Summary: We have lots of good reasons to forgive others who hurt us, but the best reason to forgive is because God has forgiven us so much more. When we learn to appreciate the full extent of God's grace, we can practice giving away that grace to others.
The Best Reason to Forgive
At some point, every one of us has been hurt, sometimes quite deeply. Maybe somebody here today is hurting. The question is, will you be able to forgive and let go, to move forward with your life? Forgiveness is a choice. You don’t have to forgive, but when you don’t, you put yourself in bondage to your offender and you adversely affect your closeness to God.
Today Jesus tells a story to demonstrate our very best motivation to forgive. He has been teaching the disciples about how to hold each other accountable in Christian love. Then Peter asks a question about the minimum number of times one must forgive. Peter probably thinks he is being magnanimous in offering to forgive someone seven times, since most rabbis taught that three times were sufficient. But Jesus replies, “Not seven times, but 77!” (Or “70 times 7;” we’re unsure exactly how to interpret the Greek.) Jesus is not attempting to quantify forgiveness, but to say it’s uncountable. Then he tells a story to illustrate why. I want to focus on three truths from the story that speak to our need to forgive. First,
1. The debt others owe us is large.
Let’s not trivialize this. The servant was owed 100 silver coins, or in the Greek, 100 denarii. A denarius was about one day’s wage. So someone owed this fellow just over three months’ of work! That is more than pocket change! And it illustrates that we’re not talking about trivial matters here, like when someone jumps in front of us in line for the elevator, or somebody passes by without saying hello. We’re talking about bigger debts here. Maybe somebody assassinated your character. Maybe someone betrayed you or cheated on you or attacked you.
I want to share with you a story I often share with our Veterans. It’s a true story, with a tragic beginning. On May 11, 2002, two 20-year-old college students were coming home for summer break, when they had a head-on collision with Eric Smallridge, who was intoxicated from a night of partying. Smallridge lived. The college students did not. One of those students was Meagan Napier, and her mother, Renee, was a dedicated Christian believer who was understandably shaken to her core. She had a huge debt owed her. How could one ever replace a 20-year-old daughter with so much life before her? She would never marry; she would never bear Renee a grandchild, she would never go on to a successful career. A life was cut short because of one person’s stupid choice to drink and drive. I’ll tell you more of their story later.
This is but one example, but the truth is, we hurt people and people hurt us. And sometimes the hurt is severe. Yet, the truth is,
2. We hurt God much more than people hurt us.
And here lies the best reason to forgive. You see, you can forgive because you want inner peace, and that’s a good thing. You can forgive to try to find some meaning out of your loss; that’s where Renee Napier began. She wanted to bring some kind of good out of the untimely loss of her daughter. You can forgive so your body doesn’t suffer symptoms of unforgiveness, such as higher blood pressure, migraine headaches, ulcers, depression, and generally a shorter life span. God did not design your body to harbor resentment and bitterness.
Yet, the very best reason to forgive is because God has forgiven you. Jesus’ story points us to the wide disparity between offenses against us and our offense against a holy God. Consider the ridiculously crazy difference between the two debts. We’ve already looked at the 100 denarii that the servant sought for repayment. He was so incensed that he had the guy thrown into debtor’s prison.
But look at his own debt the king had forgiven earlier: it amounted to “ten thousand bags of gold” or “talents.” A talent was the highest unit of currency. It equaled about 6,000 denarii, or roughly 20 years of wages. So, 10,000 talents would represent about 200,000 years of work, or around $2.5 billion dollars in today’s figures. Jesus chose an amount larger than all the money in Israel at the time! If he were telling the story today, he might say “10 gazillion dollars!”
The point is, the amount is so large that it’s absolutely unpayable. It represents the enormous debt of sin that each of us has incurred before a holy God. You see, God is entirely without sin. So every one of our sins is extra dastardly when compared to God’s holiness. It is why King David, after being caught in adultery and murder, could say to God, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Psalms 51:4). Even though David recognized he had hurt others, those hurts paled in significance compared to how he had hurt God.