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Learning Forgiveness From the Master

When we hold onto the pain that will not allow us to forgive another, there are emotional, mental and physical consequences. It actually causes us as much stress as the one we have failed to forgive. IDEA Health & Fitness Association writes,

John 3.16_05In study after study, results indicate that people who are forgiving tend to have not only less stress but also better relationships, fewer general health problems and lower incidences of the most serious illnesses—including depression, heart disease, stroke, and cancer. Why? “Because not forgiving—nursing a grudge—is so caustic,” says Fred Luskin, Ph.D., a health psychologist at Stanford University and author of Forgive for Good: A Proven Prescription for Health and Happiness (HarperCollins 2002). “It raises your blood pressure, depletes immune function, makes you more depressed and causes enormous physical stress to the whole body.”

While we may walk around, giving everyone the impression that everything is fine, resentment, internal anger, and malice are eating the unforgiving one up inside. Moreover, if we withhold our forgiveness to one, who is worthy, it will also affect our spirituality, our relationship with God. Let us take a moment and read the parable of the unforgiving slave.

Matthew 18:21-35 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant

21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.

23 “For this reason the Kingdom of the heavens may be likened to a king who wanted to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.[1] 25 But because he did not have the means to pay it back, his master ordered him and his wife and his children and all the things he owned to be sold and payment to be made. 26 So the slave fell down and did obeisance[2] to him, saying, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay back everything to you.’ 27 So the master of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii,[3] and taking hold of him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back everything that you owe.’ 29 Then his fellow slave threw himself to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, ‘Be patient with me and I will repay you.’ 30 But he was not willing, but he went and had him thrown into prison until he could pay back what he owed. 31 So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they became greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all the things that had happened. 32 Then his master summoned him and said to him: ‘Wicked slave, I canceled all that debt for you when you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not also have shown mercy to your fellow slave as I showed mercy to you?’ 34 And his master, provoked to wrath, handed him over to the jailers[4] until he repaid all that he owed. 35 My heavenly Father will also deal with you in the same way if each of you does not forgive your brother from your hearts.”

Jesus completed his discourse about the value and treatment of his children with one more caution applied to our relationships with fellow believers who sin against us. As we deal with straying believers (18:15–20), we may be tempted to become merciless toward them, especially when they sin against us. In abandoning mercy, we forget that the Father has shown us great mercy. In this regard, we are no better than our sinning fellow believers. Jesus illustrated through a parable the attitude we are to display toward those who are “indebted” to us in their sins against us. It is an attitude that he displayed lavishly toward us, and we are to imitate this attitude in our relationships with others.

Forgiving our sinning brothers and sisters is a part of our duty toward God’s children, just as it is our duty to pursue them for restoration to righteousness. To fail to forgive fellow believers is to abuse God’s children, and so incur the Father’s wrath. Forgiveness is a foundational characteristic of the family of God.

18:21–22. Peter again spoke for the Twelve. His question could easily have sprung out of Jesus’ teaching on church discipline (18:15–20). Peter may have wondered how long he should forgive his sinning brother before casting him out of the church, especially when the sin was against him personally. According to some Jewish tradition, a brother was forgiven three times for the same offense. The fourth offense, however, need not be forgiven, because it would be evidence that the brother had not repented. Peter thought he was being generous in forgiving up to seven times.

But the king showed that Peter, even in his “generosity,” was thinking human thoughts, not the thoughts of God (16:23). There is some debate over whether Jesus’ response should read “seventy times seven” (490) or seventy-seven, but the exact number is not important. The numbers involved are presented for emphasis only. “Keep on forgiving endlessly; don’t carry a grudge” is what Jesus was saying.

18:23. Therefore was Jesus’ way of introducing the parable to illustrate the principle he stated in 18:22. He told the disciples first that they were going to learn something about the kingdom of heaven (18:1–4), and he set the scene by introducing the characters (a king and his servants) and explaining the king’s desire to settle accounts with his servants—to collect from them what they owed him. The king represents God, and the servants represent fellow believers.

18:24–25. It was not uncommon for servants and indebted free men to be sold as slaves to cover debts they could not pay (Lev. 25:39; 2 Kgs. 4:1). In Israel, these slaves were freed every fiftieth year, in the year of Jubilee, in accordance with the Mosaic Law. In some cultures, even their families and possessions were sold if the debtor did not bring enough money to cover the debt. Such was the case with a certain servant of this king. He owed an astronomical amount. No free laborer, let alone a slave, could ever hope to repay this amount in a thousand lifetimes.

