If people become convinced they are unable to forgive or do not believe it is necessary, in reality they are ignorant of their own sin and need of forgiveness. When we choose not to forgive others, we in essence believe we are innocent of ever needing people to forgive us. We must remember that sin is sin no matter how minute or severe the wrongdoing. In reality, sin is deserving of death. Jesus died to pay the price for our sin, every sin, small or large, to abolish death, to forgive us of our sin, and to exchange our death for His life.
One of the more explicit teachings on forgiveness is given by Jesus in Matthew 18. In verse 21 Peter asks Jesus, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” My first thought is why did Peter pick the number seven? I suppose we could conclude he chose seven because it is the number of completeness, thus he was thinking forgiveness would be complete and full at seven times. Peter most likely was an object of envy among the rest and undoubtedly faced many accusations and insinuations requiring him to forgive repeatedly, thus prompting this question of Jesus. He was likely wondering how often and how long would he need to put up with the attacks and keep forgiving. Jesus answers with the conclusion we all know but do not necessarily like – forgive as many times as necessary. We must never come to the point of refusing forgiveness or choosing not to forgive. When we understand we are not seeking reconciliation nor are we overlooking the responsibility someone owns by hurting others, we can simply let go of the pain and release the person(s) from holding any power over us.
Verse 23 begins with the word “Therefore” which ties what is going to follow with what has just been stated. “Therefore” means “with reference to this matter” or “to that purpose”. We must look at this story in reference to what Jesus has just explained to Peter about forgiveness and how it pertains to kingdom living. Jesus used this simile to teach how we must live today, not just when we reach our final destiny after leaving earth and residing in heaven. The Kingdom of heaven is a real place. Our citizenship is firmly established in this kingdom now, if we have received Jesus Christ as our Savior and accepted Him as Lord of our lives. We exist to further His Kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven. Therefore Jesus explains to us what this kingdom is like so we can embrace this truth and live this kingdom principle here on earth.
In this story there is a king who wants to settle all accounts with his servants, balance the books, so to speak. One servant was brought to him who owed ten thousand talents, a great amount of money. It is difficult to determine actual value because the sum of money weighing a talent varied in different locations and according to changes in laws regulating currency. However it is estimated a talent was worth more than fifteen years wages of a laborer. The amount of debt owed to the king by this servant would equate to over 150,000 years of wages, a sizable obligation to be sure. Obviously, this servant was not able nor would be able to pay his master for such an insurmountable debt, thus the king ordered he, all his family, and belongings be sold in order to pay what was owed. Of course, even that would not settle the account, however, the king would at least be able to close the books on this servant.
The man fell down at the king’s feet crying out for mercy, asking the king for patience and guaranteeing he would pay the king all that is owed. The master was immediately moved with compassion, released the servant, and forgave the enormous debt. It is one thing to be released, but to have debt erased is amazing. It was compassion that moved the king – nothing else – pure and simple. (Read the previous blog “A New Year with Daily New Mercies and Compassions from God”)
Friends, we are that servant and God is our master. We owe God a tremendous debt, insurmountable in fact. Every sin we commit adds debt to our God who is not our equal but is superior to us. We learn from this parable an account is recorded of our debts (sins), and we will be held accountable for them. The bible says the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle his accounts. He is our righteous judge and has every right to record our sins and hold us accountable for them. It is through the precious blood of our Savior, Jesus Christ that our sins are washed away and counted no more. His compassion moved Him to die on that cross to redeem us, forgive us, and free us from the chains of sin and death. He releases us from the burdens which hold us captive, and He erases the effects sin has in our lives, just as the King in the parable was moved with compassion, released the servant, and forgave his debt.
In reality, the seventy times seven we are to forgive others demonstrates to us how ridiculous and sinful it is to try and keep track of wrongs done to us. We are not to record the sins of others and hold their sin against them. It is not healthy or holy to keep record of sins done against us and bear grudges leading to bitterness and death of our souls. Keeping track only adds to our own debt. We should spend our time forgiving and being forgiven rather than tallying all the wrong done leading us deeper into a victim mentality.
As pastors, it seems we offend people every day by things we say or do and we listen to people weekly who have issues with others. People have expectations or opinions, and if leaders or other people don’t meet those expectations or agree with their opinions it seems people today walk away angry and hurt, then proceed to accusation in order to validate their feelings of frustration. We all make mistakes and sin, pastors and leaders included. But it has become acceptable to take offense, become victims, and share that offense with others in the body of Christ, obtaining sympathy, and in effect, keeping people in prison to the bitterness, hurt, and anger. People walk away from relationships hurt, angry, unwilling to forgive, but believing they are doing well. Loyalty and commitment have become a thing of the past.
If we understand the ramifications of such behavior, we soon discover it is not even close to being worth the cost to take offense, to hold grudges, and to alienate people from our lives because we feel hurt by them. I will take us into these ramifications in my next blog as we conclude this story about the king and servant. We will discover we are more like this servant then we would ever want to admit.