Matthew 18 - Who Really Needs Forgiveness?

This month, I'm running some posts from the archives, as we are somewhere on the Southeast Asian subcontinent, traveling and eventually making our way back to America. I'll be popping in every so often to update you on our transition back home, but until then, enjoy the re-runs! If you want to hear the latest, you can always sign up for my monthly newsletter here. - whitney

(This was originally published November 30, 2013.)

Forgiveness...the f-word some people don't want to talk about. I often think I'm pretty good at forgetting and forgiving. But then God smacks me in the face with a story, turns me around, and says, This is who you really are.

In Matthew 18:21-35, one of Jesus' disciples asks how many times he was required to forgive another person. Jesus replied with a story of a king, a man, and a fellow servant.

A king decides to settle his accounts and call in those who owe him money to pay up. One man owes millions of dollars {or the first-century equivalent} and has no way of paying it back. He begs the king to give him more time to pay it back - either hoping he can stall the king indefinitely or truly believing he can eventually pay back the huge debt.

The king has compassion on him and completely cancels the debt, letting the man go free.

In "celebration", the man goes out and finds a fellow servant who owes him a few thousand dollars. He threatens the man and demands payment, and when the servant asks him for more time, he throws him in debtor's prison until the servant can pay it back.

The king hears about this and calls the man back into court. He confronts the man with his act, saying, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’

He then throws the man into prison, reinstating his debt, until the man can pay it all back - which of course, he never can.

So what's the point?

There are three main characters in this story: the king, the unforgiving man, and the fellow servant. And when I read this story this month, I realized I was the unforgiving man.

God brought this truth home to me when someone close to me made a mistake that suddenly brought out feelings of anger and judgement.

Doesn't he know any better?! Can't he get it right? I fumed. I reveled in my self-righteousness and feelings of superiority. I did not want to forgive. Then like an arrow, God pierced my heart and said, Do you realize the debt I have forgiven you? 

Just like the unforgiving man in Jesus' story, I often forget what I've been forgiven - that no matter what wrongs someone does against me, it could never be as big as how I've wronged God in my thoughts and actions. Yet, through Christ, God wipes the debt I owe him right out of the books.

The man in the story begged the king, telling him, I can pay you back!

 And often, I think the same thing - that somehow, by following the rules and sacrificing enough, I can pay God back for all the good he's given me.

But that kind of thinking shows how little I think of my sin and God's holiness.

So why did the man go to the fellow servant and demand repayment? Did he still think he needed the money in order to pay back his debt to the king? Or did he think the king's treatment of him gave him a special status, a right to treat others with superiority?

I'm not sure, but I know in my own life, it's so easy to take offense at those who do me wrong, whether intentional or not, and to want to make them feel like they owe me a debt. Withholding forgiveness makes me feel powerful, but it just reveals the state of my heart - I don't fully grasp the tremendous debt I've been forgiven.

The king asks the man, Why didn't you show your fellow servant mercy, just like I showed you? Have you learned nothing?

God doesn't expect us to receive his forgiveness without the transformation of our hearts as well.

Love changes us.

 And God's love should create a passion for showing mercy to those around us, so that we can point to the true source of mercy - Jesus himself.

So this weekend, my prayer for myself and for you is that we will grasp how tremendous a debt God has forgiven us, and that that realization would create deep gratitude in our hearts towards God and a love for showing mercy to those around us.

Does this resonate with anyone? How do you struggle with giving grace to those around you?

P.S. How David's prayer for forgiveness reminded me of my need for a new heart.