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.' - Matthew 18: 28 (ESV)
The world we live in can be a very cold and unforgiving place. It is often celebrated as a characteristic of strength. Movies are made which glorify revenge and unforgiveness. As much as it is a part of popular culture today the church has hardly been a safe haven from the traps of bitterness. There are entire swaths of Christians who have been so hurt by their church or church staff that they refuse to ever go back to any church. They sit on the sidelines and pretend the Bible doesn't stress the importance of community within the Christian sphere. That they do not need any church. Then they casually cast stones at the bride of Christ and call her a whore. That is what bitterness and unforgiveness can do. It corrupts as all sin does. It is corrosive like acid in our soul. Slowly eating away at us. To make matters worse, while the offense may have generated from the outside, the suffering is all self-inflicted.
Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. - Ephesians 4: 27-28 (ESV)
If we were honest with ourselves we often give the devil more than an opportunity when it comes to our delicateness. Perceived slights get blown up and out of proportion until our molehill becomes a mountain we continually circle around. We pray for help, release or deliverance but the truth is we can be the ones who do not let go. In a culture that encourages taking offense at anything that grates against us, it can be very difficult to simply turn it over to God. The Lord knew this was the case with human nature. He gives us very clear and explicit instruction in the Bible regarding all matters, including this. There are multiple Scriptures warning us to forgive as we have been forgiven but perhaps the most clear example is when Jesus tells the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant in the Gospel of Matthew. Let us reason and walk through it together to see what the Lord is saying to us today.
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. - Matthew 18: 21-22 (ESV)
This is the introduction to the Parable. It is what prompted Jesus to tell it. It is interesting to note because of the juxtaposition of how we look at things in our flesh with how God looks at things. The Bible stresses how far above our thinking is the Lord's thinking but here is that principle in action. Peter thought he was being noble when he suggested that he would forgive his brother seven whole times. The way the world thinks, Peter would appear very magnanimous if he were to actually do so. Many in the world would actually view this negatively and say that Peter was a masochist for being so forgiving. A sucker if you will. That is how we are though is it not? We have these high and lofty notions in our heads about how noble we might be but the problem is we compare those notions to other sinners instead of to God. So compared to other people, sure Peter looked quite high-minded and enlightened. This is the trick Satan plays on us regarding all sin. As long as we are comparing ourselves to other sinners we can always find someone far, far worse than we are. Thus we can look more favorably upon our own sin. We can begin to marginalize it and even feel better about it. After all, we aren't a serial killer! This reminds me of another parable:
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.' But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted." - Luke 18: 9-14 (ESV)
The Pharisee was so busy comparing himself to "other men" such as the tax collector that he could no longer see his own sins of pride and arrogance. The tax collector was so aware of his sin, that he was the one justified before God. Going back to the juxtaposition however, Jesus quickly turns the tables on Peter. The way we think is seven times but Jesus says, try seventy seven times. Other translations actually say that Jesus said seven times seventy, or 490 times we ought to forgive our brother. Keep in mind beloved that this does not mean we are to keep a record and when our brother gets to offense number 78 or 491 that all bets are off! The point Jesus was making was to answer with something so much higher than Peter had imagine or could even calculate. That forgiveness is not a number. It is not something to measure and mete out. Whenever we fancy ourselves like the Pharisee God reminds us that He justifies the tax collector. After this attempt by Peter at self-justification, Jesus tells a parable that compares two men who were debtors.
"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. - Matthew 18: 23-24 (ESV)
The king in this parable is God. We are the debtor. This is a stark reminder that one day God will seek to settle His accounts. God sets the stage for this parable by providing the scope of our debt before God. My study Bible has the following note regarding verse 24:
"A talent was the highest monetary unit of currency, equivalent to six thousand denarii or drachmas. Such a sum of money was practically uncountable and illustrates the enormous debt of sin that all have incurred before God."
Another study note estimates this amount was worth 200,000 years worth of wages for an average laborer. The point beloved is not that it was a large amount of money. The point was not that it was a huge debt. The point is that it was not payable. It was so much money it was uncountable. There simply was no way this man could ever repay this amount of money. That is the nature of our debt to God for our sins. It cannot be counted. It is virtually not payable. We could strive and strive and still never come close to 200,000 years worth of wages. There is in fact only one way out of such indebtedness:
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. - Matthew 18: 26-27 (ESV)
It is only through the grace and mercy of the Master can we ever expect to be clear of our debt. There is nothing within our own power to accomplish this. That is why it is so offensive to see teachers today try and make Christianity to be about us when it always must be about Him. When they try to make blessings to be about things you don't have when He has already done the impossible by picking up the tab for our sin debt! Take a close look at what the Master does here. He could have simply not punished him for the debt in this life but God always goes further than we could ever imagine. He actually forgives the debt entirely! That is what justification is beloved! It is the complete payment of our debt. This is like someone showing up with 200 billion dollars to settle our accounts. In a church that minimizes sin, it is important that we read stories like this for what God intended when He told them. One mega church pastor thinks that people already know how bad they are and the truth is far removed from that distortion. Too often we are Peter thinking seven times is enough. Or we are like the Pharisee looking down at everyone else's sin so we can feel better about our own. The truth is that our sin debt was enormous. It was uncountable. It could not be paid off through natural means. It required mercy. It required grace. It required forgiveness. Then we come to our sad, key verse. Here is the note on this verse from the same study Bible used above:
"The Roman denarius was a daily wage for workers and was equivalent to the Greek drachma. The sum owed by the second servant to the first is nothing compared to the debt of the first servant to the king; it was less than one part in a hundred thousand."