Certain people have the uncanny ability to drive you crazy. It’s tempting to box them out of our lives, so we won’t have to deal with their antics. Forgiving someone again & again is an unappealing course of action as it means they’ve offended you again & again. However, there’s someone you’re very good at forgiving & treating with great delicacy even though they’re a good-for-nuthin’ scoundrel. That someone? Yourself!
Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven. Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt. But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt. So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.
Summary of the Text
After teaching on the process for progressively rebuking a brother who has sinned against you (Mt. 18:15-20), Peter raises the question of how many times should an offending brother be forgiven…“seven times (v.21)?” Jesus’ response shows that keeping a scorecard of your brother’s offenses is contrary to the true spirit of forgiveness. The number he gives is clearly meant to indicate that you’re to forgive your brother regardless of the number of times he offends (v.22). These numbers hearken back to the vengeance protections against Cain & Lamech (cf. Gen. 4:15 & 23-24).
Jesus illustrates with a parable in three scenes. The first episode is that of a king taking account & forgiving a servant who begged for clemency; even though he owed an insurmountable debt of 10,000 talents (vs.23-27). It would take 20 years for a day-laborer to earn 1 talent. Thus, this servant owed the equivalent of 200,000 years of labor. We’re talking billions of dollars. The second episode sees this same servant hunting down a fellow-servant who owed him 100 days’ wages––not a negligible amount. The forgiven servant refuses to forgive his fellow-servant who was indebted to him. He throws him into prison until the debt is repaid (vs.28-30).
In the third episode, this news travels back to the king who––in great wrath––rebukes the pitiless servant, reverses his decision, & turns him over to tormentors until his debt is paid in full (vs. 31-34). Jesus’ concludes this parable by warning that His Father will do likewise unto those who do not––from the heart––forgive their brother (v. 35).
The Root of Our Forgiveness
We learn from this parable, that the Father, expects His forgiveness to be imitated. Paul’s epistles repeat this:
Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.
Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy & beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, & forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.
The root of our forbearance (i.e. patience) & forgiveness of each other is rooted in the Gospel of Christ’s forgiveness of us. The implication in the parable is that our debt to God can’t be “worked off.” Our only hope is gracious forgiveness.
The “imitative” quality of our earthly forgiveness carries boulder-sized ramifications. Imitating God’s forgiveness means that an unbeliever is incapable of truly forgiving as they are unable to imitate God without the new birth. It also means that a child of God who refuses to forgive is going to be all tied up in knots because they have clearly not grasped how great a debt God has forgiven them.
A Variety of Pseudo-Forgiveness
While we must hold one doctrine firmly––that our salvation is secure––we must hear the profound warning which Christ attaches to unforgiveness.
Matthew 6:12, 14-15
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. […] For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
As Jay Adams shrewdly pointed out: “Refusal to forgive is a decision for vengeance.” Since our forgiveness is imitative of Christ’s forgiveness, unforgiveness indicates a lack of grasping what the Father has done for you. Man always connives to avoid God’s clear command for seeking & giving forgiveness. Christ’s warning about unforgiveness should make us wary of “wild-flowers of forgiveness” that look pretty from a distance, but are, in fact, destructive weeds.
First, modern psychology treats forgiveness therapeutically. You endeavor to drudge up forgiveness-feelings in order to feel better about yourself. In this approach, reconciliation is of no concern. Along this vein, we often think we need to search for forgiveness feelings before forgiving. Biblically, forgiveness is a promise, an act of the will to “remember not” (cf. Ps. 79:8). Forgetting is passive, whereas “remembering not” is active.
A second imposter is the common apology. “I’m sorry” is different from “I was wrong, please forgive me.” Apologizing is offering a defense not seeking forgiveness.
Sweeping things under the rug is a third pseudo-forgivness. This is just loveless apathy. If you truly would imitate Christ, you must not let things slide, but address them for the sake of the relationship. In fact, this opens to us operate in the realm of objective truth rather than subjective feelings. Ken Sande summarizes this well, “Forgiveness is not excusing. Forgiveness is the exact opposite of excusing. The very fact that forgiveness is needed & granted indicates that what someone did was wrong & inexcusable.”
A Glory Beyond Forgiveness
Forgiveness is not an end in & of itself; it is a means unto something far grander. The arc of all history shows that God’s aim in redeeming mankind is more than merely forgiving him for his crimes in Eden; God is preparing a Garden City whose glory outshines the sun. God is restoring what was lost in Eden, but in an incomprehensibly glorified way.
In our earthly relationships, this means that merely forgiving the offense is not the end goal. A restored & glorified relationship is the goal. In essence, forgiveness is a means to a more glorious marriage, friendship, relationship.
All the various weeds of pseudo-forgiveness––which are all of the genus known as bitterness––will quickly overshadow & strangle the fruits of grace. Thus, keeping short accounts with your fellow-servants is vital for the health of the garden of your life. Bitterness would turn your garden into an eyesore. Redemptive grace takes your garden & glorifies it into a full-fledged farm with a gourmet restaurant.
When we forgive the 100 pence our brother owes us, our imitation of what God has forgiven us is on display. In this way, you not only enjoy the blessings of a restored relationships & clear consciences; you also enjoy the great privilege of displaying to the onlooking world the reconciliation found in the Gospel: God the Father reconciling Himself with fallen man through Christ. We mustn’t forget: our overarching aim––in forgiving our brother––is glorifying God.