18:26. The servant fell on his knees before him (8:2; 9:18; 15:25), displaying humility and desperation and casting himself on the mercy of the master. The servant’s plea for patience and his promise to pay back everything were so unrealistic that they could only be the words of a desperate man. His promise might be compared with a factory worker today pledging to pay off the national debt of the United States by himself. It could not be done.

It is important to keep in mind here that we are not dealing with forensic forgiveness (justification, salvation), but family forgiveness. This deals with sin committed since entering into the family of the king. The issue is brother-to-brother forgiveness.

18:27. The servant’s master (that is, the king of 18:23) felt his heart going out to the man. He took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. The servant was undeserving, but the king acted with mercy (withholding punishment that was deserved) and grace (giving a great gift that was not deserved).

So it should be among brothers and sisters in God’s family. All of a Christian’s sins are forgiven and forgotten forever (see Ps. 103:12; Jer. 31:34). What this parable reinforces, therefore, is the Christian’s duty to forgive others (Matt. 6:12, 14–15; 2 Cor. 2:10; Eph. 4:32) in the same way he has been forgiven. This entire passage addresses forgiveness within the family of God.

18:28. The word but contrasts the first servant and his relationship with a second servant. The two were alike in only one way—the debt each owed gave the creditor power over the debtor’s life. But in every other respect, the situations were opposites, highlighting the contrast between the first servant and the king. The servant had not understood family principles. But he was about to learn.

The amount the second servant owed the first was insignificant when compared with the debt the first servant had just been forgiven. One hundred denarii was one hundred days’ wages. The first servant had owed more than half a million times as much to the king! Rather than imitating the mercy of the king, the first servant mistreated the second servant (began to choke him) and demanded repayment of the debt.

The second servant’s debt to the first was not insignificant. It would take some time for any of us to pay more than a quarter of our annual earnings while also paying for daily living expenses. The debt was substantial, and the first servant was certainly entitled to what he was owed.

Similarly, when a brother offends us, it is logical to think that we are entitled to just recompense. There is legitimate restitution. But what we forget, when we fail to release a brother from an offense by forgiving him, is that relationships in the family of God go beyond strict justice. God himself started this pattern by forgiving us a debt we could never hope to repay. This should cause us to forgive others for good reason—we now belong to him. Jesus essentially bought back (“redeemed”) our life. So we should live as he says—or, more significantly, as he lives.

18:29–30. The actions and words of the second servant were almost identical to those of the first servant in 18:26. This servant also fell to his knees in humility, asking for patience and offering to repay the debt. But the first servant refused to give the second servant a chance to repay the debt.

We tend to forget our king’s grace, often refusing to forgive even the most trifling of offenses against us. Such behavior among God’s family is infantile. It is time for us to grow up! When we refuse to forgive our brothers, we hold punishment over their heads, and they are affected by our decision. But the person who is truly imprisoned is the one who refuses to forgive. Long-term bitterness is a grinding burden.

18:31. The other servants of the household recognized the cruelty of the first servant toward the second. This grieved them deeply. How deeply do we grieve when we see bitterness and grudges between fellow believers? Such discord in the family of God causes great sorrow to the Father. As we share his heart, we will not be able to stand by and watch indifferently. Told is a strong verb which means “explained in complete detail.” These servants reported the matter to the king.

18:32–33. The angry king held one more audience with the first servant, this time to bring him to account for failing to follow the merciful king’s example. God the Father values his children for different reasons. Like this king, the Father does not want any of his children harmed or taken out of his service through mistreatment by others.

We will answer to the Father for our stewardship of the relationships he has entrusted to us—particularly those with other children in his family. Keep in view here the Father’s zealous oversight of his “little ones” earlier in Matthew 18. He is protective of all his children—sin and all—and this includes mistreatment from other children in the family.

18:34. The king was so angry at the first servant’s mistreatment of the second that he rescinded his previous order to release the first servant and forgive his debt. He imprisoned the servant and turned him over to the jailers to be tortured. The parable reveals the anger of the king and his refusal to tolerate an arrogant lack of forgiveness among his family. But notice there is nothing said here about eternal damnation. These are family issues. Family forgiveness restores what was lost (relational intimacy) and is unrelated to what can never be lost (imputed righteousness and therefore eternal salvation).

