We have been talking about family at church this week and I know that within any family unit this question would likely come up. How often should I forgive my spouse, my brother, my sister, my mother in-law, and the list goes on. If you are asking this question, you would not be the first person and you would not be the last. We ask this question because we want a relationship to move forward but the other person keeps doing something to mess things up!
How often should I forgive my Brother? – Matt 18:21-35
21 Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”
22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. 23 Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. 26 The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ 27 Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt.
28 “But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down at his feet[d] and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’[e] 30 And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt. 31 So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. 32 Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. 33 Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ 34 And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him.
35 “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”
Apostle Peter was the first person recorded in the Bible to have articulated this question. I believe the reason he asked the question was because Jesus had been teaching the to forgive others and repay people with love even when the did not treat them properly. In this message I would like to highlight a few points:
The question is not “why should I forgive my brother?”
The Apostles had been taught to forgive, they were still in the process of learning and just as a last effort to hold on to the former way of doing things which is “an eye for an eye”, Peter asked the question. How often should I forgive my brother? He actually made it clear that it was his brother that sinned against him. How many times will someone offend you and you let it go? When do you draw the line between error and intentional sabotage of the relationship?
These are questions that we ask. They are other forms of the same question that Peter asked our Lord Jesus so many years ago. How often should I forgive my brother?
When I take a deeper look at that question, I feel that Peter could have been saying, it’s alright to teach about forgiving those who sin against us. I even agree that we should forgive a person if they are truly repentant. However what should I do with a person who keeps on doing something to offend me?
Should I forgive him seven times?
When a person asks a question about frequency and he suggests an answer, they would usually exaggerate the number. I believe that Peter assumed that seven times was a very good amount of time for a good follower of Jesus to forgive his brother who sins against him! How often should I forgive my brother? Seven Times?
Is seven times enough? Or is it too much? Peter wanted to know. He wanted to confirm that what his master Jesus was teaching is practicable. Can you expect a human being to forgive indefinitely? Is it realistic to expect a person to forgive as many times as the offence comes? Before we consider the response to this question let’s look at another question.
What does it mean to forgive?
Do you realize that to forgive actually has different meanings to different people? I think the best way to deal with this is to highlight what forgiving others is not.
- To forgive does not mean you condone what the other person has done
- To forgive does not mean you approve of the other person’s behaviour
- To forgive does not mean that you cannot remember what happened or how you were offended
- To forgive does not mean that you continue to expose yourself to the possibility of being hurt again.
So now what does it mean to forgive?
- To forgive is to refrain from taking matters into your hands and inflicting the same or greater amount of pain on the one who hurt you.
- To forgive is to let go of the pain and the hurt that you have felt and choosing not to allow it to define your life
- To forgive is to continue to desire the best for the one who has hurt you and being willing to be part of the solution to their failure if the opportunity presents itself and you are healthy enough emotionally to handle it.
- To forgive is to be willing to give the person a second chance once they are able to prove with reasonable certainty that they have changed.
I took a look at wikipedia and here is how forgiveness is defined – Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offence, lets go of negative emotions such as vengefulness, with an increased ability to wish the offender well.
Now the question is “How often should I forgive” – How often should I choose not to retaliate or how often should I choose not to pay back the other in their own coin?
How does Jesus Answer the Question?
Jesus answered the question with a story! I love stories. I am glad that Jesus used a story because the story helps us to capture the answered in a more rounded manner. Jesus wanted the apostles to know that there is no need to count how many times your brother offends you. You are meant to forgive them as many times as possible. I actually believe that what Jesus wants us to know is that we should have no need to worry about how many times we have to forgive. Jesus gives us a key to forgiving other in the parable. Here are some points to not from the parable:
We are constantly being forgiven much more!
Oh what a joy it is to realize that God does not count how many times he has forgiven us. Jesus uses the servant who owes the master ten thousand talents to draw our attention to the truth that we are constantly in need of forgiveness ourselves. In my personal experience I have made it a habit to meditate on how much God has forgiven me as often as possible. I thanks God for his mercies daily and as often as I remember.
If you know that you have been forgiven so much. If you know that you could never pay back what you owe. If you know that what you deserve is eternal damnation and what you get is mercy that comes as such a great price! You find that not only does joy flood your heart, you find it much easier to let other people go.
You are not the ultimate Judge
Take a look at how the story ends. The servant that was initially forgiven lost his freedom. What does that teach us? No matter how good we look now, it is all a gift from GOD. You are not the one hurting others not because you are so good, but because of God’s mercy. If you were in the shoes of the person who hurt you, we don’t know if you would be worse!
When you forgive someone, you are making your self free
Imagine you get home one day from work and you find a person trying to remove one of your outside lighting. So you trip him and sit on him and you say to him “You are going no where”! My question to you is this. How long can you keep him there? The the answer to that question is “As long as you are willing to stay there yourself”. What will be the best thing to do in a situation like this? You call the police and hand him over to the police. Handing him over to the law, free you. That is how forgiving someone frees you.
When we let someone go, we decide not to be the one to pay them back or to exact justice. We leave it to God and trust that God who is the ultimate Judge will always do the right thing. If the man who was forgiven his 10,000 talent debt had realized that he could easily forgive the debt of the servant who owed him, he would have be a free man. Our refusal to forgive leads us to bondage
Let’s bring it home. How often should I forgive my spouse?
Someone may say it depends! No it does not depend on anything. It is always a blessing to forgive others especially our spouses. It is important to note that, the closer a person is to us, the easier it is for them to hurt us and the more such hurts affect us.
For example if a girl or guy that you meet today refuses to pick your call for 3 days or even 3 weeks you will not be as offended as if your spouse refuses to pick your calls. If a co-worker does not attend your special event, you would not be as offended as if your spouse chooses to go golfing on the day of your special event.
