Sunday, September 7

Forgiving like God

At Quest recently, we’ve been discussing forgiveness. One of the stories that we’ve looked it is the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant (Matthew 18:21-35). In this story, Peter asks Jesus how many times he should forgive a brother who sins against him. Up to seven times? Jesus responds by saying “not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:22). Jesus then tells the story of a servant who has his own huge debt cancelled, but won’t cancel the smaller debt a fellow servant owed him. In this story, we can see forgiveness working in several different directions. Here is some of what we talked about:

· Peter thinks he is being generous when he offers to forgive someone 7 times. If you think about it, from a human perspective this does seem generous. If the same person does the same thing to you 7 times, and you forgive them each time, then most people are going to think that you have gone far beyond the call of duty. Jesus responds by say that when you reach that point, you’ve only begun. We need to continue to forgive. This is hard to do. But this can also be encouraging because it also means that no matter how many times we sin against God, if we repent he is willing to continue to forgive us.

· We can see two sets of relationships in this story. First, there is the relationship between the servant and his king. This is similar to the relationship between us and God. There is also the relationship between the servant and his fellow servant. That is similar to the relationship between us and other people. So in this story, we can see how forgiveness works both vertically (between us and God) and horizontally (between us and other people).

· The debt we owe God is far beyond our ability to every repay. The servant owed the king millions of dollars. Yet the average worker only made a few dollars per day. There is no possible way that the servant could have made enough money to repay the king. Similarly, the damage caused in the relationship between us and God that is caused by our sin is beyond our ability to repair. We can’t possibly repay that debt.

· The servant asked for a payment plan. He went to the king and asked for time to pay the debt back. The king responded by erasing the debt altogether. Often, what we are looking for with God is to develop a way to repay the debt we owe him. But God doesn’t work that we. He doesn’t need us to repay the debt or to earn forgiveness. He gives it to us for free. Sometimes this can cause us problems because we don’t feel like we deserve forgiveness. It is human nature to want to do something to “earn” God’s forgiveness. But the truth is, we can’t. The debt is so big, there is nothing we can do to earn it. The only way for it to happen is for it to be something God just does.

· The servant was owed 100 denarii by a fellow servant. At that time, a denarii was a day’s wages. Compared to what the servant owed the king, this was a very small amount of money. On the other hand, it would be between 3 and 4 month’s salary. This is still a significant amount of money, although it is an amount that a person could conceivably pay back. It is clearly something that a person would miss, and not being paid back would hurt. The lesson here is that we need to forgive others when they hurt us, even when there is real hurt. Even if, from a human standpoint, the person doesn’t deserve our forgiveness, we should respond by being forgiving because God has forgiven us so much.

· God’s forgiveness of us is conditional. What is interesting is that it isn’t conditional on us not doing things in the future that need forgiveness. It isn’t conditional on us being good. It isn’t conditional on anything involved in our relationship with God. It is conditional on us forgiving others. Because we have received forgiveness, our natural response should be to offer forgiveness to others.

This story is both encouraging and challenging. The story is encouraging because it shows us how forgiving God is toward us. He is willing to forgive our debts that are far beyond our ability to ever repay, and he offers this forgiveness without requiring us to do anything to earn it. And it is encouraging because he is willing to forgive us repeatedly. However, it is challenging because he asks us to live up to the same standards. It is challenging because it sets a very high standard for us when it comes to forgiving others. It can be hard to continue to forgive people who sin against us. It can be hard to forgive people who hurt us badly. But we have the responsibility to forgive in those circumstances.

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