Forgiving Others – Matthew 18:21-35

Forgive As You Have Been Forgiven

21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’

30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

A Quantifying Question

Peter asks a question of Jesus, which he then answers.  But Jesus does something that Peter doesn’t expect – He gives him an answer that is far beyond the fathomable realm of belief.  The prophet Amos indicated that three times was the appropriate number of times to forgive before exacting justice.  Seven times would have been more than gracious.  Then Jesus comes out with what appears to be a ludicrous number – seventy seven times.  Some translations of the Bible put the number at seventy times seven.  It is not the number that should be focused upon – no one would be able to mentally remember how many times that would be.  The number was so exceedingly high as to indicate that we should continually forgive others.

A Perfect Parable

Jesus then introduces one of the most frightening of parables.  It has royal intrigue, forgiveness, hardness of heart, and a terrible outcome.  We should take and internalize it so that we can understand its implications and realize the perilous ground that we find ourselves standing on when, by hardness of heart, we refuse to forgive others of their offenses against us, no matter how insignificant, nor how great and devastating.

Insurmountable Indebtedness

The debt was astronomical – ten thousand bags of gold.  Just for a reference, let’s place a fictitious weight in each bag, then get a rough idea of how much money was at stake.  Let’s say that each bag of gold held twenty pounds of gold (for the sake of argument).  That would be 200,000 pounds of gold.  Each pound of gold would have twelve Troy ounces – 2,400,000 ounces of gold.  And at today’s prices, even if we were to low-ball – $1000 US per ounce – that would be 2.4 BILLION US dollars!

This would have been an unfathomable debt for the average person.  But if it seems like someone could actually pay that off, multiply it times one million, or a billion.  The idea is that there is an unfathomable debt to repay, and that no reasonable person could repay it.  We find ourselves in that very situation.  For all have sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God.  Each of us owes a blood-debt that we cannot pay.

Royal Relief

The man who owed this to the king begged for mercy.  And in a show of great compassion, the king forgave the man of his debt.  Imagine the relief that the man must have felt!  And imagine the pain it must have caused the king to lose that much.  But the king was gracious, and the man greatly profited from his compassion.

This is the same situation that we each find ourselves in.  The price of sin is the blood of a sinless person.  Because none of us are sinless, we cannot repay our debt.  But Jesus Christ died for our sins, and shed His sinless blood for us, so that we could pay our blood-debt to God, and be free.

A Hardened Heart

The forgiven man then went out and found a man who owed him just a little money.  Possibly not having any money after squandering the billions in gold, he began to try to get some money from people who owed him.  And when the man who owed him asked for mercy, the forgiven man wouldn’t forgive his debt.

When we refuse to forgive someone of their debt to us, we are like the forgiven man who won’t forgive a much smaller debt.  We should be grateful that God has forgiven us, and show that same forgiveness to others.  When we will not forgive another person’s debt to us, we are acting out of a hardened heart.  We forget what God has done for us, and desire justice where there should be mercy.

Forgiveness harms the forgiver three ways:

  • The original pain of the offense
  • The pain in forgiving the debt
  • The knowledge that there will be no justice for the debt

Yet, God did this for each and every person who would believe in Him.  And it is up to us to do the same.  Is the pain real?  Yes.  Does it hurt?  Most certainly.  Will the pain ever go away?  Some pain takes longer than others to heal.  Yet, we are still to do what is right.

Colossal Consequences

When the king heard about the hardness of the forgiven man’s heart, he turned the man over to the jailer to be tortured until he repaid his debt.  Since the debt was not payable, he would be tortured for a very long time indeed.  We are warned that unforgiveness is a great offense to God, and that He will deal with us in a similar manner if we don’t forgive others as we have been forgiven.

We can look at this several ways.  We can look at this as an obligation, a direct command from God – forgive others, for I have forgiven you.  While certainly this is implied, it is difficult to do.  Another way to look at this is through the heart of compassion.  Do you realize just how much God has forgiven you?  Every mistake, every sin of commission and omission, every little and great thing we have done wrong, has been completely forgiven.  When we realize just how little a debt that others owe us in comparison to what we have been forgiven, we can place it in its rightful place and let it go.  Even terrible things like molestation, psychological and physical abuse, and other things that are so terrible that they can barely be spoken about, are minuscule in comparison to the debt that we have with just one single, little sin against God.  For when we break any part of the law, we have broken all of it.

A Qualifying Question

Let’s ask a question:  When someone sins against me, am I quick to forgive them?

A short prayer of preparation:

Father in Heaven, You are gracious to me, and have forgiven my sin.  Help me, Father, to recognize just how much I have been forgiven.  Help me to have a heart of compassion and mercy to others, so that when they sin against me, I may forgive them.  Help me to embrace Your character, and to grow in grace and mercy as I put forth every effort to forgive.  And I pray, Father, that when someone does something that hurts me so bad that I don’t want to forgive them, that You would help me to put their sin in its proper place, and give me the strength, courage, and ability to lay their sin at the foot of the cross where it belongs.  And when the enemy of my soul, Satan and his minions, try to dredge up the memory of other people’s sin against me, I pray that You will give me the ability to remember that it at the foot of the cross, and to not be emotionally compromised by it.   And help me to remember that when the final trumpet is sounded, the enemy of my soul will be cast into the lake of fire, to be tormented forever, as justice is properly served.  This I ask in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Want more? Why not try A. B. Simpson or A. W. Tozer?

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