Salvation ... comes from the Lord ... because they take refuge in him. (Psalm 37:39-40)

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Big Debt Forgiven

            One of the most life-changing stories in the Bible is found in the 18th chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew.  May I encourage you to take a few moments to read Matthew 18:21-35 before you read the rest of this article (click here: 
            Jesus told a story in the context of answering a question from his disciple Peter asking,  "how much debt (sin, offense, wrongdoing, fault, transgression, crime) should a person forgive?"  The story was told in a time when people were put in prison for financial debt owed.  An analogy is made between financial debt and the "debt" of peoples' offenses,  and reactions to offenses, in the broken world in which we live. 
            The story has two main characters; Big Debt and Small Debt.  Big Debt is a transgression so large it could never be repaid in a lifetime of service to pay restitution to the person offended.  Small Debt is an offense which creates problems and annoyance, but can be recovered with corrective action.  Big Debt is not humanly possible to restore.  Small Debt may go away with some human effort. 
            The story begins with Big Debt begging for mercy because of his huge debt.  The Master grants mercy and releases Big Debt from prison (forgives) everything he owed.  But somewhere along the line, Big Debt forgets just how big his debt was, and he cannot forgive Small Debt for a relatively tiny frustration to Big Debt. Small Debt wants to make amends, but Big Debt is so enraged he insists on imprisonment (lack of forgiveness) for Small Debt.  When the Master calls Big Debt to account for his inconsistency, he places him back in prison, in worse condition than he was originally.  
            The story ends by Jesus saying,  “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to.  Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’  In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart” (Matthew 18:323-35).  Being unwilling to forgive never has a happy ending.
            The real message Jesus intended to reveal in this story is found in the last sentence.  Forgiveness must be from the heart and not just a decision of the mind. 
I write about forgiving from the heart in another article: (see 
But the first word ("this") in the sentence  points back to the previous sentence.  The Master handed Big Debt "over to the jailers to be tortured."  Rejecting forgiveness comes at a great price.  Let's look now at the consequences of failing to recognize our "Big Debt" condition. 
            Big Debt became so pre-occupied with the small debt that was owed him, that he was not able to remain grateful for the big debt he was forgiven.  The self-serving human condition makes us all guilty of Big Debt's trespass.  Most of us reading the Matthew 18 story identify first with  Small Debt.  Thinking of people who have offended us is easier than thinking of people we have offended.  Thinking of a person who "owes" you an apology usually comes quicker than thinking of a person you "owe" an apology.  Thinking of how other people have failed you, takes your mind off how much you have failed God and other people. 
            Each of us is the Big Debt person.  Sometimes we may be the Small Debt person as well.  Our debt to God (offense we inherited from the original sin of man) is too great to even think about paying back.  God the Father designed mankind to live a debt-free existence, but Adam and Eve's choice to rebel against God's authority created a debt (offense) for which every person in the human race became responsible.  God knew this debt is way too big  for mankind's ability to re-pay, so He made a way for a person's big debt to be forgiven.  Jesus says, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6).  Believing in Jesus as the only Way for our Big Debt offenses to be forgiven.  One of the ways we demonstrate how much we really believe this is by forgiving Small Debt (our offenders' debt) when they offend us. 
            After Big Debt refused to forgive Small Debt (in the story Jesus told), the Master threw Big Debt back in prison.  Refusing to honor the Gift of forgiveness Jesus gave us, by not forgiving those who trespass  against us, locks us in a condition of confinement.  Our minds and hearts condemn us to "prison."  This happens when we do things like focus on the hurts we sustain from others short-comings, hold anger, nurse grudges, harbor bitterness, entertain resentment, consider retaliation, and obsess on revenge.   Dishonoring, condemning, judgmental, and slandering behavior puts your mind deeper in prison.  The lack of peace in your heart festers and torments you into deeper and deeper bitterness, resentment, and blame.  Forgiveness is the only way out of this prison. 
            Small Debt wanted to pay back the debt he owed, but he understood there was no way he could currently pay it back.  He didn't even ask for the debt to be wiped out, but only asked for more time to pay it.  But Big Debt wrongfully judged Small Debt as unwilling or unworthy to pay back the debt owed.  When we are unwilling to forgive, we offend God by not aligning with the value He places on forgiveness.  We de-value Christ's work to accomplish the forgiveness of our personal debt (offenses both inherited and non-inherited).  This offends God, our Master, and commits us to the prison for torture. 
            Are you feeling unhappy, discontent, discouragement, or a lack of peace or joy?  This story is something you should consider.  Because offense is not something we like to think about, these debts of unforgiveness often fester for a long time.  Perhaps stress, trauma, or an unexpected event triggers a reaction that surprises you.  Mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and addictions often have some sort of unresolved root of unforgiveness lingering as a source of torment.  These are often symptoms of an imprisoned mind and a tormented spirit.  Understanding and practicing forgiveness may not be the solution to all your problems, but setting your mind and spirit free could be the hurdle you need to overcome to find the real answers to problems with which you're been wrestling.
            This story is as real today as it was when it was recorded about 2,000 years ago.  It's up to you to apply it to your own life.  May I encourage you to get your debt forgiven so you can enjoy life as God meant for life to be lived;  debt-free! 

Note:   A book I authored Escaping the Pain of Offense: Empowered to Forgive from the Heart discusses truth for dealing with disappointments, offense and finding freedom through forgiveness (from a Christian perspective).  See more about the book by clicking here: . 
by Ed Hersh, Blue Rock BnB Healing Ministry