Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
As followers of Christ, we are called to forgive those who wrong us, duh. After all, the Bible says, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). However, I think many of us overlook the urgency of forgiveness in our actual lives. The Holy Spirit showed me through one of Jesus’ parables just how important it is to forgive others and now I will pass it on to you.
All this started because Peter asked Jesus about forgiveness. Matthew 18:21 records, “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?’” Seven times seems reasonable, but the Lord gave a surprising response: “Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times’” (Matthew 18:22). Now there is some debate on the actual number that Jesus specified, as some Bible say “seventy times seven” –which is considerably more times of forgiveness. The number doesn’t matter though because (1) you’ll probably lose count before 77 anyway and (2) consider this: You hang out with some dude you’ve never met before for a day. He makes it the worst day of your life, constantly hurting you and ruining things for you. There are only 24 hours in a day. This means that even if you have to forgive this dude every few minutes, you’re supposed to do it. So the point is that you should just forgive and not worry about how many times they’ve wronged you.
But then Jesus steps it up a notch and presents what my Bible calls “The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant.” He begins,
Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt (Matthew 18:23-25).
Jesus says that this story relates to us and the kingdom of heaven. The king in the story represents God and the servant is you or me. Before Christ we were hopelessly buried in our sins. Paul notes this as he writes, “All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3). We’ve all been in the sin-pit before, no matter what form it has taken. And, just like in the parable, sin can technically cause the loss of your family; that particular punishment shows up in God’s big list of sin punishments for Israel as “Your sons and daughters will be given to another nation, and you will wear out your eyes watching for them day after day, powerless to lift a hand” (Deuteronomy 28:32). Except that for us, the list is much longer (God spends 52 verses of Deuteronomy 28 listing off punishments for sin).
Oh no! What will be done for the man (and us)? Jesus continues, “The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go” (Matthew 18:26-27). The man begged for forgiveness and promised to pay the king back. The king, however, knew that the servant would never be able to pay him back (10,000 talents translates to millions of dollars). Likewise, God knows that we can’t pay him back for our sins because as Paul points out, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Obviously, we can’t pay with our lives for every sin because we can only die once. So instead, when we call on the name of Christ he frees us of our debt; past, present, and future. He’s able to do this because although Jesus only died once, he died as God in the flesh, and since God is eternal, his death is all-covering. The Lord is always willing to forgive you when you call on him for forgiveness. We read in the Old Testament,
“Come now, let us reason together,”
Says the Lord.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
They shall be as white as snow;
Though they are red as crimson,
They shall be like wool” (Isaiah 1:18).
And in the New Testament, Paul notes,
When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross (Colossians 2:13-14).
So we are taught, “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Acts 2:21). This is basically the message of the Gospel. Call on Jesus for forgiveness of your sins and you’ll be forgiven; it’s so easy many don’t believe it.
Now things get serious for the man (and for us). Jesus continues his parable:
But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. “Pay back what you owe me!” he demanded.
His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, “Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.”
But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened (Matthew 18:28-31).
Although we’ve been forgiven, people will wrong us –and we’re called to forgive them. Remember, we’re to forgive like God forgave us. If God forgave us for an eternity of sins, then we should be ready to forgive eternally. It doesn’t matter what someone has done to you, forgive them now because the angels are watching and reporting back to our Lord and King. Jesus continues,
Then the master called the servant in. “You wicked servant,” he said, “I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed (Matthew 18:32-34).
When the king realized that the servant wouldn’t forgive his fellow man, he revoked the forgiveness that he had originally granted. Will unforgiveness cause you to lose your salvation? I’m not sure. But Jesus finished by saying, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart” (Matthew 18:35). He also said during a separate teaching, “For 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” (Matthew 6:14-15). Heck, this teaching is even referenced in the Lord’s prayer: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12).
I don’t want to play with your salvation. So let’s look at this from another angle: Paul writes on the topic of post-salvation sin- or, more specifically, the works one performs after coming to Christ:
For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames (1 Corinthians 3:11-15).
In this, Paul is describing our life post-salvation. There is only one way to heaven: Jesus. So there is no other possible foundation for which your eternal dwelling in heaven shall be built other than Christ. However, what we do beyond that has an effect both on what our life in heaven will be like and what happens to us here on earth. Again, because of Jesus, we are forgiven of our eternal death sentence from sin. But how would you like to spend the rest of your live having as much of hell crammed into every minute as possible only to finally die and wake up as little more than a drifter in heaven –sure, it’s still heaven, but why waste the good you’ve done on earth? That seems to be the message when we combine Jesus’ “God won’t forgive you if you don’t forgive others” message with Paul’s “just escaping the fire” teaching.
I don’t care who you are or what has been done to you- and I admit, some people have had some awful stuff happen to them. But consider what you’ve read today and look at your options. Would you rather hold onto your unforgiveness to your own detriment or forgive as you’ve been forgiven and continue building your eternal riches in heaven? Stop what you’re doing; pray, call, write a letter- whatever it takes; forgive. Forgive today. Forgive RIGHT NOW!