Debt forgiveness: A promise-ory note
Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”
For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him 10,000 talents was brought to him. But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made.
So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’ And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt.
But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’ But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed.
So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. Then summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’
And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”
This story from Matthew 18:21-35 reveals profound truths about the nature of forgiveness, but it also helps us understand the heart-level motive behind our desire to forgive. We’ve all been wounded and we’ve wounded others with careless words and actions. Sadly, there are families in ruins today because of fractured relationships that have never received the healing balm of God’s mercy and grace.
The metaphor of debt cancellation describes the nature of forgiveness. The merciful king in this story absorbed an enormous debt that was owed to him. When we forgive someone, we are cancelling a debt. Rather than make the offender pay for the offense, we are forfeiting our right to collect. By doing this we are making at least three promises:
1) We are promising to never use the debt as leverage. In other words, we will not make the offender pay by reminding them of what they’ve done in an effort to control them.
2) We are promising to never bring up the offense to others to slander the person who sinned against us. This does not mean that we cannot seek godly counsel and advice, but it does mean that we will not gossip about what the person has done to us.
3) We are promising not to dwell on the offense. Perhaps one of the greatest challenges is not to replay the scenario over and over again in our minds. We must let it go.
The Bible commands us to forgive one another — not because we deserve it, but because of the mercy and grace God has given us. Lest we ever think an offense is too great to forgive, let’s look to the cross of King Jesus and be reminded of the enormous debt we’ve been forgiven.