Forgiven to forgive

Forgiven to forgive

Forgiven to forgive

“And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Matthew 6:12

This prayer is difficult to apply. We would sometimes prefer, as Peter asked Jesus, to be able to continue to hate those who deserve it. Jesus teaches us that we have been forgiven to forgive and yes, especially when it is difficult!

Forgiving without limit

The "Lord's Prayer" is the most famous prayer in the Bible, and it contains a phrase just as well known:

"and forgive us our debts, as we ourselves have forgiven our debtors;" (Matthew 6:12)

After giving this model prayer to his disciples, Jesus ends up with a warning:

"For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." (Matthew 6:14-15)

Those who have offended us are those who owe us a debt. The simplest definition of forgiveness is to forgive or pay off the debt someone owes us.

Peter remembering these words of Jesus, asked him later:

"Lord, how many times must I forgive my brother who sins against me? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, I tell you, but seventy-seven times!" (Matthew 18:21-22)

Peter's question is: how many times to forgive as much as possible before taking revenge and hate the person who well deserves it? Jesus' answer is basically: how can we not forgive? 

At the time of Jesus, the rabbis taught that one could forgive the same person up to 3 times. While listening to Jesus and knowing that his standards were higher than those of the rabbis, Pierre thinks he is being very generous by offering to forgive up to 7 times. Jesus replies that it is rather like up to 70 times 7 times. This expression in Hebrew means that Jesus tells us to forgive without limit.

A man named Lamech (Gen 4:24) said that he had killed a man and a child and that he would be avenged 77 times if he was killed. A man without God seeks revenge without limit. That is why wars have been going on for centuries between some people. The new man, who is a child of God, who follows Jesus, forgives without limit! One must have experienced God's forgiveness to be able to do so.

“Moreover, the forgiveness we have received involves that we also forgive others. This is why Jesus gives the parable of the forgiven debt and the bad servant. I invite you to read it and meditate on it to make your own reflections, we will discuss it tomorrow.”  (Mat 18:23-35)

God offers us forgiveness by grace

I invite you to read Matt 18:23-35 before reading this meditation.

Jesus presents a parable depicting a king. He often uses the figure of a king to identify with God, so that his listeners have benchmarks. A servant had a debt of 10,000 talents. A huge sum. To put this in perspective, the Roman taxes in the area were 800 talents at the time of Jesus. This amount can be compared to a government budget. 10,000 was the largest number used at the time. 

Since the indebted servant could not pay, the king decided to throw him in prison. Notice that there is no mention of the king's anger. This is not an act of anger, but an act of justice. The debt incurred must be paid. 

The debt we owe to God is the consequence of our sins.

"For the payoff of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)

When God punishes sin, he is fair, he applies his justice.

"For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23)

We all owe God a huge debt. Think about it: if a sin deserves death, considering the number of our sins and the evil we do in actions, words, or thoughts, our debt to God is immense!

The servant will be put in jail, his property sold and his family sold into the slave market. How can he pay? He will never be able to and will remain in prison for the rest of his life. 

It is impossible for us to wash away our sins, that is why the Bible teaches us that the punishment for sin is eternal death, hell. The indebted servant then throws himself to the feet of the king. The word used here is only used in the case of a man who loves God. When we recognize God's greatness and humble ourselves, he gives us grace.

"God opposes the proud, but he gives grace to the humble." (James 4:6)

The servant believes that the king is good and that he will listen to him. He begs the king to be patient, thinking he can find a way to pay it back. The servant asked for a delay, but the king paid off his debt because he knew that the servant would never be able to pay him back.

"And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among people by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12)

This name is the name of Jesus.

We can see that God wants to save us, he is just waiting for us to turn to him. God does not forgive us because we deserve it: the debt is real. It is his grace, an undeserved favor, that saves us. God forgives us by love: he does not want us to die, he wants us to live. And it is because of the work of Jesus that we can be saved.

"For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect." (1 Peter 1:18-19)

When the king forgives the servant’s debt, he is basically the one who pays. 

Jesus, who is God, paid for us. He is the one who endured our condemnation. The debt is not refinanced or consolidated; it is CANCELED.

"You were spiritually dead because of your sins and because you were not free from the power of your sinful self. But God gave you new life together with Christ. He forgave all our sins. Because we broke God’s laws, we owed a debt—a debt that listed all the rules we failed to follow. But God forgave us of that debt. He took it away and nailed it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:13-14)

The debt is forgiven in full, there is no sin that is too bad or too repetitive for God to forgive. God's grace is greater than our sins, it is unlimited.

If you decide to admit before God that you are unable to save yourself, that you decide to believe that Jesus died on the cross in your place, and you ask God to forgive your sins for Jesus' sake, he will.

  • You will be free from condemnation and guilt.
  • You will not go to hell.
  • You will become a child of God.
  • You will be saved and have eternal life.

When we finish reading this parable, we are surprised by how the king reacts, it is unexpected.  What a grace!

The King's children must behave like the King

I invite you to read Matt 18:23-35 again.

The servant pardoned by the king meets one of his fellow servants. This fellow is indebted to him. His debt corresponds to a farm worker's 100 days of work. So it is a debt that cannot be repaid. He who has just been pardoned grabs the debtor by the throat.  Basically, he wants to choke her. It is the expression of the human heart. Outside the presence of the king, God, it is the flesh that takes over: hate and revenge. If God acted toward us as we act toward each other, we could not be saved. The pardoned servant meets his friend on leaving the king's palace.

Jesus wants to warn us: coming to church and being forgiven by God is good, but how are we going to behave when we leave God's presence towards our loved ones?

The debtor begs his friend as he did before the king, but he refuses to listen to him. He had him thrown in jail until he paid everything. 

