Question: How often should I forgive my brother?
Answer: You must be referring to this verse in Matthew where Jesus was asked this same question. “Then Peter came to Him and said, ‘Lord how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.'” (Matthew 18:21-22)
Jesus was making the point that we should never stop forgiving people because God never stops forgiving us, if we confess our sins in sincerity (1 John 1:9). He says in ‘The Model Prayer,’ that we are to pray-‘And forgive us our debts [trespasses], as we forgive our debtors [those who trespass against us]. ‘For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.'” (Matthew 6:12, 14, 15)
We are instructed to forgive people no matter what they have done to us. This is easy to say, but another thing to actually do it, as you know. I am thinking of several times where someone was raped or killed. I am thinking of things people have done to me, or you may be thinking about what has been done to you. You may have even been molested or abused as a child by an adult. So often it is a relative that does this, or a ‘close friend of the family’ who does the abusing. You might be thinking how could anyone forgive such people, or how could I?
Then we come back to what Jesus said, ‘For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.’ This is strong language, but God means this, and it is a sobering thought. Then as we read on in the same chapter as we started with, where Peter’s question came up; Jesus, with this following parable of the unforgiving servant, goes right to the heart of the matter:
“Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents [for example ten million dollars]. But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children all that he had, and that payment be made.
“The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt. But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii [let’s say ten dollars]; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’
“So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘ Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt. 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.
“Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. So My heavenly father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.'” (Matthew 18: 23-35)
This story illustrates very well how God through Jesus’ death on the cross has paid our full debt, which is way beyond what we could every pay for our sins. Then should we go out and ‘as it were’ grab people by the throats, and say to them pay up! How can we do this when Christ has forgiven us so much?! How often we do this same sort of thing, that the wicked servant did! God cannot, and will not forgive us, if we will not forgive others!
He says to us, even before we go to have the Communion again, we are to forgive from our hearts all those who have wronged us. “Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24)
St. Paul says about the Communion: “Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged.” (1 Corinthians 11:27-31)
Jesus as He was dying on the cross asked the Father to forgive those who were crucifying Him. “Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.'” (Luke 23:34) Thus, Jesus left us an example of how we should forgive no matter what! Stephen, the first Christian martyr, as he was being stoned to death gives us an example of how a spirit filled Christians responds to those who sin against them, “.he was calling on God and saying, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not charge them with this sin.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep.” (Acts 7:59-60)
Yes, only God can help us forgive. Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ ‘But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons [daughters] of your Father in heaven.'” (Matthew 5:43-45a) We can’t do it in our own strength, but as we pray for people, God will give us the grace to forgive, no matter, or how many times they sin against us!
Thanks for the question,
Gary T. Panell
For more information email me.
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