There is a parable in the Bible that has made me uncomfortable for some time. Whenever I would read it, I recognized the principle that Jesus was teaching, but my flesh would fight against it, wanting to hold onto my ways instead of God’s ways. The parable illustrates the principle of forgiveness – that thing we know we should do, but somehow, we still aren’t convinced is the right thing to do. After all, some of our pain is deeply rooted and very justified. After reading this parable recently, I saw God’s truth more clearly than ever before in the area of forgiveness. Forgiving others can become a privilege when we truly know that we have been completely forgiven and set free from our debt.
Matthew 18:21-27 (The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant)
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.”
A debt of ten thousand bags of gold is immense, but it is still measurable compared to the immeasurable debt we have to God. When God saw that man had sinned and would be unable to pay him back, he sent Jesus to be the ransom for our debt. When we come to the point in our life that we realize our debt to God, we are much like the servant in the parable. We plead for God’s mercy and ask for his forgiveness. Some of us even come to God determined to live the rest of our life paying God back, yet, even with all our intentions, God (the king) sees our impossible promise and decides to have mercy on us. Notice that the king from the parable did not lessen the debt to a more reasonable amount that could be paid back, but rather he canceled the debt completely.
God knew that we could never repay the debt that we owed him, so he had compassion on us and released us from the burden. We owe him nothing. This is where I’ve missed it, and where so many of us miss it. We accept God’s forgiveness in the moment, but walk away thinking it can’t be real. Surely, I must make up for this debt I owe. Thus, we live our lives as slaves when we are daughters and sons.
Matthew 18:28-35 (The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant…continued)
“But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’ But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened. Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
In the parable, the servant desired and was given mercy, but he chose to exert pride over those who were in debt to him. He wanted a full payment from those who owed him. What would cause him to treat his servants this way? Why did he need their money so badly? I believe he continued to hold others accountable to their debt in an effort to make up his own deficit. Though his debt was forgiven, he feared being in a place of shame, unable to pay, before his master once again. He did not take responsibility for his debt, but rather blamed others. Next time, he would be sure he was ready to pay up. All this, and yet he owed the master nothing.
I need to stop trying to pay God back.
This is the revelation I got when reading this parable that has settled the uncomfortable feeling it used to give me. When I stop trying to pay God back and truly receive his forgiveness, I am able to forgive others.
We expect others to pay us back when we expect ourselves to pay God back. We hold others accountable to their sins when we believe that God is holding us accountable to our sins.
We need to forgive because we have been forgiven (Colossians 3:13). The ability to forgive is more about my belief in what God has done for me than the hurt of what has been done to me. Jesus has made a way for us to live a righteous life no matter our past or what has been done to us. His grace, goodness, and redemption are greater than anything that could ever come against us. We are empowered to live a godly life because we are debt free!