Luke 17:3-4 – Take heed to yourselves: If your brother should sin, rebuke him; and if he should repent, forgive him. And if he should sin against you seven times in the day, and seven times should return to you, saying ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.”
Forgiving someone when they have wronged us almost always feels like a huge effort on our part. Whatever they have done or said, we have been slighted, misunderstood, or worse, harmed in some way by someone’s offense against us. If we are able in those instances to gather our senses and relate to them how we have been slighted, they will many times be remorseful and apologetic of having overstepped a boundary. When we remember and enact these words of the Messiah, we can feel very spiritual and obedient by forgiving the harm that may have been done.
But what if that individual turns right around and commits the same offense or another transgression against us? How does that compounded offense make us feel? We even have a saying for it, it’s as if they have “added insult to injury.”
In no uncertain terms, Yeshua commands us to continue the forgiveness and release that we originally offered to them when they are demonstrating remorse at having offended us. Seven times, or “seventy times seven” times, the number is irrelevant, because the emphasis is on the repeated nature of the offense. Usage of the number is not meant by Yeshua to be a literal definition of how many times forgiveness must occur, but a hyperbolic way of illustrating the importance of repeated forgiveness.
Why is this a significant aspect of the believer’s daily walk? Repeated forgiveness is necessary for one very good and simple reason: because we as believers repeatedly ask for forgiveness for our offenses against God. Have you ever approached God sincerely asking for forgiveness for saying something harmful to someone else, only to reflexively and without thinking to do it again later that same day? If we have the expectation that he will forgive us when we are genuinely repentant, then we should do likewise.
But what are we to do in the case of the fellow believer does not repent or does not ask for forgiveness for having wronged us? Are we obligated to continue to fulfill this level of repeated forgiveness?
Yeshua provides some additional insight to this type of scenario in Matthew 18.
Matthew 18:15 – “If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother.
This sounds right in line with what Yeshua was teaching us in the Luke passage above. However, here in Matthew, he continues with a different portrayal of events, a different reaction by the brother who has offended us.
Matthew 18:16-17 – “But if he won’t listen [i.e., does not repent], take one or two others with you, so that by the testimony of two or three witnesses every fact may be established. “If he doesn’t pay attention to them, tell the congregation of believers. If he doesn’t pay attention even to the congregation, let him be like a Gentile and a tax collector to you.
According to Yeshua, the fact that we are to repeatedly forgive repeated offenses is dependent on the repentant nature of the individual who has offended us. If they are not sincere in repenting of a transgression and are instead deliberately causing harm, then Yeshua has also provided a method for dealing with them.
While this formal aspect of congregational involvement dealing with the unrepentant fellow believer is less practiced today, it is no less valid. Of course God desires that we forgive those who may do something against us when they are sincere in recognizing the offense. However, we are not expected to be doormats for fellow believers to take advantage of the generosity of our forgiveness.
Therefore, the limit of forgiveness with fellow believers is non-repentance. There is no obligation for continued forgiveness when there is no repentant attitude on their part. However, there does need to be involvement with others to bring closure to this type of behavior. This process ensures fair dealings and purity within the congregation of believers.
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