Recently I came across a familiar Bible verse, which I’ve read, heard, and even quoted hundreds of times, but when meditating on it, thinking of its practical application and the enormity of the consequences of ignoring it, I more fully realized its importance.
Matthew 6:14–15 says, “If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”1
There’s no wiggle room within these verses. Whether we do or don’t forgive others has a direct effect on our own relationship with God.
A bit later, the apostle Peter asked the obvious question: “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who wrongs me? Up to seven times?”
“Not just seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven.”2
That’s 490 times. Jesus used a pretty big number to emphasize that there isn’t any point where we can feel justified to stop forgiving someone.
To further drive this home, He used some other very large numbers in the story of a king who wanted to settle his accounts with his servants or subjects:
One man owed the king ten thousand talents. A talent is 2,000 ounces (125 pounds, 57 kg), so this man owed the king 20 million ounces of what was probably either gold or silver. If it was silver, that would be equivalent to about US$ 400 million today; if it was gold, then it would be worth about US$ 25 billion. Either way, that was an enormous debt. Because the man couldn’t pay, the king ordered that he and his wife and children and all that he had be sold. The man implores the king to have patience, and out of pity, the king not only grants him a delay but pardons his debt altogether.
Sadly, the forgiven servant later finds one of his fellow servants who owes him a hundred denarii—one denarius is estimated to be worth about US$ 20 today, which means the fellow servant’s debt would be about US$ 2,000—in any case, a much smaller sum than his own debt, which he had been released from. Nonetheless, the forgiven servant has his colleague imprisoned for being behind in his repayments.
When the king hears of it, he summons the forgiven servant and says:
“You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” In anger, the master has him thrown into jail as well.
Jesus ends this story with an alarming statement: “This is how My heavenly Father will treat each of you as well, if you do not forgive your brethren.”3
There are times when other people sin against us or hurt us—whether intentionally or unintentionally—just as there are times when we hurt others or sin against them. People may treat us unfairly on occasion, deceive us, steal from us, or slander us behind our back. They may cheat us or break their word. Whatever the case may be, whatever the offense, whatever the hurt, we are commanded to forgive.
Forgiving doesn’t mean the other person was in the right, nor does it mean that the loss or harm caused by their actions is undone. It simply means that rather than focusing on who’s right and who’s wrong, you leave that in God’s hands, along with the repercussion of the person’s actions. You take the high road and forgive.
All of us sin, and each of us falls short of the glory of God.4 Like the unforgiving servant, we each owe a huge debt to God—a debt so large that none of us can ever repay it. Through Jesus, God forgives that debt; but He also calls us to forgive others in like manner.
Looking at it from the point of view that if we don’t forgive others when they sin against us, God won’t forgive us when we sin against Him can be disconcerting. The good part is, we can also see it as a promise: if we forgive others, God will forgive us.5 If we show mercy, then mercy will be shown to us. If we forgive, we will be forgiven.
“God loves you and has chosen you as his own special people. So be gentle, kind, humble, meek, and patient. Put up with each other, and forgive anyone who does you wrong, just as Christ has forgiven you. Love is more important than anything else. It is what ties everything completely together.”6