How Many Times Must I Forgive?
Matthew Lesson #105
December 13, 2015
“Father, we come together today to focus upon You, to focus upon Your Word, to learn who You are, to learn what You have provided for us, and to learn how You have challenged us as believers to press on to the high ground of spiritual maturity, to not be satisfied with just being saved and having an eternal destiny in Heaven, but being an example in our lives of Your grace and Your goodness, being one of the disciples who follows You, studies Your Word and becomes an example to others that as people look at us, they can get a glimpse, perhaps good times and good days, of what Your grace is like and what Your love is like and that You have lowered Yourself in such a way to give us this privilege to serve You in this way.
So Father, now as we study our passage today in Matthew 18, completing this chapter, we pray that You would continue to challenge us with the truths that are here because they are not truths that we can easily apply. In fact, it’s impossible apart from God the Holy Spirit. And we pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”
Open your Bibles with me to Matthew 18. As we look at Matthew 18 once again after five or six weeks in the chapter, I keep going back and reviewing for you what the context is.
I know that some people are probably ready to check out a little bit and say, “Well, he’s going to go review that context again, and I’ve got 10 or 15 minutes to catch up on my morning sleep.” But it’s always important for us to understand context.
This is a passage that is often misunderstood because as I’ve pointed out in the past, we go to different sections of it and we just pull that out and study that in isolation from the rest of the context.
This is a context that’s very important because as we come to the last part of this chapter this morning, Matthew 18:21 to 35, we see that it is an outgrowth of everything that has been said since the opening question back in verse 1.
If we don’t understand the flow, the projector of what the Lord is teaching here, then it’s easy to perhaps miss part of what He is saying because, unfortunately, over 2,000 years of church history, a lot of confusion has muddied the waters over different phrases and terms that are used in this passage.
The focus of this last section is on the question that Peter asked, “How many times do I really have to forgive that so-and-so?” That’s really what he’s asking. That’s my paraphrase.
We get tired sometimes of forgiving some people. Other people, they have harmed or betrayed us or hurt us to such a degree, that the last thing in the world we want to do is to forgive them. That really gets to the heart of this question that Peter’s asking, but it’s related to the first question that comes up in verse 1.
In verse 1 the disciples are discussing among themselves who’s the greatest, because in the previous chapter we’ve seen that three of the disciples were taken up on the Mount of Transfiguration, where Elijah and Moses appeared to them, and Jesus was transfigured, and His glory was witnessed by these three disciples.
When they came down from the Mount of Transfiguration, there was a dispute going on between the Pharisees and the disciples over casting a demon out of a young boy. The disciples couldn’t do it. As Jesus points out, they didn’t have the faith. They have fallen back on technique instead of trusting God.
As a result of these prior instances, the question came up among them, “Who’s really going to be the greatest in the kingdom?” That’s the question they asked. And everything else in this chapter flows from Jesus’ answer at this particular time.
Now what we see in His answer is that there is a need to be humble like the little child.
In verse 4, “Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child ...” As I pointed out, that analogy is often misunderstood.
The thinking that little children are naturally humble, naturally not self-assertive, not naturally self-absorbed (but anybody who’s been a parent knows that the last thing you can apply to a young child is that they’re naturally humble, not self-absorbed, not self-assertive), and not focused on getting their way when they want it, is a problem.
So what exactly is the point of the analogy? And as I’ve pointed out in the past, it was that in that culture, children had no rank. They had no position. They had no privilege. They were neither to be seen nor heard.
When Jesus says that they’re to be like a little child, He’s really rebuking them for even asking the question or even thinking the question—that the focus isn’t on who’s the greatest, but how can they serve the Lord and serve the body of Christ in their future ministry.
This emphasis is not on seeking status, but it’s really on learning humility. Now when we talk about humility as a category, humility is related to the broad category of grace or what we refer to as grace orientation, that we are to orient our thinking to understanding the grace of God.
