Forgiven and Forgiving
In expounding the fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, the Heidelberg accurately paraphrases, “Because of Christ’s blood, do not hold against us, poor sinners that we are, any of the sins we do or the evil that constantly clings to us. Forgive us just as we are fully determined, as evidence of your grace in us, to forgive our neighbors.” We are not forgiven by God because of our forgiving of others; we forgive others because of the forgiveness that God has extended to us. God only forgives the repentant, and a chief evidence of true repentance is a forgiving spirit.
There is a danger in not recognizing the need for ongoing forgiveness from God in our own lives. It is true that we are completely justified, but we still sin against Him. We no longer need initial forgiveness, but we are in need of constant cleansing (c.f. 1 John 1:9; Psalm 51), and there is an obvious expectation in the Scriptures for us to continue seeking forgiveness for our sins. However, it must be understood that as we seek forgiveness, there is also the clear expectation that those who have been forgiven will themselves be forgiving.
If you pray this request of the Lord’s Prayer with integrity, you are either saying that you will forgive anyone of anything, or you are saying that you are not a recipient of God’s forgiveness. While we cannot exercise patience and forgiveness to the same degree that God shows to us, we can and must follow the same pattern of forgiveness that God shows toward us. The expectation for God’s children is clear: we must keep short accounts in our relationships with others.
Considering the tradition among Jewish leadership—that one was expected to forgive his brother three times but not required to extend forgiveness on the fourth—Peter was being overly gracious in his own estimation as he offered to forgive up to seven times. Perhaps he was expecting to be praised for his big-hearted willingness to forgive more than double the norm. Forgiveness, however, is a state of the heart, not a mathematical equation. The parable Jesus tells makes clear that if you are a Christian, you do not have the right to withhold forgiveness from anyone for anything.
The amount owed by the man in the parable (i.e., 10,000 talents) is the equivalent of about 150,000 years of wages, or about 7.5 billion dollars. The slave does not deny the debt, and he offers no explanation or justification or rationalization. He simply begs for patience, and in response, he receives compassion leading to release and forgiveness.
The amount owed to this man by his fellow slave (i.e. 100 denarii) is the equivalent of about three months of income, or around 12,500 dollars. The debt was not insignificant, but it paled in comparison. The ratio between the two debts is 1 to 600,000. The fellow slave pleads with the man using a nearly identical plea as the first man, but there is a drastically different response. Rather than being moved to compassion for his fellow slave, especially in light of the mercy and forgiveness he had just received, he instead refuses to forgive.
When others see what has happened, they are grieved both for the man who was treated mercilessly and for the king, whose generosity was exploited. The unforgiving man is summoned and is then handed over to the torturers until the debt is paid. James writes, “Judgment will be merciless to the one who has shown no mercy” (James 2:13).
- This parable unfolds in a way that is aimed at moving us to forgiveness, not just threatening us with not being forgiven. Broken hearts—i.e., hearts that know and are aware of their sin against God and the measure of forgiveness that has been extended to us—cannot refuse to be forgiving. Entrance into the kingdom requires forgiveness. The King Himself has forgiven most of all, and it is expected that forgiveness will mark each member of the kingdom. Are you willing to forgive? Are there any individuals that you have refused to forgive from your heart until now? Until we are enamored with God’s kindness to us in Christ, we will find it difficult, if not impossible, to respond similarly to others. What we have been forgiven by God far exceeds anything that could be done to us.