Forgiveness is not optional for the Christian. While God’s forgiveness of our sins is not contingent upon our forgiveness of others, forgiveness of others is the appropriate response to being forgiven by God. This is what the Lord told the disciples when Peter asked Him how many times he had to forgive his brother.
You see, Peter thought himself to be a rather forgiving man. Jewish tradition said that one had to forgive his brother three times. Peter upped the ante and suggested even seven. The Savior replied,
…I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. – Matthew 18:22
Then, He expanded the teaching with this parable:
23 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants.
24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.
25 And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made.
26 So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’
27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.
28 But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’
29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’
30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt.
31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place.
32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.
33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’
34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt.
35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” – Matthew 18:23-35
In this parable, the servant had an unpayable debt. The ESV Study Bible says that ten thousand talents would be equivalent to about $6 billion in today’s world. The point of using that amount was that the servant could in no way pay the master back. So, he pleaded with the master, and the master not only gave him an extension, but forgave the debt completely.
The story takes a sharp turn when this servant sees another servant who owes him roughly $12,000, a sizable amount, to be sure, but nothing compared to $6,000,000,000. And the first servant began to shake down the second servant for what was owed.
At this point, we are meant to feel that this is utterly ridiculous. How could the servant who has just been forgiven an incalculable debt now seize another servant that owed him relatively nothing?
How is it that a Christian who has been forgiven of every single sin that he has ever done and will ever do—whose every sin was paid for on the cross of Jesus Christ—how could he withhold forgiveness to another? That would be as ridiculous as the servant’s actions in the parable. That’s the point.
Now, applied, it may be easier said than done. Forgiveness is hard sometimes, especially since we struggle with our flesh. But when we do struggle with forgiveness, this parable should come to mind. And our conclusion should be, “God has forgiven me so much, at the cost of His own Son. I cannot but forgive my brother.” And may the Lord help us to that end, every time.
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