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Seventy Times Seven

Updated: Aug 24, 2020

By bro Paul Lim

Have we been wronged before, whether it be at work or at home? And when was the last time we had to forgive someone for having done something wrong to us? Many would agree that it is definitely not easy to forgive others for their wrongdoings, let alone to forgive and forget. There may be several reasons for this:

a. The severity of the offence – If immense harm had been dealt to us, the pain may be so great that it hurts even to think of the offence.

b. Our own standards of fairness – forgiving others implies that we are the only ones losing out and the offender has nothing to lose.

c. The need for revenge – some see forgiveness as an easy way of escape for the offender and the “right” way is simply “an eye for an eye”.

While the above reasons (although non-exhaustive) seem to explain why people can’t bury the hatchet easily and move on, our Almighty God calls upon all of us to practise a Higher standard. This is recorded in Matt 18:21-22.

21 Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?

22 Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.

In vs 21, Peter approached Jesus and asked him about the number of times he should forgive a Christian brother. This is based on the context of Christ’s teaching on what should be done when a fellow Christian offends another (see Matt 18: 15ff). Some may argue that Peter’s suggestion of forgiving “seven times” is a commendable one. There are also commentators who remark that “seven” in Hebrew tradition may be regarded as a number associated with perfection and completeness. After all, how many people can truly forgive that number of times? However, Christ’s response was even more surprising – “seventy times seven”. There are two possible reasons for this:

1. The number is big because Christ wants us to look beyond the offence and focus on the benefits of forgiving one another. A beauty of forgiveness then would be a restored relationship. This is what is meant by “thou hast gained thy brother” (Matt 18:15). Isn’t it wonderful to know that forgiveness brings about peace, fellowship and reconciliation?

2. The number is not meant to be counted literally, but is intended for us to develop a bigger heart of forgiveness. Forgiveness goes hand in hand with the value of compassion that God wishes for us to develop. In the parable of the unforgiving servant (just a couple of verses below in Matthew 18), the Lord reprimanded the unforgiving servant for his lack of compassion towards the other servants whom he would not forgive. “Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? (Matt 18:33)”

In conclusion, we are encouraged to forgive one another for our faults and wrongdoings. While this is no easy feat, we can be sure that the mindfulness and inclination to forgive goes a long way towards fostering closer ties with one another, fellow man and God. As we consider the idea of forgiveness, let us also not forget the goodness and mercy of God. Although we have wronged him in many ways, he is ever ready to forgive us.

Psa 86:5 For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee.

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