Dictionary definitions are great. But, they are missing the real-life application this word so desperately needs. We need to see this word in action. Peter came to Jesus with a question: “How many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me?” He even proposes what he considers a just response: “Up to seven times?” (cf. Matt. 18:21-35)
Peter’s question and his proposed answer seem good to us. How many times should I forgive someone who willfully sins against me? How many times should I let someone get away with lying about me, besmirching my good name, stealing my character, or taking what is mine? I suppose I could “turn the other cheek” a few times. But I will have my counter engaged and on the eighth transgression, I will lower the boom! It only seems right!
But Jesus will not stand for it! He says, “No, Peter, not seven times but seventy times seven times (or seventy seven times).” He is saying, we are to forgive so often we will lose count of the number of times we have done it. We are to forgive with such regularity that it becomes the habit of our lives! Jesus is telling Peter (and those who are listening) that forgiveness is meant to become, along with love, the leading characteristic of our lives.
But how can this happen? It is only human to hold a grudge. We seem to be built with the desire to get even, to get what we believe is ours by right! There seems to be a genetic pre-disposition to count the number of wrongs done to us and respond in kind.
Jesus says, those who are becoming my followers will go a different way! Why? Because they have experienced EXTREME FORGIVENESS! He tells a story of a man who owes his king a GREAT DEBT. It is more than he could ever repay; by all rights he should have been thrown into prison and locked away for life! But he pleads for mercy, “Give me time and I will do my best to make it right!” But the king does more than give him time; he forgives the debt in full! The man walks away from the court debt free! But, what does he do, once he is free? He finds another, who owes him a “piddling” amount, and sends the man to debtor’s prison when he is unable to come up with the much smaller amount. When the king discovers the unloving, unforgiving response of the first man, he goes after him and has him arrested and jailed. He loses everything, because, though he had been so greatly forgiven, he was unwilling to be forgiving.
We have been similarly FORGIVEN an extreme debt! God graciously pardoned our sin. He knew we could never repay the debt we owed, for “… all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Paul writes: “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). We cannot earn this forgiveness. It is beyond our ability! BUT GOD… We are FORGIVEN! “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
So, what are we going to do with this? How will we respond when someone wrongs us, when they sin against us? Will we count the “strike” against them, saying that’s ONE, you have 489 more to go (or 76)? Or, will we say, as Stephen the martyr did, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60). We are FORGIVEN… we are FORGIVING!