In dealing with the issue of forgiveness I would like you to first consider the legal issues regarding forgiveness then, in closing, the area of Grace and forgivness.
It is hard for an American church to understand the seriousness of debt when bankruptcy seems to be the norm, and I don't believe we have ever had a real debtors prison in America.
Verse 21; Peter asks a question about Forgiveness, specifically what limits, if any, exist as to how, when and how often we should forgive one another? Jesus answers with the parable of the unmerciful servant. Verse 22 and 23 set the stage. First, the King is Jesus, who is the King of the kingdom of Heaven. Second, The servants are you and I, all of us. The word says that judgment must begin at the House of God.
In 1 John 1:8-10, we, the family of God, are told that we are liars if we say we have no sin. That is, if we say that there is nothing on the books, God's truth does not dwell in us. Further, John is talking to believers, and he is talking about sin in the sense that we miss the mark. And, our mark is to be like Jesus.
Matt 18:23; As our King starts to reconcile the books he finds a servant who has a rather large debt outstanding. In our frame of reference, about $10 Million!. How the debt got this large we are not told. But, it was a legal debt, and, the King has every right and obligation to demand payment. Which He does.
Very few of us could ever hope to repay such a large debt. In an effort to recoup something from this obviously unprofitable servant an order is given to sell everything that pertains to him. Again, note that this is well within our King's legal and moral right. The debt is legal, and these methods are the legal course of action in such cases.
Verse 26; note that the servant does not deny the debt. He acknowledges the debt! He begs for mercy, and makes assurances that he will repay the debt. At this point, verse 27, our King is moved with compassion and forgives the debt.
Note, if you will, that this servant had no hope of ever actually repaying the debt. All he actually could do is acknowledge or confess the debt and request mercy. I am so glad that Our King does not require us to overcome our faults before He forgives us.
Verse 28; the scene changes. Now the recently forgiven servant, who is obviously somewhat short this payday, (must be some kind of habit pattern?) goes and finds a fellow servant who owes him a few dollars, and, demands payment. (This reminds me of the "mote" vs "beam" teaching of Christ.)
Looks like everyone has had a bad pay period, because this servant doesn't have the few dollars to pay him back.
This is a little scary because a debt is payable when payment is demanded. And, if payment can not be made, there are legal courses of action to be followed. Like throwing the bum in jail.
Again, please notice that a demand for payment was made. Also, notice that it is a legal debt. One for which the aggrieved party can expect payment. Also, notice that the debtor takes the debt very seriously. He knows the possible consequences. He acknowledges the debt and asks for mercy.
The forgiven refuses to grant mercy, in verse 30, and has the man put in jail. Note: the jailer didn't have a problem with this at all. After all it was all quite legal! Who is our jailer! Right, satan, but, only with our permission and actions!
This (perfectly legal) injustice does not go unnoticed, though. Some other servants get together to discuss the issue. After reaching a consensus they take it to the King. Verse 31. Needless to say the King is a bit upset. He has given a very clear example of how he expects business to be conducted in His Kingdom. And, although no LAW was broken He is deeply grieved. Verse 32-34.
In fact He was so upset that He recalled the books and restored that massive debt. I am reminded of the time Paul told the church in Corinth to turn someone over to satan (the jailer) so that the flesh might be destroyed (tormented) in the hope that the Soul may be saved.
I have heard a lot or people speak on forgiveness. I have heard a lot of forceful preaching on the need to forgive. And, rightly so. But, to date I have not heard anyone speak on the need to accept responsibility for the things we do to one another. If fact it's almost like we are expected to forgive as soon as the fault occurs. It has gotten to the point that in some churches the aggrieved party is treated as the guilty party!
I don't care how merciful a believer is. I don't care how much they try to not act against another believer because of something that has been done. Until a demand for payment is made and the aggrieved party hears the words I'm sorry. THE BOOKS WILL REMAIN OPEN!
Don't be so quick to denounce this view! The result is quite like the attitude the world has towards God we see prevalent in the world today. "Too bad you're upset God, you say you love me... you've got to forgive me!". (Even though I refuse to repent and believe.)
Notice that even though the Word has gone forth, "ALL have sinned and come short of the Glory of God", no acknowledgment of the debt... no confession of the debt... means no forgiveness! Can we continue to teach, by omission, that believers have no responsibility for their actions? That the aggrieved party is wrong because they can't do what even God doesn't do Himself? Namely, forgive without an acknowledgment or confession of guilt?
If you will turn to Matthew 18:15-20, I would like to briefly cover what led into our Kings' parable of the unmerciful servant. Here Jesus gives clear teaching on how to handle grievances in the Body of Christ. Remember we are dealing with fellow servants, not the unbeliever.
In verse 15 it states that if a brother trespasses against you, you are to go to them and detail the debt, in effect deliver the bill, and demand payment. If that believer hears you and acknowledges the debt (trespass). You have gained your brother.
