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Basic Christian Life Skills 3: Forgiveness – Setting a prisoner free

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Reading: Matthew 18:21-35

21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold[b] was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. 26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, cancelled the debt and let him go.

28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. 29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’ 30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened. 32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I cancelled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”


The message of the parable in our passage is clear: God forgives us out of his great compassion, no matter the size of our debt. When we open up to God’s grace and accept his forgiveness, we are transformed into forgiving persons, people with grace in our hearts. If we are unwilling to forgive others, we prove that we have not opened up to God’s forgiveness and exclude ourselves from the kingdom of heaven.

There is a process for forgiving we see demonstrated in the parable:

  1. Naming the wrong. There is a difference between excusing someone and forgiving someone. Excusing someone is something we do for minor offences and offences
    committed unintentionally. Some offences are too serious and too damaging to simply be shrugged off as insignificant or as something you had coming. They can only be responded to with vengeance, holding grudges or forgiveness. Forgiveness needs a proper process and it starts with naming the wrong as a kind of charge sheet. Doing this will most probably make anger surface, but this is a normal part of the process.
  2. Compassion. Look at the person who did you wrong as a flawed human being and look with compassion.
  3. Make the conscious choice for forgiveness, against vengeance or carrying a grudge.
  4. Wish the person well. Pray for the person and ask God to bless her or him.
Discussion questions:
  1. Is there something in the parable that particularly struck you?
  2. It is clear that the servant did not understand that the king had released him from his debt out of compassion. What motive, do you think, did he ascribe to the king for
    letting him go?
  3. There is a difference between forgiving and excusing someone. What is the difference?
    What are the negative consequences when we do that?
  4. If you do the first step in the process of forgiveness (naming the wrong) and you feel anger, is that wrong? Why or why not?
  5. Why is it important to accurately describe what had been done to you before you can properly do the second step (compassion).
  6. The third step in the process of forgiveness has you choose forgiveness instead of vengeance or carrying a grudge. What damage is done if we choose either of the last two options?
  7. Lewis Smedes writes: “When you forgive you set a prisoner free and the prisoner is you.” Why is this truth meaningful or surprising for you?

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