Don’t Make Me Count to 491

by Tad Lindley

It wasn’t how my mom ran discipline, but I have seen many parents use the, “I’m going to count to…”-method of child management. For instance, “I’m going to count to 10, and if you don’t have your coat and boots on, I’m going to whoop you in front of God and everybody!” Or, “If you haven’t started doing the dishes by the time I count to 4, I’m going to take away your Bravo Long Track keys for a week!” I cannot claim to have been a great parent myself, but I can’t help thinking, “Let’s just skip the counting and let the kid do it the first time they are asked.”

Counting to 7?

Way back in the Bible days, Peter was talking to Jesus. Here is that conversation translated into modern English:

Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall I forgive my brother who sins against me? 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 MEV)

You know, I was right in there with Peter on the forgiving a guy seven times. After all, I’d feel like I was really going extra if somebody cheats me or verbally abuses me or steals from me seven times. But Jesus was not impressed.

Go big or go home

Even though I’ve read this over 50 times, and heard it preached on probably as many, I’m always wanting Jesus to tell Peter, “Not 7 times, double it! Forgive him 14 times,” or many even, “Triple it Bro, try 21 times!” Instead Jesus tells Peter (of course I’m paraphrasing here), “Go big or go home: Seventy times seven!” Since I’ve got my 70’s tables memorized, I know without a calculator that 70 x 7 = 490. That’s a lot of forgiving!

Don’t make me count to 491

So this means that someone close to you can sin against you 490 times, and if you don’t forgive them you are out of God’s will. (And if you read all the way down in Matthew 18, you’ll see that that is a lot of lying, stealing, and coming home intoxicated. And right now some of you are thinking, “Man, I should have been keeping track all along, because some the people that are sinning against me are probably up to 257. In fact, I’m going to call my brother up right now and tell him, ‘I’m going to count every time you mess up and if you don’t knock it off by the time I get to 491, I’m going to quit forgiving you!’”

Matthew 18…The End

If the Bible stopped at Matthew 18, you could go through life keeping a notebook with each person close to you having their own page with tally marks. Every disappointment, every time you were counting on them and they showed up drunk, every time they lost their temper, every inappropriate website, every time they snuck something, all the gambling, all the oversleeping, the time they ate all the akutaq and you never got any, it would all go in there. And you would be good about it, because that’s how you are: you love God and you’re not going to hold a grudge until they get to 491.

The chapter 13 factor

If that is how you roll, you probably ought to quit reading here, because I am about to burst your bubble. They didn’t quit writing the Bible in Matthew 18. That is why we have I Corinthians 13:5. And in there we have a clause that totally wrecks keeping a list and checking it twice. In the King James it reads like this: Love doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil. But most modern English translations render that phrase “thinketh no evil” like this: love…keeps no record of wrongs.(NIV) Or this: love…does not hold grudges and will hardly even notice when others do it wrong (TLB). This clearly teaches us that if you are keeping a list and letting people work their way up to 491 so that you can stop having to forgive them, then you are already unforgiving. Love keeps no record of wrongs. If you are truly a loving and forgiving person, not only do you have to forgive, but you cannot keep track of how many times you have had to forgive.

How do we forgive?

Some of the sins that have been committed against you are horrible. Many of us were sexually or physically or emotionally abused along the way. How do we overcome that? Can we even forgive? With God all things are possible, so yes you can forgive, and it starts here: But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you. (Matthew 5:44 KJV) If you will try Jesus prescription for forgiveness, you will be amazed before you are halfway through, and you will never have to count to 491 again!

Reverend Tad Lindley is a minister at the United Pentecostal Church in Bethel, Alaska.

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