Note that with Jesus the point does not seem to be the settling of the account but the restoration of fellowship. You've gained your brother. It would seem that without that acknowledgment of wrong there can be no forgiveness and without forgiveness there can be no fellowship.
So important is this concept that we are not allowed to let it rest until the matter is settled one way or the other. But, it is so hard to go the next step, because most churches will accuse you of gossiping if you go and tell even one other person about the grievance. So, the books remain open!
In 1 Corinthians 11 we are told about sickness and even death coming into a church because some failed to properly discern the Lord's Body. We are the Lord's Body in this earth! And, when we fail to acknowledge a wrong we cover sin. We have a God-given obligation to treat even the least among the body as an equal among the brethren!
But, if one does manage to get through verse 16 and there is still no acknowledgment of guilt, then it is to be taken to the whole church! And if the guilty party still doesn't acknowledge his or her wrong doing then we are to throw the wrong doer out of the church!
NO! It should never get to this point! Don't we care how we treat one another? Don't we care how we make Jesus' prayer in John 17 of no use to us or the world, by our unwillingness to be kind and considerate to each other? The world will NEVER be convinced that Jesus came to save them until we are really one in Him even as He and the Father are One. (I don't think Jesus prayed vain prayers... do you?)
When we treat each other with disregard or indifference we are in fact failing to properly discern the Lord's body. (1 Cor. 11) We can not treat one another with disregard and not expect a price to be extracted from our fellowships.
If our "business as usual" is causing hurt in the body of Christ then our "business as usual" is sin.
We see the result of this lack of willingness to accept responsibility running amok in the world today. We, in Jesus are above that! It should bring us to our knees to think that we have wronged another believer. Our hearts should be that tender to each other.
The end result of this is that petty grievances are never resolved. Although people will work together, or at least try to, they can never really be one in the Spirit. People find themselves very much more sensitive about things that would otherwise just be another petty grievance. And, it finally gets to the point where one doesn't even bother to share with a brother who has let them down, or otherwise hurt them. People just kind of float out the door never to be seen again. And, possibly never being useful in God's purpose again. The responsibility for forgiveness is two fold. Resting squarely on the shoulders of both the aggrieved and griever.
For true fellowship and restoration BOTH parties must do their share. Both parties must humble themselves, come together, and be reconciled. Only then will God's Spirit move in Majesty and Power.
In Matthew 5:23 we are told that if we are standing in God's presence and we remember that a brother has something against us we are to leave our gift and immediately be reconciled, then return and offer the gift. Here the responsibility is laid at the injuring parties feet. Reconciliation is so important to God that He is willing to wait for your gift long enough for two believers to be reconciled!
In Mark 11:25 we are given the other side where the one who is injured is required to forgive the other. And, we have seen a detailed examination of when and how forgiveness is to be given.
In all cases God seems to put reconciliation before Prayer, and Praise! After all what gift could we possibly be offering that would be acceptable before God besides our Praise of Him?
Will we as a church come before the Lord and Humble ourselves before Him, and before one another seeking forgiveness and reconciliation? Perhaps then we will see all nine manifestations of God's Spirit among the congregation. Perhaps then we will rule and reign in Divine Health?
Now, for those of you who are not yet Christians let me invite you to the altars. The believers know that the altars are always open for them. Perhaps you aren't sure if they are available for you. Perhaps you are feeling too rotten.
Well, I have good news! Remember how I shared that I was glad that God did not require me to overcome my faults before he forgave me? Well, that same grace is available to you,... right now.
You know that you will never be good enough for a perfect and Holy God. Fortunately, that is not required. If you agree with God's verdict that you are a sinner, and are willing to acknowledge that fact publicly, and are also willing to make an honest effort to live a life for God, then the Altars really are open for you. Right now.
Only after you have agreed with God about your sin and asked for His forgiveness can you receive the help of God's All Powerful Holy Spirit to start overcoming your faults. Now is the Day of Salvation, Now is the accepted time. Not tomorrow... Now.
Now I have one final word to the believers. If you think you are going to be justified in holding a grudge against another believer through what I have shared think again!
First, you will remember that I shared that God wouldn't expect a level of forgiveness of us greater than He expects of Himself? Consider this; that while we were yet sinners... while we were yet rebels against God... Christ died for us! God through Jesus Christ has already done everything in His power to make it possible, yes, even easy, for us to admit guilt and become forgiven.
What have YOU done to help pave the way for your brother or sister to be reconciled to you?
Yes, there is a grace side to forgiveness. And, while God won't forgive us until we confess, he has paid a very high price to prove His love for us and willingness to forgive.
Have YOU done as much in seeking a reconciliation with the one(s) who have hurt you? If not then you are not without fault in the issue.
Have you made allowances for high levels of stress, or severe emotional discomfort when the "tresspass" occured? Can you appreciate the "rock and the hard place" they were in?
God has two very clear priorities inside the body of Christ: The attitude of our heart, and the unity of the believers. (If the flock is healthy it can't help but reproduce healthy lambs.)