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.
Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.
His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’
But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.
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.”
Matthew 18:21-35 (NIV)
This devotional is brought to us by Lisa Edgingon, a Leader in The Abbey. You can follow her on Instagram @lisaedgington.
A single word can change a life forever.
I have sat in a courtroom and heard that word which brought a bittersweet comfort to my family. As I walked away, the truth was that watching someone come to judgement for what they did wrong didn’t change the wrong that was done, or the survival that came after it, or any of the hurt that had preceded it.
Have you ever been wronged or wounded?
The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant (Matthew 18:23-25) is a story of law and judgement contrasted with abundant mercy and forgiveness. In this story, a King calls in the debt of one of his servants. This servant’s debt was astronomical – a sum he would never be able to repay in his lifetime. The servant begs the King for mercy and the King grants it, wiping away the servant’s debt. After leaving the King’s presence, the debt-free servant tracks down a fellow servant who owes him a much smaller sum of money and demands he repay it immediately. The fellow servant begs for mercy but the servant refuses to grant it to him, having him thrown in prison until he could repay it. When the King hears of the servant’s behavior he’s furious and sentences him to severe punishment for his unwillingness to be merciful to his fellow servant.
Both the King and the servant had every legal right to call their debtors in for payment, and according to the law their punishments were just. The first servant owed to the King a debt so great they both knew it could never be repaid. The second servant’s debt to the first was tiny in comparison. The King chose mercy and forgiveness when he heard the servant’s pleas, but the first servant was not so merciful toward his fellow servant.
Why do you think that was? Why, after receiving such forgiveness from God, do we struggle with giving it to others? Punishing his fellow servant didn’t make the first servant any richer. He wasn’t any more insulated from another debtor-come-calling than he was before, his family wasn’t any safer, and he wasn’t any more in debt than before. So why would he do such a thing?
Jesus crafts this story with such great contrast to make us see how obvious forgiveness should have been to the servant and to those in His audience who heard him speak.
In the years that have passed, I have grappled with forgiveness, when the weight of the offense seemed unforgivable. My attempts to stuff it all away and ignore it didn’t seem to bring an answer. The offender was being punished so that should be enough to satiate me.
Only, it wasn’t.
I am realizing that forgiveness is independent of fairness and punishment and judgement - because it isn’t about the offender. So often we struggle with forgiveness because we equate it with excusing that we have been wronged. But God doesn’t say that. Throughout Scripture, God equates our forgiveness of others to a right relationship with Him. I don’t have the answer for what that always looks like, but over and over God is clear that it’s what He expects from us.
The word “forgive” has the Greek root “perdonare” which is where we get our English term, “pardon.”
Legally, “pardon” means: to use the executive power of a Governor or President to forgive a person convicted of a crime, thus removing any remaining penalties or punishments and preventing any new prosecution of the person for the crime for which the pardon was given.
This is the forgiveness I want from God, but sometimes find hard to give to others.
Webster defines forgiveness like this: to give completely, without reservation.
Break that down:
Give - It’s a conscious decision to let go.
Completely – holding nothing in reserve to ruminate on or bring against them later.
Without Reservation – It’s done willingly and readily.
Forgiveness is the opening of hands to let go of the hurt when we desire to close our hands and hold on to the pieces of what remains from the damage.
If forgiveness is an act between us and God, then the hands are open to God, not to the offender.
Let that sink in. Breathe that sentence in for a few breaths.
Obligatory forgiveness is not what God seeks. He doesn’t want rule followers, He wants changed hearts and minds.
The sin of the servant wasn’t that he didn’t give mercy when it was needed, rather that having received mercy, he was unmerciful; it was the condition of his heart that God was displeased with. The truth about forgiveness is that it’s about our relationship to God and not someone else.
I want to be honest, I’m not there, but I am learning.
Holding on to unforgiveness is our attempt to control and defend ourselves from being hurt again. If we open our brokenness to God, isn’t He Jehovah-rapha – the Lord who heals us? Indeed, He is El Roi – The God who sees us. Every event: past, present, and future He knows, He sees, and He cares. He is El Shaddai – the All Sufficient God. He is all that we will ever need and more. We don’t need to try and be our own savior. We surrender to the character of this Mighty God when we forgive.
I don’t know if there is unforgiveness in you that needs to be healed. Maybe you need to forgive yourself first. Let’s work on it together this month. I am praying for you.