A Scary Thought
By Peter Amsterdam
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When I was doing some research for a writing project, I came across something that jolted me. It was a familiar Bible verse which I’ve read, heard, and even quoted hundreds of times, but when meditating on it, thinking of its practical application and the enormity of the consequences of ignoring it, I more fully realized its importance. And being guilty of this very thing, it frightened me.
Matthew 6:14–15 says:
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.1
There’s no wiggle room within these verses. Whether we do or don’t forgive others has a direct effect on whether God does or doesn’t forgive us.2 This struck me as something to be acutely aware of.
In two other places in the Gospels Jesus makes the same point.
Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven.3
And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.4
Peter asked the obvious question when he said:
“Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven” (490 times).5
Jesus uses a pretty big number to express His thoughts on how many times we should forgive our brother, clearly demonstrating that forgiveness is important and something that we should do.
To further drive home the point, He uses some other very large numbers as He goes on to tell the story of a king who wanted to settle his accounts with his servants.
One man owed the king ten thousand talents. A talent is 125 pounds or 2,000 ounces, so this man owed the king 20 million ounces of either gold or silver. At today’s rates, if it was silver, then it would amount to 560 million dollars; if it was gold, then it would be about 27 billion dollars.6 In either case, and at any time, that’s an enormous debt. Because the man couldn’t pay, the king ordered that the man and his wife and children and all that he had were to be sold. The man implores the king to have patience, and out of pity the king releases him and pardons his debt.
Sadly, after that, the forgiven servant finds one of his fellow servants who owes him a hundred denarii—one denarii being the equivalent to a day’s wages at the time. (Wikipedia puts a day’s wages at that time at about 20 dollars today, which if correct means the fellow servant’s debt was 2,000 dollars.) The forgiven servant will not pardon the debt of his fellow servant and has him imprisoned.
When the king hears of it, he summons the forgiven servant and says:
“You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt.7
Jesus ends this story with an alarming statement:
So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.8
Clearly, forgiving your brother is important, and not forgiving him results in God not forgiving you for your debts and trespasses.
There are times when other people sin against us or hurt us—whether intentionally or unintentionally—just as there are times when we hurt others or sin against them. People may treat us unfairly on occasion, deceive us; perhaps they steal from us, or slander us, speaking behind our back. They may cheat us or cheat on us, or they may break their word. Whatever the case may be, whatever the offense, whatever the hurt, we are commanded to forgive.
Forgiving doesn’t mean the other person was in the right, nor does it mean that the loss or harm caused by their actions is undone. It simply means that rather than focusing on who’s right and who’s wrong, you leave that in God’s hands, along with the repercussion of the person’s actions. You take the high road and forgive.
It’s interesting that the parable of the unforgiving servant uses money to make a point about forgiveness. For some reason, it seems when someone has taken money from you, whether through stealing it or causing damage to your means of support, it’s very difficult to forgive them.
All of us sin, and each of us falls short of the glory of God. Like the unforgiving servant, because we sin, we each owe a huge debt to God—a debt so large that none of us can ever repay it. But through Jesus, God forgives that debt and then He calls us, in like manner, to forgive others.
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.9
Looking at it from the point of view that if we don’t forgive others when they sin against us, God won’t forgive us when we sin against Him, can be rather frightening. It certainly makes one think. The good part is, we can also see it as a promise: if we forgive others, God will forgive us. If we show mercy, then mercy will be shown to us. If we forgive, we will be forgiven. Who’s right and who’s wrong isn’t the issue; forgiving from the heart is.
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.10
Originally published March 2011. Republished on Anchor March 2013.
Read by Peter Amsterdam.
2 This is in reference to God forgiving your specific offenses; it’s not referring to salvation.
3 Luke 6:37 ESV.
4 Mark 11:25 ESV.
5 Matthew 18:21–22 ESV.
6 Rates as of March 2011.
7 Matthew 18:32–34 ESV.
8 Matthew 18:35 ESV.
9 Ephesians 4:32 ESV.
10 Colossians 3:12–14 ESV.