Seventy-Seven Times: An Introduction to Forgiveness

Pastor Michael Bowman

“Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matt. 18:21-22)

Jesus had just spoken about the process of church discipline and what that should look like. Having brought up the idea of forgiving a brother who sins against us, Peter may have been looking for an out. Most of us would be doing the same thing. “Sure, we should forgive but only seven times, I mean not if someone keeps on being sinful right?” “I get the whole forgiveness of sins thing, but that’s for people who have sinned in much more minor ways, you don’t understand what my Dad did to me…” “I can’t forgive my husband, he needs to get what he deserves.” The excuses could go on.

Jesus wasn’t unaware of our hearts and our natural inclination toward revenge. In fact, that’s why he answered the way he did. “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” This isn’t the number of sins you have to tally in your journal before you can stop forgiving someone. In fact if you are keeping track enough to count up to seventy-seven, then you actually haven’t forgiven even once. Forgiveness won’t be keeping a record of wrongs. So what is the Lord saying? It’s much more profound than you might initially think.

In Genesis 4 we get the story of Cain and Abel. After Cain kills his brother we get a list of his descendants. In vs. 19 we learn of Lamech, seemingly the first person to take more than one wife, and in vs. 23-24 it says, “Lamech said to his wives: Adah and Zillah, hear my voice; you wives of Lamech, listen to what I say: I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold, then Lamech’s is seventy-sevenfold.” Does that help you understand what Jesus is saying?

Left to ourselves we are all like Lamech. We have revenge in our hearts. It shouldn’t take you long to think of an occasion where you desired (or tried to carry out) revenge when someone sinned against you. Your spouse said something cruel so you punish them by not speaking with them. Someone slanders you and says false things about you to other people in the church so you make sure to tell everyone the dirt you’ve been gathering on them. You lash out in anger when someone let you down at work. Much like the excuses, we could just keep going.

Christ brought forgiveness into the world. If you are a Christian, then you have been forgiven, your sins are no longer remembered and you have been reconciled to God. You are now called to forgive in kind, to forgive as you have been forgiven, to bear the sin of others. Calling for forgiveness seventy-seven times was not Jesus’ way of setting a higher standard. What is being called for is a totally different outlook on the world. It’s the evidence of a transformed heart, something that comes as a result of God’s forgiveness toward us. This is really the starting place of the Christian life, yet how often do we get it wrong? Sin is a guarantee in our families and in the church; how we deal with it shows whether or not we understand forgiveness. How do you live out this new heart of forgiveness? What would it look like for us as a church if we lived out Christ’s call to forgive seventy-seven times?