You’re likely familiar with the old saying, “Get me once; shame on you! Get me twice; shame on me!” The idea is I ought to be a good, trusting kind of fellow, and generally expect others to do me right. But, if you do me wrong, I ought to forever keep it in mind and keep you at arm’s length so that you can never fool me again. That’s not love. It’s fear… and pride!
The apostle Peter had a similar thought process, but his time with Jesus had taught him to be generous with his patience and to have a forgiving spirit. One day he thought he’d let his master know just how much he’d learned by asking a question. “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” (Matt 18:21). You and I will have to admit, that’s pretty generous. How many people do you know who have sinned against you seven times or more? —We’re talking about noteworthy sins here. Most people put up a wall against someone after they sin against them once. A lot of us (especially in baseball influenced America) will give someone “three strikes.” Seven times? Can you find it in your heart to forgive someone who sins against you seven times?
If you know the Bible, you’ve already guessed where this is going. “Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times’” (some translations read “seventy times seven) (Matt 18:22). Jesus’ answer is astounding! How can God expect us to forgive somebody who keeps on sinning against us so many times? The better question is how can God keep forgiving me thousands of times? Let that sink in. Jesus preached, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt 6:14-15). I want to be forgiven by God. I’ve sinned against him many times more than anyone has sinned against me. I suppose we need to bench the baseball terminology, be humble enough to bear a little shame, and open our hearts to forgive our brothers and sisters as often as they ask us to.