“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
If you were raised Christian, ever visited a Sunday School class or have been witnessed to, I am confident you’ve heard a message about forgiveness. The plan of salvation alone consists of confessing our sins and Jesus forgiving us. Christ’s death is the epitome of forgiveness both to those who crucified Him and for those He died for. As He was hanging on the cross already beaten and tortured, He cried out, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
Throughout the Old and New Testament there are many passages on God and Christ forgiving sinners. We aren’t just forgiven. God calls us to forgive those who “trespass against us.” If you’re anything like me, being forgiven is easy. Forgiving others can be a very tough pill to swallow especially those who aren’t even sorry.
There are people in this world who may hate you, hurt you, and lie about you because of their own toxicity. Perhaps they’re jealous and insecure, sociopathic or narcissistic even. The stories of Jezebel, Joseph’s brothers and even Saul’s murderous behavior toward David are prime examples. The Pharisees even blasphemed against Jesus. Yet there are multiple scriptures that tell us to forgive. In fact a few verses even say love your enemies and pray for them/do good to them.
Here are a few more scriptures on God telling us to forgive:
“If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you.”
Matthew 6:14 NLT
“But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too. ””
Mark 11:25 NLT
“Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.”
Colossians 3:13 NLT
“Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.”
Ephesians 4:32 NLT
Over and over God tells us to love our enemies, be kind to each other and to forgive each other. When someone we love hurts our feelings or disappoints us-it tends to be easy to forgive them because our love supersedes the offense. It’s hardest to forgive those who’s offenses supersede the ability to love that person. That’s where surrender to God and an obedient heart comes in to play. That’s where seventy times seven needs to be applied.
You may come across someone who will never be sorry for the wrong they did to you. You may want to just avoid them or ignore their existence. However, there may be circumstances where you cannot ignore or avoid them. You may have such a justifiable aversion to them that being kind to them makes your skin crawl. Our wounded hearts don’t want to forgive. Our defenses don’t want to be around them let alone offer them grace or kindness. But God says “Forgive them.” God says “Be kind to them.” God says “Love and pray for them.”
Seventy times seven means we forgive every offense, every time. I think it also means we may have to forgive the same offense over and over as a means to truly let go and fully forgive our offenders. Think about it. How many times a day do you dwell on the offense? Ever have arguments in your head between yourself and the offender? Ever think unkind thoughts or call them vicious names in your mind? Gossip about them maybe? Can you feel roots of bitterness growing and consuming you? Do you think any of that hurts your offender? Trust me-it does not. Your offender is most likely not even thinking about you. If their not sorry for their actions then they’re certainly not dwelling on them either. Our dwelling only keeps us wounded and keeps us from forgiving.
We combat this by choosing forgiveness. When a negative thought pops in your head-confess in your mind or aloud that you forgive the offender. Dwelling on specific actions they did against you? Name them aloud as you declare that you forgive these offenses. Confess each and every hateful thought you entertain and give it all to Jesus. When circumstances arise that you have to engage with that person, force yourself to be kind. You may have to fake it until you make it but if you do this, you will cut off all roots of bitterness and walk in the freedom of having a forgiving heart. You will make it to forgiving your offender(s).
Your enemy may never change. Our greatest enemy will never change so why do we expect our human enemies to change? We cannot control the behaviors and actions of others. We can only control how we respond, what we hold on to and what we let go of. We have a choice to forgive or to hold a grudge. Holding a grudge steals our joy and makes us more like our haters. Always choose to forgive. Even if you have to say it 490 times (which is 70 X 7 by the way) choosing forgiveness makes you more Christlike. That forgiveness may be the exact stepping stone Jesus uses to bring your enemy to salvation. After all-Joseph told his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.” (Genesis 50:20) You never know how God will use your forgiveness to save the lives of others also.