Debts never just disappear. You can try to convince your creditor that you’ll do years of penance, but at the end of the day somebody has to pay the debt. Whether you are in debt to the bank or your in-laws, a debt is a debt is a debt. And debt doesn’t magically vanish; debt always demands a payment.
As Americans, we live in a country with over $2.5 trillion in consumer debt. We are likely a little too familiar with the idea that the borrower is always slave to the lender. The chains of debt control your decisions, they keep you up at night, and they’ll gladly violate your boundaries and remind you of what you owe the moment you sit down to eat.
In Matthew 18:23-27, in the midst of a conversation about forgiveness, Jesus tells a story:
“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. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 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.
We often miss that forgiveness is primarily a debt metaphor; the word forgive has become so commonplace that we miss some of the beauty and significance of what it means to truly forgive somebody when they are indebted to you. Debt must be paid or cancelled, it won’t vanish on its own. The servants debt will stick around and control the servant unless the master forgives the debt.
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.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
When we approach the master, we go before Him bankrupt, with nothing to offer him but the debt notes in our hands. We’ve got nothing to offer; even our half-hearted efforts to make the minimum payment have been overspent.
We’ve got nothing. But there’s a debt that needs to be paid. Sin always demands a payment that we can’t afford to pay.
When Jesus tells this story, it’s not just about our debts to God. Jesus wants us to realize the connection between our own debt and the debts that are owed to us. Jesus says, "In the same way that I forgive your sins I want you to forgive the sins of the people around you."
Jesus teaches the same thing in the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” It’s the tension-packed statement that on one hand reminds us that grace is offered freely while simultaneously punching us in the gut reminding us that we don’t offer grace freely to one another. Jesus offers his forgiveness to you freely - it’s not on account of the sincerity of your apology, your efforts to make amends, or your heartfelt plea for mercy. Jesus offers forgiveness because that’s who he is.
And he calls us to do the same. Think about the people in your life. @@We cancel each other’s debts because ours have been paid in full.@@
Who owes you? And don’t think generally right now, think specific. Maybe even right down a specific name. Who said something or did something to you that hurt you and you’re having trouble letting go? Whose words scarred you in a way that you are still struggling to recover from? Note: Andy Stanley teaches four steps in forgiving others with these questions.
With that name in mind, answer this question, “What do they owe you?” I’m not looking for reasonable answers to this question - anything. Do they owe your reputation? Maybe you’re wedding day? Your family? Maybe it’s an entire season of your life?
That’s the debt.
Forgiveness means canceling that debt.
They don’t owe you anymore.
When we are face-to-face with our own bankruptcy, grace empowers us to forgive those who have hurt us the most deeply. It's not easy. @@Forgiveness is often filled with blood, scars, and betrayal.@@ But when you have everything you need in Jesus, you don’t need whatever they owe you anymore.