Forgiveness Should Be Contagious.
“Then his master was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt.” – Matthew 18:27 NLT
Leave it to Peter to ask the question that everyone else is probably thinking, but no one is brave enough to ask. “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?” (Matthew 18:21 NLT). Now we have whether this was just a hypothetical question or if Peter had someone in mind. Chances are, as much as he and the other disciples argued about who was the greatest, there could have been more than a few of them he felt like he needed to forgive. But regardless of his motivation, Peter pops the question to Jesus, and I feel pretty certain that he thought he was going to get an affirmative response from Jesus, along with a commendation for his forgiving spirit. After all, Peter probably thought seven times was way more than enough times to forgive anybody.
But Jesus surprised Peter by saying, “No, not seven times, but seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22 NLT). By my math, that is 490 times and that’s an awful lot of forgiving! And before Peter can recover from his shock and ask another question, Jesus launches into a parable about the Kingdom. He tells the story of a king who had a servant who owed him a great deal of money. So much so that the servant was totally incapable of paying back the debt. The king, operating fully within his rights as king, ordered that the servant be sold into slavery in order to satisfy at least a part of what he owed. On top of that, the king ordered that his wife and kids be sold as well, and everything he owned be liquidated to pay against his debt. Of course, the man was beside himself and begged the the king for time. He vowed that he would somehow pay back the debt, in spite of its insurmountable size. Jesus says that the king was “filled with pity for him.” The word he uses literally means “to be moved as to one’s bowels, hence to be moved with compassion, have compassion.” The king looked at the man’s hopeless situation and his complete incapacity to do anything about it, and instead of doing what He was totally justified in doing, he ordered the man’s debt completely paid. He forgave him of his entire debt. He walked away a free man. What a relief. What a burden lifted. What an incredible, gracious, unmerited gift. This guy should have been on cloud nine. He should have run home and grabbed his wife and kids and shouted for joy.
Instead, Jesus said, “he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars. He basically owed him the equivalent of about three months wages. About this time in the story, you would expect that this servant is going to excitedly and eagerly offer this man the same treatment he had received from the king. But no. He “grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment” (Matthew 18:28 NLT). Shocked and surprised, the fellow servant begged for more time. He vowed to pay the debt in full. But the first servant refused to listen (and forgive), having him arrested and thrown in prison until the debt could be paid in full. At this point, Jesus has the disciples hooked. They are totally engaged with the story and enraged with the actions of the ungrateful servant. So when Jesus continues the story and says that a group of fellow servants witnessed all that had happened and reported it to the king, the disciples were probably nodding their heads in agreement. And then the king called the servant back into his presence, they were probably beside themselves with joy. He was going to get exactly what he deserved! But Jesus was reserving the real message of this story for the end. The king addresses the man and says, “You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. Should you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?” (Matthew 18:32-33 NLT). Then the king had the man thrown into prison where he would be tortured until the day his debt was paid in full. And the inference is that, because of the size of his debt, that day never came.
Jesus concludes his story with the following statement: “That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart” (Matthew 18:35 NLT). Like Jesus had done so many times with the Pharisees, He had used a simple story to point out a major truth to the disciples. He was exposing a principle of the Kingdom. We are all debtors to God, owing Him a debt we could never pay. We owe Him righteousness and complete holiness, and it is beyond our ability to come up with. And the penalty is death. But when we come to Him, acknowledging our debt, confessing our sin, and accepting the payment of His Son’s life in place of ours, we receive complete forgiveness. Our debt is wiped clean. He showers us with undeserved mercy and grace. And as a result, we should be willing to do the same to those whose debts to us are miniscule in comparison. This passage is not teaching that we can lose our salvation if we refuse to forgive others. It is simply stating that those who have been forgiven much and recognize the magnitude of the gift, will automatically be willing to forgive others. Their hearts, transformed by the presence of the Spirit of God, will want to extend to others the very grace, mercy and forgiveness they have received.
Father, we can be so unforgiving at times. We act as if what others do to us is of earth-shattering consequences. And as a result, we withhold forgiveness from them. We seem to want to make others suffer for what they have done to us, when we have received nothing but forgiveness from You. Never let us lose sight of the sheer size of the debt we owed. It was insurmountable and we were totally incapable of ever paying it back. But You forgave us. Not only that, You paid it in full by offering the life of Your Son in place our place. May we learn to forgive as we have been forgiven. Amen.
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men