Understanding the grace of God means that we have to begin to understand the nature of God’s love toward us, as it’s demonstrated at the Cross. He demonstrated His love by sending the eternal Second Person of the Trinity to die in our place, and that He who knew no sin was made sin for us. In doing that, He wiped out the debt that was against us. He took on His own perfect nature the imputation of our sin penalty.
We see that grace is connected to humility. It’s connected to love. And it’s connected to forgiveness. These three concepts are all brought out in different ways in the different discussions and conversations that go on in this particular chapter.
If you want to have one term, one category, one doctrine that covers everything in this chapter, it would be grace orientation—what it really means to be humble, and what it really means to love one another in terms of forgiveness.
In John 13 at the end of the chapter, at the end of the time that Jesus is with His disciples in the upper room, He gave them a new commandment.
Remember the setting in the upper room. This is the night that Jesus is about to be arrested. They’re celebrating The Seder just as we just celebrated the Lord’s Table. They have celebrated The Seder, but at the beginning of the meal, Jesus did something unique, He took off His robes, He girded Himself with a towel, and He began to wash the disciples’ feet.
There are a lot of things that people say about that illustration, but the focal point from the text is that Jesus is teaching them about cleansing from sin. And cleansing from sin is related to forgiveness.
Earlier as He finished the process of washing their feet, He said to the disciples, “If I then, Your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet …” Washing your feet is not a demonstration of being a servant. There are a lot of people who will stop there. Washing your feet is a picture of spiritual cleansing.
What He’s talking about here, the metaphor here, is forgiving them. It’s cleansing them from sin.
“If I then, Your Lord and Teacher, have cleansed you from sin, have forgiven you, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”
So the application is that we are to forgive one another. Forgiving one another is one of the highest forms of the expression of love in the Christian life.
Think about what we read about Paul in Galatians 5:16. He says to walk by the Spirit. But a few verses later when he tells us what the fruit of the Spirit is. He says the fruit of the Spirit is first of all love. That’s the first thing he mentions.
So love is critical in terms of our demonstration of our position in Christ. It is that which is uniquely the mark of being a disciple of Christ.
As we look at the framework of Scripture here, we see that John 13 connects forgiveness to loving one another.
That is connected to being humble, to recognizing that we really don’t have any status, we’re just here to serve the Lord in whatever capacity, whatever way that we have that opportunity.
As we look at the context, Jesus went on to say that He took this child, and He said you have to become like this little child.
In Matthew 18:3 He said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Now what’s that kingdom? Are we in that kingdom today? No.
This is a geographical, political Kingdom that is now yet future, that Jesus will return to the earth and establish His kingdom on the earth.
It’s the same Kingdom that was proclaimed and prophesized and promised in the Old Testament.
It’s the Kingdom that John the Baptist announced, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
It’s the Kingdom Jesus announced, and His disciples announced.
It is this Kingdom offer that is withdrawn when the Pharisees, the religious leaders, accuse Jesus of performing His miracles in the power of Satan.
So this Kingdom is postponed. That happened at the end of Matthew 12.
Now Jesus says something else about the Kingdom, but this doesn’t say anything about the Kingdom being present right now.
He’s talking to His disciples who are already regenerate, so when He says, “unless you are converted and become as little children,” He’s not talking about what we usually refer to as “getting saved.” He’s not talking to them about trusting Christ as Savior so that they can have eternal life. He’s talking to them as those who already have eternal life.
What He is saying is that if you want to enter into the fullness of the blessings of the Kingdom, then you need to change. Quit being arrogant and self-absorbed. You need to humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, and you need to reflect that humility, love, and forgiveness in your life.
This is exemplified as being like a little child—that from that point on, as I’ve pointed out, He uses this little child now as a metaphor for the child-like, the humble child-like disciple, who’s going to grow and mature.
Then He gives a warning. He warns that if anyone puts a stumbling block in front of one of these disciples who are humbled like the little children, then “it would be better for them to have a millstone around this neck, and drowned in the depth of the sea.”
In other words, there’s a threat, the warning of judgment, if we cause a growing disciple to be derailed in his spiritual growth.
The word there translated “causing someone to sin” is the word SKANDALIZO. That’s the verb. It is more than just causing someone to sin. It’s more than just telling an off-colored joke so that someone has their thinking derailed into some sort of other track.
