People often ask me if Christians really have to forgive others? I guess the real answer is: no, we don’t have to forgive others. We’re free to make our own choices. But if we act contrary to God’s Word, there may be unintended consequences.
The real question is: What does God say about forgiveness? We find the answer in a story Jesus told in Matthew 18:21-35, a story that has come to be known as The Parable (or story) of the Unforgiving Servant. Peter had asked Christ how many times he should forgive someone who wronged him; and in order to impress Jesus, Peter suggested seven times would be sufficient, as that was far more than even the rabbis of the day demanded. Imagine Peter’s surprise when Jesus answered: “I tell you not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” The clear implication was that there really is to be no limit on forgiveness!
Then Jesus told the story. “… 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 talents 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”. However, when the servant fell on his knees and begged the king for mercy, the ruler took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
The ten thousand talents the servant owed was a huge debt. In those days it would take 20 years to pay back just 1 talent; so there was no way possible for that one man to repay all that he owed. The debt would continue to his children’s children and they would never be free. However, when the servant begged for mercy, the King erased the debt. He removed it from the books. The man was free and his burden was lifted!
One would expect that such an act of grace would change the servant’s disposition towards others, but sadly that was not the case! Almost immediately he encountered a friend who owed him the equivalent of only four month’s wages. And what did he do? He forcefully demanded that this friend pay what he owed in full. Though the friend begged for mercy, this just-forgiven servant had him “thrown into prison until he could pay the debt.” He who had been forgiven so much refused to forgive his brother a much smaller debt!
When this news got back to the king, he turned the unmerciful servant over to the jailers to be punished for refusing to show the same mercy he had received. Jesus concluded saying: 35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”
The first thing Jesus wanted them to understand is how generously and completely God forgives us. God Himself is the King and Master of all and we all owe Him a debt that we cannot pay. But Scripture teaches that as we acknowledge our debt to God and call out to Him for mercy, He will forgive us and release us from the punishment we deserve.
If you have never called out to Him for mercy, I’d invite you to do that right now. Ask God to forgive your sins, to cancel your debt. But as you do, understand that what you ask has cost the King greatly. It cost Him His Son. The Lord Jesus Christ gave up His life for us, taking our punishment upon Himself on the cross so that we might be free from the burden of our sin! And He did it because He loves us and wants to be in relationship with us.
The parable also teaches us that those who are forgiven need to be willing to forgive others. Being forgiven has to change us and the way we deal with others. Out of gratitude we will seek to obey Colossians 3:13 which declares: “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
I know that forgiving others may seem impossible, but we’ll see next time what that looks like.
May God bless you!