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November 22, 2015

By John Ulrich, Senior Pastor

Matthew 18:21-55

Today we consider God’s view of forgiveness in relationships, especially marriages, in the story of the unmerciful, unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:21-55.

Jesus’ parable in Matthew 18:21-55, in response to Peter’s question about forgiveness, is a clarification of Christian forgiveness.  Whether our relationships suffer from specific unforgiven wounds (past or present) or a season of difficulty creating a zone of unforgiveness, a lifestyle of continuing forgiveness is needed in a Christian marriage.

In this parable, Jesus first tells us how a king showed mercy to a servant who owed him a gigantic amount of money by absorbing and canceling the entire debt and setting the man free (Matthew 21:23-27).

Then Jesus continues with a second example of the same servant who showed only anger and punishment to another servant who owed him a sum of money that was very large to both of them, equivalent to a third of a year’s wages for servants (Matthew 21:28-30).

At the end of the parable, Jesus warns us, through the voice of the king, that we will be treated with the same anger and punishment of the unmerciful servant if we do not forgive others their wrongs against us. “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive…from your heart” (Matthew 21:32-34).

Jesus declares the kingdom of heaven’s view of forgiveness (Matthew 21:23)

  • Forgiveness commands us to forgive wrongs rather than keep track of them.

Definition: In Greek, “forgiveness” means to let go and to release from our grasp. We are to forgive others (especially our spouses) who wrong us (deliberately or not), and let it go without keeping track.  We do not count the number of times we are wronged, but choose to live a lifestyle of forgiveness.  This forgiveness might be a one-time event or a process.

Forgiveness is not reconciliation. Reconciliation requires two sides to participate; forgiveness requires only  one.

Forgiveness is not just pretending that the wrong really did not happen.

Forgiveness is not the same as forgetting the wrongs against us.

In marriage, with two sinful people, it is so easy to keep track of all the ways we are hurt, such as annoying habits, disappointment, ugly words or actions. Certainly there are concrete consequences to deal with when there is serious abuse, such as drug addiction or dangerous emotional or physical situations, but true forgiveness from the heart can allow us to do the actions needed and at the same time release (forgive) the other person from our condemnation and judgment, to free them for healing.

Marriage is about equity, commitment and serving one another (Ephesians 5 and 1 Corinthians 7).  We serve and love each other by building a reservoir of growing forgiveness.

  • Jesus’ command only makes sense in light of the Gospel.

Jesus did not just warn us about the necessity of forgiveness (Matthew 21:35) in the story of the unforgiving servant, but He first told us the story of the king to show us how to do it (Matthew 21:23-27).

We know in our hearts that forgiveness for wrongs against us is just impossible to do by ourselves, who are often filled with hurt, weakness, blame or guilt.  We fall short of what God wants us to be in our relationships, especially our marriages. The story of the king’s forgiveness is the story of the Gospel, the good news of the kingdom of God (Matthew 21:23). Unforgiveness may make sense at the moment, but it is a denial of the Gospel.

Like the first servant, we owe a huge debt for our imperfect (sinful) lives, which we cannot possibly repay.  God chose to pay for our debt through His Son’s death, and offers us love and forgiveness when we turn to Him in belief. Then God gives us the power to act in love and forgiveness through the daily presence of Jesus’ Spirit in our lives.

Do we really understand how much forgiveness we get from God? If not, we will find that we ourselves have problems forgiving others.  When we see how much God loves us as individuals, how could we not respond gratefully out of the wealth of this forgiveness and offer it to others?

Through God’s power, we can forgive others, especially in our marriages.