The Limits of Unlimited Forgiveness

BIBLE INSIGHTS in 500 words


The Limits of Unlimited Forgiveness
Richard Leslie Parrott, Ph.D.
(Matthew 18:21-35)

Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive . . . seven times?” Jesus’ response called for limitless forgiveness, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:21-22). Jesus drives home the point with a harsh lesson.

A king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. . . . A man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. . .  The servant’s master took pity on him and canceled the debt (Matthew 18:23-27).

God’s Limitless Forgiveness: ten thousand bags of gold” would be more money than was in circulation in any kingdom in Jesus’ day. Indeed, the number, 10,000, was the largest number in the Greek culture. We would say “infinity.” Jesus makes the point that God’s forgiveness has no limits.

Jesus continues the story, contrasting the infinite grace of the King with the miserly behavior of the servant who received limitless forgiveness.

“That servant . . . found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins . . . He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ . . . His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged . . . “But he refused . . .and had the man thrown into prison (Matthew 18:28-29)

Our Limitless Resentment: “a hundred silver coins” is one-millionth of what the King had forgiven. The contrast between the forgiving King’s kindness and the forbidding servant’s cruelty is telling: we see the toxicity of resentment. The servant’s harsh behavior returns to the ears of the King.

Other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and . . . told their master everything . . . The master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured (Matthew 18:31-34).

The Limit of Limitless Forgiveness: “his master handed him over to the jailers” reflects a common practice in the ancient world. Jesus drives home the meaning of the parable with a harsh truth that makes us shudder.

This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you
unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.
(Matthew 18:35)

God’s limitless forgiveness has a limit. Can’t God override our unforgiving hearts and forgive us anyway? Apparently not. I’m not sure if the word is “can’t” or “won’t” but either way, the “un-forgiveness” in our hearts must be cleansed.

For followers of Jesus,
forgiveness is our way of life.

God’s unlimited forgiveness flows from his throne, through our hearts, and into a fallen world. We are partners in God’s limitless forgiveness, or we give up partnership with God.

Lord, teach us to pray in faith, believing:

Forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us.

(Matthew 6:12)


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