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Vol.  9  No. 11 November 2007  Page 2
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Louis RushmoreEditorial

Seventy Times Seven

By Louis Rushmore, Editor

    “Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:21-22). Doubtless, Peter thought that he was being very generous by supposing that one ought to forgive another literally seven times. Imagine Peter’s astonishment when our Lord responded that forgiveness should be extended seventy times seven. If Peter was still thinking in literal terms, he may have understood Jesus to stipulate that one ought to be forgiven 490 times. One writer astutely illustrates the scenario that Peter might have contemplated following our Lord’s response. “What scorekeeping that would entail! ‘This is the fifth time you’ve stepped on my foot, and the thirty-seventh time you hurt my feelings, and that means I only have to forgive you 348 more times’” (Silkman 410).

    However, the matter from a literal consideration is more phenomenal than simply equating Jesus’ formula to 490 times.

Consider the application: remember Peter’s question about the frequency of forgiveness in one day? Jesus taught seventy times seven. Just to see the magnitude of God’s forgiveness, look at the numbers. Seventy times seven each day: 490 times each day. There are 1440 minutes in a day. Rounded off that suggests that He would forgive us every three minutes around the clock from now until we leave for the other side of eternity! No one who will repent is beyond God’s forgiveness. And, when God forgives a debt, He does not rub it in. He rubs it out: …“If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” (2 Chron. 7:14). (Colley 167 emphasis added)

    Rather than a literal interpretation of our Lord’s response and “keeping score” against each other, Jesus expected Peter to make a figurative, spiritual application of his words, “seventy times seven.” Essentially, the instruction Jesus intended was, “Peter, forgive always” (Jenkins and Mauck 128).

What he meant was not for us to count the offenses, but to stop counting. That ought to be encouraging, considering how many times we must go to God for forgiveness for the same old sins, over and over. …God will measure us by the standards of mercy and compassion we measure out to other people. (Silkman 410 emphasis added)

    “In other words, as long as a person truly repents there must be no limit to forgiveness and we must extend it as often as there is a need for it. Certainly, the one needing forgiveness must meet certain Scriptural requirements in order to be forgiven…” (Elkins, “Answering False Doctrines”). A willingness to forgive at all times, all penitent persons, grows in one the mind of God, as well as restores fellowship between men and God, plus between men and men.

This continual mindset towards forgiveness helps one retain the compassionate heart indicative of a follower of Christ and actually shows a high degree of self-understanding in realizing that we all will make mistakes. Christians who are able to empathize with others when it comes to the imperfect people that we are will motivate those in need toward repentance much more effectively than a heavy-handed, holier-than-thou approach (1 Cor. 9:27; Gal. 6:1-2; Jas. 5:19-20). In Luke 17:4, Jesus used the “seven times” terminology to emphasize that His followers should be in a continual mode of forgiveness. There may be some in the church who will exhibit hurtful and spiteful behavior towards us, but Christians are to be concerned about “forbearing one another, and forgiving one another” (Col. 3:13). The Apostle Paul exhorted, “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Eph. 4:32). (Yeatts 146 emphasis added)

It is some amusing that Peter must have assumed that most of the time he would be on the “forgiving” end rather than on the “forgiven” end of the relationship between one’s fellows or God. Certainly, we are no different; we often have a too high an estimate of ourselves and undervalue our peers. What is good for our fellows is as likely and as often good for us, too—namely, forgiveness.

    Nobody knows me better than I know myself. Hence, I know firsthand that I often need the forgiveness of my God as well as the forgiveness of my fellow man, because sin sometimes punctuates my otherwise Christian life (1 John 1:8, 10). No one knows better than I know that within me my spirit wrestles with good and evil (Romans 7:19-20; Philippians 3:12-14). Therefore, I am exceedingly glad that my God will forgive my every occasion of sin upon my repentance, and that my brethren are supposed to be striving to imitate God in their forgiveness toward their fellows. I am happy that God chooses to expunge from his memory knowledge of every sin for which he has forgiven me (Hebrews 8:12; 10:17), and I am happy that my brethren are supposed to seek to possess the same disposition. “Man’s greatest blessing from God is forgiveness (Heb. 8:12). It is also his greatest need from his fellow man and in many instances from his brother in Christ. …It should be pointed out that the restoration of the offender and reconciliation with the offended are included in forgiveness wherever possible” (Elkins, “A Study of Love”).

Works Cited

Colley, Glenn. “The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant.” The Parables of Jesus. CD-ROM. Southaven: Power, 2000. 159-172.

Elkins, Garland. “Answering False Doctrines Relating to Philippians and Colossians, No. 4.” Studies in Philippians and Colossians. CD-ROM. Denton: Valid, 2000.

- - - . “A Study of Love in 1 John, 2 John and 3 John.” Studies in 1 John, 2 John and 3 John. Dub McClish, ed. CD-ROM. Denton: Valid, 1987.

Jenkins, Janet and Diane Mauck. “Teaching Them to Forgive.” Christian Bible Teacher. April 1994: 128.

Silkman, Anne. “490 Times Isn’t So Many.” Christian Bible Teacher. December 1996: 410.

Yeatts, Steven. “The Parable of the Unprofitable Servant.” The Parables of Jesus. CD-ROM. Southaven: Power, 2000. 142-158.

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