Matthew 18 gives a humbling account of the teachings of Jesus on the subject of forgiveness. In this account Peter approaches Jesus and asks the question, "Lord, how many times should I forgive my brother who sins against me?" Then, on the heels of his question he gives the number "seven". I know seven is said to be the number of perfection. Maybe that is why Peter settled on it. But Jesus was quick to multiply Peter's standard making it seventy times greater.
Seventy times seven; He also said that we must forgive as God forgives. Do you suppose that God's threshold for sin is only 490 sins per person? I am certain that His mercy is new each morning because He says so in scripture. That's fairly limitless, until the day when I cease to have breath in my lungs and I am no longer given a new morning. Instead of hearing a limitation upon the amount of sins we're expected to forgive, consider that Christ was showing us how far God's mercy supersedes our own. We need to remember that the human mind is always simplifying what is by Heavenly nature more complex than we can comprehend.
"For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts."
If we are to think like God, love like God and have mercy like God, then we need to do so with an eternal mindset rather than with limitations of time and human perspective.
As human beings we simply do not have the capacity to store anger and un-forgiveness. In our hearts, anger quickly turns to bitterness. And as anyone can testify, bitter people have a kind of pathetic-ness about them that causes them to waste years of their lives wallowing in their pasts. Their bitterness compels them to gossip, malign and color the reputation of those they feel have wronged them, for the sake of petty revenge. The end result is that they perpetuate the cycle of hatred with anyone who will entertain their poisonous words. A man after God's heart avoids feeding into the bitterness in others, knowing that without gossip, a quarrel dies, as scripture tells us.
Inevitably each of us will be given the opportunity to grapple with the subject of forgiving a brother who sins against us, simply because, as fallen individuals, everyone will fail and sin and offend someone at least once in their lives, probably more. And as the Body of Christ, we struggle with sin in sinful man. We struggle with our own sin and with each others. So, when Peter brings the question of forgiveness to the forefront, I believe it's because God knew it was an issue that every single believer would have to come to terms with, because as Jesus explains in Matt. 18, how we forgive is directly connected to how God forgives each of us. That's pretty serious business.
I've met some who find it easier to forgive unbelievers, or someone who lives like one, excusing their sin on the grounds that they "know not what they do". They look at it as though their sin were merely a "mistake" or a "moment of weakness". But those very same people are quick to condemn and withhold forgiveness from a brother or sister in the church. Their belief that their brother or sister in Christ "should know better" keeps them from offering the same mercy God offers. This double standard is blatantly wrong and flies in the face of godly love. Often those who withhold forgiveness become divisive naysayers who take every opportunity to sew discord among the brethren.
According to Jesus in Matt. 18, Christians are to forgive their brothers who sin against them just as they would like God to forgive their own sin. The phrase "Seventy Time Seven" may help to keep our minds open to forgiving each other when we feel offended. Though there may be those who continue to sin against us, even in the church, God's mercy is to govern our reactions and our attitude towards them. This does not mean that God expects us to put up with continual harassment. God does not intend for his children to be powerless to maintain godliness within the body. The biblical protocol for dealing with sin in the church is fairly straight forward and quite effective. But each individual is instructed to forgive as the Lord forgives. This is a task that each of us must own personally, forgiving others from the heart.