Matthew 18:21 – Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”
In our prior study, we saw that Jesus went into great detail about offences and how we are to resolve them with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Forgiveness is a vital part of dealing with offences. In fact, God declares that it is mandatory, not optional.
Forgiveness implies that we will not hate, gossip or entertain thoughts/actions of revenge. We should be ready to assist the forgiven offender speedily, though we do not have to make them an intimate friend.
It is quite natural that after the teaching on offences, someone would ask Jesus how often forgiveness should occur. This probably has to do with the Jewish custom that a person should be forgiven as many as 3 times in a day (possibly based on Amos 1:3). It is likely that Peter, thinking he was being very generous and forgiving, upped that number to 7x per day.
Why did the Jews limit forgiveness to 3x? The underlying thought was that if you are lenient and forgiving all of the time, that leniency actually induces others to offend you. In other words, if you are going to easily forgive me each and every time I request it, then why bother to avoid an offence? I can just do as I please, and my forgiveness is guaranteed!
According to Jewish reasoning, if there is a limit on forgiveness, then people will take it more seriously.
Matthew 18:22 – Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.”
Clearly, the thoughts of the Jewish leaders are not the same as God’s thoughts!
Isaiah 55:9 – For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
The number 77 is not to be taken literally in this case; it represents unlimited forgiveness. Thus, Jesus gives the disciples an answer that I am sure they found astonishing – they must forgive an unlimited amount of times!
How would you feel about forgiving someone once a day? That might not be so bad, right? But how many of us would be angry and impatient if we had to forgive someone 4 times in a single day?
What would your reaction be if you had to forgive someone 6 or more times in a day? Would that person be on your last nerve, so to speak? Would you be pulling your hair out? Why, then, does God command us to forgive so freely?
Here’s the deal…unlimited forgiveness is an earthly example of God’s extravagant grace. Just as there is no limit to the forgiveness of God, there should be no limit to our forgiveness either. The only true requirement is that the offender is sincerely penitent for his/her actions.
Matthew 18:23 – Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants.
In the kingdom of Heaven (the gospel dispensation that began when Jesus revealed himself on earth and which will end with his return to earth), God has made it very plain that he expects us to forgive others. As an illustration of our duty to do so, Jesus now gives us a somewhat lengthy parable.
In this parable, the earthly king represents God.
Matthew 18:24 – When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.
What do you think of when you hear the word servant? I tend to think of a lowly job that involves a lot of manual labor and does not pay very well. However, for reasons we shall soon discover, this servant is probably a satrap.
Satraps were administrators, not manual laborers. They were actually very high ranking officials with a lot of authority and prestige in the kingdom.
The satrap was the supreme judicial authority in his region. He was also responsible for things like internal security for the king, maintaining the army and collecting taxes.
In our culture, he would serve as judge, chief of police, official recruiter for the armed forces and head of internal revenue service – all rolled into one! That is one extremely powerful person and I, for one, would not want him as an enemy!
Now we can understand how a ‘mere servant’ would have access to ten thousand talents of his king’s money. One of two things probably occurred:
He might have collected taxes and spent some of the money, with the intent of paying it back before he had to turn it over to the king.
Or (more likely), the parable infers that the satrap may have ‘purchased’ the tax debt from the king for a sum of 10 thousand talents. In this scenario, the taxes of a certain province may have been 15 thousand talents in total. The servant offers to buy the tax debt from the king for a total of 10 thousand talents. So he pays (or signs a contract to pay) the king 10 grand, then he sets out to collect the 15 grand that is actually due. Anything he collects over and above the 10 grand is profit for him. In this particular case, it appears as though the deadline came, but he did not even collect the ten thousand that he owed his king.
Funny how some things don’t change…this is the principle that many modern day debt collectors operate on. They buy the right to collect debts from a company, paying them only a portion of the total debt that is due. Then, they make a profit by collecting as much of the debt as possible.
Anyway, according to Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible (at the time of his writing), a talent of silver was worth approximately $1519. At that rate, the servant’s total debt to the king was approximately 15 million dollars!