Why is this so?
It is because as we get closer to someone, we tend to expect more form them. We no longer see all the things they do for us as special. They have been doing it for so long, we begin to think that we are entitled to these things. For example as a man, I am ever so grateful that my wife Olu takes the time to cook almost everyday for us in the family. She thinks about the food and works hard to make it ready for us to eat. Over the years I could get so used to her cooking that if she does not cook for some reason, I could get upset. Instead of reaching out to her to find out how she is and speak to her in love, I could complain. This could then lead to a conflict that evolves into a more negative situation.
What could a person in such position do? You think about all the times your spouse has cooked, you appreciate it and then ask her why she did not cook? Ask if all is well. She could say, I am tired of cooking. I need help. Then we have an opportunity to show our love in a practical way.
What are some things we need to forgive our spouses for?
- Lack of respect for our time
- Use of inappropriate words
- Failure to keeping to their words
- Cheating or infidelity
- Carelessness with family stuff
- Waste of family resources (funds)
- distractions of all kinds
- immorality of various degrees
- indiscretion of varying degree!
The list is endless. You may discover that your spouse is particularly weak in one or more of these areas. All you need to remember is that you have your own weaknesses too. Just like the story of Jesus! If God forgives you your sins, then it should not be difficult to forgive others.
Why then do I find it so difficult to forgive?
There are many reasons why it can be hard to forgive! The main one highlighted by Jesus in the passage above is failure to recognize that we are not perfect as well. We have been forgiven much more by God, we are still being forgiven regularly by God and we still offend our own spouses too.
So how many times do I forgive a cheating spouse?
As many times as they cheat is the correct answer. Does that mean we need to stay in such a relationship? That depends on a lot of factors, which include the willingness of the spouse to get help, what the Holy Spirit is leading you to do, whether children are involved and so on.
Please remember that forgiving someone is simply choosing to let them go. Handing them over to God with a desire that they are transformed for the better and doing what we need to do to help them and keep healthy ourselves.
If your spouse continues to cheat on you, then you need to do something to make him stop and to help him develop a better walk with God. If your spouse is careless with money, then your call is to help him or her to be more careful while taking steps to prevent a destruction of the family finance. Taking such measures does not mean that you have not forgiven your spouse. It simply means you are taking action to help them and keep yourself heathy for the good of others.
How do I know that I have forgiven my spouse or Father or Children?
I have 2 tests that I conduct in my heart to determine if I have truly forgiven someone or I am just running away from dealing with an issue. Then I check a final step to see that I am willing to walk in love.
- I check to see if I desire the best for the one who has offended me. For example if Olu says something that I don’t like or appreciate, I will talk to her about it. Once she tells me what her thought process was, I realize that she was not out to hurt me. I already know that Olu will never intentionally hurt me anyway but I still want to know her thought process and I also want her to know mine. Once this is done, I check if I am happy with her. The truth is this, I am always wanting the very best for my best friend Olu. There is nothing that she does that would change this. I find that I have forgiven her a long time before we even sit to talk about it. It was not always like this. However as I have grown in my walk with God. I have come to realize that, love is a better way. When you truly love someone, you love them regardless of how they act. The cool part is that this love, usually transforms them and yourself as you allow it to flow in your life.
- I check to see if I still want them to feel the pain that I feel or felt. These days, I find that I hardly want anyone to feel any pain that I feel. I am always hoping that the Holy Spirit will reveal to the people around me how much he loves them. I thank God for his mercy because I do not feel like inflicting pain on any of my family members no matter what they do.
- I check if I am willing to be a part of the solution. Am I willing to be misunderstood so that this does not happen again? Am I will to be firm if need be?
Once I can say yes to these 3 questions, I know I have forgiven the one who sinned against me and I am walking in love.
So How many times should I forgive?
No need to count. Forgive as many times as possible. Jesus said, not just 7 times, but seventy times seven times. Stop counting. Rather be glad that you have the opportunity and privilege to forgive and to receive forgiveness always. If you don’t know how to forgive, could it be that you have not really learnt how to receive forgiveness from God? Could it be that you really do not appreciate how lost you were? How much you have been forgiven? How many times the blood of Jesus cleanses you daily? Could it then mean that if you choose not to ever forgive someone that you are not saved and you are still in your sins? I encourage you to reflect on God’s love again today and release anyone that you are yet to forgive.
Here are some practical steps to help you forgive
- Acknowledge that someone has sinned against you. Do not try to pretend that you have not been hurt. Confess how you felt when you were hurt. If your dad abused you or your cousin betrayed you. Say something like this. Oh Lord, I know that my dad abused me when I was too vulnerable to defend myself. I felt very powerless then, but now I forgive him.
- Do not ask God to help you to forgive. Simply let go by saying I forgive him. Visualize yourself being released by God from hell and say something like this. The same way you forgave me of my sin and you continue to forgive me, I also forgive……. (the name of the person.
- Pray that God will have mercy on the person, that their lives will be transformed. That they would not sin against another person in the future.
- Confess that you have held them in your heart for the length of time you have done. Receive the forgiveness that God offers and ask him to heal your heart.
- Finally reach out to your pastor or small group leader or any person you know fears God and is willing to serve you. Share your story with them and ask them to pray along with you. This step will bring you healing and strength to move on.
I hope this message has blessed you. I pray that from now on, you will always forgive so that you can receive healing and be free to move forward in your life.
Do you want to read more about Forgiveness?
Do you have any tips on how to forgive or do you have additional thoughts about the question – How often should I forgive? Leave your comments below. I would really love to read from you!