STRUGGLING WITH UNFORGIVENESS
One of the bona fide insignias of a truly born again believer is a forgiving heart. It is by far one of the most striking characteristics in the life of someone who has encountered the grace and mercy of the Risen Christ. It is a clear sign of fruit. A self-proclaimed believer who withholds forgiveness vehemently and offers no budge in the light of the divine forgiveness they received on the cross has every reason to worry if they are truly saved in the first place (2 Corinthians 13:5).
It is impossible for a truly regenerate believer to wholeheartedly embrace mantras such as “I can never forgive him/her” or “God can forgive but not me.” It is impossible to receive the infinite grace and mercy of a Holy, Holy, Holy God and still be unforgiving towards another human. It is incongruent. It is impossible. It is inconsistent with a regenerate life. Every justified believer, with increasing measure as they get older, stares at the grandeur of the cross for their sins and realizes that they were more damned than they thought and that God’s mercy is greater than when they first believed. You don’t get older as a believer and feel better about your sinful self; you get humbler. However, a truly regenerate person may be undergoing sanctification that leads to maturity and may still find it difficult to forgive those who have offended them. Sanctification, in this case, is fighting the chief enemy of an unforgiving soul- ugly pride.
Peter the disciple approached Jesus on the matter of forgiveness. Perhaps he had been offended by a constant prick in his life- maybe it as Thomas and his melancholic anti-sanguine spirit. He wanted to know the boundaries of forgiving this person, whoever it was. This is how his talk with the LORD Jesus went:
Matthew 18:21-35 (NKJV)
21 Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. 23 Therefore the Kingdom of heaven is like a certain King who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 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. 26 The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ 27 Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt. 28 But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ 30 And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt. 31 So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. 32 Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. 33 Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ 34 And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. 35 So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”
I am going to conduct an exposition on this passage
Lesson 1: Our measly morality and the holiness of God
21 Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.
Peter asks the question and offers a possible answer. It is likely that Peter feels generous with this figure. Seven was considered a figure of perfection and completion among the Jews. So saying seven times is confessing maxing out. We, like Peter, often imagine that our human standard of virtue to be grand. Perhaps our up-to-seven phrases sound like this: And I have been most patient with this person; I have given everything; I am such a good person to wait this long; I should have given up on them by now. And while there may be some truth behind those phrases, there is little to none humility in light of the holiness of our God. Our measly morality may stand up in the congregation of men but it falls flats in the presence of God. Jesus draws deeper. Seventy times seven. He is expanding the symbol of completion and perfection to let Peter know that he has barely scratched the surface with his measly human standard. The holiness of God not only refers to his moral radiance but also to his being set apart from human frailty. God’s standard is set apart; on a level of His own. The question begs, therefore- how do we get there? Jesus gives a parable.
Lesson 2: A heavily indebted servant
23 Therefore the Kingdom of heaven is like a certain King who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.
A servant owes his King 10,000 talents. We may look at this ancient measurement and quickly dismiss it, but I would like us to linger here for a moment. A talent was a unit of measurement of wages. The average Israelite earned one talent a year. So 10,000 talents would be equivalent to a salary figure worth working for 10,000 years without taking any of the salary home. Some sources show that a talent was also a weight of gold of about 50 kg. Others say 33kg to 40 kg. We don’t know the exact figure. But let us use the 40 kg figure. 40kg of gold = 1 talent. So 10,000 talents would be 400,000 kgs of gold. A kilo of gold today would go for about 40,000 USD. Therefore 400,000 KGS of gold would be 16,000,000,000 USD. That is 16 billion USD. Just let that sink in.
This epic figure tells us a few things about this servant. He is more than the gardener or porter. This must be a vassal ruler placed by the King to govern a colonized province that the King had trusted him to manage. And for the King to settle accounts and to realise 16 billion USD is missing, you can be sure the servant is facing serious punishment for his corruption, embezzlement and gross thievery. This servant owes the King heaven and earth. This servant is you. This King is the LORD Jesus. This 16-billion-dollar figure is a conservative demonstration of the debt of your sins. There is nothing cute about your sins; they are a gross violation that disgusts and angers the King. The gravity of indebtedness is screaming for the Jewish audience listening to Jesus tell the story.
Lesson 3: The futility of trying to pay the King
25 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.
