Forgiveness is Never Free

This last Sunday we talked about the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant and the very touchy, but incredibly important issue of forgiveness. (Listen here.) In the parable, a king forgives a servant a ridiculous large debt, millions and millions of dollars.   This servant in turn goes out finds somebody that owes him a few thousand dollars, chokes him and throws him in jail.  (no smartalecs, it wasn’t dollars.  I know that this was in Israel in the first century.  Where did you learn to be an obnoxious nitpicker like that?  From me?  Oh, well, um, let’s continue)  The king hears of this and throws the first servant in jail for being ungrateful.

The point that Jesus is making is that since we have been forgiven so much by God, we can only forgive other people.  The debt that we had was so large, to not forgive someone else a smaller debt, would be ungrateful.

As I was getting ready for this sermon, I was finishing up a book called Prodigal God.  Highly, highly recommend it.  The author, Tim Keller, said something that stuck with me and repeated on Sunday–forgiveness is never free.  Someone pays.  If you owe me $100, someone will pay that.  Either you will pay me back or I will eat the loss, paying for it myself.

Similarly, if someone hurts me emotionally, wounds me, someone will pay.  I can choose not to forgive and make them pay for it by the way that I treat them, until they hurt like I hurt.  Or I can forgive them and I’m the one that deals with the hurt and pain.  I choose not to pass it back to them.

If you owe me $100, and I say, no problem, just pay me back $10 a month for 10 months, that’s not forgiveness. That’s a payment plan.  If you hurt me, and I am mean to you, cold to you for a season until I get past it and then “forgive” you, that’s not forgiveness either.  That’s a payment plan.

This is one of the reasons why forgiveness is so hard.  Someone still has to pay.  We are making the decision that we will pay.  I will take the hurt and pain and there will be no payback.  That’s easily described but not easily done.

Circling back to the parable, this is where what Jesus said is so helpful.  If God has forgiven us so great a debt, a debt that Jesus himself paid for us (remember, forgiveness isn’t free), then I just had millions of dollars wiped off my account.  I have lot of money to give back.  You and I are good.  I have experienced so much forgiveness, I cannot help but pass that on.

When I am reminded of the hurt, I don’t think about how I can get them to pay me back.  I’m reminded that I said that I would pay.  Then I’m reminded of the One who paid so much for me.  Then I can pass that forgiveness.

It’s not easy, because it’s not free.  It can become easier when we remember the forgiveness we’ve been given.


2 Responses to “Forgiveness is Never Free”
  1. Peter Freund says:

    These points are so good, I hate to add anything. But, there is another issue that is important to tack on: whether forgiveness is conditional or unconditional. I’ve been really helped by a book I read a while back called “Unpacking Forgiveness…” by Chris Brauns. He helpfully makes a distinction between what many Christians believe to be forgiveness and what is true, Biblical forgiveness.

    Therapeutic forgiveness – we forgive the other person unconditionally and experience that inward benefit of letting the offense go. We simply let it go in our mind/heart.

    Biblical forgiveness – something that involves more than just an internal aspect. It requires an offer of forgiveness first but requires repentance by the one being forgiven, and finally of reconciliation. The emotional relief comes by laying the offer of forgiveness on the table, even if the other person doesn’t accept it.

    You brought this out in your sermon implicitly when you mentioned how your friend did not simply forgive you at an emotional level, but actually reached out to you to be friends again.

    There’s much more in Brauns’ book on conditional vs. unconditional forgiveness. But, here’s an interesting quote by Piper:

    “…I am not sure that in the Bible the term forgiveness is ever applied to an unrepentant person. Jesus said in Luke 17:3-4 ‘Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying ‘I repent,’ forgive him. So there’s a sense in which full forgiveness is only possible in response to repentance… when a person who wronged us does not repent with contrition and conversion (turning from sin to righteousness), he cuts off the full work of forgiveness. We can still lay down our ill will; we can hand over our anger to God; we can seek to do him good; but cannot carry
    through reconciliation or intimacy.”

    I think a danger of merely forgiveness “on the inside” (therapeutic) is that the only good that comes from it is a psychological well being whereas the fuller view with both internal and external aspects restores the relationship and the two individuals involved. If God forgave us unconditionally, then universalism would be true and all are saved whether they are Christians or not.

  2. Beverly Stringfellow says:

    thank you Charlie and Peter for your words on forgiveness. I am in a life long relationship that calls for forgiveness on almost every encounter. I plan on reading these books.

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