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Focus: Continuing to forgive
Matthew 18:21-22 (NKJV) Then Peter came to Him and said, “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.”
It’s interesting that this particular scripture about forgiveness involves the disciple, Peter, who was no doubt asking an honest question about a situation he was coping with at the time.
When Jesus ‘called’ His disciples, he chose 12 ordinary men. Peter and his brother Andrew, were the first two who were chosen by Jesus to be in His inner circle of followers.
The Bible says, “And Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brothers, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. Then He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” They immediately left their nets and followed Him” (Matthew 4:18-20 NKJV).
Fourteen chapters later in the book of Matthew, it’s hard to know if Peter might have been referring to his brother Andrew, in Matthew 18:21, or one of his fellow disciples.
The disciples must have spent a lot of time together. Jesus was traveling throughout the region and He had asked the men to ‘follow Him.’ Most likely, the disciples ate together, bunked together, and did a lot of walking and boating together—to get from one place to the next.
When you spend that much time with people, little things can start to rub you the wrong way. In close circumstances, the mannerisms and personality traits of one person naturally wear on someone else. Because we are not all alike and we don’t all like the same things, conflicts can arise.
As Jesus answers Peter’s question about how many times he should forgive his brother, He tells Peter he should forgive seventy times seven, and then goes into a story that involves money.
The story Jesus tells, involves a comparison of one servant who was forgiven an extremely large amount of debt that he owed his master. Later on, the same servant wouldn’t forgive a man who owed him a very small amount. After the servant had the man who owed him a small amount thrown into prison, his master heard about it. Because the servant was not willing to forgive someone else in the same way his master had forgiven him, his master had the servant delivered to the torturers until his original debt was paid off.
It would be interesting to know the number of disagreements money management and debt have caused down through the ages. Wars have been fought, marriages have failed, and friends have killed friends…over money.
But that’s not the real issue here. I think one reason Jesus used ‘money’ in His illustration, was to show the degree of fault and forgiveness. He also used the analogy of a master and a servant to portray God and mankind. The extreme difference in the amounts owed are to help us see how much more God has forgiven us compared to how little we will ever be called on to forgive anyone who owes us or wrongs us.
God puts us together with people who He knows will help to refine us. Sometimes we excuse ourselves of guilt in conflict by saying a person ‘rubs us the wrong way.’ When truthfully, they were probably put in our life to rub something that needed to be rubbed off. That thing that irritates us, could be something we need to work on.
We always want other people to change and improve. We hardly ever want to have to change anything about ourselves. When we’re around people a lot, picking on each other can become a bad habit. It’s not easy to live with someone or be with someone, who continually does irritating things.
Some people differ about the translation of ‘seventy times seven.’ Even some who have done extensive research can’t agree on whether the original text means 77 times or 70 X 7, which would equal 490. The original text is translated ‘seventy times seven times’. Through research, I learned that ‘Seven times’ can also be a way of referring to a week consisting of seven days. What if Jesus was saying 70 times a week? That would mean we should be willing to forgive someone ten times a day on an ongoing basis…with no end in sight.
Declaration: I have a long way to go toward developing the kind of compassion I would need to be able to forgive someone ten times a day seven days a week, and am grateful no one irritates me on that level. I will find new strength by remembering what I have been forgiven is far greater than any amount I will ever be called on to forgive.
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