Do you remember the parable of the unmerciful servant? Peter wanted to know how many times he should forgive; the answer may not have been what he expected. Let’s check it out.
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
“The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
“But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.
“His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’
“But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened.
“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”
This is a familiar parable, one that you have no doubt read many times. To put this in context, just prior to this parable, Jesus talked about what to do if a brother sins against you, and after hearing this brief teaching on dealing with a brother who sins against you, Peter comes to ask Jesus a rather interesting question.
“Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?”
I’m not sure, but I think Peter may have had a rather short fuse, and when it came to forgiving, he probably struggled a bit. When he asked the question, I think Peter was looking for a limit here. You know, “at what point can I refuse to forgive?” Jesus’ answer was not what Peter had expected!
To explain forgiveness to Peter, and to you and me, Jesus told a story. In this story, I think we can find a few truths that may help us, when it comes to forgiving from the heart.
This parable primarily has to do with forgiving a financial debt, but the application of this story applies to many different situations in which someone has trespassed, or sinned against you.
In the parable that Jesus told, the king wanted to settle accounts, and was calling in the debts owed.
When this particular man came before the king, he was unable to pay his debt. The fault was clearly with the man, and not the king. For whatever reason, the man could not clear his debt, and king, was now “stuck” with it.
Now there appears to be two problems:
The first is now the king is upset, and rightfully so. He has a debt that he should not bear. It was not his fault, and he has every right to demand it! He is frustrated, hurt, and betrayed, the trust he had toward his servant is broken.
The second is that the man, who failed in his obligation to the king, is now in danger of being, sold into slavery, even placing his whole family in jeopardy.
As the story goes, the man fell on his knees before the king, begging for patience, promising to pay it all back, just give me more time! The king looking at this display of emotion, felt compassion for the man, and forgave the whole debt! In one fell swoop, the king took care of both problems.
In forgiving the man his debt, the king released himself from the right to demand what was due, absorbing the cost of the debt, and the debtor was free from the need to repay something he was unable to.
We can learn two lessons here, which will help us not only to forgive, but also to be forgiven.
The first lesson has to do with granting forgiveness. The king saw the despair of the man who owed the debt. He seemed totally unable to repay what was owed.
Jesus said that the king had “compassion” on the man. Unless the king would have experienced compassion, I doubt very much that he would have been able to forgive this man his debt.
As you and I experience debts or, “SINS against us, it is very unlikely that we will ever truly forgive another for those sins, unless we have compassion. Without compassion for those who have sinned against you, the debt remains.
Sin has affected all of humanity. Not one person is exempt from it! Sin rears its ugly head in many, many forms; lying, stealing, cheating, murder, adultery, greed, lust; the list is long!
If you have lived longer than a day, someone has probably sinned against you, and if you are blessed to live another day, it will likely happen again. We live in a sinful world, and sin happens! When it happens to you, what will you do with it?
Recall the Lord’s Prayer:
“This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
The greatest temptation that any of us ever will face is the temptation to, not forgive.
We have been forgiven much by the Greatest King that ever lived! Our Great King, saw the terrible plight we were in, and while we were unable to correct the wrong we had done, He forgave us all our sin!
Remember, unlike the parable Jesus used, we were not going to be, sold for the debt we owed, we were going to die for it! The wages of sin is death! God has forgiven us much!
We must forgive those who sin against us, to hold their sin against them, is to negate our own forgiveness!
The second part of this lesson has to do with receiving forgiveness. This part of the lesson is tied to the first part.
To receive forgiveness is to be willing to forgive.
The man in this story was no doubt thrilled with the cancelled debt. He was truly distressed before the King, and was on his knees begging for patience and mercy; the King had compassion, and forgave the whole debt! I imagine the man was so grateful!
However, not long afterwards, that man encountered someone who owed him far less than what he had owed the king, and he demanded the whole amount, even having the man arrested and put into prison!
Of course, when the King found out about it, He was furious! The King ordered the man who refused to cancel another debt, thrown in prison.
The problem was that this man did not recognize or remember how much debt the king forgave him. He was forgiven much, much more, than the man who owed him very little.
Any sin inflicted upon you by another, will pale in comparison with the sin you have inflicted against God.
Yet God has forgiven you of all your sins! Why would you hold something against another? Why would you throw away your own good fortune at the expense of another? How foolish!
If this man would have taken the time to remember the depth of his own forgiveness, he would not have demanded the small amount someone owed him, and the outcome of this story would have been quite different.
Have you ever sat down and considered what Jesus has done for you? I mean, have you considered what this Great King has done on your behalf?
How badly do you want God to forgive you of your sins, bad enough for you to forgive others from the heart?
Perhaps you struggle with compassion. Ask God to show you what He thinks of those you cannot forgive; ask Him how much value He places on them. Look at others from His perspective, and you will begin to get a sense of what is at stake.
Remember, if you cannot forgive from your heart, you have not forgiven, and you are still in your sins.
You will know that you have forgiven from the heart when you pray this way:
“Father, I forgive this person for the sin inflicted upon me; and please Lord, I am asking that you forgive them too.”