Have you ever noticed that Jesus places a great deal of emphasis on our need to forgive others? Forgiving others is one of the most important of Jesus’ teachings, and one of the keys to living the Christian life. In fact, Jesus even goes so far as to say that if you’re not willing to forgive others, you can’t experience the fullness of God’s forgiveness in your life. In the Sermon On The Mount Jesus said: “If you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Jesus teaches this same principle here in Matthew 18. Here in Matthew 18 we learn a lot about forgiveness, how much we’ve been forgiven, and how much we need to forgive others. We also learn that being forgiven and forgiving others are inseparable concepts.
The “big idea” of Matthew 18:21-35 is this: If you are going to follow Christ, you need to forgive as you have been forgiven.
If I were to ask you to think of someone you’ve had to forgive recently, or someone you need to forgive, it probably wouldn’t take very long for you to come up with a name. It’s a fact of life, as you live your life you will have many opportunities to forgive others. If you’re married, you’ll have many opportunities to practice forgiveness. If you have a job, go to school, have neighbors, go to Church, or do anything else, in whatever you do in life, you are going to have many opportunities to practice forgiveness. And guess what? You, yes even you, will give many people many opportunities to forgive you. Opportunities to forgive are a part of life. So the question is: how do you do it? How do you forgive others as God wants you to forgive them? What does it mean to forgive as you have been forgiven?
As we look at Matthew 18 we see several guidelines for forgiving others. When someone comes to you asking for forgiveness, here are several things to keep in mind. But be warned , these are not easy.
First of all, if you are going to practice forgiveness as Jesus teaches you to do, you need to forget about keeping count. In this passage Peter comes to Jesus and asks, “Lord how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?”
Where did Peter come up with the “seven times” figure? Well, in the Jewish belief system, seven was the perfect number — the number of completion. Therefore, forgiving someone seven times “completed” your obligation to forgive, and you weren’t required to extend it further.
Jesus said to him, however,”Not seven times but seventy-seven times,” The point is that you are not to keep track of the number of times you forgive someone. In other words, each and every time they come to you seeking forgiveness, you are to forgive them.
Now, it’s important to know that Jesus is not talking about someone who hurts you and does not feel guilty about it or does not ask you to forgive them. He’s talking about someone who is truly sorry for what they have done and comes to you asking for forgiveness. In that case, Jesus makes it clear. If you are going to be the forgiving person He calls you to be, you forgive those who ask you to forgive them, no matter how many times they may offend you and have to ask for your forgiveness.
Jesus makes it clear to Peter, and to you, and to me, that we are to forgive others an unlimited number of times. He also makes it clear that God doesn’t expect you and me to do anything that he’s not willing to do Himself. The truth is that you and I are to forgive others an unlimited number of times because God forgives us an unlimited number of times. In other words, you can forget about keeping count when it comes to God’s willingness to forgive you. If you ask God to forgive you, He will. In the same way, you need to forget about keeping count if someone asks you for forgiveness. If someone asks you to forgive them, do it, regardless of how many times they’ve asked in the past. Forgive others as you have been and continue to be forgiven. Forget about keeping count.
There’s a second guideline Jesus gives here in Matthew 18. That is when someone asks you to forgive them, don’t just forgive, but cancel the debt. Sometimes when you forgive others you have the power to cancel their debt, to let them completely off the hook, and you need to do that whenever you can. In Matthew 18 Jesus tells the parable of a man who owed his king a huge sum of money. He owed him millions of dollars in today’s way of thinking about it. There is no way he could pay the debt, so the king ordered that everything the man owned, and even his wife and children, be sold, and the man sold into slavery also. In that way the debt, or at least part of it, would be repaid. The man who owed the debt begged and pleaded for mercy, and the king took pity on him. He took pity and canceled the dept all together. Just like that, with just a word, millions of dollars of debt was wiped away. This man had gotten in over his head and he owed far more than he was able to pay back, but the king understood something about forgiveness, and so he cancelled the debt and let him go.
