The Folly of Unforgiveness
Robert Wurtz II
And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, even as God also in Christ forgave you.
Forgiveness is essential for all relationships. Without it, there is no hope for any of us. Paul tells us plainly that we are to kindly and tenderly forgive each other. He reminds us of how Christ has forgiven us and calls us to follow His example. We are to forgive each other because it is the right thing to do and the loving thing to do. This implies not if forgiveness is needed, but when. The need for forgiving each other is a foregone conclusion. We are going to offend each other at times whether we mean to or not. Often offenses are caused by a lack of understanding. A person may say or do something for good reason and with pure motives, but the other person simply does not understand, so they are offended. This is why 1 Corinthians 13 tells us that love puts the best construction on events. Love does not look for reasons to be offended. The more loving you are in your approach to people, the less offended you will be. Yet, offenses still come. The only person that doesn’t need forgiveness is God. The rest of us have needed it, do need it or at some point will need it. In scripture offenses are likened to debt. When someone does us wrong they are in a sense indebted to us (and vis versa). When we sin against God we are indebted to Him. This brings us to an important parable given by our Lord. I have quoted it here in its entirety.
Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, “Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt. “But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’ So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt. So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. Then his master, after he had called him, said to 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?’ And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. (Matthew 18:22-34 NKJV)
The context of this parable is important also, because Jesus is discussing with Peter how often he ought to forgive a person. Peter says, “Until seven times?” Seven is the number of perfection and completion, so seven seems reasonable. But Jesus said unto him, I say not unto you, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven. That is 490 times. Some translators have rendered the text 77 times. In either case, the bar is set very high. It was a settled rule of Rabbinism that forgiveness should not be extended more than three times. (Vincent) An example is given of a man seeking forgiveness from a rabbi for a single minor offense 13 times and the rabbi refused. (1) So for Peter to up the number from three to seven was over twice the norm. Forgiving people in the way Jesus describes was a novel concept of unparalleled proportions. .
How Much Did We Owe?
Our subject is taken up with a man that has been brought before the King to settle accounts. When it was all added it the man owed a staggering 10,000 talents. You will recall the parable of the man traveling to a far country that delivered one, two and five talents respectively to his three servants. We get the impression that 5 talents is a huge sum of money to invest and it is. In fact, a talent in New Testament times was anywhere from 60 to 130 lbs of silver. Josephus pegs the weight at 100 lbs (2). If we do the math the man owed 10,000 X 100lbs or 1,000,000 lbs of silver. In response to this mammoth sum, the man told the King; “Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.” To understand how long it would take to pay this debt we need to know what a worker made in an average day in Judea in that time. You will recall Jesus giving another parable of the generous land owner in Matthew 20 which sets the men’s wages at a denarius a day no matter what time of the day they started working. A denarius in the time of Christ was a days wage and the equivalent to roughly .110 oz silver. This means that the man would need to work roughly 145 days for a pound of silver. Since he owed 1,000,000 pounds of silver it would take him 145,000,000 (145 million) days to earn enough money to pay his debt. If he worked seven days a week it would take him 397,260 years to pay the debt or roughly 65 times recorded human history. Yet the common human response? “Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.”
What he was owed
“But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!” So he was owed basically a hundred days wages or 11 oz of silver. Understand that this was a lot of money in the first century. It would be like someone owing you 100 days pay. That is to say, the offense that the man committed against the other man was very great in one sense. However, the amount that he was forgiven of was effectively 145,000,000 denarii (days pay). He owed 1.45 million times as much debt as the man owed him. That is a staggering comparison. In a figure this is God showing us the difference between what we have done to others and other have done to us and what we have done to Him.
Forgive and forget or forget we were forgiven?
Notice the attitude of this wicked person, but that servant went out and found one… It’s as if he could not wait to find the guy that owed him to press upon him the controversy he had. He didn’t just ask for the money, but what was worse, he took the man by the throat. That is to say, he was choking the man- saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!” What you owe (ei ti opheileis). Literally, “if you owe anything,” however little. He did not even know how much it was, only that he owed him something. “The ‘if’ is simply the expression of a pitiless logic” (Meyer quoted in Robertson). This is the cruelty of a godless man. He takes no account of how much he was forgiven of as if he should be grateful and emulate the behavior- but rather behaves towards his fellow man the exact opposite of the kindness he received. This seems at first to be outrageous, but think about how people have come to Christ seeking to be forgiven of their sins and would even beg God on their hands and knees to forgive their gargantuan sin debt and then they turn right around and refuse to forgive their neighbor that has sinned against them. This is the thrust of the story. How men can be forgiven of God and then refuse to pass the favor to their fellow man.