This is causing someone to be derailed in their spiritual growth, taking them completely off course. It is often referred to as false teaching or putting a stumbling block in the sense of teaching them error, so that they are no longer following the path of truth.
The noun [SKANDALON] says the same thing: to influence someone into wrong beliefs or to wrong action.
As He goes on, Jesus says, “Woe to the world because of offenses.” That’s the word SKANDALON.
So there’s the danger, the threat of the world, and even the individual through whom worldly teaching is taught to derail Christians.
It can sometimes come from your own sin nature. The warning about “if it’s your hand or your eye that causes a problem,”—then He speaks hyperbolically here—“it’s better to be maimed than to suffer spiritual failure because of your own sin nature.”
That was followed by a parable where He talked about forgiveness and God’s desire to restore the one who has been thus derailed. He’s the one sheep out of 100 who’s now way off in the mountains somewhere. And the owner of the flock is going to put the 99 in the care of somebody else and go seek him out.
In that parable, the shepherd or the owner of the flock is God the Father. The straying sheep is the disciple that has been caused to stumble or sin and led astray by false teaching.
Then we see the picture of God’s joy at our recovery. That’s critical for understanding what happens in the last part of the chapter in terms of forgiveness.
Then last time, we looked at the verses that deal with what is often referred to as church discipline from Matthew 18:15–20.
Jesus says, “Moreover, if your brother sins against you …” This isn’t just any sin. Contextually, this is a sin that is causing you or has the potential of causing you to be derailed.
In the context of a congregation or assembly, it could be someone who may be in a position to have a negative influence on others in the congregation.
Since they are trying to influence you into believing something erroneous, derailing you spiritually, then you need to go and have a heart-to-heart with that person one-on-one. You just go and talk to him alone. That begins the procedure.
The rest of that section talked about if he doesn’t listen, then you have a procedure where two or three go to witness, as witnesses to talk to him, and then if he refuses, then you tell it to the congregation. He’s treated like a heathen and a tax collector, which I covered last week.
Then Jesus says something similar to what He said to Peter in Matthew 16, but now instead of using a singular pronoun, He is addressing all of the disciples.
He says, “Assuredly, I say to all of you, whatever you bind on earth will have already been bound in heaven.”
What this is saying is that your responsibility as leaders is that you are to implement what God has already established to be the truth. It is your job as leaders in the church to implement God’s absolute and God’s standard.
In verse 19 He says, “Again I say to y’all”—I retranslated that—“that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask …” The context is these are the two or three witnesses.
This isn’t just any time two or three Christians get together that it’s a magic formula, and God’s going to pay specific or more particular attention to your particular prayer. It is talking about the prayer related to bringing judgment or discipline on this particular individual.
So “if two of you”—the apostles—“agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, then God the Father will take care of that.”
“For where two or three are gathered”—in judgment announcing discipline—that’s the context—“together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”
Now that we set the context, Peter says—remember Jesus said, “If your brother sins against you.” Peter comes along, and Peter is going to ask a question.
The verse begins with the connective word “then” indicating that this is the next thing that happens following Jesus’ teaching on how you handle this brother who doesn’t respond.
But then Peter’s going to say, “Well, what about the brother that does respond?” You go to him and you say, “You created this problem. You need to correct it.” He says, “Yes, you’re right. I’m wrong. I’m going to correct that.”
So Peter says, “Well, Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”
Jesus will respond to him in verse 22 saying, “I do not say to you up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”
Peter’s question “how often shall my brother sin against me” builds off of the previous statement by the Lord that “if someone sins against you.”
Peter’s now focusing on that in saying how often do I forgive the person who’s trying to derail me spiritually? Do I forgive them just a few times?
As I stated earlier, this is a more serious type of sin. This isn’t just somebody who has told a little white lie or somebody who has maybe gossiped about someone else, but this is more than likely someone who is causing a problem in the spiritual growth of at least you personally and maybe with some other people.
