Some of the strongest teaching by Jesus focused on the topic of forgiveness. Jesus was approached by one of His disciples in Matthew 18:21, with this question: “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” I’m certain that Peter, who asked this question, anticipated a response by Jesus such as: “Peter, your generosity of grace is so amazing! You’ve gone overboard with forgiveness.” The problem is, however, Peter had a limit in mind as to the extent of forgiveness. He was drawing a line in the sand; he was establishing a quota to how far forgiveness would go. If one is focused on the limitations of forgiveness, then they are keeping a record of wrongs committed which is a clear violation of love (see 1 Cor. 13:5).
Jesus’ response indicated that there are to be no limits or conditions of forgiveness. “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven” (Matt. 18:22). Please put your calculators away! The response given by Jesus was essentially stating that there is never to be a time when forgiveness is not extended; we are to forgive no matter what, no matter when, and no matter how many times. To be clear, Jesus told a story that represents forgiveness from a kingdom perspective. I have discovered that the kingdom principles and our world’s principles are in vast contrast to each other. That was true when Jesus taught this story, and I believe it to be true today.
As the story goes, when the king settled his accounts, he discovered someone who owed him ten thousand talents. That is equivalent to just over twelve million dollars. The slave could not repay that amount, so the king pronounced judgement on him and his family. He fell before the master and pleaded with him, and the Bible says, “And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt” (Matt. 18:27). Amazing! Where “sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Rom. 5:20). Our death sentence was paid in full by Jesus Christ. He who knew no sin became sin so that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). God’s mercy and grace are outrageous, to say the least. His compassion is so extensive that He not only removes our debt, but He cleanses our heart from the power of sin which enables us to walk worthy of our calling in Christ.
With that backdrop in mind, Jesus continued. This same individual who had experienced forgiveness found his fellow servant who owed him a hundred denarii. How much is a hundred denarii? It is approximately seventeen dollars. Unmoved by his own experience of forgiveness, he grabbed his fellow servant by the throat and demanded full payment. No mercy was given; no compassion was extended, and no forgiveness was released. Because this fellow servant was unable to repay this debt, he was thrown into prison. What was initially distributed by the king to one person was not extended and released to another. This kingdom principle was not grasped and I’m saddened to say that this is still a problem among servants of the Lord.
In many churches where I hold meetings I’ll find people who can’t get “past the past.” Something happened long ago that was wrong—incest, rape, abuse, mistreatment, divorce—and the persons were deeply hurt or injured. Please know that I am not trivializing the pain that many people have experienced, but carrying the pain, burden, and offense for many years can be very destructive to the person. Associated with an unforgiving heart you will find anger and a deep seated resentment toward a particular person or persons. Parents, children, spouses, or innocent bystanders become the target of our unsolved conflicts. Sometimes people are offended with God believing that He didn’t answer a particular prayer or move in a certain way that was anticipated. Add to all this, the fact that our culture is steeped with retaliatory messages and ideologies through music, movies, and media that keep us in a state of agitation. Many people possess the same mindset of Simon Peter. His question revealed that he had a forgiveness quota that you didn’t want to cross. But think about this: we will never be wronged by someone the way we have wronged God, and yet, God has wiped our debt free. Shouldn’t our response toward others reflect the response that we’ve received from God?
When the king discovered the truth about the slave, he was “moved with anger” (Matt. 18:34). It’s interesting to note that the slave was not identified as “wicked” until he refused to forgive another person in the same manner that he was forgiven. The story ended with the slave who refused to forgive being handed over to the torturers. Jesus concluded, “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart” (Matt. 18:35). The fact is forgiveness must reach our heart. Simply put, lip service will not do. We must release the offense, the hurt, the pain, and the sin that was caused to us. Unforgiveness will destroy our soul, mind, and even our bodies. I’ve actually seen people healed physically when they extend forgiveness.
Is there someone or something that you can’t get free from? You will never be able to move ahead if you’re tied to the past. Remember that you have experienced extraordinary grace from your Father in heaven; therefore, you’ve been empowered to give that away to others. Open your heart to God’s mercy and grace once again. Allow His Holy Spirit to wash over you and enable you to extend what you’ve experienced.
It’s time to let go of the offense.
Lord Jesus, because you have forgiven me from every sin, I choose to forgive those who have sinned against me. This very moment, I release the debt and from my heart I say all is forgiven. I am released from all offenses, in Jesus’ name, amen.