You know, there are some times when you forgive others that you simply have to cancel the debt and let them go. When someone does something wrong, they should do whatever they can to make it right. But sometimes people wrong us to such an extent that they can never make it right. If they come to you seeking forgiveness, and you have the power to cancel their debt, then cancel their debt. Let them off the hook. Forgive them completely.
Maybe you’re wondering why you should forgive someone completely and cancel their debt, or just let them off the hook. If you are wondering why you need to do that, remember the principle to forgive others as God has forgiven you. When God forgives you. The Bible says He doesn’t remember your sin any more. It’s forgiven and done away with. You need to forgive others in the same way. When you forgive others, remember how God forgives you, how God forgets your sins. That will help you forgive and forget theirs.
So, we have seen two guidelines for forgiving others as God has forgiven you. Forget about keeping count, and cancel the debt.
A third guideline about how to be the forgiving person Jesus calls you to be that we see here in Matthew 18 is that, even though you forgive them and let them off the hook, you still need to keep them accountable. In this parable in Matthew 18, the king forgives the servant’s debt, and then the servant goes out and refuses to forgive someone else of a much lesser debt. The king then throws the servant he has forgiven but has refused to forgive someone else in jail
What’s the lesson here? What can we learn from this? We can learn that along with forgiveness comes accountability. The king didn’t cancel the servant’s debt and give him free reign to run up more debt, and neither did he give him free reign to treat his fellow servants ruthlessly. He forgave him, he cancelled the debt, and he also held him accountable. In forgiving others, this is the area where you might often drop the ball. When someone comes to you asking for forgiveness, the best response is to say, “Absolutely, I will forgive you. I will cancel the debt. Now, what can we do to make sure this doesn’t happen again?” When you forgive others, even though you completely wipe out their debt from the past, you need to help them establish terms of accountability so that they will be able to overcome their past and move on toward being the people God wants them to be.
Remember that you are to forgive others as God has forgiven you. Remember that God forgives you absolutely and completely, yet He makes you accountable to Him and others for your actions.
With forgiveness comes accountability, so when someone comes to you asking for forgiveness, give it to them. Also, give them the opportunity to establish terms of accountability so that their striving to be the person God wants them to be can be complete.
So we have seen 3 guidelines for being the forgiving person Jesus calls you to be. Forget about keeping count. Cancel the debt. Keep the offender accountable. But there’s a fourth guideline, and that is really the most important one of all. When someone comes to you and asks you to forgive them, remember the mercy God has shown you and show them the same. God wants you to forgive others and Jesus teaches you to forgive others, because we have been forgiven. Your debt to God is much greater than anyone’s debt to you, and yet God forgives you, and because of that, you can forgive others. None of us deserve God’s love and forgiveness, but He forgives us anyway. All of us fail again and again in the same areas of our lives, and yet God continues to forgive us again and again. There is no way you could ever need to forgive anyone else more than God has forgiven you. When we consider God’s mercy in your life you find yourself compelled to show mercy to others. The wicked servant in this parable was punished because he was willing to receive mercy but wasn’t willing to give it, and Jesus said: “This is how my heavenly father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”
God takes forgiveness very seriously. He expects you to forgive others completely, because that is how He forgives you. He takes forgiveness so seriously that He was willing to send Jesus into the world to die on the cross for your sins and to pay the debt for your sins, a debt that you could never pay yourself. God’s forgiveness is not because you deserve it, but because He’s merciful. He doesn’t keep count of your offenses. He cancels the debt completely. He makes you accountable to him and others so that you can become more holy, more like Him.
So – I’ll ask the question again I asked earlier — do you need to forgive someone?
Forgive them as God has forgiven you. Forget about keeping count. Cancel the debt. Help them establish terms of accountability. And most of all, never forget how much God has forgiven you for, and share the forgiveness God has shown you with others.
That’s how to live a life of forgiving others Amen.