Verse of the Day Devotion Matthew 18:21 Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”
Jesus had just finished a teaching on what must be done if our brother sins against us. He starts out with telling His disciples what to do if this happens. “And if your brother sins, go and reprove him in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. And if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax-gatherer.” Matthew 18:15-17. It is important that if a brother sins against us, we are to go to him alone and reprove him, letting him know what he has done. And if he does not listen to you, bring two or three believers with you, ones this man listens to with the hope he will then listen to you. However, if he does not, then bring it to the church so they can speak with him. When it gets this far, and he does not listen, then he is to be treated like a non-believer and tax collector. Both these expressions stand for people outside the people of God, people who have sinned and not repented, and that is the position of the sinning brother. He has made his choice, and the brother sinned against must respect his decision. It is usually said that the passage speaks of excommunication from the church, but that is not what the text says; to you is very personal. Whatever be the case vis-à-vis the church, to the brother against whom he has sinned he is as an outsider.
Now, after this teaching Peter asks Jesus a question as seen in our focus verse. “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Matthew 18:21b. Peter, wishing to appear especially forgiving and benevolent, asked Jesus if forgiveness was to be offered seven times. The Jewish rabbis at the time taught that forgiving someone more than three times was unnecessary. This idea is found in the book of Amos, “Thus says the LORD, For three transgressions of Damascus and for four I will not revoke its punishment, Because they threshed Gilead with implements of sharp iron.” Amos 1:3. Now this verse was pointing at Damascus, but we see the same basic verse pointing to other nations: verse 6 for Gaza, verse 9 regarding Tyre and verse 13 regarding Ammon. The idea was that after three times they would not be forgiven. This then became a maxim among the Jews never to forgive more then three times. However, Jesus responds in a surprising, and I am sure a shocking way to Peter’s question. “Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” Matthew 18:22. Jesus replaces seven times with seventy times seven, or 490 times.
Now, this is not an arithmetic issue that after 490 offense, forgiveness was not necessary. It is a way of saying that for Jesus’ followers forgiveness is to be unlimited. For them forgiveness is a way of life. Bearing in mind what they have been forgiven, they cannot withhold forgiveness from any who sin against them. “For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” Matthew 6:14-15. By saying we are to forgive those who sin against us seventy times seven, Jesus was not limiting forgiveness to 490 times, a number that is, for all practical purposes, beyond counting. Christians with forgiving hearts not only do not limit the number of times they forgive; they continue to forgive with as much grace the thousandth time as they do the first time. Christians alone are capable of this type of forgiving spirit because the Spirit of God lives within us, and it is He who provides the ability to offer forgiveness over and over, just as God forgives us over and over.
This is such an important thought. No matter what anyone does to us, and as many times as they do it, it in incumbent upon us to forgive each and every time. “Therefore, if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.” 2 Corinthians 5:17-29. This is the love God has for us, and He expects us to exhibit this love to our fellow man. “And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your transgressions. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions.” Mark 11:25-26.
And lastly, this love should be for everyone, including our enemies. “You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR, and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you. in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax-gatherers do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore, you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:43-48.
William Funkhouser MDiv, ThD, Founder and President of True Devotion Ministries.
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