Now Peter brings in this question to get the other side of it, “If this person does respond and corrects the sin, then how many times should this process go on?”
We’ve all met some people. Some of us have met them because they’re our children, and they are in the process of growing up. They’re young children, and they just make the same mistakes, and they commit the same sins, and whatever it is they’re irresponsible, they lie.
Whatever it may be, it goes on and on, over and over again, and if they’re your children, think about how easily you forgive them because they’re growing, and they’re learning, and you move on.
That really helps you understand how you should apply this to other spiritual children who are growing, and yet they just seem to always have the same problems and commit the same types of sins.
At other times, we know that this is a more serious situation. Sometimes they’re just trivial types of sins. They’re not quite as significant, but at other times we have children, we all know of families who’ve had to deal with this, whereas their children grew into adolescence, they developed problems with drug addiction or alcohol addiction.
I know I’ve had members in my extended family where this took place, where the parents came to a point where, though they forgave them, said there are consequences—you can no longer be a burden to us financially. You can no longer live under our roof. You can no longer create the level of trauma in our life that you have been creating because of your refusal to deal with your situation. So it’s time for you to move out of the house and go on your own. They’ve exhibited what some people call “tough love.”
I had this happen with an extended cousin. It was 30 years before the parents heard from him again. And when they did, he had taken about 10 or 15 years to clean up his life and make right decisions, and he had married and had children, and it just took time.
You can forgive somebody.
This is a hard question a lot of people ask: “If I’m in a marriage, and the husband is abusive or the wife is abusive, or they’re terribly irresponsible or something, how long do I just continue doing this where they become basically destructive in my life?”
We have to always bring in a caveat here that there’s a difference between forgiveness and consequences, that even though God forgave David for his sin of adultery with Bathsheba and his conspiring to have her husband Uriah murdered, even though God forgave him, there were still consequences that flowed in terms of divine discipline for those decisions on David’s part.
So forgiveness doesn’t mean we’re absolving the person of all consequences, but it does mean that we are eradicating that sin in terms of how we’re dealing with it. We’re not going to engage in mental attitude sins toward that person—of anger, resentment, jealousy, bitterness, all these other things that can come up as a result of that.
We’re not going to hold the action against the person in terms of that relationship, but we are, and we may need to at times, implement serious consequences.
So what Peter is asking here is how often do we forgive? Now remember forgiveness is a major theme through Scripture. We see forgiveness in relationship to God’s grace in us and salvation, but also forgiveness toward others because of the way they have treated us.
One of the first examples we see in the Old Testament is the well-known story of Joseph.
Joseph is the next to the youngest brother of the progenitors of the 12 tribes of Israel, and they’re all very jealous of this younger brother who is a favorite of their father’s.
So they conspire to kill him, and then one of the brothers says, “No, let’s not kill him. Let’s sell him into slavery.” And so they sold him into slavery, and he’s taken off to Egypt.
In Egypt, he is a slave for a while. Then he is falsely accused, and he’s put into prison, and he goes through years of unjustified suffering.
Then finally, due to God’s grace, he is not only released from prison, but he is elevated to the second highest position and authority in the land.
At that time, God had revealed to Pharaoh in a dream (we all know the story), that there was going to be a time of seven years of prosperity followed by seven years of famine. Because Joseph interpreted that dream, the Pharaoh put him in charge of supplying the needs of the people.
Back at home his father, who didn’t know Joseph was still alive and thought he was dead, as the famine increased, he sent the other brothers down to Egypt to get aid. When Joseph saw them, and when they finally ultimately realized who Joseph was, they were scared to death because they thought that he would enact some form of revenge against them.
We read in Genesis 50 that Joseph said when they had begged his forgiveness and fallen down before him, he said to them “Do not be afraid for am I in God’s place?”
In other words, am I your judge and jury? No. He says in Genesis 50:20–21, “ ‘And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result to preserve many people alive. So, therefore, do not be afraid. I will provide for you and your little ones.’ And he comforted them and spoke kindly unto them.”
So he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. That’s grace orientation. That’s forgiveness in action.
