Commands of Christ

Forgive Offenders

Where is this command found?

“Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.”

Matthew 18:21–22

Applying This Command

When someone offends us, it is natural to want to punish him for what he has done, especially if he continues to offend us. To continue forgiving offenders and living with the consequences of their offenses seems unreasonable from our perspective. However, God’s way is not our way, and He warns of serious consequences if we fail to carry out this commandment.

The wicked servant who would not forgive his brother’s debt was delivered to the tormentors “till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses” (Matthew 18:34–35).

Jesus issued a similar warning after teaching His disciples to pray: “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). This is the only part of this prayer that He immediately reemphasizes and explains: “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14–15). What a tragic penalty for refusing to forgive—not being forgiven of our trespasses, but instead being delivered to the tormentors!

Bible Verses for Meditation

In addition to meditation on Matthew 18:21–22, meditating on the verses below will provide you with further insight and understanding of Christ’s command: Forgive Offenders.

Colossians 3:12–13

“Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.”

Ephesians 4:31–32

“Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”

Matthew 6:14–15

“For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

I Peter 3:8–9

“… Be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing.”

James 2:13

“For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment.”

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Study Question

Q: In the parable of the two servants who had debts, the one with an enormous debt was forgiven by the king, but he in turn put a fellow servant into prison for not paying a small debt to him. The king then delivered this wicked servant unto tormentors “till he should pay all that was due unto him.” How could both servants ever get free from bondage? (See Matthew 18:23–34.)

A: In response to Peter’s question on how many times he must forgive an offender, Jesus gave a parable that gives rich insight on the whole matter of forgiveness.

“Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him” (Matthew 18:32–34).

If the huge debt of the wicked servant was indeed forgiven, as Matthew 18:32 states, then the only outstanding debt is that of his fellow servant. This would imply that when it is paid, the wicked servant will be released from the tormentors.

This understanding fits the statement “pay all that was due unto him.” If the “him” refers to the wicked servant who owed the king, that servant can forgive his fellow servant’s debt and thereby be released. This action would be authorized by the king, who is punishing him for not having pity and compassion—not for the debt.

If “him” refers to the king, the same action can be taken. After all, the wicked servant likely used part of the money he borrowed from the king to lend to his fellow servant. Therefore, if the wicked servant forgives his fellow servant’s trespass, no outstanding debts remain. This action frees him from the tormentors and his fellow servant from debtors’ prison. In this way, both servants gain their freedom.

This confirms what Jesus stated regarding forgiveness: “So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses” (Matthew 18:35).

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