Others grieved, perpetrator oblivious
So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved. Notice that those that beheld the situation from afar off had the good sense to see that the man should have shown mercy after he had been forgiven so great of debt. It is common for folk to see others in a situation and say they should forgive, but not see it for themselves. I’m reminded of Nabal in the Old Testament that in a drunken rage mistreated David after he had guarded his property. David was within a hairs-breadth of destroying Nabal and all the men in his household. (1 Samuel 25:10-39) Why? It may be helpful to point out that the word Nabal is Hebrew for fool. Nabal had returned evil for good, and that is exactly what this man had done in the parable. Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, “You wicked servant!
The wickedness of unforgiveness
Jesus calls the man who had done this high-handed dastardly deed wicked. “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?” What this man had done can only be described as criminal unreasonableness. He had willfully operated in gross inequity. This behavior is not to be remedied but punished. He had begged for forgiveness and even suggested he would work the debt off- though it would take nearly a half-million years. The truth is, once he was forgiven the man should have thrown the celebration of the ages and committed himself to a life of serving his King and others, but no; he walked out and wiped his mouth as if he had done no evil. The situation revealed the type of man he was, he was of his father the devil and the lusts of his father he did do. If Satan were king there would be no forgiveness, but a constant throttling and torture every time an offense came. Is there any wonder the day will come when God is going to sweep the creation clean of this wickedness? Who would want to live for eternity around people like the one described in Jesus parable?
Delivered to the tormentors
There is a point I want to bring out in this parable that often goes unnoticed. Jesus did not suggest the man should be put into therapy for what he had done. We read, And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him.If forgiving the man of all of his sins didn’t change him, nothing would. You see, it is the goodness of God that leads men to repentance. What greater good could God do than this? This is very sobering. So often we look around wondering how God is going to reach the hard-hearted that have rejected Him time and time again. Maybe if God sends this destructive force or that one. God does all of these things to bring us to the revelation that He wants to forgive our sins and reconcile with us. The man in the parable wanted his debt forgiven so that he was no longer under its obligation, but that’s all He wanted. he didn’t want a relationship with the King that having forgiven much he should have loved much and he had no love for his neighbor either. I’m afraid that multitudes have no comprehension of the fact that in Christ dying on the cross He had one objective- that in showing us so great of love we would love Him back in return and our neighbor as ourselves. We love Him because He first loved us. It is the reason for the ‘therefore’ of Romans 12:1.
We read in Mark 11:25, 26, And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses. Here we have it again and very straightforward. It is folly to ignore this passage. The clear implication of the parable is that the man had been forgiven of the debt, but that afterwards there was a rescinding of that forgiveness based on his unwillingness to forgive his fellow servant. The Lord’s prayer follows this theme as well, “forgive us of our debts as we forgive our debtors.” God is determined to forgive us, He cheerfully forgives us, casting our sin behind His back desiring to remember them no more; however, He is also determined that we will pass on the blessing as the only sensical thing to do. To do otherwise is to place our name into the blank in the parable of Jesus.
(1) Even so, the practice was terribly different. The Talmud relates, without blame, the conduct of a rabbi who would not forgive a very small slight of his dignity, though asked by the offender for thirteen successive years, and that on the day of atonement; the reason being that the offended rabbi had learned by a dream that his offending brother would attain the highest dignity; whereupon he feigned himself irreconcilable, to force the other to migrate from Palestine to Babylon, where, unenvied by him, he might occupy the chief place (Edersheim, Life and Times, Book 4. P.30).
(2) Antiq. 3:144 ¶ (188.8.131.52) Over against this table, near the southern wall, was set a candlestick of cast gold, hollow within, being of the weight of one hundred pounds, which the Hebrews call Chinchares; if it be turned into the Greek language, it denotes a talent.