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QUESTION: How many times must I forgive?


ANSWER:  Can I answer your question with a question?  How many times has God forgiven you?  As difficult, unsuccessful and seemingly hopeless it has been for you to forgive some people, God sees you and me in just the same way.  Ephesians 4:32 says, “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”

We can be pretty myopic when it comes to us.  That is, we don’t realize how much and how many times people – and God – must forgive us.  Forgiveness is one of the most God-like things we can do.  Perhaps that is why it can be so hard.  Peter asked Jesus the exact same question in Matthew 18:21-22.  I can’t help but think with seven as the number of perfection, that Peter probably thought that he was answering his own question with generosity and godly wisdom – not!

Jesus’ answer (we are to forgive seventy times seven times = 490 times!) was not so much an exaggeration as it was to say, “don’t keep track.”  Forgive and forget.  Many say that they can’t forgive until they have forgotten, but God says just the opposite: we must forgive in order to forget (or before we can forget).

What’s the point?  Jesus was teaching that we should forgive people even when they don’t deserve it.  Jesus has offered His forgiveness to you and me and we don’t deserve it.  God doesn’t tell us to stop doing whatever it is that offends Him before He will forgive us, He says, because I have forgiven you, “sin no more.”

God loved us when we hated Him.  He showed us mercy and we crucified Him.  When he forgave us, we nailed Him to a cross.  Humans are not an easy bunch to forgive.

Some will argue, “but you don’t know what they’ve done to me.”  To be honest, that doesn’t matter.  Jesus forgave the soldiers who crucified Him and they didn’t even ask for forgiveness (Luke 23:34).  You see, if someone genuinely and sincerely comes to you and asks for forgiveness, it is almost an obligation to forgive them – just for the sake of courtesy if nothing else.  But God’s forgiveness is so much more.  He forgives before we ask Him to and many times even when the person doesn’t want to be forgiven.

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