The New Standard for Forgiveness

The refusal to forgive is a common problem among professing Christians and the #1 reason many conflicts remain unresolved. Therefore, it is essential for every believer to consider the most significant passage in the New Testament on this topic. Please take a moment to read Matthew 18:21-35. Here we learn the new standard of forgiveness given to us by Jesus. Jesus’ parable of the unforgiving servant illustrates this new standard of forgiveness and compels every believer to practice four ongoing disciplines. To faithfully practice biblical forgiveness, you must…

Recognize the unforgiving nature of your flesh (v. 21).

Peter’s question reveals his heart. “How many times?” implies Peter’s assumption that there is a limit to his forgiveness of others. It also reveals the habit of sinful flesh to keep a scorecard of other people’s behavior. Take a look at Luke 17:3-4. The command to forgive was a radical demand, evidenced by the disciples’ response in verse 5. The point is this: The heart that is walking in obedience to Christ maintains a readiness to forgive.

In his excellent mini-book, HELP! I Can’t Forgive, Jim Newcomer describes this readiness to forgiveness in four ways:

  • It is commanded. This is not a suggestion from Jesus. It is a command. “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.” (Mark 11:25)
  • It must be constant. “Specifically,” Newcomer writes, “being ready to forgive is what you carry into offenses, not what you work up after an offense.” See Proverbs 19:11 and Proverbs 16:32.
  • It must be cultivated. Colossians 3:14 commands us to put off the flesh and put on the qualities of biblical love:  And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
  • It is Christ-like. No one has been wronged more than Christ. No person has been sinned against more than the Lord Jesus. When Jesus was sinned against, he said “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34).

A readiness to forgive requires us to recognize that it is against our nature to forgive. We need the grace of God to forgive others.

Refrain from keeping a record of wrongs committed against you (v. 22).

In contrast to the nature of Peter’s sinful flesh, the Lord Jesus teaches a new standard for His disciples; that is, a standard to be practiced by those who are new creatures in Christ. “Seventy times seven” = unlimited forgiveness. This is a fruit of biblical love (see 1 Corinthians 13:5). Love “does not take into account a wrong suffered.” Love “keeps no record of wrongs committed against it.”

Instead of resentment, which holds grudges and always leads to bitterness, believers are called to practice the ongoing forgiveness which proceeds from a heart of love (Col. 3:1-14). The good news is that God can teach us to love in this way just as He taught the Thessalonian believers (1 Thess. 4:9).

Remember the extent to which you yourself have been forgiven (vv. 23-33).

To illustrate His point, the Lord Jesus tells a story. The forgiven servant was relieved of his obligation to repay ten thousand talents. Think about his debt.

  • Ten thousand is the largest number in the Greek language.
  • One talent equaled 6,000 denarii.
  • A denarii = one day’s wage.
  • This man owed 6,000 days, or 20 years of wages times 10,000.
  • His debt was too large to calculate. It was impossible for him to pay it off

In today’s numbers, the man’s debt amounted to $10 billion dollars! Picture this man. Think about how hopeless his situation was. Yet the master forgave him all his debt.  What incredible gratitude must have filled this man’s heart! His response to the king’s grace must have been to be filled with grace, himself. Right? Wrong!

Having been forgiven of so great a debt this man walked down the street to another man who owed him 100 denarii; i.e. 100 days of wages ($16,600). Instead of passing on the grace of forgiveness he had just received, he grabbed the man by the throat and demanded repayment. Think of the absolute absurdity of this man’s response. He had just been forgiven $10 billion of debt. Now he is found choking another person for $16,000!?!?!

Others who observed this man’s hateful spirit were deeply grieved. This is a lesson too important to ignore: An unforgiving person will find himself or herself confronted by other Christians. Why? Because bitterness always stands out in a community that understands true forgiveness.

Consider the danger the unforgiving servant is now in. He must now stand before his master for his refusal to forgive his fellow servant. His master calls him “wicked,” which means hurtful, vicious. At least three times in the New Testament the same word is used to describe the devil. These are serious words.

The point of Jesus’ parable is repeated in other parts of Scripture: Remember how much you have been forgiven and treat others the same way (Col. 3:13; Eph. 4:30-32).

Retain a proper fear of God (vv. 34-35).

What was at first an amazing story of grace in the palace of the king now ends in the torture chamber of the prison. The unforgiving person must face the reality that he or she will now face severe chastisement from God.

These verses teach us two truths:

  • A refusal to forgive makes God angry (v. 34)
  • Bitterness brings God’s discipline (v. 35)

This is not teaching that a Christian may lose his salvation. It refers to God’s discipline of His true children. If we refuse to forgive and, therefore, let bitterness rule our hearts, then we will be disciplined. Make no mistake about it.

If we are honest, then this parable should terrify us. It teaches us that bitterness in a believer will never go unnoticed by God. He will chasten us. And just as the king in the parable threw the unforgiving servant into prison, we too will be put into a prison of sorts. Warren Wiersbe writes,

The world’s worst prison is the prison of an unforgiving heart. If we refuse to forgive others, then we are imprisoning ourselves and causing our own torment. Some of the most miserable people I have met in my ministry have been people who would not forgive others. They lived only to imagine ways to punish these people who had wronged them. But they were really only punishing themselves.

  • What about you?
  • Do you see yourself in this parable?
  • What will be your response to God’s Word?

This post is drawn from the recent sermon, The New Standard for Forgiveness, which you may listen to here.


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