Forgiveness, in its most foundational meaning, is a financial term. Forgiveness simply means the removing of a debt. Even today, when a financial institution reduces or cancels a debt, they refer to it as the forgiveness of the debt. To help us understand the forgiveness of sins, Jesus drew a parallel to the forgiveness of a financial debt. Jesus tells the story of a poor man who was hopefully in debt to the king. “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him.” (Matthew 18:23-24) Exactly how much ten thousand talents would be today is unclear, but Bible teacher J Vernon McGee estimated that it would be about twelve million dollars in today’s currency. Unable to pay, the king sentenced the man to be sold. “But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made.” (Matthew 18:25) Pleasing for his life, the man begs for more time. “So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’” (Matthew 18:26) Having pity on the man, the king responds with mercy and canceled the entire debt that the man owed. “And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt.” (Matthew 18:27)
When we sin against God or against our fellow man, because of our sin, we own them a debt. The price for our sin against God is our life. “For the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23) Because of our sins against God, we bear the sentence of death. Where there is sin, there must also be the shedding of blood. To satisfy the righteous judgment of God toward us, Jesus died in our place. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) And because of His substitutionary death on our behalf, God is able to extend to us His complete and unconditional forgiveness. The debt we owed God due to our sin has been completely wiped away. We who were sinners have been made right before God.
In the same way that our heavenly Father forgives us, so we too must forgive those who sin against us. We must be willing to cancel their debt, to release them, and to set them free. The sum of what they own us because of their sins against us may be great, but it still pales in comparison to the debt we owned God. As we have been forgiven, so we must for them.
When we understand forgiveness from a financial aspect, one thing become immediately apparent. Forgiveness has nothing to do with our emotions. Forgiveness is a decision of our will. We may still be hurting or even angry over their sin, but we can still choose to forgive then. We may not even “feel” like forgiving, but feelings have little to do with forgiveness, we can still forgive regardless of how we feel.
Someone once said that “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” While it may be good poetry, it’s bad theology. In every relationship there will always be things that we must ask forgiveness for. Love means never having to hold on to a sin or a hurt. Love allows us to release one another for the hurtful things we have done. Love allows us to keep short accounts of others’ sins. When things come between us, love forgives, releases, and moves on.
More to come… David Robison