How Many Times Must I Forgive?

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 said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” 

Matthew 18:21-22

Is there a limit to forgiveness?

Seems like that was what Peter was asking. And I’d have to say it’s a reasonable question. AND a generous proposal. Peter was envisioning forgiving someone up to 7 times. That’s a lot! But, listen to his words: “up to.” Because surely there HAS to be a ceiling on forgiveness. Peter understands God calls us to be gracious, but there has to be a limit.

If we were taught well and have any sense of self-respect and esteem… we wouldn’t let people walk all over us. Go wipe your feet some where else! We will NOT be taken advantage of. We have a saying for that: “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” After you mess up, I should know better. And while this is GOOD advice for the limits of abuse, it’s not for the limits of forgiveness.

Abuse must stop now; forgiveness must continue forever.

If you think about it… being wronged stinks. It hurts like the dickens. Why did they do that to me? That was SO low down. So insensitive. They don’t understand me at all. These are the thoughts that torment the mind, and sear like burning coals. Being wronged hurts bad, real bad. And sometimes it’s hard to shake the mind free of ill will.

Ironically, some time ago, I was pulling weeds and dealing with some past resentment. I say ironically because I had some weeds growing out of my own heart. And you know what happens when you neglect weeds, right?… They take over! So here I was dealing with WEEDS. Weeds in the ground and weeds in my heart. Both of which require CONSTANT attention! Ugh. It’s amazing how prolific weeds can be. You have to be consistent and tenacious with them. You can’t just pull them once and expect to be done and good. You have to keep at it.

I was thinking about a past situation that I had ALREADY let go of, and, for whatever reason, here I was mulling over it again, stewing and steaming over what this person did. Didn’t I already FORGIVE the person? Didn’t I already clear this ground? And yet my heart seems all grown over and I have to verbalize my forgiveness once again.

Will we ever be free of weeds? I suspect not in this life.

forgivenessMaybe that’s part of what the Master was getting at.

Up to seven times, Jesus?

No, let’s try seventy times seven.

Oh! 490 then.

No. The point is there is no ceiling to forgiveness. There is no limit. Just keep doing it.

Just keep forgiving, even if you’ve cleared the ground before. Keep working the soil. Weeds can pop up at any time and if you neglect them they’re liable to take over. But, if you stay at it (forgive and keep on forgiving) your heart will be a garden.

Think about some of our daily routines:

  • Pulling Weeds
  • Paying Bills
  • Washing Dishes
  • Laundering Clothes
  • Vacuuming Rugs
  • Picking Up Toys

It’s never ending. That’s not a bad thing, unless we do nothing. In that case it only gets worse. But, stay on top of it and we enjoy the fruit of our labor. These things require regular attention.

Forgiveness is no different. We should treat it as a DAILY routine. Bad memories, at any point, can go to seed and sprout the weeds of resentment. Do nothing and it gets worse. Stay on top of it and enjoy peace. Sometimes it requires FRESH forgivings. Even if you’ve done it before, do it again and keep on doing it. One or two clearings may not do the trick. Don’t feel bad about that. It’s just the nature of weeds.

Forgive and keep on forgiving. “Seventy times seven.” Keep at it. It’s the only way to cultivate a beautiful garden.


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