Simon Peter asked Jesus how often he should forgive when “his brother” did something wrong to him. Peter wondered and asked if seven times were enough. Jesus answered and said, “I say not unto thee, until seven times: but, until seventy times seven.”
In their culture, seven is a number of completeness, so this seemed a good number of times for Peter to forgive. Jesus used a combination of sevens to explain how we should forgive. Jesus didn’t really mean we should multiply seven times seventy and count up to 490 times to forgive someone. He meant that we should forgive freely.
To give an example of how important it is to forgive, Jesus then told a story:
23 Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants.
24 And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents.
25 But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made.
26 The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.
27 Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.
28 But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest.
29 And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.
30 And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt.
31 So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done.
32 Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me:
33 Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?
34 And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him.
35 So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.
In this story, each of us should consider ourselves like the first servant who was forgiven a large amount. The king is like our Heavenly Father who does forgive us. But Jesus teaches we will not be forgiven if we do not forgive our fellow servants.
Editor’s Note: Again it is important to note here that if someone “sins against you” in a harmful way, Jesus teaches we do need to forgive, but that does not mean we need to keep putting ourselves in danger. It doesn’t mean we need to spend time with the offender. In small things, usually with family, we need to forgive, and forgive at least 490 times! We continue forgiving and strengthening relationships through these small offenses. But in cases of large, dangerous offenses, use good judgment about spending any time with the offender. We do need to forgive, but we also need to keep ourselves safe. In these dangerous situations, it may be best to forgive and love from a distance.
What do you think?
- Why is it important to forgive?
- Why does Jesus teach about forgiveness?
- Why did Peter think it might be OK to forgive seven times?
- What do you think of the servant who was forgiven a huge debt but would not forgive his fellow servant of a small debt?
- Do we need to forgive others for us to be forgiven?
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