I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. (Matthew 18:22)
He is not saying that we do not forgive the 491st offence, but that we should not place a limit on our forgiveness for those who have repented. To illustrate the importance of forgiveness to Peter, Jesus followed His statement with a parable about forgiveness.
A King’s Compassion
Jesus spoke of a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. One was brought before him who owed 10,000 talents but was not able to pay. The king commanded that he and all that he had be sold. The servant begged him,
Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all. (Matthew 18:26)
Hearing the servant’s plea, the king showed compassion and forgave his debt. It’s important to understand just how indebted this man was for us to appreciate the degree of kindness shown to him. A talent is 6,000 denarii (Robertson’s Word Pictures). One denarius is a fair wage for a day of manual labour (Matthew 20:2). The average daily wage for non-managerial workers in Ontario is $180. In terms of our currency, this fellow was in debt to the tune of $10.8 billion. He had a debt which he could never pay off.
A Servant’s Greed
Having been forgiven of such a huge debt, you would think he would be thankful and imitate the king’s kindness. What did he do? He found a fellow servant who owed him money and demanded payment. When his fellow servant asked for time to repay the debt, he would not show compassion but cast the man into prison till he could pay the debt. He who had been forgiven a debt of 10,000 talents ($10 billion) refused to forgive one who owed 100 denarii ($18,000)!
When word came to the king about the servant’s actions, he rebuked him:
You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you? (Matthew 18:32-33)
Jesus concluded the parable by saying the king delivered the wicked servant to the torturers until he should pay all that he owed. Of course, with a debt of $10 billion, he would never be released.
Peter asked Jesus how often he should forgive one who sinned against him. The 70×7 response was emphatic. How much more the illustration of the king and his servants!
Consider how much God has forgiven us. How many times have we transgressed His law and done our own thing? The number of times is beyond is possibly beyond our ability to compute. Our sin debt is one that we cannot repay. The only way we can be free from the debt of sin we have amassed is for the king to forgive us. If God is willing to forgive us, then should we not be willing to forgive one another?
Jesus is not minimizing sins committed against us, but He is setting them in the proper context. They are a drop in the bucket compared to our sins before God. If we will not forgive those who have sinned against us, we are like the servant who having been forgiven a huge, unpayable debt, would not forgive a tiny debt owed to him. And, in the end, his debt was not forgiven. The king reinstated his debt, for he did not follow the king’s example of compassion.
Forgive To Be Forgiven
If we do not forgive one another, God won’t reinstate our sin debt—it won’t have been forgiven in the first place. Recall the Lord’s words when He taught the disciples to pray. In the prayer, He made the statement,
…forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debts. (Matthew 6:12)
He would go on to explain:
…if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6:14-15)
We are free to hold a grudge against others but realize that it will be at a cost. When someone comes to us, repenting of their wickedness, it is our responsibility to forgive them. If we do, then we have the confidence that God will forgive us. However, if we do not do so, then we know that the Father will not forgive us, but rather we will be cast eternally into torments.