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’ve injured 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 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. Even though the king knows more time won’t free this servant from his debt, he’s moved with compassion and forgives the whole debt. The servant who had only asked for more time so he could pay off the debt through his own efforts was told by the king, “You’re free, you can keep your family and your possessions.” Wow, 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.
This servant went out and 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 many lifetimes of debt canceled, what could possibly cause such a shocking response? This servant had been extended grace beyond measure from a superior. You would think that he’d be overwhelmed with gratitude and extend the same grace to a peer whose offense was so much less than his own.
I wonder if this ungrateful servant didn’t understand what had happened. He’d asked for an extension of time to repay the debt himself, so maybe he thought he could pay the debt if he collected what others owed him. To humble himself and say, ” I can’t repay, thank you for this incredible gift,” went against his pride. He would repay or die trying. Or possibly he simply had not grasped the enormous debt he’d built up and did not appreciate the gift he’d been given.
Christians should be the most gracious of people. But when we have forgotten what we’ve received or never fully comprehended our deep need for salvation in the first place, we become bill collectors. We try 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 didn’t realize that his needs had been completely met, so he continued to collect and strive to pay his debt or prove his worthiness.
What would that look like today? First, when we have difficulty forgiving others it is safe to say we have forgotten the great sin debt we owed God or never have understood what it cost Him to free us from the penalty and power of sin. Second, if we are striving to gain the acceptance of men or to impress God or accept ourselves, we have not understood the cleansing, value 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 given us in Christ. Thirdly, if we can’t accept criticism, or 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!
What happened to this ungrateful forgiven slave? He was turned over to the torturers by his angry lord. Forgiven and tortured, how confusing. Yet if you have ever held 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 lord was angry because the one who’d received unmerited favor wickedly refused to extend that same grace to another, hurting even those who watched.
The solution? Return to the cross. Remember what you’ve been forgiven and what that forgiveness cost God. Humbly receive it knowing you cannot pay it back. Recognize the forgiveness, value and worth that were poured out on you through Christ. You don’t have to strive for or collect these things from others. He supplies our deepest needs. Let’s recognize how much we have been forgiven and forgive as we’ve been forgiven. The grace we need to forgive others is found 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.