Forgiveness is required.
Jesus teaches that forgiveness is essential to life. We must not only receive God’s forgiveness to have eternal life in heaven and personally know God; but we must also give forgiveness to others. Before Jesus shares a parable about the essential nature of forgiveness Peter asks him a question, “How many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” And Jesus responded, “I tell you, not seven times but seventy-seven (or seventy times seven) times.” Peter thought he was being gracious offering 7x since within Judaism, 3x was sufficient to show a forgiving spirit. However, Jesus was not offering an exact number (490) of times to forgive someone. He was saying that forgiving others is unlimited or untrackable. It is essential to the character of God, therefore required for us to know and experience as well as His image bearers.
Exodus 34:6b-7a “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.”
Psalm 103:8-12 “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”
Psalm 130:3-4 “If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared.”
Forgiveness is relief.
After Jesus taught Peter about the essential nature of forgiveness he told a story. The story is about a servant man who owed the king an insurmountable amount of money. By today’s standards it would be around $10 billion. The king, knowing the servant could not pay, sentenced the servant to be sold into slavery with his wife and children. Seeing no way to make payment and desperately wanting to avoid separation from his family, the servant begged for mercy and patience from the king. Out of compassion and pity the servant amazingly forgave the debt.
The forgiveness of such a massive debt is illustrative of God’s forgiveness of the human sin debt. There is no way humans can repay God for his forgiveness. It can only be accepted by grace through faith. This should be a relief to stop striving to earn acceptance before God. God simply wants us to view salvation as a great gift (Hebrews 2:3), receive it by faith (Romans 10:9-13) and live in appreciation of your salvation (Ephesians 2:8-10).
How is God’s forgiveness a relief to you?
– Physically: rids of personal stress (Ps 32:1-5)
– Emotionally: rids of anger & bitterness (Eph 4:26-32)
– Relationally: promotes love, unity, joy and rest (Col 4:13-14; Php 4:1-8)
– Spiritually: gives cleansing, renewal and restoration (Ps 51)
Forgiveness is reciprocating.
After the servant experienced massive forgiveness he met one of his workers who similarly owed him a debt. The money was substantially smaller than what he owed, approximately $10-15 thousand. After receiving grace he should have been more likely to give it. Yet, the servant was unwilling to offer the same forgiveness and had his fellow worker placed in prison for his inability to pay. This ironic action revealed the servant’s wicked character. Rather than showing compassion he showed condemnation. When the king was informed of this behavior he exacted the same condemnation the servant dished out.
Jesus uses this story to teach that forgiveness of others is linked to God’s forgiveness of us. Those who understand the depths of God’s grace dispensed into their life should share it with others. You have the ability to forgive because you have been forgiven. If forgiveness is not reciprocated then that person has not or will not truly experience God’s forgiveness.
“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, our 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
Ephesians 4:32 “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
Forgiveness should be reciprocating but there some instances where it will be difficult to forgive another. Some common mistakes or myths about forgiveness include:
Forgiving others is easy. It certainly is not, just look at the cross of Jesus. Forgiveness comes at a high cost because it always involves sacrifice, hurt and disappointment. At a purely emotional level forgiveness is counterintuitive. However, once a person can see the circumstance in the big picture of life, and ultimately in view of God’s grace, forgiveness becomes a choice that we must take. Though not easy it can be done.
Forgiving others is forgetting. Forgiveness is more than a feeling, it is a choice to pardon an offense, but it does not always remove all the consequences for the wrongdoing. One of the main consequences is losing trust or respect from others because your actions have become attached to your character reputation. In time, forgetting should follow forgiveness. This should happen when the offender “produces fruit in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8). In other words, trust must be re-earned over time to restore complete fellowship with the offended. This should not become a legalistic system where the offender can never do anything right or has his/her past forever hanging over head. The offended must learn that though forgiving is not forgetting, in time it should follow. This is the way God treats his children. He forgives eternal consequences of sin through his grace and upon confession. The relationship is secure but fellowship needs restoration which is the byproduct of progressive sanctification (1 John 1:5-10).
Forgiving others is weak. Forgiveness is not a sign of weakness but actually strength. It is easy to give in to annoyance, anger, rage and bitterness. It takes great will power and self-control to exercise grace and compassion for others when we’ve been offended or hurt. Jesus endured the brutality of the cross with courage and victory, ultimately defeating sin, Satan and death. His provision of forgiveness is a profound example of power. We must follow in Jesus’ footsteps realizing that vengeance belongs to God and not us.
Forgiveness is free.
Above all things you must realize forgiveness is free. God offers forgiveness to all those who call on his name. It cannot be bought, earned or generated through any human means. It is provided on the sovereign choice of God. Have you freely received God’s forgiveness in your life? If so, why are others waiting on you to offer it to them?
TAKING IT HOME
– Is it easier to receive or give forgiveness?
– Why is forgiveness essential and how does it effect relationships?
– How is forgiveness relieving to people? (use supplied categories)
– Read supplied categories & Bible verses. What comments or questions do you have?
– Why do you think God links his forgiveness with forgiveness of others?
– How are forgiveness and forgetting different? Would you agree they are different?
– Do you continually replay in your mind negative past events and circumstances? Do you refer to individual(s) in a derogatory manner because of a past hurt? Do you intentionally avoid or get annoyed/angry around individual(s)? If so, there is likely someone whom you are harboring unforgiveness toward and experiencing festering bitterness.
– If there is someone in your life whom you are withholding forgiveness, why is this so? What does this say about your relationship with God? After this study, will you consider extending forgiveness to this person?
 ESV Study Bible, notes on Matthew 18:21-22.
 Some ideas adapted from Jay Adams, The Christian Counselor’s Manual, pp. 63-70.
 Questions from Mark Driscoll’s book, Death By Love, p.221.