The holders of the King’s records ascertain that the man cannot pay the debt. The King orders that the entire family be sold and all that he has until he clears his debt. We know that this act will not dent the debt at all. We know the payment is too grand for an ordinary citizen to clear. This directive by the King is a tiny punishment in comparison to the great offence committed. Even if given 10,000 years of labour, he would only pay the principal amount without interest. And it would also assume that for the 10,000 years of service he pockets nothing from his salary. And all this assuming that the man can clock 10,000 birthdays on the minimum. Any kind of good deed towards the King is an insult. Similarly, all our good deeds are futile attempts to appease a holy, holy, holy God on account of our sins. Our good deeds are actually filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). On your own, you have no means, power, personal connections or wages to dent this mountainous debt. And even if you had the means, it will have to be handed to you by the King. If there is a way out to rescue this servant, it will take the initiative of the offended King. This lesson teaches us that our only contribution to our salvation is our very sinful nature that requires saving.
Lesson 4: A merciful vulnerable King
26 The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ 27 Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt.
We know that the servant’s claim to pay the King if given time is hogwash. He is being political and unreasonable. However, the King is moved with compassion for this squirming worm, releases him and forgives him of his debt. Our Jewish listeners hearkening to Jesus’ parable must have been puzzled. 10,000 talents forgiven! If the servant was in charge of a country, that amount of money could mean the King losing the colony. That amount of money lost could mean that the King is left vulnerable against a military enemy. Wars needed money. Forgiving this debt is ludicrous! If the money must be recovered, it will be at the King’s expense. He has not simply cancelled the figures on a sheet of paper; he has absorbed the cost in his own personal vault. A name has not been merely crossed out of a debt list; a personal treasury has been emptied.
For the servant, the forgiveness of the debt is simply amazing grace! How sweet the sound the words of the King must have been to the ears of this corrupt servant! He hasn’t even been asked to explain how he lost the 10,000 talents. He hasn’t even been placed on probation. He hasn’t been assigned to a wealth recovery committee. It is for freedom he has been set free. That forgiveness is a foreboding of the cross of Jesus. Jesus absorbed our punishment and debt not merely at the risk of his life but at the cost of it. He is the merciful King who cancels your debt of sin. And yet he is also the vulnerable King who absorbs it shamefully on a Roman cross. The King does not merely overlook the debt; he bears it. God desires that forgiveness from our hearts involves bearing the pain and not transferring it to someone else. It involves not making the other person pay for the debt but rather absorbing it from our own pockets. This means that we must resist all temptation to make the other person feel what we feel. Our treasuries must be emptied so that they can be filled with the riches of Christ. Our vaults must remain looted so that we can remain broken for the healing of the savior. We must resist all temptation to make our offenders pay some of the cost. True forgiveness bears the entire cost. And we do not bear it to carry it on our account; we cast it to Christ to take the brunt of bearing (1 Peter 5:7). Christ bore the heavy cost fully and not partially. He died for sins once and absorbed the entire cost just for you (1 Peter 3:18).
Lesson 5: An unforgiving servant
28 But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’
The story takes a tangent. The forgiven servant meets up with his fellow servant. ‘Fellow servant’ here could mean that they both report to the King. This second servant owes the first servant 100 denarii. Denarii is plural. The singular is denarius. A denarius was a silver coin that was used for daily wages at some point in Roman history. The quotient of silver in a Roman denarius is worth 3.62 USD. That is about 4 dollars. 100 denarii, therefore, amounts to about 400 USD. This figure is starkly lower than the 10,000 talents that amounted to 16 billion USD. In the spirit of forgiveness, the natural expectation is for the first servant to demonstrate grace and mercy to the second servant. Even if he doesn’t cancel the debt, you would at least expect leniency. But that is not what he does? He lays hands on the second servant- the first sign of violence. He then holds him by the throat- the second sign of violence. Then he barks “Pay me what you owe!”- the third sign of violence. The first servant is not only unforgiving, but he is also violent, hypocritical and merciless in his dealings. Jesus is revealing our true nature when we are unforgiving. We are like that servant. We leave the King’s palace singing Hillsong worship songs and saying what a great Sunday service we had, but then Monday arrives. And on Monday our hands are around someone’s throat as we bath in the bile of our bitterness towards them.