Think of Stephen in the New Testament. Stephen, one of the early leaders in the church, not an apostle, but of those six men chosen in Acts 6. Because of his sermon accusing and condemning the religious leaders for having crucified the Lord, they immediately began to stone him. His last words before he went to be with the Lord were, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Forgiveness. That’s in Acts 7:60.
He was emulating the Lord Jesus Christ who on the Cross after He had been betrayed, falsely convicted, beaten, whipped, unjustly nailed to a cross and dying an agonizing death, the last words of our Lord on the cross were, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”
Forgiveness is not easy. In fact, this kind of forgiveness is impossible. It can only come as a result of our walk by the Spirit.
Now Peter asked this question, and he thinks he’s being gracious here. He says “up to seven times” because in Jewish culture at this time, according to the rabbis, you forgave somebody three times. The fourth time, that’s it, they’re out of here. Only three times.
Peter’s been around Jesus long enough to where he says, “Well, maybe he’ll say seven times. He seems to like that number seven.” That’s because Jesus was a dispensationalist.
What we know is among the Jewish rabbis. For example, Rabbi Jose ben Hanina said, “He who begs forgiveness from his neighbor must not do so more than three times.”
Rabbi Jose ben Jehuda said, “If a man commits an offense once, they forgive him. If he commits an offense a second time, they forgive him. If he commits an offense a third time, they forgive him. The fourth time, they do not forgive him.”
Now we don’t know where they got that, possibly from some passages like in Amos 1:3 where the Lord says, “For three transgressions of Damascus, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment.” Maybe they got it from that passage.
But Peter was showing that he understood a little bit about grace orientation. Perhaps he was thinking of a passage like Proverbs 24:16, “For a righteous man may fall seven times and rise again, but the wicked shall fall by calamity.”
Or the Lord’s teaching from another place:
In Luke 17:3–4 where the Lord said, “Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day”—notice there’s a time frame there—“seven times in a day and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.” Maybe that’s what Peter is thinking about.
But even when the Lord said that, the next verse is the one that’s significant because the apostles respond. You can tell they were thinking, “This is really impossible.” And they said, “Lord, increase our faith.”
It’s not just hard to forgive people—it’s impossible sometimes. We can only do it through God the Holy Spirit.
So Jesus’ response to Peter in verse 22 is, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”
In His answer, Jesus is teaching about the extent, the unlimited nature of God’s grace. He is not saying that we need to count up to 490 times. He is again using hyperbole, and He is saying that our forgiveness of others is to be like God’s forgiveness towards us. It is unlimited. It is without boundary.
God is not sitting up there in Heaven saying, “You’re coming to me to confess that sin of arrogance, and you’ve done it 15,372 times, and I’m sick and tired of it. I’m not forgiving you anymore!”
Yet, that’s how we are with some people. “You’ve done that to me three times. You’re out of here! I’ll never talk to you again!”
That’s not how God deals with us, and the point of this is that Jesus is going to show that we are to emulate God’s grace toward us. God’s forgiveness towards us is unlimited. It is without measure. Jesus isn’t setting a daily limit. He’s saying there’s no limit at all.
Our gracious forgiveness, just like God’s, is not to be surpassed by the offender’s sin. We can’t let someone else’s sin become greater than our grace orientation.
So Jesus says forgive seventy times seven. The connection here is that forgiveness, the word—we’ll see in a minute—APHIEMI means to cancel a debt.
In Ephesians 4:31, a verse that’s often quoted here, Paul says, “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.” In other words, you have to confess sin and get rid of those sins because they can’t exist with forgiveness.
Instead you are to be kind to one another, tender hearted, and it’s translated “forgiving one another,” but the Greek word there is CHARIZOMAI from the root word meaning grace. It means we are to be gracious towards one another. The way we extend grace orientation to others is to forgive them on the pattern of God’s forgiveness for you in Christ.
That word “forgiveness” means to release someone. For example, it means to free a slave, to liberate somebody, or to forgive them. It is the act of freeing or liberating or releasing someone from captivity or the act of freeing from an obligation from guilt or from punishment. It means to pardon or to cancel something completely.
