Freedom Through Forgiveness


There is a bondage that is worse than being bound by people or even by addiction. This is a type of bondage that claims us from the inside out. That bondage is bitterness. Bitterness has as its root an unforgiving spirit. It is a spirit that seeks to keep score and gain revenge for perceived wrongs. It is a spirit that will lock in sorrow, anger and strife and lock out joy, love and fellowship. The negative effects of holding an offense or harboring a grudge or hate are many. We will become joyless and sour. Our health will suffer and so will our relationships. In Matt. 18:21-35 Jesus uses a parable of an unforgiving servant to confront us with such an attitude and points us to the freedom that forgiveness others brings


The teaching of Matthew 18 is occasioned by a dispute among the twelve over who would be greatest in the kingdom (Matt. 18:1). Jesus addresses this interpersonal dispute in a number of ways. He illustrated the kingdom of God by using a child. He taught the principles of settling disputes between brothers. After listening to this teaching, Peter raised a question. “Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?” Peter actually thought he was being generous for the Rabbis of that time taught that the limit of forgiveness was three offenses. Now in Christ he assumed he should be more forgiving. The Rabbis based their view on a faulty interpretation of Amos 1:6, where God says he will not hold blameless transgressor after three offenses. What the Rabbis failed to see was those whom God would judge were those who had not sought His forgiveness. God will forgive those who seek His forgiveness regardless of the number of the offense. Jesus responds that we should forgive seventy times seven. Jesus is not here limiting forgiveness but in essence saying we should be unlimited in our forgiveness. None could possible keep count of 490 offenses so we should keep count of none. The basic idea of forgiveness is that we by an act of our will let the offense be taken from the record; that it will never be brought up again. God of course is perfect in His laying an offense to rest. He even has the ability to forget our offenses (cf. Hebrews 8:12, 10:1). Even though we may not be able to completely forget, we can operate as if we have. In the parable that Jesus sets forth in verses 23-34, the extent of our forgiveness is illustrated by a sovereign king who calls for one of his subjects to pay a debt owed the king. The man brought owed a staggering sum. He owed 10,000 talents. A talent was a unit of weight used to measure precious metals. A talent usually weighed between 58 and 80 pounds. If this means talents of gold the man then owed at least 58,000 pounds of gold! Even in Jesus day this was the equivalent of several million dollars. The servant, not having the ability to pay the debt and being threatened with being sold, along with his family into slavery, begs the king for more time to repay the debt. The king instead, being moved by compassion wiped out the entire debt.

We do well not to miss the comparison to ourselves. We owed a debt, due to sin that we could not pay. We were under the threat of judgment by the King. Through crying out for mercy, the King forgave in total, our debt of sin. Jesus uses this parable to teach of the scope of forgiveness. From God, our forgiveness is total. To others our forgiveness should likewise be total.


As is often true of parables, Jesus exposed a marked contrast. The servant who had been forgiven such a large debt encounters one who owed him some money. This one owed 100 pence. A pence is the equivalent of a days wages. This was a significant sum but compared to the debt owned the king it was a trifling amount. Rather than emulating the heart of his king, the unmerciful servant demands payment while physically accosting his debtor, refuses to listen to a plea for mercy and had him cast into prison for non-payment of the debt. The contrast of the parable is stark and shameful. The contrast between God’s forgiveness and our sometimes unmerciful spirit is equally stark and shameful. Jesus concludes the parable by showing ultimately where a lack of mercy and forgiveness leads. The unmerciful servant’s deed came to the ears of the king. The servant was hauled before the king who asserts that his mercy should have led to the servant being merciful to others. The king’s anger over this evil deed led to the unmerciful servant being turned over to the tormentors until he should pay all that was due. His unforgiving spirit led to bondage. If we refuse to forgive we likewise are controlled by the offense of others, we are in bondage to them as well as in sin before God.

Jesus, in this parable, teaches that the only true basis for our granting forgiveness is His forgiveness granted to us. It should not be limited by the kind of offense, the number of offense, or the character of the offender. We are to be merciful as He is merciful to us. As we extent forgiveness to others we are freed from the bondage of holding the offense and free from quilt before the God who fully forgiven all to those who come to Him.

Jesse Waggoner   @JesseWaggoner

Originally published in 1993