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Forgiveness Is Often the Only Way to Settle a Debt

Forgive, if you have anything against anyone.
–Mark 11:25

Yesterday we looked at the case against forgiveness. Today we will begin to look at the case for forgiveness. Why should we forgive people who hurt us? The best arguments that I know of for forgiveness are found in a parable Jesus told in Matthew 18:23-34.

There was a king who was having a cash flow problem in his kingdom. The king needed some cash, and he needed it quickly. So he decided to call in his accounts receivable. It was time to pay up. He started with the person who owed him the most money: a slave who owed him 10,000 talents. That would be about $16 billion in today’s currency. How could a slave get that far into debt? Remember, this was a story. Jesus was using hyperbole to show that this slave owed a debt he could never repay. So the king called in the slave and demanded his money back. The slave begged, “Have patience with me and I will repay you everything” (v. 26). Everything? Now how was he going to pull that off? The king looked at that situation, and Jesus said he “felt compassion.” That pagan king, when he saw his slave begging for time to repay the debt, his heart was moved with compassion. So the king “released him and forgave him the debt” (v. 27). That is a picture of forgiveness–to release, to let go of an obligation.

But there was something else in operation here, in addition to the king’s compassion. There were some logical reasons that the king chose to let go of the debt rather than hanging on to the debt.

First, forgiveness is often the only way to settle a debt. The slave owed a debt he could not pay in 10,000 lifetimes. So what alternative did the king have? He could have had the slave thrown in prison, but then the slave wouldn’t be able to work and repay anything. You see, the king was an acute businessman. He understood that the account receivable he was holding was worthless, so he might as well incur the loss himself. One reason we have a hard time forgiving someone is that we imagine that there is some payment we could exact from our offender to make up for what he or she did to us. But we don’t realize that our offender is usually totally incapable of paying for what he or she has done to us. Think about this: what payment could anybody ever make to compensate for a child killed by a drunk driver? Or to make up for a marriage destroyed by adultery? Or to compensate for a reputation that has been ruined by slander? The fact is, that person you are trying to hold on to and get a payment out of–your offender–is incapable of rendering sufficient payment for the hurt he or she brought into your life.

In this parable, Jesus is saying that sometimes the only way to end the vicious cycle of hurt and vengeance is through forgiveness. Take the loss and move on with your life.


Today’s devotion is excerpted from “Forgiveness on Trial” by Dr. Robert Jeffress, 2015.

Scripture quotations are taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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