Forgiving Like Kings and Servants

What does forgiveness really mean, biblically? Should we forgive people who haven’t repented? They’re questions all Christians have probably wondered about at some point.

The parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:21-35 is really helpful for learning about the foundation and mechanics of forgiveness. As you read it, watch for the actions of the people in the story:

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.

23 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. 32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

Matthew 18:21-35

Let’s zero in on the king’s actions in verse 27: And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. What did the king do?

First, he had compassion for the servant who had gotten himself into something he couldn’t get out of. And that’s always the case when someone sins against us – she’s done something she can’t undo. She might be able to apologize, or even make some sort of restitution, but she can’t go back in time and not sin against you so that things are like they used to be. It’s impossible. So we have compassion on those who are stuck in an impossible situation. We show them mercy.

Next, the king released the servant. He “unstuck” the servant from this impossible situation. The king made a proactive decision that he was not going to hold the servant captive to this situation of his wrongdoing any more. The king decided he was going to set the servant free from it and let him go.

Finally, the king forgave the servant’s debt. He surrendered his right to exact payment from the servant, and absorbed the loss himself. He zeroed out the account. He marked the bill “paid in full”. He said, “We’re good. We’re square on this.”.

Now just to drive the point home, look at how the servant demonstrates the exact opposite – unforgiveness – with his fellow servant. Look at verse 28- “…he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’.”

He didn’t release the debtor, he seized him. He didn’t give up his right to exact payment from his fellow servant, he tried to extract payment – by choking him and demanding the debt be paid.

Verse 29- So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’

And look at this point for point antithesis of compassion, release, and forgiveness of debt in verse 30: “He refused, and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt.”

The servant refused to show show the debtor compassion. The servant had the debtor put in prison, the definition of captivity, and the opposite of release. He keeps the debtor stuck in his impossible situation. Because, if you’re in prison, how are you going to work to earn money to pay your debt? The servant’s attitude was, “I’m not going to absorb the loss. I’m not going to pay the cost – you’re going to pay it. Even though you’re stuck in this impossible situation where there’s no way to pay it. And even if there were a way, you’d be incapable of paying that much.”

Isn’t that whole story an amazing illustration of what it means to forgive? We show mercy and compassion. We give up our right to make the person who sinned against us pay, and we set her free from captivity to the impossible situation of us being angry or hurt at her over something she can’t change.

And you know what’s even more phenomenal about this? Who’s telling this story? Jesus, right? He’s the king in this story. The King of kings. And not too long after this, He’s going to perfectly practice what He preached. He’s going to have compassion on us because we are stuck in the impossible situation of having racked up an enormous sin debt against Him that we have no way of ever paying off, and no ability to pay off that much even if there were a way.

And that compassion is going to lead him to show mercy to us and provide us a way to get unstuck. He’s going to go to the cross to release us and forgive our debt. He sets us free from being in captivity to our impossible state of indebtedness to Him. And He doesn’t just absorb the cost of our sin, He actually pays it with the currency of His own blood. He can mark the bill “paid in full” because He paid it Himself.

And that’s why we forgive others. Because Christ forgave us infinitely more.

Now, in this story, both the first servant and the second servant repented to the person he was indebted to. But what about someone who sins against you and doesn’t repent? Can you still forgive her? Should you still forgive her?1

Well, let’s go back to the text. Can you adopt a posture of mercy and compassion toward the person who sinned against you, even if she doesn’t think she’s done anything wrong? Even if she’s not aware of your mercy and compassion? Yes, because that mercy and compassion originate and live in your heart. It’s primarily an internal posture of the heart, whether you can pour it out externally or not.

Can you make the decision to set her free from your anger or hurt feelings? Yep. Again, that’s an internal decision and attitude of the heart before it ever becomes an external action of responding to someone who repents. Can you surrender your right to make her pay for what she’s done? Yes, you can make that decision of the heart that her bill is paid in full and she no longer owes you.

We would do well to remember…

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:6-8

While you were still actively sinning against Him, before you knew what sin was, before you understood you were a sinner, while you were a hater of God, Christ died for you. He showed mercy and compassion to you. He provided a way out of your impossible situation. He paid your debt in full. Romans 2:4 says that kindness is what led us to repentance.

Now, you don’t know whether your kindness in forgiving someone in your heart will ever lead that person to repent, but that part isn’t your business. That’s above your paygrade. Your paygrade is to obey God and forgive. That’s where your job stops. It’s God’s job to handle the results.

