The Math of Forgiveness

In Matthew 18, Peter asks Jesus an ambitious question: “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” (Matthew 18:21). While we cannot know for sure, it seems that Peter might have been trying to impress the Lord.

The Jewish leaders of the 1st century taught that forgiveness was only required and necessary up to three times; after these three “strikes” were exhausted, the guilt would remain. Peter now voluntarily and not so subtly suggests that he would be willing to forgive someone even up to seven times. Surely, Jesus will applaud Peter’s forgiving heart.

In the next verse, Jesus responds, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22). Jesus did not literally mean to forgive only 490 times, but was making the point that He wants us to forgive continually; there should be no limit. At that moment in time, Peter may have felt a bit deflated or necessarily humbled. Maybe he tried to wrap his mind around the numbers that Jesus offered, but he also began to realize how forgiving the Lord really was.

It is a wonderful blessing to remember how forgiving God has been toward each of us. How many times do you think God has forgiven you?

Matt Langfield