Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”
“No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!
“Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him. In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars. He couldn’t pay, so his master ordered that he be sold—along with his wife, his children, and everything he owned—to pay the debt.
“But the man fell down before his master and begged him, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.’ Then his master was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt.
“But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars. He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment.
“His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it,’ he pleaded. But his creditor wouldn’t wait. He had the man arrested and put in prison until the debt could be paid in full.
“When some of the other servants saw this, they were very upset. They went to the king and told him everything that had happened. Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt.
“That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.” (Matthew 18:21–35 NLT)
When we think about our heart, we likely think of that muscle that pumps blood, oxygen, and life into our arteries and veins every moment of every day. When we begin to experience symptoms such as shortness of breath, fatigue, or chest pain, we make an appointment with the doctor to make sure everything is okay. Symptoms are a gift because they tell us something is wrong.
In the spiritual realm, the heart is that place where our will resides and where all our decisions and choices are made. Our heart holds our true self, and it is here that both our healthy and unhealthy characteristics dwell.
God calls us to love him with ALL our heart. Proverbs 4:23 tells us to guard our heart above all else. Just like we need to take care of our physical heart through diet and exercise, we must also take care of our spiritual heart because this is the place where our very life flows from. Just like our arteries can become blocked from unhealthy food and lifestyle choices, our ability to love God and others can also become blocked when we harbour unhealthy habits and sin.
Our heart and soul also display symptoms when they are in distress. Unforgiveness is a major culprit of a troubled heart, and it can subtly manifest itself as judgement toward others or a lack of generosity or compassion. We need to pay attention to the wounds and grudges we are carrying because they stop us from being able to move freely in the grace of Christ.
This is why Jesus teaches so much about forgiving others. Jesus ushered in a Kingdom that embodies a community of love. The way of Jesus lives out right relationships. Therefore, the healing of relationships is paramount. In the Kingdom of Heaven, forgiveness reigns because, left unchecked, unforgiveness will block us from experiencing deep relationships with God and others. The way of Jesus is the way of the heart.
The task of forgiveness is often viewed as a concession to the other person. This feels especially true if the other person never acknowledges they have hurt us. However, in Jesus’s Kingdom, the opposite is true. Forgiveness provides freedom to both parties. The wounded party is no longer held hostage to mistrust, anger, and an inability to love others wholeheartedly. The forgiven party is released into grace and love, although they must choose whether to receive it or not.
When we enter into God’s Kingdom, the ministry of reconciliation becomes ours. Jesus calls us to keep short accounts with people, resolving issues quickly and honestly with grace.
When Jesus tells Peter to forgive seventy times seven, he is basically saying never stop forgiving. We are to cultivate a generosity of forgiveness. For the sake of ourselves and others, we are called to forgive not just with words but with our heart. This requires the surrender of our will to the Father’s will, and it is all for the glory of God.
—Deb Judas is a member of the Forge Canada Team and a former NAB pastor.