Forgiving Those Who Owe You
Sunday After Christmas
December 27, 2009
By Dr. T. Greg Anderson
Riverdale Baptist Church
15 Duke St. Whitehorse, Yukon
We come now to our last worship service of 2009. What should be said? As I thought
about this I could not help but go back to the same topic I explored last year on the last
Sunday – forgiveness!
The thought that came to me was those words in Ephesians 4: So then, putting away
falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one
another. If you are angry, do not sin: do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do
not make room for the devil.
In the same way, as a paraphrase, do not let the year pass by without forgiving your
brother or sister in Christ who has sinned against you. Do not let the sun go down on your
anger; do not let the year pass by without forgiving those who have wronged you.
To forgive others is to enter more deeply into what God in Christ has done for you.
This is both theological and psychological truth. It is similar to the great commandments: love
God and love your neighbor.
As we take action in the real business of life to go through what at times is an
excruciating process to actually forgive someone who has offended us we gain greater
appreciation of what it means to be forgiven people before God.
So to let the year go by without extending forgiveness wherever it may be needed is
really to miss out on the rich joy of knowing God.
Peter asks the question we all want to ask: how many times do I need to forgive the
person who offends, hurts, sins against me? Peter is being generous with his offer of seven
times. He must think Jesus may go for this. After all if it was just up to Peter I think it would
be a lot less than seven. What do you think: maybe two or three at the very most?
Jesus responds with one of those answers that is a kind of “poke you in the eye”
answer: not seven times but seventy-seven times! At first this seems unbelievable, so let’s
investigate what is going on.
As always, what is the context? We must hear Jesus in light of what he has just said in
his preceding comments. There he talks about the famous “process” believers are to go
through: if someone sins against you, take the initiative and go to them (that is the first big
hurdle – do not sit around with your arms crossed thinking this is their fault, until they come
and ask to be forgiven, that’s it, they are cut off).
Then, if that does not work, take one or two others, and if that still does not work then
take it to the church. The point of this is initiative and process when resolving relational
breakdown. The Jesus way is to take a hold of the situation and work until resolution is
achieved. Jesus leaves no room to ignore or walk away from the problem. As I said this is
the first hurdle because, I am afraid, this is all too often the first choice – to ignore or walk
away from the problem. That is basically an indication of no faith in Jesus to bring resolution.
So, when Peter is told to forgive seventy-seven times he is not being told to simply
employ a cheap forgiveness – “oh, its alright, don’t worry about it, just forget it!” No! Each act
of wrong and forgiving the wrong is to be acknowledged and carefully worked through.
The main thing Jesus’ story tells us is that unlimited forgiveness is required because
we have been the recipients of unlimited forgiveness from God.
This comes out clearly when we translate the money forgiven into equivalent units. In
the first case the Lord forgives his servant 60 million denarii – that is the size of his debt.
Translators and scholars spend a lot of time arguing about the text at this point because of
the unbelievably gigantic size of the debt. It is clearly more than any individual, let alone a
servant, would ever be entrusted with.
In contrast with this the fellow servant owes only a hundred denarii – 60 million, one
hundred – and it is this contrast that puts the issue clearly before us.
Finally Jesus’ story shocks and disturbs us with the closing comments. The Lord acts
pretty much how we would act in such a situation. Given the first servant’s despicable
behavior we are in the cheering section when we hear he is to be handed over to the
torturers. Of course, the shock and disturbance is that we are uncomfortable with the thought
that God may act like this, especially when we consider the situation where we have not
Let’s draw some principles from this. First, the story is about us. We really do not
want to forgive, not even seven times let alone an unlimited number. Even more disturbing is
to face the fact that we are quite capable of falling on our knees with full sincerity, pleading for
mercy and receiving an unlimited forgiveness, an unbelievable gift and the moment we are
out of the room we can grab a hold of the one who owes us by the neck and start squeezing
the life out of them.
This is a main point of what Jesus is telling us – put us in the right situation and we can
be just like this. As Bruner says: the gospel tells human beings the truth about themselves.
Second, in light of the fact that God in Christ offers us unlimited forgiveness, we can do
nothing else but without limits forgive those who sin against us. That is the principle –
unlimited forgiveness. But remember the context – forgiveness always with examination.
Finally, do not confuse the mercy of God with the judgment of God. God grants mercy,
in and through Christ - without limit. But having fallen into the merciful hands of God we are
most certainly accountable to God to live with the freshness of that mercy in all our dealings
with others. At this point there is sometimes theological confusion.
Again as Bruner says: It is a theological misunderstanding when the eternal security of
believers, a doctrine taught impressively in Scripture, is used to teach believers that there is
no responsibility at judgment. For judgment is taught as pervasively in Scripture as mercy,
and the true believer leans with live with both!
Jesus says forgive and forgive from your hearts. That is a forgiveness that does not
say I will forgive but not forget, that does not say I will love him but not like him – it is a radical
forgiveness, just the forgiveness we have received from the loving God.
Let’s not go into 2010 holding any bitterness in our hearts. Let Jesus guide you into
his peace and freedom and do this by being guided into granting forgiveness to those who
have sinned against you. Amen