In Matthew 18:21-35 Jesus tells the Parable of the unforgiving servant, referred to by some theologians as one of the most revealing and compelling of all Jesus’ parables. In a dramatic story to grab his hearers attention Jesus highlights the importance of forgiveness and the prison walls created by un-forgiveness.
As followers of Christ we have received forgiveness of all our sins, not by anything we have done but by the grace of God through Jesus. [Col 2:13-14] As we have received forgiveness, so we are called to walk in forgiveness towards those who offend and hurt us. This is what the Kingdom of heaven is like.
The passage starts with Peter asking Jesus how many times he should forgive a brother or sister who sins against him and before Jesus answers, Peter proposes that seven times might be enough. In Judaism, 3 times was considered acceptable and so maybe Peter thought his answer of seven was of a higher standard than required. When Jesus said they should forgive seventy–seven times the point was clear, don’t keep count and keep on forgiving even as you have been forgiven.
Can you imagine the rising sense of injustice that was going on in the listener’s heart as Jesus was telling this story? We hear stories in the news, almost on a daily basis with injustices going on in the world around us. We are shocked, we are moved and sometimes we care enough to do something about it. In verse 32 we read that other servants saw what happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything. This benevolent king who is so merciful in forgiving the servant initially is now the one who calls the unforgiving servant to justice and holds him to account for his ways, handing him over to the jailers to be tortured.
This ‘torture’ can have not only spiritual but also psychological [emotional health], physiological [physical health] psychosocial [relationship health] consequences. It’s not only the unforgiven sin [Matt 6:9-15] that hinders our relationship with God, but the anger that so often grows from unresolved offense, which becomes destructive as the enemy gains a legal foothold in our lives [Eph 4:26].
Commentaries differ where some suggest that the parable concluded after verse 34 suggesting that Jesus most likely turned to his disciples to land that painful punch, the one that hits home. Other commentaries suggest that verse 35 is part of the parable. Whichever way He intended it, the message is clear, "forgive from your heart" or your Heavenly father will treat you in the same way [Matt 18:34-35].
As you look back at the passage there is a ‘time’ gap between verses 27 and 28. This Gap can be a moment of impact where every believer has the opportunity to decide “will I walk in the grace and forgiveness that has been extended to me through Christ?” or “will I walk out and find someone who owes me a debt and make them pay?” Fortunately, as soon as we decide we want to walk in forgiveness even as we have been forgiven, the Holy Spirit will help us [John 14:26].
Considering stopping for a few moments now and invite the Holy Spirit to highlight any unresolved offense, or pain that may be hindering your spiritual walk.
Pray:- "Lord God, just as I need your mercy and forgiveness and I also need your empowering presence to show mercy and be forgiving. Help me to take this journey of forgiveness. Guide me by your spirit into a place of greater wholeness. I am hurting, I am angry and I am in pain. But by your grace I take a step of faith and commit myself to a process of forgiveness. Just as you were able to say Father forgive them on the cross, help me to release those who have hurt me from any desire for retaliation. Help me to love them as you loved us.
SAMPLE DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
• The word “Found” Used in verse 28 is from the Greek word Eurikso which means to find by enquiry, to meet by searching for. In what way could this be similar to how we deal with issues in life?
• The King who forgives so bountifully also punishes so ruthlessly, how do you respond to this?
• As you read the passage what stands out for you the most?
• Why do we find it so hard to forgive?
• Do you have a story about a relationship breakthrough that happened after you chose to forgive?
The following Common Questions About Forgiveness are taken from a previous sermon discussion prepared by Mark Conner as a further resource for your discussion. http://www.citylifechurch.com/resources/sermons/notes/?SermonId=48
“Is it wrong to be angry?” It is not necessarily sinful to feel angry. Anger is a warning system alerting us that something is wrong and needs our attention. The key is to not covert angry emotions into angry behavior. Allow your emotions to settle down then seek to address the situation calmly and seek a resolution. Make use of prayer and wise counsel.
“Is forgiveness conditional or unconditional?” Jesus commands us to forgive others whether or not they ask for it. We choose to have a forgiving approach to people, releasing them from our right to hurt them back. Whether they are forgiven or not will depend upon their own choices and responses. God holds each person accountable for his or her actions.
“Is forgiveness the same as reconciliation?” No, it is not. For reconciliation to take place, there has to be appropriate apologies and a rebuilding of the relationship, which requires an effort from both parties. You may never be reconciled to your enemy.
“Should I stay in an abusive relationship?” Abuse of any kind is contrary to God’s commands about loving relationships. Sometimes withdrawal or at least separation from a threatening relationship is necessary to protect your own wellbeing. Also, forgiveness does not mean that an offender is free from the consequences of their actions, especially if there are legal or criminal aspects to a situation.
“What about confrontation?” Choosing to be forgiving of others does not mean that we do not appropriately confront them about issues in a relationship. We are called to “speak the truth in love” and this means being appropriately assertive about our feelings.
“Do I have to forgive and forget?” Forgiveness does not require forgetting about an offence. Forgiving offences doesn't remove the memory of the hurt but it is a vital part of a healing process that can remove the sting of the offence over time.
“If I forgive, what about the consequences for the offender?” Forgiveness does not necessarily mean there are no consequences for an offence. For example, in serious situations, legal consequences are sometimes necessary. Consequences have a protective, corrective and even restorative function. Through forgiveness we release those who have offended us from a personal desire for punitive retribution. However, while expressing forgiveness for past offences, it may still be necessary to protect the victim and society from further harm.