What does Matthew 18 teach us about forgiveness? We’re giving you a huge peek inside the renown Preacher’s Commentary because we love what it has to say!
THE NATURE OF FORGIVENESS
The nature of forgiveness is a most profound aspect of reconciling grace. Forgiveness is never easy; it is hard.
It is the most difficult thing in the universe. Forgiveness means that the forgiving person as the innocent one resolves his own wrath over the sin of the guilty one and lets the guilty one go free. To forgive means that one genuinely loves, and this love can move beyond the issue to the person, and that one cares more about the person than about what he or she has done. Forgiveness liberates. Forgiveness frees the person for the options of living. Our refusal to forgive is a power play that limits the offender, that holds the guilty “under one’s thumb,” or power.
But such forgiveness is always in relationship, hence the condition of repentance. It is not a package that one accepts and runs away with. It is only known in reconciliation.
THE NEED FOR FORGIVENESS
Following a sermon which I had preached in a meeting in western Pennsylvania, a gracious lawyer thanked me for the message, but then added, “I’m not a Christian; I’ve never accepted this idea of the innocent suffering for the guilty, this blood religion.”
I said, “Sir, I’m very sorry for you, for you can’t have a happy marriage, or a happy family, or any lasting friendships in your social relations.”
He responded with, “And why not?”
To this I replied, “Because you are not an angel, and you make mistakes, and as you make mistakes the only way in which people can keep on accepting you is if they, as innocent, will forgive your guilt and accept you. But you just told me that you don’t believe in the innocent suffering for the guilty!”
He was honest enough to say he would think this over. And he came back to the next meeting when I preached on the Cross, which showed in Jesus’ death the depth of God’s forgiveness as He absorbed His own wrath on our sin by His love and extended forgiveness.
FORGIVENESS IN MATTHEW
This is the remarkable truth of this story. Matthew says Peter asked how often we should forgive. In his question he goes beyond the rabbinic rule of three times and extends it to seven. But Jesus answered, “Not seven, but seventy times seven.”
Jesus taught that forgiveness is qualitative, not quantitative.
And that forgiveness takes the place of revenge. A man in Christ never reaches the limits of love (Rom. 13:8). The following points express:
- Forgiveness creates the deepest awareness of sin: we can’t change the facts.
- Forgiveness costs the innocent one, for he resolves the problem in love.
- Forgiveness conditions one to forgive others for he is forever accountable for his privilege of freedom.
AN EXPLANATION OF THE PARABLE
The statement, “The kingdom of heaven is like ” sets the parable in the context of divine grace.
A king, settling accounts with his servants, found one servant owing ten thousand talents. The amount is so great that there is no conceivable way in which he could pay. This is the equivalent of at least twelve million dollars in our currency. It was fifty million denarii, and one denarii was a normal daily wage. Herod’s annual income was only nine hundred talents. The tax on Galilee and Perea together was only two hundred talents, and this man owed ten thousand! Jesus is illustrating our debt to God as totally beyond our payment.
The king decided to collect what he could, and ordered the man and his family to be sold (see Josh. 7; 2 Kin. 4:1). But the man fell on his face and entreated the king for patience, promising to pay everything. With this attitude toward the impossible, the king had compassion on him and forgave him the debt.
Forgiveness was because of his attitude, not his ability. In view of the interpretation given earlier of the meaning of forgiveness, we note that the guilty man was liberated, and the innocent person, the King, paid the debt, for He crossed ten thousand talents off of his accounts! This is Jesus’ illustration of forgiveness.
JESUS ADDS A SEQUEL
But human nature is inclined to resent rather than to release, to be demanding rather than to forgive. And Jesus adds a sequel to the story.
The forgiven man, who should have lived accountably in gratitude for his freedom, went out and met a man who owed him a relatively small sum. The figure was one hundred denarii, about twenty dollars, 500,000 times less than the forgiven man’s debt; but even so he demanded payment. He took him by the throat, throttled or strangled him, demanding the money.
His debtor now fell at his feet, begged for patience as he had, promised to “pay all” with the same words the forgiven man had used in his own desperation. But he would not extend patience, and threw the man in prison until the debt should be paid.
The behavior was so scandalous that his fellow servants were shocked at his injustice and reported it. The king called him in, and placed his condemnation in the form of a question—“I forgave you all that debt because you begged me; should you not also have had compassion?” The king was angry, and measuring judgment by the same measure in which the man had treated his debtor, delivered him to the tortures of prison until he should pay.
THE PUNCH LINE
The punch line is, so will my heavenly Father do if you forgive not.
This is not a legalism, but states the expectation of responsible persons whose moral sense of responsibility will call them to express the forgiveness towards others that they have experienced from God. “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile” (Ps. 32:1–2, KJV).
Our joy in this gift of grace keeps us from ever holding it to ourselves. This is illustrated by David having longed for a drink of water from the well at Bethlehem, whereupon three of his men risked their lives and broke through the ranks of the Philistines and brought him a drink.
He said, in effect, “I cannot drink it; it is the price of blood,” and he poured it out as an offering to God (1 Chr. 11:16–19). It is this awareness of the cost of our own forgiveness that keeps us from audacity in relation to those we are called upon to forgive. We only extend God’s forgiveness.
Thus Matthew concludes the “fourth book” of Jesus’ teachings.
The Preacher’s Commentary gives an outline and introduction for each book of the Bible. Then, story by story, it provides fantastic commentary that makes the Bible applicable and easier to understand. This resource is great for teachers, small group leaders, and preacher’s, and those looking for new input into their quiet time.