Read Matt. 18:21-35. It tells the story of a man who owed a tremendous debt, but he is forgiven by the king. Then the unthinkable happens. The forgiven man refuses to forgive another a much smaller and insignificant amount. The point is how that doesn’t make sense. If you have been forgive so much, the response should be to forgive others.
 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”  Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.
 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants.  When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.  And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made.  So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’  And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.  But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’  So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’  He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt.  When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place.  Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.  And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’  And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt.  So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
(Matthew 18:21-35 ESV)
To not forgive leads to bitterness – which will ultimately destroy you.
There are 3 things Tim Keller tells us you can learn from this parable to avoid this consuming bitterness – three things that will help you to have a forgiving spirit. I will draw from Keller to answer this question on forgiveness.
#1 The king cancelled the debt.
When you cancel the debt, you do not get revenge or make the other person pay the emotional debt of pain – but you pay it yourself.
This is not saying you let everything go and you never take legal action or other action (i.e. “just forget”), but when someone wrongs you, it creates an emotional debt of pain – the debt you feel – the sense that this other person owes you.
Even non-economical debts such as a debt of emotional pain has to be paid down. Most people make the other person pay. There are all sorts of ways you can make the other person pay. You can insult them, or be cold to them, or withdraw your friendship from them.
There are all sorts of direct ways, and many indirect ways – such as gossip about them or slander them to other people … or just despise them in your heart (play little movies!)
If we are honest, the more pain we inflict on them, the better we feel. You are paying down the debt. In fact, even if I see someone else do it, I feel better.
I have to get my pain debt down and seeing them pay, reduces that for me – and slowly I feel less and less that that person owes me.
But, the trouble with this vengeance, is that it passes into you and you begin to change. The evil is getting into you and molding you more and more into the image of the person you are bitter towards.
Tim Keller tells of a guy who says, ‘I’m not letting my kids go to church because my dad forced me to go.” You see, his dad (their grandfather) wants his grandchildren in church and this is his way of “beating him!” Thus, his dad is still controlling him. He is not considering, ‘what is best for my children etc.’ He’s under the control of his father. He thinks he is beating his father and making him pay, but that evil is passing into him and he has become bitter, cynical, and hard. In the end, it is the children who are being hurt and just used as pawns for him to get vengeance on his dad.
When you forgive, you choose to pay the debt down yourself – absorbing it and its pain.
What do it mean, “pay it down”?
Well, every time you want to rehash the past but don’t – it hurts.
Every time you want to rub their nose in it, but you don’t, it hurts.
Every time you want to be cold to them but you are warm to them, it hurts.
Every time you have a chance to run them down to someone else and you don’t.
Every time you see them prospering and you refuse to stick little pins in them – in your imagination – and you don’t and it hurts. Why?
It is costly to NOT take revenge. You are making the payments yourself.
If you make them pay, you can reduce your pain – but you will be twisted and warped –by the evil done to you – it is impacting you and not in a good way.
But if you refuse to bring the matter up to other people; refuse to tear them down and stick little pins in them in your mind; if you refuse to do revenge of any sort, in spite of the fact that it hurts … slowly, because you are not putting fuel on your anger, the anger will be going out. This allows you to begin to forget.
Depending on the size of the wrong – it might only minutes or maybe days – but it might take weeks – or months or even years – but when you absorb the debt pain – it goes down. And as it goes away – you are free – the evil hasn’t molded you and controlled you and worked itself into you and planted roots there.
You are a free woman or man because you have forgiven … your mother or father or brother or sister, your boss, the other person. You’ve overcome with love.
So the first thing to having a forgiving spirit is refuse to get revenge – and you pay the pain debt down yourself.
# 2 “He took pity on him…”
(lit. to be moved with compassion for someone else’s misery).
This is extremely interesting and important.
Whenever someone wrongs you, automatically your heart is going to stress the differences between you and that person. If you want to bear injuries without meltdown, and have a forgiving spirit in your mind, you have to make a conscious decision to stress the commonalities between you and that person – not the differences.
Whenever someone wrongs you, the first thing you do is create a caricature of them (you know what that is – it’s when a cartoonist draws and makes someone look ridiculous. They take the worst feature and make it huge.)
When a person wrongs you, you can reduce them to what they did to you. You make their worst feature huge. You see them as one-dimensional – as caricatures.