Eventually, the day of reckoning finally comes and the bottom line is that the servant owes the king A LOT of money – which he cannot pay!
It sounds like the satrap/servant is in a really bad place, doesn’t it? His situation feels…hopeless, doesn’t it? Interestingly enough, this is an accurate picture of our spiritual state. Our debt of sin is just as vast and hopeless as the debt owed by the servant in this story. Every single man, woman and child has sinned against God. Not only have we broken his laws through our thoughts and actions, we have also violated his law by omitting or failing to do what is right!
Matthew 18:25 – 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.
Under Jewish law, debtors and their families could be sold as servants/slaves until such time as their debt was paid off (Leviticus 25:39-46, 2 Kings 4:1). In this case, the amount owed is so enormous, the family would never have been set free.
Likewise, the scripture tells us that we are slaves/servants to sin (Romans 6). God’s justice and holiness require that payment for sin be made in full. We have no hope of ever being set free by our own efforts; we have no way to pay the debt.
Matthew 18:26 – So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’
The servant realizes the full scope of his situation, and its consequences. He is in over his head. He can’t make his payment. There are no excuses. He and his family will be condemned to a lifetime of servitude, without any chance of freedom. He has cursed the future of his whole family line. His only hope is the mercy of the king.
As he comes into the king’s presence, he humbles himself by bowing before him and confessing that he cannot fulfill his end of the deal. In his terror and anguish, he begins to promise impossible things – that he will somehow, someway pay his debt.
Just as the servant realized the full scope and consequences of his situation, you and I need to recognize the full scope and consequences of our sin against God. We are in over our heads. We can’t atone for our sin and we have no excuse for it either. We deserve an eternity of punishment.
Yet, when we fall on our faces before King Jesus and cry out to him for mercy, he has compassion on us.
Matthew 18:27 – And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.
Did you happen to notice the servant’s request? He asks for additional time to repay the debt. But the great mercy of the king is evident when he not only releases the servant from his legally imposed servitude, but he also completely forgives the debt! The king gave the servant much, much more than he asked for. In fact, I don’t think the satrap/servant even considered debt cancellation as a possibility.
Can you imagine how astonished the man would have been when he heard that pronouncement? He entered the presence of the king without a single hope, but left with a new lease on life. What utter and complete joy that man must have felt!
In this parable, the king did over and above what the servant asked him to do.
Such is the case with our loving and generous heavenly Father! He has both provided and accepted the blood of his only Son Jesus as payment for our sin. He has completely and totally forgiven our debt; we have been set free from the bondage of sin.
As if that were not enough, he makes us his own children. This makes us co-heirs with Christ Jesus! But wait – there’s more! God has also granted us numerous spiritual blessings!
Ephesians 1:3 – Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ:
Like the servant in this story, we should be overwhelmed with thanksgiving and praise for what God has done for us! Praise his holy name!
Matthew 18:28 – 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.’
According to the Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible (at the time of his writing), the second servant owed the forgiven servant/satrap just about $14.00. Yes, that’s right – only fourteen dollars!
Strangely, the forgiven servant shows no mercy. He begins to violently take hold of the second servant and demand payment of the $14. One cannot help but wonder – how can a man who has been forgiven of a debt of 15 million dollars, respond with such violence, hate and anger toward someone who owes him so little? Fourteen dollars won’t fill your gas tank. It won’t pay your monthly cell phone bill. It won’t even pay for this years’ Ohio fishing license!
As I am sure you will agree, the $14 debt can be accurately described as inconsequential. It becomes even more meaningless when compared to the debt of $15 million!
Let me ask you this – how would you characterize the actions of the satrap towards his fellow servant? Outrageous? How about wicked or cruel? Could he be accused of injustice? Do you have even the slightest bit of sympathy for the satrap, or do you think his actions were abominable? Shall we get the tar and feathers?
Here’s the catch – we often act just as despicable as the satrap!
