In Matthew 18:21-22 we read, “Then Peter came and said to Him, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.’”
Much has been said about this passage, so I won’t belabor the point here. Notice that Peter asked a question in order to get some kind of working model for forgiving others and, by implication, legitimately holding a grudge. He asked about extending forgiveness up to seven times. (Yesterday we saw that Jesus specified the number of times for forgiving someone in the same day at 7. We don’t know for sure, but Peter may have been asking after that occurrence.)
Jesus blows away Peter’s suggestion of seven times. Jesus says not up to seven times, but it is to be 70 times 7. In other words, your forgiveness isn’t to be limited. Again Peter (and us by extension) wasn’t to keep a ledger in order to ensure that he could track the exact number of times that he extended forgiveness. The use of 70 x 7 was hyperbole. It was to tell Peter that forgiveness of others by Christians is limitless.
Jesus then told a parable to further illustrate this idea. I won’t get bogged down with all of the symbolism and details at this time. However, we will notice the high points.
The King forgave his servant a debt that could never be repaid. He did not give him more time; he gave him liberty from the debt. It was canceled, not extended.
That forgiven servant went and found a fellow servant that owed him a debt thatcould be paid back. When that servant begged for more time, the forgiven servant refused and threw the indebted servant in prison. He was not willing to extend forgiveness to a fellow servant although he had received forgiveness from the King. When other fellow servants witnessed this tragedy, they informed the King. The King confronted the first servant and chastised him for his hard heart and unwillingness to forgive others the way he had been forgiven. The King directly said that he should forgive in the same manner that he had been forgiven.
Because he had refused to extend forgiveness and mercy, the King threw this servant in prison to pay the debt that was owed him. Jesus then says that His heavenly Father will do to all of those (Christians) who do not forgive others in the same manner. (Verses 23-35)
It isn’t hard to see the main point of this parable. We are to forgive others in the same manner in which we have been forgiven. God has freely and completely forgiven us in Christ in spite of the fact that He was completely justified in sending us to eternal condemnation. Our sin is an attack on His holy character and revealed will. We sought to supplant Him as King and establish ourselves as king. We wanted to control our own lives and establish our own destiny. We were rebels by nature and deserving of complete rejection by God.
Nevertheless, because of God’s gracious and rich mercy (Eph. 2:4), He loved us and gave Christ to be the sin-Bearer for all of the sins of all of His people. He forgave us in spite of us and what we deserved. He cleansed us, redeemed us, and adopted us into His family. He calls us His children and upholds us by His mighty power. He maintains our inheritance and nothing can snatch us out of His hands. He is preparing an eternal and joyous abode for us and has promised to come back for us. All of this is because of His grace. He is not giving us what we deserve.
How can we, forgiven by God’s free grace in Christ, legitimately tell God that we refuse to forgive others? He, being the eternal, Self-existent, sovereign, and all-powerful King of creation, has completely forgiven us, but we are going to object to forgiving our fellow creatures? When fellow sinners sin against us, we desire to maintain a grudge, but we beg a holy God to forgive us. Is the disparity coming through clearly enough?
Our problem, even as Christians, is that we are still wrestling with our selfishness. Only selfishness and pride refuse to extend the forgiveness it has received. We are so blind that we think a sinner’s debt to us is greater than our debt to an infinitely holy God. God help us!
If you have been forgiven the penalty of your sins by God because of your sole trust in Jesus Christ alone, you have no choice but to extend free forgiveness to others. It does not matter in the slightest degree how they have hurt you or what they failed to do for you. Your and I are obligated to forgive the person and release them from the debt.
I will not pretend that it is easy or simply a matter or the will. It is hard and emotionally taxing most of the time. This is why we must ask God for the grace to wipe the debts of others clean in the same manner that He has taken away our debt. We ask God to renew our minds to this truth and keep us from falling back into the sinful and selfish patterns from which we have been liberated.
May we ask God for this grace for His glory alone!