In Matthew 18:21-35, Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” The Jewish leaders of his day taught that people only had to forgive three – seven times. Peter chooses the highest amount, but then Jesus stuns Peter and us when he says 77 times or, as some Bible versions say, 7 times 70. Jesus’s point was that our forgiveness towards someone is to be limitless! Wow! Sometimes it feels difficult to forgive someone one time, doesn’t it?
Jesus then told Peter a story to illustrate this truth. It was about the interactions between three characters: a king who had loaned money, a servant who had taken the loan ($10,000,000 in today’s money), and a second servant who had gotten a much smaller loan from the first servant ($10,000 in today’s money).
The king realized the servant was not paying back the loan and demanded that he pay it back immediately in full. He had no ability to do this, so he begged for mercy. The king gave it to him such that his debt was paid in full. The king represents our Heavenly Father, and the servant represents our sin debt of more than 10,000,000 sins that we can never pay back. Forgiveness is the mercy we receive through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross for our sins. Please note that to forgive means to release someone from the debt they owe.
Immediately, the forgiven servant found a man who owed him $10,000, which is small compared to $10,000,000. However, when someone offends us, we often don’t think about how we are forgiven for every sin we have or will commit from birth until death. We focus on what that person or group did to us.
Most Christians know they need to forgive. Yet, we often forgive from our head and not from our new heart in Christ, which is not deep forgiveness. What does it mean to forgive from our new hearts? It means we choose by faith to go to God, not the person, regardless of our feelings. We tell Him what the person did to us and how we FEEL about it: hurt, betrayed, unappreciated, offended, angry, resentful, etc. Then we say something like this:
Father, I didn’t deserve your forgiveness, but you forgave me on the cross through Jesus’s death. This person doesn’t deserve my forgiveness either, but because of all you have forgiven me and because I am a forgiver in Christ, I choose to forgive this person by faith. Here is what they did to me and how I feel about it. ___________________ I now choose by faith to release this person from the debt they owe me. Amen.
Back to the story that Jesus told Peter. The servant choked the second servant, who owed him money, and threw him into debtor’s prison. This is analogous to what we do mentally or relationally. We want to punish the person, so we keep them in the mental prison of unforgiveness, not realizing we are the ones in bondage!
Jesus ends the story by teaching that when the king heard that the servant hadn’t forgiven the small debt of the other servant, he sold all he had, including his family, and handed him over to the jailers. He was to be tortured until he had exacted $10,000,000 from his flesh, which would have taken for all eternity.
Jesus concludes by stating, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” In other words, if you don’t forgive people, God the Father will take back the forgiveness He already gave you, and you will go to hell! That’s very scary, isn’t it?
Yet, here’s the good news. When Jesus told this story, it was “pre-cross,” meaning the Old Covenant of Law was still in place. That was how it worked. If you obeyed God, you got blessed. If not, you were punished. The New Covenant of Grace started at the cross and was confirmed by Jesus’s resurrection. This is very different in that God will never punish us for our sins and all of our blessings are always in Christ, our spiritual location. (Ephesians 1:3) This convinces us that we will not go to hell if we don’t forgive someone. Our forgiveness in Christ remains intact regardless. It will never be taken away. That doesn’t mean we won’t feel tortured by our unforgiveness mentally, emotionally, relationally, or spiritually. We will, but these are not God’s torture; they are self-inflicted. So do yourself a favor and forgive people every time.
One more thing, though, is this. Though God wants us always to forgive people, this doesn’t mean we don’t need to have boundaries with people who continually hurt us. We do, but we may need help knowing how. That is where one of our 23 counseling staff can help you. So, if you are stuck in unforgiveness or don’t know how to set boundaries, don’t hesitate to contact us on our website. (Also, if you are a woman reading this, why don’t you attend our upcoming Women of Grace classes? We delve into this in much greater detail.)
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© Mark Maulding (But feel free to share this.)