How forgiving should we be? We all know the answer. Jesus illustrates the need for unlimited forgiveness. If our forgiveness is in direct proportion to what we have been forgiven, then we must always forgive. I would note that it looks to me, from what Jesus was saying, that there is a penalty for unforgiveness.
Let’s take a look at this Scripture in the context of “The Parable of the Forgiving Servant” found in the Gospel of Matthew 18:21-35 :
21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive someone 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 “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 you 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 greatly distressed 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 a brother or sister from your heart.” [emphasis added]
The first thing that I would point out that the answer that Jesus gives Peter, “not seven times, but seventy-seven times” is a Jewish way of saying, “never hold grudges”. It is not a literal “seventy-seven” or as some interpreters say, “seventy times seven”. I also found it interesting that Peter probably thought that he was being generous by offering to forgive seven times, as many later Rabbis limited opportunities for forgiveness only three times.
What is “forgiveness”? I like the definition I found in Barnes Notes on the New Testament: “To forgive is to treat as though the offence was not committed, to declare that we will not harbor malice or treat unkindly, but that the matter shall be buried and forgotten.” What happens when we refuse to forgive? We develop handicapped emotions. We stunt our growth with grudges, no matter how important they seem to us. There is wisdom in what Jesus teaches.
This parable is only recorded here in the book of Matthew. Jesus illustrates the need for unlimited forgiveness. I would point out here that this is not just a simple story of someone owing someone money. The sum of money Jesus spoke of here is huge, 10,000 talents. Let’s put that in perspective:
— King David donated that much in building God’s Temple (1 Chronicles 29:3-5)
— Haman had offered the king of Persia that much to help in destroying the Jews (Esther 3:8-10).
— A denarius was one day’s wage for a laborer (Matthew 20:2). A talent was worth about six thousand denarii. Ten thousand talents would be sixty million day’s wages.
This is a huge sum of money. Obviously this servant must have embezzled from the king. He could have been a tax collector. I would also note here that this “servant” was probably a court official and a powerful person in their own right…..but still subservient to the king. Jesus graphically portrayed this man’s hopeless predicament. The sale of family as well as possessions to pay debts was common in ancient times. Considering the sum, this would be no more than a drop in the bucket against the 10,000 talents. In that day, no king would have let a man go free with a debt this big. However, the story continues on….
The man does not forgive the debt of “his” servant. Not good. Here the king forgives a twenty million dollar debt and he won’t forgive a twenty dollar debt. Even though twenty dollars was about a hundred days wages for a common laborer. He has his servant thrown into jail (another common occurrence in ancient times). Obviously, this behavior was appalling! And his friend’s thought so! The king here was so angry that he effectively gave his servant a life sentence by giving him over to the jailers to be tortured. Getting into debt was serious business in the ancient world!
The king, who had been so merciful, angrily reproved the servant for accepting forgiveness and then being unwilling to extend forgiveness to another. In light of all that God has forgiven us, how can we refuse to forgive the small hurts that we experience?
Our forgiveness of others should be in proportion to what God has done for us. If you need a favor, extend the same favor to someone who needs it from you. If you need help, offer to help someone else. First, we discover that problems can be solved, and second, we find that serving others is God’s way of helping us overcome difficulties in our own lives. Because God gives so generously to us, we ought to give generously to others. Life goes better when we follow God’s lead. (1)
The bottom line in this parable is that because God forgives our sins, we should not withhold that same forgiveness of others in our lives.
Today’s CLUE: Jesus illustrates the need for unlimited forgiveness in the body of Christ. If our forgiveness is in direct proportion to what we have been forgiven, then we must always forgive. I would note that it looks to me, from what Jesus was saying, that there is a penalty for unforgiveness.
What do you think?
My friend RobLawHouston commented: I think there is a big penalty for unforgiveness. Leaving aside whether there is a heavenly penalty, there is a heavy penalty here on Earth. When you don’t forgive your heart gets hard. This separates you from God. Unforgiveness creates suffering in us. It is a spiritual poison.
I replied: Thanks for the comments. I certainly agree with you, and yes, I believe there is a heavy penalty on earth!