We have all sinned against God. We owe a debt of sin that we could never, ever, EVER pay, under any circumstances. It’s like a $15 million dollar debt. Yet God has freely forgiven us without limit.
So when someone offends us or sins against us, it’s like a $14 debt. It’s inconsequential, compared to our debt to God. Now, I understand that people can be wicked and cruel. Sometimes, they hurt us or our loved ones very badly. But even so, God requires us to forgive them.
The good news is that all things are possible with God. If he has mandated that we forgive others, then it must be possible. If we seek him, he will help us forgive and he will heal the hurts and pain that we suffered at the hands of someone else.
Matthew 18:29-30 – So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt.
Sadly, this plea for mercy fell on deaf ears. Are we also withholding mercy from someone who has hurt us? Is pride or anger or hurt keeping us from forgiving that person? Did the offence take place so long ago, that no one really remembers what all the fuss was about? Do yourself a favor – let that thing go!
The bible says that we have freely received, and so we should freely give. Since we have freely received mercy from God, we ought to freely grant mercy to those who sin against us.
Matthew 18:31-32 – 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. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.’
The king/master does not call the first servant wicked because he had a debt he could not pay, but because of the merciless, unforgiving spirit that he manifested toward his fellow servant. Don’t be that kind of person!
Matthew 18:33 – ‘And should you not have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’
Here is the crux of the whole matter: The first servant received a full and complete pardon for his staggering debt. How can he not forgive a brother who owes him almost nothing?
Likewise, we have received a full and complete pardon from God for our staggering debt of sin. How can we not forgive our brother or sister when they sin against us?
Matthew 18:34 – And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt.
Here we find the consequences of withholding mercy and forgiveness: the servant finds his own pardon retracted, his entire debt comes crashing back upon him like a tidal wave, and he is delivered to the jailer – forever!
Matthew 18:35 – So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.
Are you familiar with the Lord’s prayer? We probably all are. Do you recall what it says?
Mark 6:12 – And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.
There is no mystery here. The truth is plain and simple and easy to grasp. We must forgive our fellow man when he offends or sins against us.
Not only that, but lip service doesn’t count. You must truly forgive from the heart. Those who refuse to do so, may justly question whether God has forgiven them. They can expect the same severity from God which they show to their brothers and sisters.
So let me offer you a little encouragement:
It’s no secret that children imitate their parents. So I encourage you to be an example of forgiveness to your children. Teach them the proper way to handle an offense; let them see forgiveness in action.
Let me offer you some relief:
Are you still carrying around that staggering $15 million dollar debt of sin?? Why?
God loves you and he wants to set you free. He gave his son Jesus so that your debt could be forgiven. Would you like to obtain forgiveness right now? If so, pray the following prayer. If you are truly sorry for your sin and you ask Jesus to forgive you, he will!
Dear Jesus, I confess to you that I am a sinner. I am sorry for all the wrong things I have done and I ask you to forgive me. I believe that you are the Son of God, that you died on the cross and rose again, and that your blood paid the price for my sin. I invite you to come into my heart and life and to be my Lord and Savior. I commit myself to you right now. Thank you for saving me from death and giving me the gift of eternal life. Amen.
If you prayed this prayer and sincerely meant it, then you have received the gift of salvation from Jesus Christ! You are now part of the family of God! You will likely need some mentoring in your new walk with Christ. I suggest two things: Get a copy of the Bible and begin to read it. The New Testament book of John is a great place to begin. The second is to find a local bible based church and attend it. They can mentor you in your new life in Christ!
Let me offer you some strength:
God will never set you up for failure. It may seem impossible for you to forgive a certain person. That is probably true; you may not be able to do so in your own power. However, with God all things are possible! With his help, you can get rid of that burden of unforgiveness and find healing.
I have already posted a three part series specifically on the topic of forgiveness. If this is an issue for you, I strongly encourage you to take the time to look up that three part series and study it. You will find a lot of useful information, as well as practical advice on how to work with God to forgive.