But what about forgiving a person who’s dangerous or harmful? Forgiving someone who’s unrepentant doesn’t require you to put yourself into situations with that person that allow him or her to keep on unrepentantly sinning against you. For example: If you’re in an abusive marriage, you can forgive your unrepentant husband in your heart while living somewhere safe. Scripture does not require you to move back in with him and give him the opportunity to keep sinning against you.

Forgiveness doesn’t require the other person to repent but reconciliation does. Forgiveness is a one man job. Reconciliation is a two way street. You can’t be reconciled to someone who refuses to be reconciled to you.

Forgiveness can be difficult, but no one has sinned against us as much as we’ve sinned against Christ. Because we have been forgiven much by Christ, we should be eager to lavish that forgiveness on those who sin against us.

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.

Colossians 3:12-13

1Some Christians believe it is unbiblical to forgive someone who has not repented to the person he has sinned against. My question to those Christians is, “OK, what does that look like in your heart and life?” Do you hate that person who sinned against you? Harbor bitterness against him? What if it’s someone you see regularly, like a family member, fellow church member, or co-worker? Do you give her the silent treatment? Leave the room whenever she comes in? If not forgiveness, what is your behavior toward that person and the posture of your heart toward that person?”. If you’re uncomfortable using the word “forgive” in such instances, consider some of the other verbiage I’ve used in this article such as “compassion,” “release,” or “not harboring bitterness against.” You may not be reconciled to the person until he repents, but Scripture doesn’t leave any room for holding grudges or being ugly towards others.


The Mailbag: Potpourri (Christian online platforms…Home church…”I lost my temper”…Send in your pix!)

Welcome to another “potpourri” edition of The Mailbag, where I give short(er) answers to several questions rather than a long answer to one question.

I like to take the opportunity in these potpourri editions to let new readers know about my comments/e-mail/messages policy. I’m not able to respond individually to most e-mails and messages, so here are some helpful hints for getting your questions answered more quickly. Remember, the search bar (at the very bottom of each page) can be a helpful tool!

Or maybe I answered your question already? Check out my article The Mailbag: Top 10 FAQs to see if your question has been answered and to get some helpful resources.

I wanted to ask your opinion on which web host would be suitable to use for an online business? I have an online store and I currently use WIX, however, I recently found out they monetarily fund and support LGBTQ events and such. I don’t want our money going to support that. I did a lot of research and prayed, but I can’t for the life of me find a provider that is conservative. I know there will most likely be things I don’t agree with with pretty much any worldly web hosting company, but where do I draw the line? Is God okay with paying a web host who uses their funds to support anti-Biblical issues? I’m convicted of continuing to use WIX and I don’t want to continue with them. I originally left ETSY for the same reason. I just don’t know where to move my website! I would need an e-commerce provider too since I sell stuff. If you don’t mind me asking, who do you use? I see your website is Word Press, but I know you need a host for that too.

(Readers, if you have any suggestions of conservative and/or Christian blog or e-commerce platforms, please leave a comment at the end of this article.)

I completely sympathize with your dilemma. I don’t like my money going to support sinful causes like perversion, abortion, liberal politics, etc., either. You’re right, I do use WordPress for the blog, but they host it themselves. I don’t have a separate host, and I don’t do e-commerce, so I’m afraid I don’t have any practical suggestions there.

You’re correct, pretty much everything you pay for, whether it’s an online platform, the gas you put in your car, your pooch’s favorite dog food, even the device you’re reading this on right now, is owned or produced by a secular company that’s donating to or financing something that’s biblically objectionable. Even most so-called “Christian” companies probably support people or ministries that aren’t doctrinally sound. In practical terms, finding a company to patronize that doesn’t contribute to something unbiblical is almost as unlikely as finding a mermaid or a unicorn.

I can’t tell you where to draw the line – that’s a conclusion you (and your husband, if you’re married) will have to come to through prayer and listening to your biblically informed conscience – with each company you consider, but I think you may find some of the principles in my article The Mailbag: Should Christians Participate in Boycotts? to be helpful.

“Is God okay with paying a web host who uses their funds to support anti-Biblical issues?” Well, consider this – It’s not precisely the same thing as buying a product or service from a private company, but Jesus paid the temple tax, and we know from His clearing of the temple, His many rebukes of the scribes and Pharisees, and the fact that the temple leadership had Jesus crucified that He was well aware of the evil that tax money ended up supporting. And when the Pharisees asked Jesus, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” while their motive was to trap Jesus, the basis of this particular question they chose was probably similar to the basis of your question (not saying you’re a Pharisee – please don’t misunderstand): “Should God’s people give money to a pagan who does ungodly things?”. And Jesus’ answer was that they should pay their taxes. Like I said, it’s not exactly the same thing because taxes are an obligation and blog platforms are not, but it is something to study and consider.

