Love Forgives

Dave TorrensPosted on Tuesday, February 5, 2013 by Dave Torrens

In Matthew 18:21-35, Peter asks the question,

“How many times should I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?”

He thought he was being generous because the Jewish teaching said you should forgive three times; after that you could let them have it! Jesus says we need to forgive not seven, but 77 times. If it was three, or even seven, you could just about keep the score.

But 77 you can’t keep track of – and that’s the point. We must forgive without keeping the score.

In the parable, there is a huge contrast between the forgiving master and the unforgiving servant. The servant owed the king a huge amount of money, 10,000 talents, perhaps millions of pounds today. At that time, the total annual tax revenue for the region of Israel was 800 talents, so 10,000 talents was a ridiculous amount that Jesus was using to ironic effect.

How could a servant possibly owe more than ten times what the whole country was worth?

Then, amazingly, when the servant pleads with the king, the king shows pity and cancels the debt!

We are the servant in the parable, and the debt is our sin. This is why the debt cancelled by the king in the parable was so unimaginably huge.

The servant then finds another person who owes him a much smaller sum of money and demands it from him without mercy. Despite having his own massive debt cancelled, he is not prepared to forgive the person who owes him a much smaller amount. We rightly see this as an act of double standards.

And yet the sting in the story is the realisation that if we are the servant, then the unforgiveness in the parable is ours. We have been totally forgiven by God, so how come we struggle to forgive others?

In the Lord’s prayer (Matthew 6:5-15), we have the same requirement to forgive:

“Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”

This links our forgiveness from God and our forgiveness towards others.

Just in case we don’t get it, Jesus emphasises the point immediately afterwards saying:

“In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can’t get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God’s part”

There are two reasons we must forgive people:

The first is because that’s what God tells us to do. It’s clear from the parable that the king expects the servant whose debt has been cancelled to show similar forgiveness to others.

The second is that if we don’t, it will eat us. You may know someone who hasn’t forgiven a person from way back. They still remember the smallest detail of the offence they suffered, they won’t speak to the person involved, and when they talk about it they’re filled with the same bitterness as when the incident first happened. In the parable, the unforgiving servant is thrown into prison and tortured; the person who persistently refuses to forgive is in a prison of their own making and doesn’t have peace.

Forgiveness is a conscious decision, not an emotional state. We must forgive by faith, whether we feel like it or not. That’s our task. We must then trust God to do his work in our heart until we feel at ease with the situation. That is God’s task. We know the work of forgiveness is complete when we experience the freedom that comes as a result. Just because we know in our head that we must forgive someone doesn’t mean it’s easy, or immediate, but it is something we need to work at.

Remember how much God has forgiven us.

Let’s resolve to forgive. It won’t always be easy, and it won’t always be immediate, but we must do it to glorify God, to build up our community, and for our own sake.

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