The Lost Art of Forgiveness

The Lost Art of Forgiveness

Matthew 18:23-35

 “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you if each of you does not forgive his brother from [g]your heart.”

 

            The parable is easy to understand but one of the most difficult to apply.  We are familiar with the story but often fail to use its implications for our lives.  It is for others but not for ourselves.   

            The story begins with a servant who owes an insurmountable debt.  It was an insurmountable amount, one talent equal to 6,000 denarii, or 20 years of wages for the average worker.  The fact that the servant owed such a large amount not only suggests gross mismanagement of the master's funds but embezzlement as well.  For the servant, there was no possibility of repaying such a large debt.  When the master announced that he must repay the amount immediately or face imprisonment, there was no hope.  His only hope was to plead for mercy.  While he asks for more time, the Master does the unexpected. Not only did he allow for more time, but he completely forgave the debt.  The story's point is that we are the servant with the incalculable debt to God.  Like the servant in the story, our sin is so severe that it would take all eternity to pay the penalty (Romans 3:23).  But through Christ, God does the unthinkable; he offers us complete and total forgiveness.

            The story now takes a surprising turn.  Immediately leaving the master's presence, the servant encounters a fellow servant who owes him 100 denarii.  This is not a trivial amount, for it would equal over three months of his wages.  However, this amount is a pittance compared to the amount the servant owed the master.  One would think that the incredible debt he was forgiven would give him such joy that he would readily forgive his fellow slave.

Nevertheless, he refuses.  In his lack of forgiveness, the servant reveals that the greed that gripped his heart is still present even though he is forgiven.  He was sorry he was caught but unrepentant for his actions.

            The story is easy to understand.  In light of our insurmountable debt to God, the only hope we have is the grace of Christ.  However, his grace involves repentance (1 John 1:9), which consists of a change of attitude towards our actions.  We turn away from our sins and seek the forgiveness and grace of God.  This must be the starting point of our perspective as we deal with the hurts others cause us.  Instead of focusing on the wrong they have done, we need to focus on the forgiveness we have obtained.  Compared to our sin against God, what others have done against us is trivial.  This does not deny the hurt and pain others have caused us.  It is real (the servant had been cheated a considerable amount by his fellow servant).  However, we must place the offense that others have done to us in the context of our sin to God.  To genuinely repent of sin, we must realize the severity of our sin and the worthiness of our judgment.  When we feel the full gravity of our sin against God, then the sins of others against us become trivial in perspective.  The problem when we refuse to forgive is that we are then revealing that we have not genuinely seen the depth of our sin.  We are still minimizing it, which is at the heart of a heart of unrepentance.  If you struggle to forgive others, return to the cross and remember what Christ did for you.  Remember and rejoice in the depth of his grace, and remember that grace is grounded in repentance.  When we do that, it changes our attitude towards the offenses others have done against us.  The lost art of forgiveness comes from the lost art of repentance. 

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