that is pleasing to God.
We can almost hear Peter asking Jesus, ‘So, Lord, how many times should we forgive someone who is a repeat offender? Seven times? Which according to Peter would have been very generous. But Jesus rejects Peter’s generosity and responds, “seventy times seven.” Jesus says if he sins against you seven times in a day and returns to ask forgiveness you are to forgive.
Peter wanted, just as we do, to define and limit moral obligations, but Christ rejects and demolishes Peter’s and our attempt to define law by the measure of grace. While it’s tempting to do the math (70×7=490). Like loving others, forgiving others is God’s law and therefore no line can be drawn, no limitation set, no comfortability found in defining how many times or how much we will forgive. Jesus’ seventy times seven means without limits. Since we are always forgiving based on past or present behavior, we cannot forgive future offenses, but we are to forgive what has already been done and what is being done presently.
While such leniency and generosity with forgiveness is hard for us and feels counterintuitive to human nature and counterproductive to healing and moving forward, to forgive, let alone forgive without limits, is a hard command to obey. This is why God does not make us do it alone but comes alongside us to help. He is willing to enter the struggle with us so we can have victory over unforgiveness.
When forgiving the repeat offender, it’s important to know forgiving does not mean we agree or approve of the behavior, that we don’t need to establish healthy boundaries, or that we need to become or continue to be an enabler, it simply means we make a decision to get out of God’s way and let his will be accomplished in their life.
Lord, this is a hard teaching and command to obey. It is humanly impossible, and we cannot do it without your help. Amen
Is there a repeat offender you need to forgive? Have you been trying to do it by yourself, under your own power and resolve? Let Jesus help.
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