Here, Jesus highlights the stubbornness, the rejection and the hardness of heart of the servant, what a contrast with the attitude of the king! Let us not forget the grace that has been given to us! Here, we begin to see what Jesus wants to tell us. How can we understand such behavior? Who can refuse to forgive after being forgiven?

Think about it, the one who is thrown in jail will never be able to pay his debt once he is behind the bars. Bitterness and revenge is not the solution to get back what has been taken from us. Only God can heal our hearts. Not only is bitterness ineffective and worthless, but it has serious spiritual consequences. After seeing this, the servant’s friends who show intransigence are deeply saddened. It is sad to see a Christian who refuses to forgive. The friends who witnessed the scene told the king, their master. 

God knows everything. If you don't forgive others, he knows. You cannot live in bitterness and still live the grace of God.

"You must put away all bitterness, anger, wrath, quarreling, and slanderous talk—indeed all malice." (Ephesians 4:31)

The king calls the servant and says to him "you wicked servant"! When we refuse to forgive, God considers us wicked. 

"I forgave you all that debt!"

The king asks the question that Jesus asks us by telling this story:

"Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?" (Matthew 18:33)

This rhetorical question necessarily implies a positive answer: you had to show him mercy. God requires us to forgive others, because the blood of Jesus was shed so that we might be forgiven. Jesus goes on telling his story - keep in mind that he tells it for a purpose, by specifying that the king is irritated and angry. The wrath of God was poured out on Jesus at the cross. But God's wrath will be manifested definitively against those who refuse God's grace or despise it by refusing to give grace to others. If we refuse to forgive, it provokes the wrath of God. If you are bitter and have lost your relationship with God, you must forgive to regain it. Jesus mentions that the king is angry. He not only sends the wicked servant back to prison but also delivers him to the executioner. How can you repay a debt while being tortured in prison? It is impossible! Hell is an eternal and endless punishment. Hell is a place of conscious suffering and torture for eternity. So the king goes back on his decision and cancels his pardon!!! Yes, it is possible to go to hell after going to church. Those who obey God, including forgiveness, will be saved.

To receive forgiveness without forgive, it is like destroying oneself

Jesus ends his parable by insisting on the absolute necessity of forgiveness. Jesus solemnly warns us: the refusal to forgive has eternal consequences. 

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

“unless you forgive”: The tense used by Jesus in Greek implies that this is possible. God gives us the strength to forgive others. Remember the "Our Father" prayer:

"For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." (Matthew 6:14-15)

It is by practicing forgiveness towards others in my own life that I can know if I have truly experienced God's forgiveness and if I am a new creature.

"And forgive us our debts, as we ourselves have forgiven our debtors;" (Matthew 6:12)

Forgiving others is not a condition for salvation, it is its consequenceNow that you have understood that you need to forgive, the real question is: How to do it? It seems so difficult!!!

Before answering this question, I invite you to say this prayer:

Heavenly Father, I thank you for the riches of your goodness and generosity toward me, knowing that your goodness has led me to repentance. I confess that I have not shown the same kindness and patience to those who have hurt me. Instead, I have persisted in my anger, bitterness and resentment toward them. Please remind me of all the people I need to forgive, so that I can do so now. Amen.

A good definition of forgiveness

When we forgive someone in bitterness, their reactions are often related to wrong beliefs about forgiveness. 

Let's first look at what forgiveness is not:

  • Forgiveness is not denial, that is to say, pretending that nothing happened.
  • Forgiveness is not the tolerance of evil: evil is evil. Forgiveness recognizes evil, but forgives, forgives the debt.
  • Forgiveness is not about accepting the repetition of suffering. Forgiveness is not enduring endless pain.
  • Forgiveness is not forgetting: it is not brainwashing; one can have forgiven and still remember. The one who forgives is warned; he remembers not to take revenge, but to protect himself.
  • Forgiveness is not something only for the weak. (God is not weak when he forgives us).
  • Forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciliation: to be reconciled, it takes 2. The fact to trust again after having forgiven requires time. 

Time to see signs of trust. Sometimes reconciliation is impossible in the case where the person dies or keeps on dangerous. 

Let's see now what forgiveness means according to the Bible.

"Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord." (Leviticus 19:18)

  • To forgive is to abandon revenge and let God do justice. He does not let sinners go unpunished.
  • To forgive is to let go of hate, anger and bitterness
  • To forgive is to recognize one's suffering and accept God's healing.

It is also to accept the possibility of not getting back what is owed to us. Don't wait to be asked for forgiveness before you forgive. Forgiveness is an act of the will, a decision, not an emotion. Don't wait until you feel like it. Forgiveness is a choice you make for yourself first. Forgive with all your heart. 

List the offenses you need to forgive for yourself to be free of them and let your emotions rise as you do so.

To forgive is to forgive often, as much as necessary, as God is patient with us.

Forgiveness is a step of faith. It is believing that by deciding to forgive, I am obeying God and that he will heal me on the inside, because he alone has the power to do so.

Forgiveness is highly spiritual and supernatural. It is done with prayer and God’s help, because it is not in our nature.

"Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you." (Colossians 3:13)

I invite you to forgive those who have offended you. You can add yourself to the list if you need to forgive yourself. You can also write down hostile thoughts against God if you blamed Him. God never does evil, but we must renounce these thoughts.


Lord, I choose to forgive (name the person concerned) for (what he or she did or did not do) and for the fact that I felt (indicate your pain).

Lord, I choose not to persist in my resentment. I thank you for delivering me from the bonds of my bitterness. I give up my right to seek vengeance and ask you to heal my bruised emotions. Now I ask you to bless (name the offender). In the name of Jesus. 


I pray that the Holy Spirit comes and heals your heart and that the peace of God comes and covers you.

David Théry

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