This post deals with the latter part of Jesus’ parable in Matthew 18:22-31. I will be use of excerpts and ideas expressed in John MacArthur’s study guide.
I honestly don’t want to write this post. It’s not a comfortable thing for me to do so. I know fully well that I may be proclaiming judgment upon my own life if I do not act accordingly with what I know to be true as revealed by God in the Scriptures. But it is true, and as a child of God, I ought to love truth and honesty (they really go hand in hand). The joy I find in knowing and sharing truth is greater than my desire for mental comfort.
I have learned how we ought to forgive (always and completely, seeking to restore relationships when repentance has occurred in the life of the one who has sinned against us) and why we ought to forgive in this manner (because God has forgiven and continually forgives us in this manner). I will now discuss what I have learned about the consequences of unforgiveness and just how big of a deal it is to not forgive someone when they have wronged us.
We find that the servant who has been forgiven completely of an impossibly enormous debt was all too quick to forget just how much he was forgiven. He should have been filled with gratitude and his next steps should have reflected the mercy which he had just been granted. But this is not what he does. He goes out and actually seeks out a fellow servant of the king who owed him a rather insignificant amount of money and began to demand payment for the debt (v. 28).
This fellow servant pleaded for mercy in the exact same manner in which the servant who had been forgiven so much plead with the king! “Have patience with me and I will repay you.” But the one to whom the debt was owed had no compassion for and showed no mercy toward his fellow servant. A debt of less than twenty dollars of today’s money was held against this fellow servant, even after the unforgiving servant had experienced complete forgiveness for an incalculable amount of debt.
MacArthur relates this:
“This lack of compassion is an unimaginable reaction. Having been pitied and forgiven in a merciful love himself, he should have dispensed the same act of mercy. The greatest sins that a man commits against a man are like pocket change compared to the sins committed against God…and yet, God offers forgiveness for them all. Who is man not to forgive lesser offenses? The whole point of the verse is that he wouldn’t forgive, and what gives the parable its power is that he was forgiven. That’s the strength of the argument. How can those truly forgiven not forgive, when God has forgiven an infinitely greater debt? How easily we forget.”
What a stunningly insightful word picture. The most heinous offense that could ever be committed against another person is as nothing in comparison with what we owe God.
MacArthur points out that unforgiveness is actually against the new nature that we have been given in Christ and that we are hurting ourselves when we don’t forgive:
“If you are not forgiving, that isn’t the new you, that’s your sinful flesh vaulting itself into prominence. When you do that, you will cut yourself off from that relational forgiveness with God that makes communing with Him sweet. If you look at your spiritual life and see a lack of power and depth, a lack of a hunger for God’s Word, and a lack of love for the private place of prayer and communion, resulting in the loss of the richness in your relationship with God, it may be that there is a barrier of unforgiveness that you have built which is preventing the Lord from giving you the forgiveness that issues in a sweet relationship with Him. If that is the case in your life, the Lord isn’t going to open up the flow of communion with Him until you forgive where forgiveness is needed.”
Other servants of the king saw this great sin occurring and they were deeply grieved. It is a proper thing for us to be deeply grieved when our brother or sister has fallen into the sin of unforgiveness.
MacArthur describe the response of the servants:
“Their response really stands out against the refusal of the one servant to forgive. By being sorry about it, these people were acting in accord with their new nature in Christ. A predominant attitude of those who have been forgiven is that they are willing to be forgivers. They not only knew how much they had been forgiven, but they knew the holy standard of God’s law and that He longs for forgiveness and unity in His family where the fellowship should be rich. Consequently, they were excessively grieved (Greek: sphodra). Such distress is a beautiful thing when it is the result of Christians becoming concerned about another Christian’s sin…grieved about the lack of response to the law and the will of God which only serves to disrupt the fellowship.”
So the sin of unforgiveness disrupts the fellowship of believers, cuts us off from daily communion with God, and puts us in a position to be chastened by Him.
What was the king’s response to his servant’s unforgiveness? “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?” God expects us to forgive in the same way that He has forgiven us, just as the king expected his servant to show mercy to his fellow servant. The king was angered by this wicked servant’s lack of mercy and turned him over to the torturers. In the same way, God will chastise us when we do not forgive until our response is right.
Out of this parable we get two reasons why we ought to forgive — one positive, one negative. The positive reason is that we ought to forgive because God has forgiven us of so much. He forgives completely and restores relationship to us when we repent of our sin and seek his mercy. The negative reason is that we ought to forgive because God will chastise us if we don’t.
We need forgiveness in our own lives, both from both God and man. If we are unwilling to forgive others when they sin against us, we may be withholding mercy from the very person from whom we may one day require mercy.
I’ll stop for now because going through the rest would just entail quoting or nearly quoting what MacArthur has to say or else rehashing what I have written in previous posts. I encourage you to read the Stages of Forgiveness near the end of the study guide. It talks about the three stages of forgiveness for Christians: suffering, surgery, and starting over; or put another way, a sin occurs, we forgive in our hearts, and then we follow up relationally by reconciling after there has been repentance.