If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins. – Matthew 6:15
Jesus left us with a great story to illustrate the reasoning behind why God only forgives those who forgive. The story is found in Matthew 18 and it is about a man who was deeply in debt to a king. The king called him into his presence and demanding that the debt be paid. The man could not pay, so the king commanded the man and his family to be sold so that the debt could be paid. Upon hearing that, the man, in deep distress over the thought of this, threw himself at the feet of the king and, with tears, begged him to be patient with him and that he would pay him in full.
But the man owed him an extraordinary amount of money. The bible says that he owed him 10,000 talents. A talent is a weight of measurement equal to 75 U.S. pounds. It’s hard to tell exactly how much a talent was worth, but imagine a sack of silver or gold that weighed 75 pounds – and that’s only 1 talent! According to sources on the web, one talent equaled about 5000 denarius. A denarius was paid for a days work of common labor (Mt 20). So comparing to today’s average labor pay of $8 per hour and after a bit of math, you could say that one talent equals about $320,000.00. But remember that he owed him 10,000 talents – a little over 3 million dollars. And this is assuming Jesus was talking about talents of silver. If He was talking about gold then the amount would have been over 30 times that much.
These are all estimations, but the point is that the man owed much more than he was ever able to pay. So, he threw himself at the feet of the king, begging friviously for patience, since he would never be able to pay it back. The king saw this and was filled with compassion. He didn’t just give the man more time, but he forgave him the entire debt! The man walked out of that place debt free!
This story illustrates how God has compassion on us and forgives us for all the wrong we have done to Him. We have all sinned. We have all done God wrong, but He is very compassionate and ready to forgive. Even though we’ve been so evil and done so much wrong, He is always willing to freely forgive. But in all this God also requires something of us – that we also forgive those who have wronged us.
In the story, the man who was forgiven goes out from the presence of the king and comes to another man who owed him some money. That man owed him only 100 denarii (about $6,400); nothing in comparison to the millions he had just been forgiven of the king. He took that man by the throat and said, “Pay me what you owe!” This man also feel to his feet and begged saying, “Have patience with me and I will pay it all.” Be he would not, even though the king had forgiven him so much. He even had the audicity to have the man thrown into the debtors prison.
Word got back to the king that the man whom he had forgiven had done this, so he called for him. And then the king said to him, “‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ And his master was angry, and delivered him to the tortureres until he should pay all that was due to him.” (Matthew 18:32)
Imagine how ticked off you would be if you were the king in this story. You hear a man beg with tears for mercy and it tugs on your heart, so you go way beyond the call of duty and forgive him an enormous debt. Imagine how much of a fool you would feel like after you heard of this man doing what he did by throwing his fellow servant into prison. I know how angry I would be.
Well, God gets angry, too.
As a matter of fact, God says this to those who won’t forgive others: “You know that whole forgiveness thing that I did for you? Well, you can forget it.”
As Jesus ends this story he leaves us with the clincher: “So My heavenly Father also will do to you (deliver you to the torturers) if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.” (Matthew 18:35)
So, unforgiveness not only makes you a bitter, ugly, and unhappy person, but it also reserves a place for you in Hell.
I know some people would argue about this with me. “But what about the finished work of Christ?” Christ’s finished work on the cross doesn’t automatically give us forgiveness. It only gives God the legal right to forgive those that He wants to forgive. And He has shown us that He only wants to forgive those who repent, believe the gospel, and forgive others.
What does it meant to forgive others? The literal greek word for ‘forgive’ means to ‘send away’ (New testament of the bible was orginally written in Greek). So you could say that the meaning of ‘forgive’ is to send away the grudge or ill-will or debt that you hold against someone else as you would send away a letter in the mail, with the purpose to never see it again. In your heart you release that person from a desire for revenge. Since God has forgiven you so much, how can you hold any sin against those that have sinned against you?
One of the greatest examples of this is in Acts chapter 7 where Stephen used his last breath to forgive those who murdered him. As he was being stoned for his testimony of Jesus, he cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge!” Not only was Stephen forgiving these undeserving murderers, but he was asking God to, as well. Why? Because he was once like them, but his heart had been changed by God. His heart was now only full of thanksgiving for what God had done for him and how He had forgiven him. He wanted everyone to experience that forgiveness, even those that hated him.
Jesus also forgave like this when He hung from the cross. He looked up to the Father and said, “forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
But what about your situation? Who has done you wrong, that you need to forgive? Do you carry around the burden of unforgiveness? Do you not realized that by carrying that burdern you are only hurting yourself?
It’s quite possible that the person you are holding a grudge against has no idea about it or doesn’t care. In such a case the hurt you’re allowing to fester is yours alone. Not only has the other person hurt you, but you have made it worst by continuing to hurt yourself. Why don’t you just forgive, let the situation be in God’s hands to do with it as seems good to Him, and allow yourself to heal? Complete healing is found in the secret place with Him. Let go of the past hurts and pour out your soul to Him in prayer. You will find that His grace is more that sufficient to meet every need. I can testify of this myself, from my own experience.
But remember that forgiveness is about things that have happened. Forgiveness does not mean that you allow the offender to repeat their offenses. And forgiving someone doesn’t necessarily mean that you spare someone from punishment. You can forgive someone in your heart and call the cops at the same time. There is no conflict here. God forgives us, but He still will chastise us as a father does to the son that he loves (Heb 12:5-6). And while it is only appropriate for us to chastise when the offense is from our own children, we still need to assist in ways that are necessary to follow protocols of the laws of the church and of the land.
So forgive freely. God has freely forgiven you.