2. The Perpetuity of Forgiveness – Matthew 18:21-22
Matthew 18:21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”
Having heard Christ’s prescription for forgiveness, Peter wonders at what point the Christian should be allowed to withhold forgiveness. What if our brother keeps offending us? What if asks forgiveness but sins against us again? Surely there is a limit!
Matthew 18:22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.
Jesus is not telling Peter that he should forgive his erring brother 490 times. He is using a figure of speech to illustrate the perpetuity of forgiveness. That is, we should be willing to forgive our brother as many times as he sincerely repents and seeks our forgiveness. In doing so, we are modelling the longsuffering forgiveness that our Lord has shown to us.
1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Ephesians 4:32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
God’s forgiveness is unending. When we come to God, repenting of our sin, we can count on Him being faithful to forgive us our sins. As beneficiaries of this endless forgiveness, we should be willing to show the same mercy to our brothers and sisters in Christ. In Matthew 18:23-35, Christ goes on to illustrates this truth.
3. Passing Along Forgiveness – Matthew 18:23-35
Matthew 18:23-35 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. 32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
Ten thousand talents is a huge amount that this servant was entirely incapable of paying (v25). The king ordered this man, his wife and his children to be sold into slavery in order to pay the debt. The servant fell down and begged the king to spare him and his family.
Matthew 18:27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.
We all owe a debt incurred by our sin against God. We are incapable of making payment for this sin, but God, through his compassionate forgiveness, has freed us from this debt (Rom 6:18-22). Just as God has forgiven us a debt that we could not pay (Eph 2:1; Rom 5:6-8; Col 2:13), the king in this parable has forgiven his servant.
Matthew 18:28 But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’
This man, who was forgiven an insurmountable debt by his compassionate lord, turned around and withheld forgiveness from his fellowservant. Worse than that, his fellowservant owed him far less than what he had owed. This man had his fellowservant cast into prison until he could pay the paltry sum. When others witnessed the servants heartlessness, especially in light of the compassion he was shown, they went and told his lord.
Matthew 18:32-34 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt.
Just like the servant in this parable, we are all indebted to God because of our sin (Matt 6:12); we are all unable to pay the debt that our sin has incurred (Col 2:13; Eph 2:1; Rom 5:6); and, we are all undeserving of the forgiveness that our Lord has given us (Rom 5:8). Futhermore, just as this servant was expected to forgive his fellowservants in light of his lord’s forgiveness, we too are expected to forgive fellow Christians in light of the forgiveness that our Lord has shown us.
The unforgiving servant in this parable is a striking illustration of the unforgiving Christian. Using this servant as an example, consider what happens when the Christian forgets that he is indebted, unable, and undeserving.
- v28. He withholds forgiveness for far less than what God has forgiven him
- v30. He shows far less compassion than God has shown him
- v31. He forfeits peace and unity among his fellows
- v34. He faces the discipline of his Lord
God expects us to show the same compassionate forgiveness to our fellow Christians that he has shown to us. Our indebtedness to God for his unconditional forgiveness should lead us to freely forgive our brethren. God is so concerned that we propagate this forgiveness that he will withhold forgiveness from the Christian who does not forgive his brother.
Matthew 6:14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you,
Matthew 6:15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Spiritual growth and Christ-likeness in the life of a believer will lead him to practice forgiveness. On the other hand, a lack of forgiveness in the life of a Christian is an indication of a spiritual problem. It reveals that he has forgotten what God has done for him and it exposes his unloving heart. The man who is closest to God is furthest from pride. He understands the indebted, unable, and undeserving state that he was in when God forgave him and responds by freely offering the same unconditional forgiveness to others.
In closing, remember that no matter how forgiving and compassionate we are toward others, it will always pale in comparison to what God the Father has done for us through Jesus Christ. He is never content to simply offer forgiveness, but with that forgiveness he lavishes upon his children all the blessings of heaven. (Eph 1:3-14).