Forgiveness is not optional.
As with all Jesus’ parables in Jesus’ story we have just read (see below), there is a twist in the tail.
A king decides he wants to settle accounts with those who work for him.
He asks the servant who owes him ten thousand talents. a huge sum of money, to pay up. But he cannot. So the king decides to raise the money in the way that money was raised from bankrupts in those days: the servant, the servant’s wife and children are all to be sold, as slaves, so the king can recover what he is owed.
What a terrible situation! Then we imagine the horror for the young family, facing separation and who knows what horrors being sold as slaves, in the open market. So the servant begs the king to be merciful and, very surprisingly, the king decides to forgive the servant all he owes – that huge amount of money!
So we all heave a sigh of relief but, unfortunately, that’s not the end of the story. The servant we feel sorry for then goes round to another servant, who owes him a small amount of money and demands immediate repayment. The other servant pleads with him, but to no avail and the first servant has him thrown in jail.
Now the king gets to hear about this and changes his mind about forgiving the first servant….
Jesus says that God will treat us in the same way, if we do not forgive.
The most important thing about Christianity, is that, as Christians who have repented, who have turned to Christ, we are forgiven people. Forgiven for anything and everything we have ever done – however terrible it may have been.
We need not have any guilt about the past at all or fear for the future, because the Creator of the Universe himself, who made us and who will judge us at the end of time, has, in the form of Jesus of Nazareth, paid on the Cross for everything that we have done wrong.
That is the gospel – the good news!
But Jesus is saying that our forgiveness, will be effectively lost if we do not forgive those who have wronged us. Forgiveness is not an option for us. It is essential.
And it makes sense as well. Most of us Christians, we have been praying, in the Lord’s prayer, possibly every day of our lives: ’forgive us our trespasses AS we forgive those who trespass against us’. Why would we imagine that the Lord would not hear that prayer, which we have so earnestly prayed all our lives….?
You may say ‘but Alex you don’t understand – if you knew what they have done – if you knew how they have behaved – any right thinking person would agree that it would be a total outrage to forgive them’.
Nevertheless, I am saying to you, you must forgive them……I must forgive them.
Well you may say ‘I cannot forgive them’ – I don’t know how!
Well let’s just see what we mean by forgiveness
Forgiveness is not:
Approval of what they did; Excusing what they did; Justifying what they did; Pardoning what they did; its not necessarily, reconciliation; Denying what they did; Blindness to what has happened; Forgetting what has happened; Refusing to take the wrong seriously; Pretending that we are not hurt
Being aware of what someone has done and still resolving to forgive; Making a choice to keep no records of the wrong they have done you; Refusing to punish; Not telling others what they did (except to the necessary officials if a crime has been committed – to protect others); Being merciful – not giving them what they do deserve; Being gracious – giving them what they do not deserve; Occurs in the heart – and this is why reconciliation is not always a necessary part of forgiveness (Many people that I find difficult to forgive would find it absurd that they had done anything wrong the first place); Is the absence of bitterness – bitterness drives away the Holy Spirit from us and we must deal with it if we are to flourish as God wants us to flourish – but it does not follow that if you forgive you will remain close friends; Something we may need to do every day – it’s tough
If you know that there is someone you need to forgive and you cannot do so please let me know and I will come and pray with you to help you.
It is so important that we forgive that Jesus is saying that our eternal future is at stake.
But not only that: if we do not forgive during our lives we may feel ourselves today cut off from God our lack of forgiveness is effectively a barrier between us and him. We may feel that our prayers are unanswered and we may feel totally isolated from him.
A friend I was sitting next to at dinner one evening said to me… ‘I used to feel that I had a good relationship with God, but now I just feel spiritually numb’.
I think I was guided to say (before I could stop myself actually) ‘that sounds like some kind of sin in your life, what is going on?’
She was pretty surprised, not unreasonably, but admitted that she just could not forgive someone for what seemed to me to be extremely good reasons. In fact, I thought she was totally justified in being very angry indeed.
But having read, at my suggestion, RT Kendall’s book ‘Total Forgiveness’ she decided to give forgiveness a try.
A few days later she sent me an email saying the following: ‘I have very rarely felt the presence of God so near. I really DO have you to thank for that. Your advice was spot on. I have been able to work through the forgiveness business and feel SO much lighter, nearer to God and HAPPY’.
More recently she wrote: ‘I have become so very much happier and so grateful for all the wonderful things in my life, rather than holding on to the sadness’
Forgiving others can transform our relationship with God; can change our entire life from misery to happiness; as it has with my friend.
And this not only now but for eternity
21 Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant
23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25 and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26 So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31 When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35 So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”