“Do you forgive me?” my friend asked. “No, as a matter of fact, I don’t!” was the first thought that went through my mind. This friend had said some really cruel things to me and about me and then turned the situation around as if I had been the one in the wrong. She had berated me in front of other people, and when I confronted her, the attack got worse. I was devastated, and I was embarrassed other people had witnessed what she said. After the air cleared a little bit, she asked her question: “Do you forgive me?” She never even said she was sorry. She only asked me to forgive her. I wanted to yell back at her. I wanted to give her exactly what she had given to me and then write her off forever. But I couldn’t. Having been a Christian for several years at this point, I was reminded of a parable in the Bible. Matthew 18:32-35 says, “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 handed 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 or sister from your heart.” Yikes!! That’s a harsh passage, but it speaks to an important truth. As a Christian, I have been forgiven an incredible debt, therefore unforgiveness isn’t an option. So, as hard as it was, and as much as my emotions told me not to, I chose to forgive.
There Is Nothing Too Big for God to Forgive
Let’s get this out of the way. The simple truth: there is no sin too big or too awful for God to forgive. In Matthew 18:23-24, Jesus tells of a servant who comes before his master, the king, in order to settle a debt owed to the king. The servant owed the king 10,000 bags of gold. Let that sink in. This wasn’t $10 or even $100. This was 10,000 bags of gold or one billion pounds. Put another way, it was equal to around 275,000 YEARS worth of wages for the servant! Can you imagine the mental and emotional weight of that debt? This was a HUGE debt. Yet, the king decided to forgive the debt. Maybe 10,000 bags of gold wasn’t a huge deal to the king. I don’t know. But it would have been an enormous burden to the servant, so this was an incredible act of forgiveness. The servant was free.
Maybe you have a burden hanging over you. Something for which you can’t forgive yourself, so you’re sure God can’t or won’t forgive you either. Friend, I have great news: you’re wrong! There is NOTHING you can do to separate yourself from God’s love (Romans 8:38-39), and thus, His forgiveness…if you ask for it. Nothing. God doesn’t want us to sin. We don’t sin more so we can experience grace more (Romans 6:1-2). But, if we sin, God’s forgiveness is waiting for us when we confess and repent.
We Must Forgive Because We Have Been Forgiven
Because of the incredible and unlimited forgiveness available to us as God’s children, we must also forgive. Jesus is having a conversation with His disciples before He shares the parable of the servant. Matthew 18:21-22 says, “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times’.” In Judaism, forgiveness was important, but they sometimes put limits on the number of times one had to forgive another person. Some rabbis suggested forgiving only three times. Peter went beyond the three times; yet, Jesus took it even further. Focusing on the number of times one should forgive is legalism, and Jesus does away with that. The number isn’t important. It’s the act itself.
God himself is our model for forgiveness. Jesus’ work on the cross was so we could be forgiven limitlessly and eternally. We will never be able to repay or be good enough to earn that forgiveness, yet it is still available to us. So, we forgive others limitlessly and eternally. No, that doesn’t mean we allow others to continually abuse or mistreat us. It doesn’t mean we don’t stand up to those who hurt us. It also doesn’t mean that the offender won’t or shouldn’t face consequences for his/her actions. But, it means we don’t seek revenge. It means we can recognize the power and hurt that the offense had on us, yet choose to recognize that we all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). We all need grace and forgiveness.
We Are Forgiven in the Same Way We Forgive Others
In concluding the parable, Matthew 18:28-35 says after the servant was forgiven, he immediately went out and refused to forgive a fellow servant who owed him a small debt. He even had the man thrown in prison! Other servants saw what happened and told the master. When the master heard this, he was furious because he had forgiven the servant for so much. He gave the servant over to jailors to be tortured until he could pay back his debt. Jesus ends the parable by saying, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” We see a parallel message in The Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6. Verse 12 says, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Then right after the prayer, Jesus says in verses 14-15, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins”. Wait…what? See, it’s not that forgiving others is a prerequisite for our own salvation and forgiveness. It’s that being forgiven, like other marks of the Christian life, comes with the implicit command to pass it on to others. If we understand the magnitude of our own sin and thus the magnitude of God’s forgiveness extended to us, then of course we will forgive others! How could we not?
Forgiveness is a mark of the Christian life. If we refuse to forgive, have we really understood or accepted Christ? So many terrible things happen to us and around us. Sometimes, I can’t comprehend the evil and sin in this world. It is scary and overwhelming. But we must choose to trust God. We must choose to believe Him and believe in His goodness. If we believe that, we can believe that even though forgiveness is often difficult, it is good and for our good. Unforgiveness says, “I don’t trust God to take care of this situation. I don’t believe He is who His Word says He is. I can only depend on myself.” Friend, that’s not freedom and salvation. That’s self-preservation. But, forgiveness says just the opposite. Forgiveness says, “Lord, I trust You. I don’t know why this happened, and it really hurts, but I trust You to use this for good.”
If you are harboring unforgiveness in your heart and you’re not sure how to let go, seek out someone you trust to be a wise, godly voice in your life. Or, seek out a professional Christian or biblical counselor. You can find wisdom and freedom hearing God speak through someone else. And, don’t forget to pray. Be honest with God about how you are feeling. Ask Him to help soften your heart to Him and to forgiveness. God will honor your prayer in your path to freedom and forgiving.
God, thank You for forgiving us. Forgive us for the times we have refused to forgive, and help us release that unforgiveness to You. May our lives be marked by grace, love, and forgiveness.
1 John 1:9