2:8 Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him. 9 For to this end I also wrote, that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things. 10 Now whom you forgive anything, I also forgive. For if indeed I have forgiven anything, I have forgiven that one for your sakes in the presence of Christ, 11 lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices.
Forgiveness. Easy to say. Then reality sets in. Yesterday I told you we would look at what Jesus said about withholding forgiveness. He told a story about a man who owed a tremendous amount of debt. It was an amount large that he would never be able to repay it. He was called to account. He pleaded for more time. He promised he would repay. It was an empty promise. They both knew it. The penalty for not paying was to have himself, his family, and all his possessions sold. The money still wouldn't pay the debt but it would be the end of the matter. The king looked at the helpless man drowning in an unpayable debt and his heart was moved with compassion. He decided to just forgive the debt. He wiped the slate clean. He didn't have to but he did because he could and he wanted to.
The man left free of his burden. The fear of failing his family and potentially never seeing them again was lifted. The sleepless nights were over. He was free, pardoned by the king.
On his way home he remembered a man who owed him the equivalent of ten or fifteen dollars. Peanuts. He went looking for him. Grabbing him by the throat he demanded payment or he was sending him to debtors prison. The man pleaded because he just didn't have the money but there was no compassion, no extra time, no mercy of any kind. Instead he shipped him to debtors prison. His servants found out what he did and we're horrified by his coldness. They reported the matter to the king. What do you think the king did?
Why did Jesus tell this story? He actually told it in response to a question from Peter. Jewish custom was to forgive an offense three times and then mercy was over. Peter had been watching Jesus. He knew Jesus was more merciful than anyone he had ever met. He asked Jesus "How many times should we forgive? Up to seven times?" Peter had doubled and added one. Jesus responded "No not seven times, but seventy times seven." Then he told the story about the man who was forgiven everything but refused to forgive a man who owed him relatively nothing.
Do you remember when Jesus taught His disciples how to pray? At the heart of the prayer were these words. "Father forgive our debts in the same way we forgive others their debts."
Do you see a pattern? Jesus just forgives. He forgives before we ever ask. He forgives before we even know we need to ask. His boundless mercy is designed to awaken in us compassion. He modeled that holding onto bitterness is not His way. All you have to do is look at history and you will see that when forgiveness does not happen, war follows. It may be war between a married couple, between a parent and child, between one half of a family and another or even between nations.
The story of the man who refused to forgive does not end well. It never does. It can't. Even if the king had left him alone his life would have been cold and bitter and would have spoiled the lives of everyone he touched.
Tomorrow we'll explore why the king did what he did and what it says about God and why it makes forgiveness the only viable option for a better future.