Forgiven and Forgiving

Matthew 18:23–35
[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.”

Immediately preceding this parable, Peter asks Jesus a question. He asks, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Peter wants to know how many times he must forgive someone who sinned against him.

The common teaching of the day would instruct that someone was required to forgive three times. So, for Peter to say seven times was quite forgiving of him. It is double plus one! Jesus responds to Peter by saying, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” The number seven has symbolic significance throughout the Bible, and it is usually identified with something being complete, finished, or whole.

The point here is not for us to keep detailed records of how many times we have forgiven someone. There is no forgiveness quota, no point after which we are no longer required to forgive. Jesus’ point is this: you are to forgive without keeping count. Infinitely. Jesus then launches into teaching this parable about the unforgiving servant.

I’m sure we have all been hurt by someone before. Hurt in such a way that it required us to forgive our offender. Perhaps needing to forgive an absentee father, critical mother, a wayward child, abusive spouse, unfair boss. The list could go on. We have all experienced a time where we needed to forgive someone.

What can we learn from this parable? Why should we forgive? How does the gospel teach us about forgiveness?

We owe an unpayable debt to God (verses 23-25)

The debt owed by the slave was ten thousand talents. This amount is roughly equivalent to $6 billion dollars today. I’m not sure how many of us have $6 billion under our mattress! Think about that. This master has brought this slave in who owes him an inordinate amount of money. A sum in which he could never pay back. In fact, the text says as much (v. 25).

The debt the slave owed was unpayable. He accumulated an amount of debt that could never be repaid. He could not work it off, there is no way he could earn or borrow enough money to pay back his debt.

This is a picture of the debt in which we owe God because of our sin. Our sin has offended a holy God. Our debt to God is insurmountable, it is unpayable, and there is no way we can work off our debt to God. Apart from Christ, there is no way our account can be settled. You can’t be a good enough person, and you can’t do enough good things to balance out the scale. Your account will always have an outstanding balance. There is simply nothing that you can do to pay back the debt that sin has accrued. Outside of Christ, our sin debt will forever be outstanding.

However, in Christ, we have been unquestionably forgiven by God (verse 26-27)

The servant realizes he can’t pay back this debt. He understands that he is standing there in front of the king with no hope of settling his debt. Therefore, he does the only thing he can do, he throws himself at the king’s feet. Pleading with the king to forgive him. He can only ask that the king be merciful.

You and I must throw ourselves upon the kind arms of a merciful savior. Surrender our lives and plead with God to be merciful toward us. It is in Christ, that we can be forgiven by God. If we would come by faith alone to God through Jesus Christ alone. Transfer our trust away from ourselves and place it in Jesus Christ’s righteous life, His death for sinners on the cross, and His resurrection.

Our sin debt transferred to Jesus Christ. He takes on our sin, and his righteousness is transferred to us. He pays our debt through his death. It is in Jesus Christ that we have the forgiveness of sins and our debt wiped clean.

We are no longer under the obligations of our debt because Christ has settled our account. He has paid it off. He has pardoned us from the debt that we accumulated. We are completely forgiven of all offenses toward God in Christ Jesus. Jesus paid it all.

Now, we keep in mind that we have sinned undeniably greater against God than anyone has ever sinned against us (verses 28-31)

In these verses, another debt is introduced. Another servant owes a hundred denarii to the first servant in the parable. This debt would be equivalent to about $12,000. This is the sharpness of this parable: how can someone who has been forgiven of so much be so resistant to forgiving someone else?

This is not to say that whatever happened to you isn’t significant or that it didn’t hurt. Your pain is real, and I am in no way trying to minimize that. You really might want to choke your offender just like the servant in the parable! After all, twelve thousand dollars is still a lot of money, but it is pocket change relative to $6 billion.

But to quote John MacArthur, “Compared with our sins against God…our debt is unpayable.  The other debts we incur with people are easily payable. The point is when we have received forgiveness so vast, so far-reaching, so comprehensive, how can we be so small as not to forgive another?”

When we think about the fact that God has forgiven us of our sin by giving us His Son, our grudges, bitterness, and lack of forgiveness can seem trivial in light of the gospel.

Where is God calling you to forgive today? Who is God calling you to forgive today?

Therefore, we should display unlimited forgiveness toward others (verses 32-35).

This servant forgot what he had been forgiven of and he didn’t show the same compassion that had been shown to him. When we will not forgive others, we are saying that we are forgetting what Christ has done for us!

We don’t forgive someone because they deserve our forgiveness. We didn’t deserve forgiveness. We were pardoned by God through Jesus Christ alone, and because we are living in light of the gospel, we can forgive others. In Christ, we have been forgiven of a far greater offense than what someone committed against us. We forgive because we know what it is like to be forgiven.

So, in light of the good news of Jesus Christ, we should not ask how often we must forgive, but tell ourselves when we are offended, how can we not forgive?

Suggestions for Prayer

Ask God to enable you to forgive and to view forgiveness in light of being forgiven in Jesus Christ.

For Further Study

Memorize Ephesians 4:32 as a reminder of God’s marvelous grace to you.