18:35. Jesus’ closing application was sobering. Each of you brings the focus to the level of individual responsibility. We can imagine Jesus scanning the faces of the disciples as he closed his discourse. We can also imagine him looking out through the words of Matthew into our hearts with his warning lingering in our conscience. Jesus insisted that his servants be characterized by forgiveness.

In this parable Jesus spoke in hyperbole about his anger toward an arrogant, rebellious child. The language may be exaggerated to cause us to take the teaching on forgiveness seriously. This passage warns about the consequences of failing to forgive others. The point is that every Christian has a duty to be forgiving toward others, just as the Father has been forgiving toward us.[5]

If we refuse to forgive those who are worthy of our forgiveness, our heavenly Father will not forgive us for our transgressions. If we cannot show mercy to others, it will eventually affect our Christian conscience. “I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day.” – 2 Timothy 1:3.

[1] Ten thousand talents of silver are equal to 60 million denarii. It is equal to 60 million day’s wages.

[2] I.e., bowed down

[3] This is equal to a hundred day’s wages.

[4] Or to the tormentors; Gr tois basanistais

[5] Stuart K. Weber, Matthew, vol. 1, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 295–298.

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…Linguistic and literary factors are analyzed so that the various genres of Scripture are examined for their true meaning. The importance of having sound principles of interpretation cannot be overstated as to ignore them will result in all manner of erroneous assumptions. Beville presents …

THE CHURCH COMMUNITY IN CONTEMPORARY CULTURE: Evangelism and Engagement with Postmodern PeopleTHE CHURCH COMMUNITY IN CONTEMPORARY CULTURE: Evangelism and Engagement with Postmodern People

Once upon a time, Postmodernism was a buzz word. It pronounced Modernism dead or at least in the throes of death. It was a wave that swept over Christendom, promising to wash away sterile, dogmatic and outmoded forms of church. But whatever happened to postmodernism? It was regarded …

DEVELOPING HEALTHY CHURCHES: A Case-Study in RevelationDEVELOPING HEALTHY CHURCHES: A Case-Study in Revelation

church. It offers an appointment with the Great Physician that no Christian can afford to ignore. Developing Healthy ChurchesA Case-Study in Revelationbegins with a well-researched outline of the origins and development of the church health movement. With that background in mind the …

DYING TO KILL: A Christian Perspective on Euthanasia and Assisted SuicideDYING TO KILL: A Christian Perspective on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide

…liberties in a multi-cultural society that is becoming increasingly secular. This work provides an ethical framework in which euthanasia and assisted suicide can be evaluated. These issues are on the radar indicating a collision course with Christian values. It is time for Christians to be …

JOURNEY WITH JESUS THROUGH THE MESSAGE OF MARK: Experience the Ministry of Jesus in a Spiritually Captivating WayJOURNEY WITH JESUS THROUGH THE MESSAGE OF MARK

Journey with Jesus through the Message of Mark is an insightful and engaging survey of Mark‘s Gospel, exploring each major section of the text along with key themes. It is a work that can be enjoyed by laypersons as well as pastors and teachers. Pastors will find the abundant use …

ANGELS & DEMONS: The Bible AnswersANGELS & DEMONS The Bible Answers

What are angels & demons? Can angels help us? What does the Bible say about angels? What is the truth about angels? Can Angels affect your life? Who were the “sons of God” in Genesis 6:2? Who were the Nephilim in Genesis 6:2? Who is Michael the archangel? Can Satan the Devil control …

Bible Doctrines

WHERE ARE THE DEAD? Basic Bible Doctrines of the Christian FaithWHERE ARE THE DEAD? Basic Bible Doctrines of the Christian Faith

What is the Bible’s viewpoint? Without delving into an endless stream of what man has said, Andrews looks at what the Bible says about death and the like. Why do we grow old and die? What happens at death? Is there life after death, or is this all there is? Do we have an immortal soul? …

IDENTIFYING THE ANTICHRIST: The Man of Lawlessness and the Mark of the Beast RevealedIDENTIFYING THE ANTICHRIST: The Man of Lawlessness and the Mark of the Beast Revealed

Herein Andrews will give the reader exactly what the Bible offers on exposing who the Antichrist and the Man of Lawlessness are. If we look at the texts that refer to the antichrist and the man of lawlessness, we will have lines of evidence that will enable us to identify them. Why is it …

