Forthright Magazine

The bounds of a Christian‘s forgiveness

Each will sin against his brother from time to time. Jesus prescribed that the offended brother should go to the one who sinned against him in an effort to restore his brother. The Lord wanted every effort to be made to restore the offending brother. If the first approach failed, one or two others were to be taken to assist the offended in reaching out. Their goad was gaining the lost brother. It was only after taking the matter to the church, without success, that the brother was to be treated as one who refused the knowledge of God (Matthew 18:15-17).

Peter did not understand. He asked, “How often shall my brother sin against me, And I forgive him” (Matthew 18:21). He may have thought himself generous when he suggested seven times. The rabbis taught “forgiveness should not be extended more than three times,” according to Edersheim. Jesus’ answer shows he was more concerned with his disciples having the type of loving heart that could truly forgive. Then, numbering offenses would be out of the question.

The bounds of a Christian’s forgiveness should be the same as the bounds to God’s forgiveness. After all, those who would be children of God must strive to exhibit the love of their Father (Matt. 5:43-48). Such thinking is apparently behind the parable Jesus went on to tell.

The King in this parable stands for God. He called in his servants to settle accounts. One was brought before him who owed 10,000 talents. A footnote in the International English Bible says it would take a workman about 1,000 weeks to earn one talent. Thus, he owed the equivalent of 1 million weeks wages. Unbelievably, he asked the king to be patient with him and he would repay the debt.

God’s wonderful love for mankind can be seen in the king’s willingness to forgive such a great debt (Matthew 18:22-27). The singer of Israel proclaimed the beauty of this thought (Psalm 103:12; 130:7). God is willing to take the deep stain of sin and remove it if we will but obey. To those who are willing to repent and be changed by baptism into a new man, he has promised a complete blotting out of sin. To those in Christ who confess, he promises faithfully to forgive (Acts 3:19; 1 John 1:9).

The servant did not appreciate what the king had done for him. He found a fellow servant who owed him 100 days’ wages and demanded payment. His fellow servant made the same appeal he had made to the king. Yet, he would not even give him time to come up with the money but cast him into debtors’ prison. His fellow servants’ shock at his actions is seen in their reporting the incident to the king (Matthew 18:28-31).

The king was angered by what he heard. He expected his servant to imitate his forgiveness. Because he had not, the master restored his original debt and delivered him to the torturers until he had repaid the whole debt. Imagine the unending goal of repaying such a debt from within prison walls! It would be an eternal process filled with suffering (Matthew 18:32-34).

The importance of forgiveness is then stressed by our Lord. “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses” (Matthew 18:35). After all, each of us has sinned in the sight of God. Our sins are worthy of eternal death (Rom. 3:10, 23; 6:23). Yet, God gave the indescribable gift of his own Son’s death on Calvary to set us free (2 Cor. 9:15; John 3:16-17)!

“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6).

Surely, out of simple gratitude for the release from such a great debt, we should forgive those who sin against us. Anyone desiring to be forgiven by God must be forgiving (Matthew 6:12, 14-15; Ephesians 4:32).


Gary C. Hampton
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