How Many Times Shall I Forgive? | Matthew 18:21-35

Welcome to Real Life. "Unforgiveness is like drinking poison, then waiting for your enemy to die." Anonymous 

“Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Peter boldly asks.

Jesus’ answer must have come as a shock, “… not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” In other words, forgive and keep on endlessly forgiving. This doesn’t mean you ignore the offense (see “Taking it Further” below). But, you always forgive. 

Certainly, generosity in forgiveness is appreciated (and often expected) when I am the offender. But, what about when I am the offended one? It's not so easy then. 

Realizing this, Jesus tells a parable to help us view forgiveness from God’s perspective. The Kingdom of Heaven is like … 

The CEO of a major corporation reviews his accounts. He notices an outstanding debt worth millions of dollars. He calls in the business owner responsible for the debt. The man explains, “My business is failing. I can’t repay any of it.” Hence, the CEO begins the legal process of liquidating the man’s assets to pay some of the debt. In light of this, the man falls to his knees and begs for mercy, “Please, be patience and I will repay every penny.” The CEO is deeply moved. With amazing generosity, he cancels the entire debt. The businessman leaves his office scot-free. 

Later, however, this same forgiven businessman decides to review his own books. He notices a subcontractor who is past due on a few hundred dollars. He storms over to the sub’s office, grabs him, and demands paymentimmediately. The sub falls on his knees and pleads, “Please, be patient. Give me time and I’ll pay you back.” However, the businessman is not satisfied. He calls in the authorities and has the subcontractor thrown into prison until he can repay the debt. 

Word of the incident travels back to the CEO. He summons in the businessman he had just forgiven. “You wicked man,” he says, “I forgave your huge debt because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have forgiven this man's small debt?” Angry over this injustice, the CEO has the business owner thrown in prison until his million dollar debt is repaid. 

In case we miss the point, Jesus clarifies, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Scary. I expect God to forgive, cause he’s God. But, I feel justified harboring bitter grudges against others who injure me. I think they should suffer for their sins.[1] Yet, I don’t think I should have to suffer for mine.

The core of the Gospel is forgiveness. I’m the one indebted to God for millions of offenses. He knows it’s impossible for me to repay. That’s why he sent his Son Jesus. Yes, he wants me to live a holy life, but not to earn his favor or forgiveness. Rather, because in Christ, I have received his favor and forgiveness. There is a HUGE difference:

The gospel is the good news of gracious acceptance. Jesus lived the life we should live. He also paid the penalty we owe for the rebellious life we do live. He did this in our place (Isaiah 53:4-10; 2 Cor 5:21; Mark 10:45). We are not reconciled to God through our efforts and record, as in all other religions, but through his efforts and record. Christians who trust in Christ for their acceptance with God, rather than in their own moral character, commitment, or performance, are simul iustus et peccator- simultaneously sinful yet accepted. We are more flawed and sinful than we ever dared believe, yet we are more loved and accepted than we ever dared hope at the same time.

The gospel is, therefore, radically different from religion. Religion operates on the principle: “I obey, therefore I am accepted”. The gospel operates on the principle: “I am accepted through Christ, therefore I obey.”
Timothy Keller[2]
In Christ, I am freely forgiven. As a follower of Christ, I am called to freely forgive. To refuse to forgive is hypocrisy. This is unacceptable to God:

“But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Matthew 6:15 NIV 

O Lord, teach me to freely forgive.

Taking it further…

What Forgiveness is NOT
(From Pastor Jonathan Schaeffer’s sermon notes dated January 27, 2013.)

1. NOT minimizing: we do not ignore a person’s hurtful behavior. Forgiveness does not mean what happened “wasn’t that bad” (Lk. 17:3; Acts 2:36; Col. 1:21-22). Many situations need to be confronted, hurts discussed, and changes made (John 18:23; Acts 22:25; 23:3; 3 John 10).

2. NOT forgetting: we are not asked to erase the memory, but to “keep no record of wrongs” (1 Corinthians 13:5; 2 Timothy 4:14-16).

3. NOT reconciling (necessarily): We can be tempted to put more pressure on a relationship than what God actually intends for us. We can aim for reconciliation, but we can forgive even if reconciliation doesn’t happen. Love has boundaries (Romans 12:18; Luke 10:34-35).

4. NOT dismissing justice: when forgiving, the offender is not necessarily released from the consequences of an action (Numbers 32:23; 2 Cor. 2:5-6). “Do not repay anyone evil for evil…Do not take revenge, but leave room for God’s wrath…” (Romans 12:17,19; 1 Peter 2:23). We can also take appropriate action to protect ourselves (John 8:59).

Listen to Pastor J’s message on forgiveness.

[1] See #4 in “Taking it Further.”
[2] “The Meaning of the Gospel” by Timothy Keller.


  1. Shalom Peggi

    Far be it form me to be obtuse, i however need to correct you and the good pastor Keller on the definition of 'religion'

    and you quote

    The gospel is, therefore, radically different from religion. Religion operates on the principle: “I obey, therefore I am accepted”. The gospel operates on the principle: “I am accepted through Christ, therefore I obey.”
    –Timothy Keller[2]

    I have not read the lead up to the above statement, there seems to be one, but i will read it as you have presented it.

    i will answer you by asking a few questions if i may...

    1) is the following Scripture know by you, if it is, then i dispute your definition...
    “I ALWAYS DO THOSE THINGS THAT PLEASE MY FATHER”. Presented ... I speak, therefore, I speak just as the Father has told Me” (John 12:49-50).

    Jesus therefore responded and said to them, 'Verily, verily, I say to you, The Son is not able to do anything of himself, if he may not see the Father doing anything; for whatever things He may do, these also the Son in like manner doth" John 5:19

    2) DO you believe and practice ALL 10 commandments? if so then please tell me why you are do not follow this one?

    "Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as Yahweh your God commanded you.Deuteronomy 5:12

    Obedience has and never will be the definition of religion. The definition of religion "When mans' doctrines and theologies become more important , worshiped and followed in the place of YHVH's word.

    Be Blessed

    1. Hi friend, Thanks for commenting. I'm sorry, I do not understand the point that you are trying to make. But, I appreciate that you stopped by. God bless you!

  2. I have to say, I think the response from Anonymous is difficult to understand and I can't find the basis for his/her questions. I perfectly understand your post, Peggi, and I agree. It is impossible to be perfect no matter how we might try. I love Jesus above all things but I fail to be perfectly obedient day in and day out. Through the years of living this life in this world, I have learned to be more forgiving simply because I need forgiveness. I'd be lost without God's grace. Thank you for another wonderful teaching post.

    1. Hi Linnea,

      I did not understand the point anonymous was trying to make either. I am glad to know that you understood my post. As a fellow writer, you know that as clear as we try to be, some will not understand.

      You got the point, Linnea. Because I need and want forgiveness, I need to forgive!

      Love you, friend! Peggi

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