Let me ask you two questions. How readily and completely do you want to be forgiven by God when you fail? How readily and completely do you forgive those who injure you? These questions represent two different sides of forgiveness brought out in the Lord’s prayer, “forgive us as we forgive others.” Knowing you are completely forgiven is wonderful! Completely forgiving someone else, well, it sounds wonderful, but it can be hard to do.
When Peter voiced his struggle with this, Jesus told a story about a king and his subjects to enlarge Peter’s view of forgiveness. (Matthew 18:23-35) The king, in settling his accounts, came to a servant who owed him a debt too large to ever repay in his lifetime. The servant pleaded for more time to repay. The king knew more time wouldn’t free this servant from his debt. Moved with compassion, the king forgives the whole debt.
The servant who had only asked for more time to pay off the debt heard the king say, “You’re free, you can keep your family and your possessions.” How would you respond to such grace? Imagine asking a bank for more time to pay off a loan and having them forgive your whole debt.
How did the servant respond? He found a fellow slave that owed him 100 day’s salary and threw him into jail for not being able to immediately pay him what he owed. No one would want to lose 100 days salary, but after having a lifetime of debt canceled, what could possibly cause such a shocking response?
This servant had received grace beyond measure from a superior. I wonder if he didn’t understand what had happened. He’d asked for an extension of time to repay the debt himself. Maybe he thought he could pay the debt if he collected what others owed him. To accept this incredible gift went against his pride. Or had he not grasped the gift he’d been given?
Christians should be the most gracious of people. But when we forget what we’ve received or have never fully comprehended our deep need for salvation, we become bill collectors. We go around trying to collect the love, respect, appreciation, apology or whatever we feel we need from those around us.
Such collecting keeps us painfully connected to people who are unable or unwilling to pay their debt to us. The servant failed to realize that his needs had been completely met. So he continued to collect and strive to prove his worthiness.
Applying It Today
When we have difficulty forgiving, we need to remember the great sin debt we owed God and the cost He paid to free us. If we find ourselves striving to gain acceptance from men or God, we have not understood the cleansing and worth poured out on us at the cross.
When we are more concerned with our reputation, who people think we are, than our character, who God knows us to be, we haven’t fully understood the new life Christ provided.
If we can’t admit when we have been wrong, we have not understood that Christ took our shame on the cross. We no longer have to blame others or make excuses, we can confess and let go.
The ungrateful slave was turned over to the torturers by his angry lord. Forgiven and tortured, how confusing. Yet if you have ever harbored bitterness in your heart you know the torturers. Every time you see or think of the one you haven’t forgiven, you are tortured.
The solution? Return to the cross. Recognize the forgiveness and worth that were poured out on you through Christ. Stop collecting these things from others. Jesus supplies our deepest needs. We find the grace to forgive others in the grace we received when we were forgiven.
P.S. Forgiveness, reconciliation and trust are different issues. Maybe we can look at that more closely another time.