How Often Should I Forgive Others?

Forgiveness3Did you hear about the  man who was sitting in a coffee shop, across from a woman who was engrossed in her newspaper. One of the headlines blared: “12 Brazilian Soldiers Killed.” She sighed and shook her head at the sad news.

Then, turning to the man, she quizzically asked, “How many is a  Brazilian?”   

If you don’t get this joke, here’s a hint.  Brazilian is not a number!

Her misunderstanding reminds me of another numerical misunderstanding in the Bible.  Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” (Matt. 18:21).

Peter thought that was a charitable attitude.  A reasonable number.  A generous reaction to being wronged. Several times.

But Jesus’ response supercedes Peter’s small minded thinking, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” (Matt. 18:22). How many is that? Forget figuring it out!  Because Jesus is not talking about a literal number!

To illustrate His point, this prompted Jesus to tell the famous parable of the unforgiving servant.

In the story a man was more than “head over heels” in debt. He owed over one billion dollars! When he couldn’t pay, the creditor ordered him, his wife and children to be sold as slaves. The debtor pled for mercy. The master was moved with compassion and forgave the debt. Yet, after being forgiven, the same man found someone who owed him $4,000 and grabbed him by the throat, demanding payment. This man also asked for mercy. But the servant would not forgive and ordered him thrown into prison.

When the master of this servant heard of this, he was angry. He called the servant in and denounced him as a “wicked servant.” He said, “I had mercy on you and forgave you all your debt. You should have demonstrated the same mercy to your fellow servant. As a result, I rescind my offer. You are going to jail!”

Jesus’ comment on this story speaks to us directly, “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart” (Matt 18:32).

There are three lessons to this simple, yet profound story.

(1) It says that our sins our enormous. Yes, as big as a billionaires bankroll! The debt is too great! We could never repay it. Our sins our innumerable! Our sins have separated us from God and we do not have the means to pay the debt.

(2) But God’s mercy is immeasurable. Paul affirmed that “God is great in mercy” (Eph 2:1-5). God through the blood of Jesus has paid the debt of sin. Regardless of the depth of our transgression or the length of time we’ve been sinners, there is no limit to the kindness, compassion and mercy of God. Indeed, he will abundantly pardon (Isa 55:7).  I’m sure glad that God hasn’t reduced forgiveness to a number.  I’m afraid that I would have already surpassed 490 times!

(3) Therefore, we must forgive other people. Unconditionally. Categorically.  Without limits.  This is the point of the parable. Inundated by our Lord’s love for us and his mercy toward us, our hearts should be moved to forgive our friends, our family and our brethren when they trespass against us. If we won’t, God won’t forgive us. George Herbert put it this way, “He who cannot forgive others burns the bridge over which he must pass himself.”

Never forget that forgiveness is not reduced to a number.  It’s an attitude.  A matter of the heart.  A spirit of compassion.  Mercy. And grace. God’s grace.  So quit counting!  And start forgiving!

–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman

17 Comments

Filed under Forgiveness

17 responses to “How Often Should I Forgive Others?

  1. David McKee

    Amen Ken
    David

  2. Stephen Segrest

    Ken, I’m linking your previous post about Lucy and Charlie Brown (the football story) to today’s post. What should we do when a person’s actions that we forgive just never change? Tell me where my understanding is incorrect: Christ can not forgive sin, if a person is not repentive — and repentive MUST mean more than just saying “the words”, it has to be actions (not perfect, but a sincere attempt). I heard a sermon once that we should give everybody second, third, fourth, ……. chances but not unlimited chances. What do you think?

    • Stephen, I don’t think the two points are incompatible. It is looking at forgiveness and repentance from two different views. One on the part of the person who forgives and another on the part of the person who receives forgiveness. I can’t force others to change. All I can do is have the spirit of forgiveness even when others do not respond or change. I think of Jesus asking the Father to forgive those who were crucifying him. Some of them did repent later on. But not all of them. The only person I can control is myself. Others must decide how they want to respond. I think the bottom line is that I can always have the attitude of forgiveness whether people change or not. Of course, forgivness and restored trust are two different things. Forgivness is an act of mercy extended to the one who sins. Trust is earned. Hope that is helpful

      Ken Weliever 400 NW Highcliffe Dr Lee’s Summit, MO 64081 Home Phone: 816-600-5001 Cell Phone: 813-507-1726 Church Office: 816-761-2659 preacherman@weliever.net web site: http://www.weliever.net/ blog: http://www.thepreachersword.com/ Church web site: http://hickmanchurch.com/

  3. Stephen Segrest

    So, the next time Lucy holds the football down and asks Charlie Brown to kick it — what action should he take? Either he kicks it or not.

    • Well, Stephen. If I were Charlie Brown, I would forgive Lucy for all her past meanness. But probably wouldn’t trust her to hold the football again! Point: You can forgive someone without being gullible enough to believe they have changed!

      Ken Weliever 400 NW Highcliffe Dr Lee’s Summit, MO 64081 Home Phone: 816-600-5001 Cell Phone: 813-507-1726 Church Office: 816-761-2659 preacherman@weliever.net web site: http://www.weliever.net/ blog: http://www.thepreachersword.com/ Church web site: http://hickmanchurch.com/

      • Stephen Segrest

        Ken, Could you write a blog on “trusting” others after we have been repeatedly hurt? Lets assume that Charlie Brown’s heart is right with God and he has truly forgiven Lucy for her past actions. But what does God’s Word tell Charlie Brown (and Charlie Brown only) about taking a chance with Lucy again?

