In Matthew 18:21-35, Jesus tells a parable about a man who owes a large sum of money to a local king. When the king realizes the man cannot repay the debt, he orders him and his family to be sold into slavery until the debt is paid. The man begged for more time, and the king had pity on him, cancelling his debt all together. The man did not deserve it, but because of the king’s great compassion he forgave the debt anyway. The man was free! Not only that, his account had a zero balance…he could start life anew.
But the story continues. After leaving his master, the man found his own countryman who owed him some money, grabbed him around the neck and choked him, demanding repayment of his loan. This debtor also begged, but the man refused to have any mercy and had the debtor thrown into prison. When the king heard this, he was outraged. Calling the man whose debt he had forgiven into his presence, he said, “You wicked servant! 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 mercy on you?”
There’s a little more to the story, and it’s really important so I encourage you to read on. But I stopped at verse 33 to illustrate a point. When we truly understand the magnitude of our debt and that by trusting in Jesus Christ as our Savior we are utterly forgiven, I mean really understand it, the knowledge changes our hearts and our lives, our attitudes and behaviors.
It’s easy to forget what forgiveness really means. Being married, raising children, living with family, getting along with neighbors and coworkers, all require continual acts of forgiveness. We think we know what forgiveness is. But every once in a while a person comes along who is dishonest, manipulative, spiteful, belligerent or just plain mean. Maybe we try to reason with the person, make amends, but our efforts are completely rebuffed and we are belittled in the process. We can never forgive that person now, nor do we feel the need to. Because he/she doesn’t deserve to be forgiven.
Oh, my, now we are touching the essence of forgiveness, for true forgiveness means forgiving even those – especially those – who do not deserve it. THIS is the point of Jesus’ parable: When we really ‘get’ the depths of our own depravity and sin toward God and misbehavior toward our fellow humans, and when we truly grasp that God has completely wiped our slates clean (assuming we have placed our faith in Him)…such forgiveness compels us to forgive others in the same way. Including those who don’t deserve it.
Notice I didn’t say “should compel us.” When we finally get the whole picture, when we are transformed by the knowledge of God’s total forgiveness of our sins, with the help of the Holy Spirit the revelation DOES compel us to forgive others. I daresay, if we still cling tightly to our secret grudges, it probably means we don’t truly grasp the ‘dirtiness’ of our own sin or the totality of God’s forgiveness.
Make this a matter of prayer today. Ask God to gently show you the greatness of your own debt and offense, and then reveal to you the wonderful, far-reaching, everlasting totality of His forgiveness.
More to come.