They lie – you see them as a liar. They betray you and you see them only as a betrayer.
BUT when you lie, it is a little different. You are complex. There were mitigating circumstances; and there is so much good in you. You’re 3-dimensional – complex.
But not them – they’re one-dimensional.
And here’s why. Deep inside every human soul is a deep desire to justify yourself. Deep down we’re afraid we’re not o.k. We’re afraid we’re not valuable or worthy, and that deep fear creates a desperate need to justify yourself. That’s what is behind racism or work-aholics and so much more.
It is behind when someone does something, why you justify yourself by saying, “I would never have done that.”
Why? You need to feel better – superior – noble. “I’m not like that.” Yes , I have some problems – but I would never do that.”
But if you don’t want to be melted down – twisted by bitterness – you need to think of the commonalities. “I am a weak person, and they are weak. I do stupid things as they do (Maybe not the same stupid things but stupid things nonetheless). I am fallible like them.” If you refuse to think of the person as in common with you, you will not get your freedom.
So, (1) don’t take revenge, pay the debt down yourself.
(2) identify with the person – the common things instead of the differences.
Then you will be free to do the 3rd thing.
#3 “He let him go” (v. 27b)
Why? What about justice? Why would he let him go?
Well if we follow the story … the guy set free meets another servant who owes him a tifle – a small amount, and he doesn’t just say “Pay up”, he chokes him. This is a guy who just got his life back. (This makes it obvious that this is a violent man who is used to abusing people).. . and now he goes off to jail – justice – not just an angry king. … king can’t just let the guy go – and keep hurting people.
Many say – I don’t want to forgive, I want justice. But don’t pit those 2 things against each other. If you don’t first personally forgive, you’ll never get justice.
If you go to confront that person and you hold bitterness in your heart, you’re not going to go for justice (no matter what you tell yourself) – you want to hurt them to make them pay the emotional debt down. So if you haven’t dealt with bitterness – you’ll never get justice. Forgiveness provides the path through which justice can be pursued.
Well now you all know about forgiveness – so get out there and do it …
How are we going to do this?
The king has compassion on the guy in the story – the guy who almost brought his kingdom down. When you realize the enormous debt, you go, “This doesn’t happen in the real world … there is no king like that …”
Maybe not in what we typically experience, but this story is pondering something else …
There is one king …
The king took pity on him – that word “pity” is the key. It is the Greek word that is used of the Lord Jesus Christ over & over in the Scripture…
And here, is this “Jesus’ word” used of this king.
The servant is acting like he’s a king – demanding his money and choking the guy, like he’s the judge when he has no right. Yet that is what we are like when we stay angry at someone. We are servants acting like a king – like a judge. And Jesus is showing us in a mirror what we are like when we hold on to anger and fail to have a forgiving spirit.
What’s the answer? What’s the solution?
We have to behold the King who became a servant. The ultimate King looked down on us – knowing that we would cost Him his glory and all He had in heaven. He came to earth – to sacrifice Himself – to die on a cross where He cried, “Tetelestai” – Paid in full!
Put your little story in the big story. Look at what Jesus did for you – poor sinner – there was a debt. He didn’t make you pay a bit.
There’s a debt – when someone’s done wrong, there is a debt and someone’s got to pay it and Jesus didn’t take a penny from you. He paid it! He paid it! He paid it!
You’ll never be able to pay what other people have done to you unless you see Him paying the infinite debt for you. After all He’s done for you, aren’t you almost glad for the opportunity to magnify Him and reflect His image by bearing the cost for another undeserving servant?
We can show how much Jesus means to us by forgiving you (whoever) a small debt.
Col. 3:12 “Therefore as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
Notice the order – because we are already loved we can forgive. Not do this and then God will love you. This is the difference between religion – and the gospel of Jesus Christ!
Eph. 4:31-32 “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you.”
Because you are so completely and utterly loved you can endure and have patience where you are so humbled by God’s grace that you realize, you have no right to be angry; and so affirmed by God’s grace that you don’t have the need to be angry!
Stop being a servant, acting like a king, by looking at the beauty of the ultimate King, who came to earth – and became a servant and paid everything for sinners like me and like you — and then you’ll be free.
I don’t know of any other way to be free in a world like ours – a world of abuse and snubbing every day.
Jesus absorbed the cost. He paid the debt.
Now there’s a Savior for a sinner like me.
How about you?