Pray about it, trust God to guide you, and don’t sin against your conscience. You may also want to take a look at the principles for decision-making in my article Basic Training: 8 Steps to Finding God’s Will for Your Life.

My husband and I live in Canada. When the government placed our small town under lockdown due to COVID, not one church here remained open. Now that things have opened back up slightly, we are hesitant to join ourselves to a church that might, at any given time, close their doors at the whim of our government officials. Additionally, there are very few churches in our area and we have doctrinal concerns about all of them. But this leaves us without a church home.

We have started meeting together on the Lord’s Day with nearly 30 other like-minded brothers and sisters. We fervently seek the Lord’s wisdom and guidance and do not want to be disobedient in any way. We want to please the Lord in our worship together. My husband and I never conceived of starting a church, we just wanted to obey our Lord in continuing to gather as the church body when the “church institution” failed us. I’m desperate for guidance and have no idea where to turn to for help.

Well, sister, I’ve got good news for you. You do have a church home. You have a home church church home. When the church started out in the book of Acts, it existed in the form of groups of like-minded believers who met together in homes, often in secret, hiding from a persecutory government. The church is not the building, but the body of Believers meeting together in person for the study and preaching of the Word, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, prayer, worship, fellowship, and practicing the “one anothers”. In many parts of the world home churches are still the normal expression of the church due to persecution, and as persecution continues to increase, so will the underground church.

I’ve never started a church either, but let me see if I can point you to some resources that can help:

First, go to the Searching for a new church? tab in the blue menu bar at the top of this page. Next:

  • Carefully comb through every single church search engine listed there to make absolutely sure you haven’t overlooked a doctrinally sound, established church within achievable driving distance of your house. (Home churches can be very susceptible to false doctrine, so you want to make every effort to join yourself to an established, doctrinally sound church if at all possible.)
  • If there simply does not exist an established, doctrinally sound church you can get to (even if it may not be terribly convenient) each week, scroll down to the “Church Planting” section, get in touch with Grace Advance, explain your situation, and ask them for help. Church planting is what they do, and I’m certain they can give you better guidance than I can.
  • As you’re going through this process of getting in touch with Grace Advance and following their counsel, read through all of the information under What to look for in a church (especially the links in the second paragraph of Six Questions for a Potential Church), so the men leading your home church understand, and perhaps can begin codifying a doctrinal statement on these issues for your home church. It may also be helpful to visit the websites of churches you know to be doctrinally sound and read through their statements of faith (sometimes called “doctrinal distinctives,” “what we believe,” “what we teach,” “constitution and by-laws,” etc.).

May God richly bless you and your church.

I recently lost my temper with a store employee and made a scene over something very stupid. It is a large corporate store and not one I frequent often, but this young woman is most likely from my surrounding area, and thus, I feel like I did not treat a neighbor well. I have prayed and asked God to forgive me for shaming His name and for treating another person badly for something that was not her fault. What else can I do? I feel terrible. I let my emotions overcome me, and it was completely unbecoming of a Christian woman.

Wow, praise God.

No, seriously…this is something to praise God for. Praise God that He convicted you of this sin. That’s one of the evidences that you’re a Believer and that the Holy Spirit is working in your life. Praise God that your heart is tender to that conviction and you want to do what’s pleasing to Him. Another evidence that you’re a Believer. Praise God that through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, He has indeed forgiven you for this sin and you stand righteous before Him. (You do need to accept and believe His forgiveness if that’s part of the reason you’re still feeling terrible.)

I would suggest you go back to the store, locate the employee, repent to her and ask her forgiveness. I would also suggest taking a small “peace offering,” like a gift card to a local coffee shop or maybe a batch of brownies you’ve made. You could also include a tract or a small gospel booklet. Frame your apology to her in a gospel-centered way, and, hopefully, this will turn into a witnessing encounter.

This last one isn’t a question submitted by a reader, but rather a request from me! :0)

If you or your women’s Bible study group are working through one of my Bible studies, I’d love it if you’d send me a picture of yourself or the group studying or discussing it. And if you could somehow include the title image for the study (see below) in the picture – maybe with everybody gathered around the image on a screen, or everybody holding it up on their phones, or print out a copy of the image and hold it up, or something like that – that would be fantastic. (These pictures will probably be shared on my blog and/or social media, so make sure everybody in the picture is OK with that.)

You can email the pictures to me here.

These are the title images from some of my studies. You can find them at the top of each lesson:

You can always find all of my Bible studies at the Bible studies tab in the blue menu bar at the top of this page.

Thank you!

If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.