This post deals with the principles and applications mentioned in the second study guide of a message series by John MacArthur entitled Learning to Forgive.
In the preceding post I talked about what it means to forgive completely. It means we first forgive the person in our heart (judicial forgiveness, like unto God forgiving a Christian of all their sins and saving them from hell) and then when that person has repented, we restore them to fellowship (relational forgiveness, like unto what God does with us when we have broken our relationship with Him and then repent). These two types of forgiveness are offered to us by God and these are the two types of forgiveness that ought to characterize our dealings with others, most especially those in the Body. Christ-like forgiveness as the Bible commands is distinctly different from what the world defines as forgiveness.
The world tells us that we can completely forgive and still not restore someone to the broken relationship. In fact, the world often encourages this. I have even heard from Christian brothers and sisters that they think this is an acceptable way for us to live. The truth is that this is only forgiving half way! That is not the way God forgives us, and for Christians, it is not the way we are instructed to forgive. We might say “I can’t forgive that sin because it hurt me too deeply,” or “I can forgive that sin two or three times, but after that I won’t allow that person to be close to me again,” but if we say things like this it is because of our unwillingness to forgive, not our inability to do so. It’s a shame that even in the Church there are those who believe or have been taught that we can forgive completely without restoring fellowship once there has been repentance. That is why there are so many broken relationships in the church. Partners in ministry have become enemies; husbands and wives are divorced; people who once were best friends now won’t even speak to one another. There are divisions and schisms throughout the Body primarily due to a lack of forgiveness in the hearts of Christ’s followers. I firmly believe that there is not a single relationship that exists between true followers of Christ which cannot be reconciled if all parties involved will repent of any sin that exists between them and forgive one another completely just as God has done for us.
You might be thinking: “how can he possibly say that we are obligated to forgive like this?!” Well, my friend, Jesus makes it abundantly clear to us. Let us delve into Matthew 18:21-35.
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 ten thousand 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.”
Peter was wise in asking his question. I believe I was mistaken before to think that Peter asked this with an attitude of disregard for forgiveness. In light of studying this passage more, I concur with John MacArthur that Peter was thinking rather realistically about human beings and their inability to get it right. Peter likely thought he was being rather generous too since the tradition of the Jews was to forgive someone three times for a given offense, and after the fourth, to not forgive. Does this “three strikes and you’re out” rule sound familiar to any of you? I know that’s the way I have treated the offenses of some of my brothers and sisters in the past. And I can think of a fellow Christian right off hand that views my offenses in this manner. But Jesus responds with a figurative answer (70 times 7) that makes it abundantly clear that there is to be no end to our forgiveness. He then goes on to give us a parable about forgiveness.
The king represents God. The servant who owed 10,000 talents is representative of a Christian. The servant who owed the other servant 100 denarii is representative of a Christian who has sinned against his fellow servant: another Christian. I encourage you to reread the passage to get a better understanding if you were unsure of who these people represented.
We owe God an enormous amount. In fact, so enormous is our debt to God that it can never be paid by us. The 10,000 talents owed by the one servant in today’s money would be on the order of billions upon billions of dollars. It is clear that this is a debt that is impossible for the servant to pay, just as it is impossible for us to repay God for the enormity of our sin against Him. The servant was clearly deserving of punishment, just as we are certainly all deserving of hell for our sins. But what did this servant do? He realized that this was an impossible debt to pay and begged for mercy from his master, asking that his master allow him to repay as best he could. We come to Christ by recognizing our own spiritual bankruptcy and pleading for forgiveness. And what does God do? What did the servant’s master do? Instead of giving the servant what he rightly deserved (being sold into bondage) the master had compassion for his servant. He completely forgave the debt! He wrote it off and released the servant from the punishment he rightly deserved. God has forgiven the Christian in the same manner. We beg for God’s mercy and God has compassion on us and writes it off because Christ has paid the debt that was owed for sin. Past, present, and future: it is all reckoned for.
This servant has been shown enormous mercy. As Christians, we also have been shown an enormous amount of mercy. Any sin against us is utterly insignificant in light of the mercy and grace that God has shown us through Jesus Christ. In light of what this passage teaches us about forgiveness, there are some real tough questions that we ought to ask of ourselves. Do I forgive completely as God has completely forgiven me? Do I seek to reconcile my relationships after there has been repentance for sin just as God restores my relationship to Him when I repent? Am I harboring bitterness toward someone and holding onto the hurt and anguish they have caused? Do I bring up sins which have been repented of to them or to others?