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.

Marriage, Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday ~ A No-Bull Marriage: Four Lessons from Mr. & Mrs. Samson

Originally published May 7, 2015

no bull marriage samson

“If you had not plowed with my heifer,
you would not have found out my riddle.”

I love this verse. It’s in the story of Samson (Judges 14:18), which I’m studying in depth right now, and it makes me giggle every time I come to it. Ripped from its context, it doesn’t make much sense (most Bible verses don’t), so go read Judges 14 really quickly. It’s only twenty verses. It shouldn’t take you more than ten minutes to read. I’ll just wait right here.

Done? Ok. Now you know the context, and you know Samson wasn’t talking about farming. He was talking about his wife. Now, ladies, before you get your bloomers in a ruffle, Samson wasn’t calling his wife a heifer, he was using a metaphor. He could just as easily have said, “If you hadn’t eaten sweet and sour shrimp with my chopsticks…” Well, if he were Chinese and if sweet and sour shrimp had been invented.

But anyway... it still wasn’t the most flattering metaphor a man could choose when referencing his wife, which got me thinking about Samson’s wife and their marriage. They messed some things up, big time. Things that they could have avoided messing up by being obedient to God’s commands about marriage. Maybe we could learn a thing or two for our own marriages from Mr. and Mrs. Samson:

1. Don’t be an unequally yoked heifer (1-3)

Although the Philistines were not one of the nations God specifically forbade Israel to intermarry with, God’s principle of not marrying foreigners would have been a good one for Samson to follow. Why? Because only Israel worshiped the one true God. All of the other nations were pagan. They will “turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods,” (Deuteronomy 7:4) God told them. “But Samson said to his father, ‘Get her for me, for she is right in my eyes.’” (3) in my eyes. Not in God’s eyes. In Samson’s eyes. Samson wasn’t interested in what God wanted for his marriage. Samson was only interested in what Samson wanted.

As Believers, our hearts should long to obey Christ and to want what He wants for our lives. In 2 Corinthians 6:14-15, God tells us we are not to seek to bind ourselves together in any close relationship with unbelievers. That includes (but is not limited to) marriage. As God told the Israelites, an unbeliever will lead you away from the Lord. Husbands and wives should push each other towards Christ. A lost husband can’t lead you to greater godliness. If you are not yet married, do not marry someone who isn’t saved, whose life does not display the spiritual fruit of someone who has been genuinely born again.

2. Leave and cleave: plow with the bull you’re yoked to (16-20)

Genesis 2:24 tells us:

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast [cleave] to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

This doesn’t mean that we cut all ties with our parents when we get married. It means that we are now committed, first and foremost, to our spouses. We stand with them before, and sometimes against, everyone else.

Samson and his wife both had problems with this, as many newlyweds do. Samson’s wife, instead of standing with her husband by being honest with him about what his companions were up to and trusting him to protect her, ended up siding with “her people” (17) out of fear, by nagging Samson into telling her the answer to the riddle.Samson showed that he was loyal to his parents over his wife when he said in verse 16, “Behold, I have not told my father nor my mother [the answer to the riddle], and shall I tell you?” And when the whole fiasco was over, instead of going back and working things out with his wife, he abandoned her and went back home to live with his parents. (19-20)

Ladies, our husbands come first when it comes to loyalty, unity, bonding, and family decisions. Not our moms, our sisters, our best girlfriends, or even our children. And our husbands are to exhibit that same loyalty to us. Don’t hook yourself up to another plow.

3. Don’t moonipulate; commoonicate (16-17)

Pack your bags, we’re going on a guilt trip. And Samson’s wife had a saddlebag full of every vixenish wile she could squeeze in: emotional manipulation, shame, blame, nagging, and relentless pressure. Samson’s wife provides us with the perfect example of how not to communicate with our husbands.

We can all be tempted to use underhanded methods of getting what we want, but the God who tells us not to lie, to speak the truth, and not to act in selfish ambition but to put others first, is not a God who is pleased by such behavior. God is honored when we treat our husbands with kindness, respect, and honesty, and trust God enough to leave the outcome to Him.

4. Do the no-bull thing: forgive. (14:19-15:1)

While Samson may have had understandable reasons for being angry at both his companions and his wife, and while God may have used a bad situation to take out some of the enemies of His people, God calls husbands and wives to forgive one another.

Again, Samson shows us what not to do. Consumed by his anger, he abandoned his wife and seems to have held a grudge against her for a good while. When he finally went back with a peace offering, it wasn’t a pretty scene.

Ephesians 4:26-27 tells us:

Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.

When we’re angry, self control can go out the window, making it easier to give in to Satan’s temptations to sin. Instead, it is God’s will for us to “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32) Forgive. It’s the noble thing to do.