Now in the past I’ve taught that there are four categories of forgiveness:
1. The first is what I call forensic forgiveness. This refers to the fact that God’s justice was satisfied on the Cross. As Colossians 2:12–14 points out, at the Cross our certificate of debt was cancelled. That applies to all mankind.
2. The second kind of forgiveness is positional forgiveness. When we trust in Christ as Savior, we’re entered into Christ and are positionally forgiven and cleansed of all sin, so that we can be justified and have eternal life.
3. The third category of forgiveness in the Bible is the on-going forgiveness of our sins when we confess our sins, according to 1 John 1:9. We call this experiential forgiveness.
4. But the fourth kind is the kind we’re talking about today. That is forgiving one another, as a reflection of God’s grace toward us. This is relational forgiveness.
Now Jesus gives us an example. He gives us a little parable to help us understand this. He starts off, typical of rabbinical parables of the time, talking about a king and his servants, in order to illustrate a point.
In Matthew 18:23 He says, Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like something. “The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.”
Now He’s not saying they’re in the kingdom. The kingdom has been postponed. But eventually we’re all going to be in the kingdom, and if we’re going to—remember verse 3—if we’re going to enter into the fullness of the kingdom, then part of our training is to learn to forgive one another here and now.
That’s why I made such a point about the review earlier, to understand that Jesus’ point here is to understand if you want to be a genuine disciple and to rule and reign with Christ in the kingdom and enter into the fullness of the kingdom, then we have to learn how to forgive one another as God for Christ’s sake forgave us.
That goes back to those first three verses in Matthew 18.
In this parable, the king is God, the subjects are believers, and the contrast is between those who’ve learned humility and those who haven’t. It’s not a contrast between unbeliever and believer.
People will go to this passage because of the harshness of the judgment at the end, which they put too much weight on, and they try to make this believer vs. unbeliever.
But Jesus is talking about the disciples who will enter into the kingdom with fullness because they have had childlike humility and those that haven’t. It’s not a contrast between believer and unbeliever, but a spiritual believer who has grown to maturity and one that hasn’t.
In Matthew 18:24, Jesus says about this king, starting at verse 23, “Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his slaves,”—not servants, but it’s the word DOULOS for slaves.
“And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.”
Now that’s a lot of money. Just to give you a clue, Donald Trump just wishes he had that much money. This is a huge amount of money, and I’ll show you in just a minute. So we catch it right now, 10,000 talents.
Basically, Jesus is saying he’s got an unpayable debt. He’ll never be able to pay this debt off. But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold with his wife and children, and all that he had, and that payment be made.
So the master is saying, “Well, I might not get much, but I’m going to get something and that beats nothing. So I can sell them to someone else.”
But the servant fell on his face and begged for time to pay off the debt. He said, “Master, have patience with me, and I’ll pay you all.”
Now here’s an idea, to give you an idea of what 10,000 talents was like. Some people say it was equivalent to about 16 years of wages. It was more than the total annual revenue that Rome collected from Judea, Galilee, Samaria, and Idumea. In a year, they would collect about 900 talents, so this is equivalent to 11 years of taxes from this whole area, the Middle East, for Rome.
Another comparison: in the Old Testament the amount of gold given for the temple was just over 8,000 talents in 1 Chronicles 29:4, 7. Then the amount of gold which came to Solomon in one year was just 666 talents of gold.
So 10,000 talents is an enormous amount of money. In fact, the largest number you have when you’re counting in Greek is the word that is translated 10,000, and it’s the word MURIOI, which we translate into English as myriads. It’s not necessarily a technical number of 10,000. It can mean just an astronomical number.
The point here is that this slave, who is just like you and me in our sin, has a debt that he cannot pay. He has a debt that is greater than his capacity to ever pay even if he works throughout all of eternity. He can never pay that particular debt.
When Jesus says this, He’s saying that he had an overwhelming debt that he could never pay.
But what happens is the master of that servant was moved with compassion—a word that is used of Jesus several times throughout Matthew to indicate His grace towards human beings.