UNDERSTANDING THE CREATION ACCOUNT: Basic Bible Doctrines of the Christian FaithUNDERSTANDING THE CREATION ACCOUNT: Basic Bible Doctrines of the Christian Faith

Throughout the Scriptures, God is identified as the Creator. He is the One “who created the heavens (He is the God who formed the earth and made it, He established it.” [Isa 45:18] He is the One “who forms mountains and creates the wind” (Am 4:13) and is the One “who made the heaven and …

The SECOND COMING of CHRIST: Basic Bible Doctrines of the Christian FaithThe SECOND COMING of CHRIST: Basic Bible Doctrines of the Christian Faith

The information herein is based on the disciples coming to Jesus privately, saying, “Tell us, (1) when will these things be, and (2) what will be the sign of your coming, and (3) of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3) What will end? When will the end come? What comes after the end? Who …

WHAT IS HELL? Basic Bible Doctrines of the Christian FaithWHAT IS HELL? Basic Bible Doctrines of the Christian Faith

What Really Is Hell? What Kind of Place is Hell? What Really Happens at Death? What Did Jesus Teach About Hell? How Does Learning the Truth About Hell Affect You? Who Goes to Hell? What Is Hell? Is It a Place of Eternal Torment? Does God Punish People in Hellfire? Do the Wicked Suffer in …

Miracles? - Do They Still Happen Today?: God Miraculously Saving People’s Lives, Apparitions, Speaking In Tongues, Faith HealingMIRACLES – DO THEY STILL HAPPEN TODAY? God Miraculously Saving People’s Lives, Apparitions, Speaking In Tongues, Faith Healing 

Miracles were certainly a part of certain periods in Bible times. What about today? Are miracles still taking place. There are some very important subjects that surround this area of discussion that are often misunderstood. Andrews will answer such questions as does God step in and solve …

HOMOSEXUALITY - The BIBLE and the CHRISTIAN: Basic Bible Doctrines of the Christian FaithHOMOSEXUALITY – The BIBLE and the CHRISTIAN: Basic Bible Doctrines of the Christian Faith

Today there are many questions about homosexuality as it relates to the Bible and Christians. What does the Bible say about homosexuality? Does genetics, environment, or traumatic life experiences justify homosexuality? What is God’s will for people with same-sex attractions? Does the …

Christian Fiction

THE DIARY OF JUDAS ISCARIOT: How to Keep Jesus at Arm's LengthTHE DIARY OF JUDAS ISCARIOT: How to Keep Jesus at Arm’s Length

…desert but none of such significance as a handful of scrolls retrieved from a buried Roman satchel (presumed stolen) at this site. The discovery has since come to be known as ‘The Diary of Judas Iscariot.’ In The Diary of JudasIscariot Owen Batstone relates the observations and feelings …

THE RAPTURE: God’s Unwelcomed WrathTHE RAPTURE: God’s Unwelcomed Wrath

Kevin Trill struggles with the notion that he may have missed the Rapture. With nothing but the clothes on his back and a solid gold pocket watch, he sets off towards Garbor, a safe haven for those who haven’t yet taken the mark of thebeast. While on his way to Garbor, he meets up …

SEEKERS AND DECEIVERS: Which One are You? It Is Time to Join the Fight!

There grew an element in the valley that did not want to be ruled by the Light of the Word. Over time, they convinced the people to reject it. As they started to reject this Light, the valley grew dim and the fog rolled in. The people craved the darkness rather than the Light because they were evil. They did not want to  …

The Shadow Flames of Uluru: Book ONE in the CHAOS DOWN UNDER 

When an ancestor saddles them with the responsibility to purge Australia of a demon threatening to wipe our humanity with black flames, fraternal siblings Amber and Michael Hauksby lay their lives on the line. As the world crumbles around them into chaos, and ancient marsupials wreak havoc in their hometown, they must journey into …

WRITE PLACE, RIGHT TIME: The Pre-Apocalyptic Misadventure of a Freelance Journalist 

“Write Place, Right Time” follows the pre-apocalyptic misadventures of freelance journalist Don Lamplighter. While on what he expects to be a routine Monday night trip to a village board meeting, Lamplighter’s good nature compels him to help a stranded vehicle. Little does he know that by saving one of the car’s occupants, he sets forth a chain of what to him seem to be unrelated events where he must use his physical and social skills to save himself and others from precarious situations.

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