  4. Bill Hood

    I am always a little confused when folks introduce the idea that repentance must precede forgiveness man to man. I know that is true of God and man, but God does not give us His status when forgiveness man to man is the issue. Jesus also said this.. Mark 11:25-26 “And whensoever ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have aught against any one; that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your trespasses.”
    Now, I suppose Romans 14 might come into play here, but I believe this merits some thought.
    In my mind it is hard to separate “not forgiven” with “grudge”. And we all know the value of carrying a grudge. Just my thinking..

  5. julie davidson

    Bro. Ken: the special thing, that makes our God AWESOME, is that He not only forgives, but FORGETS, when we ask with repenting hearts…we humans (speaking of myself, of course), will forgive other’s easier than ourselves…not only that, but we sometimes can’t “forget”…that is what makes God, God, & us only mortals, with a permanent spiritual side, though! 🙂 Thanks for such an excellent post…as always, you just have a WONDERFUL way of putting the Lords’ word w/examples that we can understand! have a joyous day! love in Him, Julie

  6. Pat Reynolds

    Ken, I’m happy to share this on Facebook, as well as some others you’ve written. Thank you fo heping me spread God’s Word in a loving manner. Pat

  7. Pastor Ken, I’m w/Stephen on this. I have, and still forgive a certain family member for continual sin against me. I believe in turning the other cheek, but it wears a person down, interferes w/my spirit to the point that I am no longer believing in my own self worth! I am (and Stephen is too if I am reading between the lines correctly), wondering at what point can I remove myself out of slapping distance? I keep praying, but at some point don’t I have Gods permission to change my reaction-even if it costs me everything?

    • I think yours and Stephens comments require that I write some more on this. But let me just add. Forgiveness does not require that Iallow someone to remain in position to hurt you. It doesn’t mean that trust is restored. Or that I am required to hang out with them. You can forgive someonewho murdered a loved one. But he’s still going to jail! And you don’t have to send him care packages! If the treasurer of the church stole money from thetreasury, was caught, but asked forgiveness, we ought to forgive.But wisdom and prudence also says, “Get a new treasurer!” Hope that helps a little. I will have more to say on this next week. Thanks for reading and responding.

      Ken Weliever 400 NW Highcliffe Dr Lee’s Summit, MO 64081 Home Phone: 816-600-5001 Cell Phone: 813-507-1726 Church Office: 816-761-2659 preacherman@weliever.net web site: http://www.weliever.net/ blog: http://www.thepreachersword.com/ Church web site: http://hickmanchurch.com/

  8. Saul Blair

    Ken, you wrote earlier about the spirit and attitude of forgiveness. This is, from what I have learned in studying this subject, the most accurate portrayal of what Christian’s attitude toward sin should be. Certainly, as you stated, there is no set number that can be given (even Christ did not) as to how many times one should forgive. However, so many cite those who Jesus asked God to forgive (not that He actually forgave) as the example to forgive others. Much like Stephen as he was being stoned, this was indeed a request for forgiveness, rather than actual forgiveness, if you are simply taking the text for what it says. However, it is rather apparent from Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 (especially v. 38) that at least some of those who had crucified Jesus had not been forgiven. If they had, then Peter’s message stating that his listeners crucified the Son of God makes no sense whatsoever. Additionally, when they asked in v. 37, “Men and brethren what shall we do,” Peter’s response to “repent and be baptized for the remission of sins” is equally inaccurate and nonsensical. We need to review passages like Ephesians 4:32 and Colossians 3:13 which (to paraphrase) teach us to forgive others like Christ forgave us. How did Christ forgive them? Through repentance. You make an excellent point about forgiveness and trust. Forgiveness does not necessarily negate restitution or restore trust. You hit the nail on the head, however, by addressing the spirit of forgiveness. This was the spirit Jesus possessed while He hung on the cross, although those individuals’ sins were not actually remitted until they repented and were baptized in Acts 2. I realize many people have trouble with grudges and withholding forgiveness. However, if we want to follow the Scriptures, (like the above-mentioned passages as well as Luke 17:3) we should while maintaining a spirit that longs for and ardently desires to forgive. I personally have found that the key for me in situations where I need to have the spirit of forgiveness (and having that spirit is difficult to attain/maintain because the offender is not penitent) is prayer. By praying for the person by name regularly, my tendency to bear a grudge turned to pity, and a genuine longing to forgive. Sorry I wrote so much. However, I feel we send the wrong message to others when we suggest that we can forgive others when God will not; and God will not without repentance. It also might send the wrong message to those who sin against us. They may reason, “well, I have already been forgiven by that person and therefore need to do nothing further.” This of course is inaccurate as they must reconcile with God. Nonetheless, for those who are not familiar with God’s requiring repentance might very possibly take that position. Again, sorry so long. But very good points on the spirit of forgiveness and trust. Wish that had been in the article, rather than stating forgiveness is “[unconditional]”.

    • Saul, thanks for reading my blog and taking the time to share your thoughts. I agree that no one is forgiven until they repent and ask forgivness. We know that God is ready and willing to forgive when that occurs, and hopefully we can have the “mind of Christ” and already have that spirit and readily accept the apology of those who wrong us. Praying for them is an excellent way to put us in that mind-set. Thanks for sharing,.

      Ken Weliever 400 NW Highcliffe Dr Lee’s Summit, MO 64081 Home Phone: 816-600-5001 Cell Phone: 813-507-1726 Church Office: 816-761-2659 preacherman@weliever.net web site: http://www.weliever.net/ blog: http://www.thepreachersword.com/ Church web site: http://hickmanchurch.com/

  9. Emily

    Ken thank you, this is something I need to work on and it is hard sometimes, but I will pray for Gods help and guidance.

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