Verse 27 says he “released him.” APOLUO, a word that means to release from an obligation. We’ll see it again in Matthew 19 because it’s a word that refers to divorce, and we’ll get to that when we get to Matthew 19.
“The master of the servant was moved with compassion. He released him and forgave him that debt.” That is that word APHESIS, which means to release, or the act of freeing or canceling a debt. It’s ultimately an economic term.
So we talk about the fact that when Jesus paid our sin penalty at the Cross—redemption, He canceled this debt. It’s an unpayable debt, something we could never do well enough.
Now we get to the hard part of the parable.
The servant doesn’t have grace orientation. He doesn’t grasp the impact of what has happened. He has been forgiven of this debt he could never pay.
Then he goes out, and one of his fellow servants owed him 100 denarii. One denarius was about a day’s wage, so this would be about 100 days’ worth of pay, or what you’d make in three to four months. That’s not a huge amount, but it is definitely something that would take a while to pay off, but it is certainly doable.
So this servant owes him 100 denarii, and what does he do? Does he forgive him? Not at all! He takes him by the throat, he man-handles him, physically beats him, and says, “Pay me what you owe!”
In verse 29, the servant falls at his feet and begs, “Have patience with me and I will pay you all.”
But the one who had originally been forgiven throws him into prison because he won’t pay the debt. See, he’s forgotten how much was forgiven him, so he won’t forgive others.
And for that, God is going to announce a temporal judgment.
Verse 31, “When his fellow servants saw what he had done, they were very grieved, and they came and they told their master all that had been done.”
Verse 32, “Then his master, after he had called him”—brought him into his office—“said ‘You’re a wicked servant! I forgave you of a debt you could never pay off.’ ”
“Shouldn’t you have the same kind of compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?”
“And his master was angry and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him.”
This doesn’t mean that he was sent to eternal punishment. One of the things that we have to learn about interpreting parables is not every element of the parable is something that you push to its fullest extent.
It’s a story, and the point of the story is that this servant, who is his servant—he’s not the servant of somebody else—he’s a believer, but he’s going to go through divine discipline because of his failure to exercise grace orientation and forgiveness towards another. That is the point of the parable.
In the last verse (35) Jesus says, “So My heavenly Father also will do to you”—who’s He talking to? He’s still talking to the apostles who are believers. He—“will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”
The point of this is that we have to learn to truly forgive others. That doesn’t mean that we’re necessarily going to let them take advantage of us, continue to abuse us, or continue to maltreat us.
But forgiveness is a matter of what is going on in our soul and in our mind, as we think about that other person. It is to wipe the slate clean and put them in the hands of God, and let God deal with them.
And we’re not going to think about it. We’re not going to dwell on it. We’re not going to meditate on it. We’re going to treat them in grace and kindness and goodness, and let God deal with whatever needs to be dealt with.
God eventually will do that because as Abraham observed in Genesis 18, “Shall not the judge of all the earth do what is right?”
With our heads bowed and our eyes closed.
“Father, we’re thankful for this time that we have to focus upon Your Word, to be reminded again and again that we need to forgive others, that we’re not to harbor mental attitude sins of resentment or bitterness or anger towards those who have done us harm or betrayed us or treated us badly. We’re to put them into Your hands under Your judgment, that You will take care of things because You are the One who has all the facts and knows what will best handle the situation.
Father, we pray that as people listen to this, that if there are those who have never trusted in Christ as Savior, that they would take this opportunity to trust in Him.
Scripture says we’ve all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, that there’s not one of us who does righteousness. The only way we can be righteous in God’s eyes is if we have Jesus Christ’s righteousness.
Scripture says that when we trust in Him, His righteousness is credited to us, and God declares us justified. From that point on we have eternal life, which can never be taken from us.
Perhaps as you’re listening to this message, you need to trust in Christ. You need to realize He died for you, and that you can have eternal life.
Father, we pray that You would challenge each of us with our need to grow and mature, that we can only have this kind of forgiveness and love and grace toward others if we’re walking by the spirit, taking in Your Word and applying it on a daily basis. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”