The Poison of Unforgiveness
The High cost of unforgiveness
What unforgiveness actually is
Make forgiveness a part of your life!
Reflect and remember
Try to empathize with the other person!
When we start living in an atmosphere of humility and honesty, we must take some risks and expect some dangers. Unless humility and honesty result in forgiveness, relationships cannot be mended and strengthened. Peter recognized the risks involved and asked Jesus how he should handle them in the future.
But Peter made some serious mistakes. To begin with, he lacked humility himself. He was sure his brother would sin against him, but not he against his brother! Peter’s second mistake was in asking for limits and measures. Where there is love, there can be no limits or dimensions (Eph. 3:17–19). Peter thought he was showing great faith and love when he offered to forgive at least seven times. After all, the rabbis taught that three times was sufficient.
Our Lord’s reply, “Until seventy times seven” (490 times) must have startled Peter. Who could keep count for that many offenses? But that was exactly the point Jesus was making: Love “keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Cor. 13:5, NIV). By the time we have forgiven a brother that many times, we are in the habit of forgiving.
But Jesus was not advising careless or shallow forgiveness. Christian love is not blind (Phil. 1:9–10). The forgiveness Christ requires is on the basis of the instructions He gave in Matthew 18:15–20. If a brother is guilty of a repeated sin, no doubt he would find strength and power to conquer that sin through the encouragement of his loving and forgiving brethren. If we condemn a brother, we bring out the worst in him. But if we create an atmosphere of love and forgiveness, we can help God bring out the best in him.
The parable illustrates the power of forgiveness. It is important to note that this parable is not about salvation, for salvation is wholly of grace and is unconditionally given. To make God’s forgiveness a temporary thing is to violate the very truth of Scripture (Rom. 5:8; Eph. 2:8–9; Titus 3:3–7). The parable deals with forgiveness between brothers, not between lost sinners and God. The emphasis in this chapter is on brother forgiving brother (Matt. 18:15, 21).
The main character in this parable went through three stages in his experience of forgiveness.
He was a debtor (vv. 23–27). This man had been stealing funds from the king and, when the books were audited, his crime was discovered. The total tax levy in Palestine was about 800 talents a year, so you can see how dishonest this man was. In terms of today’s buying power, this was probably equivalent to over $10 million.
But this man actually thought he could get out of the debt. He told the king that, given enough time, he could pay it back. We detect two sins here: pride and a lack of sincere repentance. The man was not ashamed because he stole the money; he was ashamed because he got caught. And he actually thought he was big enough to earn the money to repay the king’s account. In the economy of that day, a man would have had to work twenty years to earn one talent.
His case was hopeless, except for one thing: The king was a man of compassion. He assumed the loss and forgave the servant. This meant that the man was free and that he and his family would not be thrown into a debtor’s prison. The servant did not deserve this forgiveness; it was purely an act of love and mercy on the part of the master.
He was a creditor (vv. 28–30). The servant left the presence of the king and went and found a fellow servant who owed him 100 pence. The average worker earned one penny a day, so this debt was insignificant compared to what the servant had owed the king. Instead of sharing with his friend the joy of his own release, the servant mistreated his friend and demanded that he pay the debt. The debtor used the same approach as the servant: “Have patience with me and I will pay you all of it!” But the unjust servant was unwilling to grant to others what he wanted others to grant to him.
Perhaps he had the legal right to throw the man in prison, but he did not have the moral right. He had been forgiven himself—should he not forgive his fellow servant? He and his family had been spared the shame and suffering of prison. Should he not spare his friend?
He became a prisoner (vv. 31–34). The king originally delivered him from prison, but the servant put himself back in. The servant exercised justice and cast his friend into prison. “So you want to live by justice?” asked the king. “Then you shall have justice! Throw the wicked servant in prison and torment him! I will do to him as he has done to others.” (There is no suggestion that the entire family was sentenced. After all, it was the father who abused the other servant and ignored the king’s kindness.)
The world’s worst prison is the prison of an unforgiving heart. If we refuse to forgive others, then we are only imprisoning ourselves and causing our own torment. Some of the most miserable people I have met in my ministry have been people who would not forgive others. They lived only to imagine ways to punish these people who had wronged them. But they were really only punishing themselves.
What was wrong with this man? The same thing that is wrong with many professing Christians: They have received forgiveness, but they have not really experienced forgiveness deep in their hearts. Therefore, they are unable to share forgiveness with those who have wronged them. If we live only according to justice, always seeking to get what is ours, we will put ourselves into prison. But if we live according to forgiveness, sharing with others what God has shared with us, then we will enjoy freedom and joy. Peter asked for a just measuring rod; Jesus told him to practice forgiveness and forget the measuring rod.
Our Lord’s warning is serious. He did not say that God saves only those who forgive others. The theme of this parable is forgiveness between brothers, not salvation for lost sinners. Jesus warned us that God cannot forgive us if we do not have humble and repentant hearts. We reveal the true condition of our hearts by the way we treat others. When our hearts are humble and repentant, we will gladly forgive our brothers. But where there is pride and a desire for revenge, there can be no true repentance; and this means God cannot forgive.
In other words, it is not enough to receive God’s forgiveness, or even the forgiveness of others. We must experience that forgiveness in our hearts so that it humbles us and makes us gentle and forgiving toward others. The servant in the parable did not have a deep experience of forgiveness and humility. He was simply glad to be “off the hook.” He had never really repented.
“And be you kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Eph. 4:32). “Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do you” (Col. 3:13).