Read Matthew 18:21–35
Over the past few days, we have examined Jesus' words to us when we have offended someone. Tough steps...yet essential.
But what about when someone offends us? The Apostle Peter asked Jesus a similar question:
Then Peter came and said to Him, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" (Matthew 18:21)
Good, relevant question. What's the limit we should place on forgiveness? Peter was feeling magnanimous that day, for the Jews were instructed to forgive once, forgive twice...and a third time, but from then on, forget it. Peter doubled the limit then added a bonus for good measure.
Observe the Lord's response:
Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven." (Matthew 18:22)
Obviously, He is not saying literally, "Would you believe 490 times, Peter?" No, not that. He's suggesting an infinite number of times. Limitless. I would imagine that thought blew those disciples away...which, no doubt, prompted Jesus to go into greater detail. Hence, a parable with a punch line. Read the story very carefully, preferably aloud and slowly.
“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." (Matthew 18:23–34)
The king's slave had amassed an incredible debt (equivalent to about $10,000,000!) requiring infinite forgiveness, which the king provided. That represents vertical forgiveness—a beautiful reminder of God's forgiving the sinner.
The horizontal comes in view in verses 28 through 34. That same slave, having just been forgiven that incredible debt, turned against a fellow who owed him less than 20 bucks and assaulted the poor fellow. When the king got word of his slave's violent reaction, he was furious. I mean, he was livid! And the confrontation that followed was understandably severe.
A couple of things emerge from the latter part of this story that provide us with reasons to forgive others. The first we'll look at today...and the second one tomorrow:
To refuse to forgive is hypocritical. Note again verses 32 through 33.
"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?'"
Because we have been the recipients of maximum mercy, who are we to suddenly demand justice from others? The compassion that God demonstrates on our behalf calls for us to do the same toward others.
Anything less is downright hypocritical.
Excerpted from Improving Your Serve: The Art of Unselfish Living, Copyright 1981 by Charles R. Swindoll, Inc. (Thomas Nelson Publishers). All rights reserved worldwide. Used by permission.