Lesson 6: A fellow servant in need of mercy
29 So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ 30 And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt.
Consider the statement of the second servant vowing that he would pay given time. I dare say if given time and patience he can pay the debt. Yet the first servant would have none of it. Jesus compares the unforgiving servant to us. Whatever offences committed to us by others pale in comparison to our offences committed to God. If we think for a moment that the offences committed by others to us are too great and not deserving of forgiveness, it is because we proudly imagine that our own offences towards God to be small; we proudly and falsely imagine ourselves as good moral people; we proudly imagine ourselves better than others. You can never remain unforgiving and angry towards people without thinking of yourself better. An unforgiving servant is intrinsically saying “Your offence towards me was so bad, I would never stoop that low and do that to anyone!” The LORD detests the proud (Proverbs 16:5). Of the seven things the LORD hates, pride is first on the list (Proverbs 6:16-19). Pride is what made the devil the devil. We are never more like Satan than when we are proud, unforgiving and full of ourselves. Forgiveness that has to be earned is not forgiveness at all. The bona fide signature of forgiveness is unmerited pardon. Forgiveness cannot be earned by begging sympathetic cries of the offender, appeasing gifts or placating pleas to consider letting the hurt go. Why? Because forgiveness may be free but it is priceless. Forgiveness that has to be gained is unforgiveness at best. It has its roots in the soil of pride and is enriched in the manure of hurt. The trick isn’t necessarily to swallow one’s pride but rather to vomit it out and have it out of your system. Forgive without conditions. We are never more like Christ when we are forgiving and overlooking offences at great personal cost.
Lesson 7: The obviousness of forgiving
31 So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. 32 Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. 33 Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’
The other servants see the first servant take out his 100-denarii wrath on the second servant and they are grieved. This first servant must have been the talk of town after his debt was forgiven. He must have been the envied servant. In light of that, forgiving all that owed him money should have been a rather obvious move. It seems obvious to the King as well. But the only person who cannot see it is the unforgiving servant. Pride blinds you to the obvious need to forgive in light of the Gospel. But a proud heart bears the problem of being married to personal pain. When a proud heart and personal pain get married, they produce children called blind-to-grace, narcissism, unmoved-by-the-gospel and selfish-me-first. And as long as these children live in your heart, you fail to see the obviousness of forgiving after you have been forgiven.
Lesson 8: The cost of unforgiveness
34 And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. 35 So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”
Jesus had earlier taught that if you refuse to forgive those that have sinned against you, then you do not merit to receive divine forgiveness from God the Father (Matthew 6:15). In this parable, he also adds something else that God the Father does. God the Father delivers you to the torturers. ‘The torturers’ here refers to the draining power of the sin of unforgiveness. The physical torture is real (diseases, high blood pressure, acidity in the body). The soul torture is real (mental strain, emotional fatigue, weakened will, destroyed relationships). And the spiritual torture is real (no intimacy with God, demon possession for an unbeliever and demon oppression for the believer). I want to linger on the spiritual torture by demons. I have exorcised unbelievers possessed with unclean spirits of bitterness, anger, murder, depression and forgiveness. I have witnessed believers regain breakthroughs after battling with oppressive spirits of depression, bitterness and anger that dull them spiritually. The deliverance for both groups was triggered by a humbling of the heart- a willingness by the person to forgive as they have been forgiven by Christ. The freedom of letting go of that baggage is so liberating, they wonder why they held onto it in the first place. Forgiveness is like opening the prison doors only to discover that you were the prisoner. Don’t be delivered to the torturers. Forgive, release, settle accounts and be free.
If you want to take the first step and be free from the torturers, surrender to God. This here is a prayer of forgiveness for the reader
Father, I thank you for sending your Son to lay down his life on the cross for me. I thank you, Jesus, for willingly taking up my punishment on that cross. I accept that sacrifice and I accept to be forgiven. I realise that the debt you cleared for me is exceedingly beyond what I could pay. I realise that your sacrifice on the cross saved me from the wrath of God and the power of death. In light of that great forgiveness, I now forgive (mention their name here) for (mention the offence here). I also forgive (mention their name here) for (mention the offence here). I release the pain in my heart to you, Father. Uproot every root of bitterness in me. Destroy every form of resentment in me. Create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit inside of me. Father, free me from the tormenters of physical illness, soul sickness and demonic attacks because of my unforgiving and proud heart. Help me hand the pain I’m feeling for you to bear. Give me a soft and clean heart that is propelled by the Gospel. And for every time I am offended by someone, may the forgiving grace and mercy of King Jesus remind me that I do not have to be controlled by the offences of others. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen!