You Owe God $10 Billion

Image from Mission Church

Image from Mission Church

Jesus is a master storyteller. Much of his teaching about God and the kingdom of heaven comes in the form of parables—little stories that pack a big punch. In Matthew chapter 18, we encounter one such parable on the subject of forgiveness.

[21] Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” [22] Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.”

Peter’s question is a legitimate one. When we have a person in our life that consistently lets us down, breaks our trust, and sins against us, how often should we forgive them? Something like seven times?

Jesus responds by saying that we must forgive them 77 times, which is really just another way of saying you have to keep forgiving them over and over. Expecting Peter and the others to be in shock at this, Jesus tells a story to help us understand why his answer makes sense.

In Debt to God

The story begins:

[23] “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. [24] When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. [25] And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. [26] So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ [27] And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 

The king in the story represents God, and the servant represents you and I. The story starts by establishing that we are in debt to God. Jesus uses the figure of ten thousand talents. But how much exactly is that? A talent was a unit of money that was worth about 20 year’s wages. I’m not great at math, but it works out something like this:

  • If one year’s wages is roughly $50,000, then one talent is worth $1 million.
  • If we owe 10,000 talents at $1 million each, we owe $10 billion.

Ten billion dollars is a figure none of us can really wrap our heads around. It’s borderline beyond our ability to comprehend. And that’s exactly the point. When it comes to our sins against God, we might as well owe him $10 billion. Our debt it massive. It’s incomprehensible!  We could not pay it in a thousand years. It is far larger than we usually consider it to be.

Most of us will admit that we are in debt to God because of our sin. But most of us also minimize exactly how bad our sin really is. We figure that overall we are decent people who stumble here and there. Certainly, we need God’s grace to merit salvation, but it’s more like asking for a favour from a friend than going to a banker to forgive a $10 billion debt.

This is something we absolutely have to let sink in. Our sin is grievous. It is reprehensible, disgusting, wicked, deplorable. It is stacked a mile high and wide. Our sin against God, even our little pet sins that don’t seem so bad, are worse than they seem. Every sin we commit is taking the gifts that God has given us to use for his glory and the good of others and instead using them against him and for our own selfish interests. The mouth he gave for us to praise him with we use to deride others. The hands he gave us to serve with we use to steal and abuse. The eyes he gave us to see his wonders with we use to lust. The mind he gave us to meditate on him we use to devise ways to sin and keep anyone from finding out. It’s like a dad who bought his 16 year-old a new pickup truck for his birthday, only to come home from work the next day and discover his most valuable belongings have been packed up in it and carried off.

Only when we see our sin has being horrendous and insurmountable will we, like the servant in the story, cry out for mercy. And God, being a merciful God, grants it! Ten billion? Don’t worry about it! I’ll cover the difference. What an amazing God!

But the story isn’t finished yet…

How Shall We Then Live?

[28] But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ [29] So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ [30] He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt.

The servant who was forgiven $10 billion promptly goes out and refuses to forgive the man who owes him less. The amount is a hundred denarii. A denarii was worth one day’s wage for a labourer. If we follow the same values as before, it looks like this:

  • At $50,000 per year, one day’s wage is worth $192. Let’s round it to $200 for the sake of ease.
  • A hundred denarii, at $200 apiece, would total $20,000.

So the servant who was forgiven $10 billion refuses to forgive them man who owes him $20,000. Now, don’t misunderstand—twenty thousand dollars is a substantial amount of money. To lose out on that would hurt. It would be a significant loss. And again, that’s just the point. Jesus, in saying we must forgive 77 times is not trying to say that the sins committed against us are not a big deal. They are a big deal. They are $20,000 worth of a big deal. It would be natural for us to say, “Hey! You expect me to let you off the hook twenty thousand again? This is the eighth time! Seven was enough.” No sane person would just let that roll off their back.

Unless, that is, they had just walked away from being forgiven a debt themselves of $10 billion. A person who has been released from a ten billion dollar debt can let go of a $20,000 a whole lot easier than a person who doesn’t know what it’s like to be forgiven that amount. And this is precisely what Jesus wants us to learn from the story.

Go Forgive Because You’ve Been Forgiven

Jesus concludes:

[31] When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. [32] Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. [33] And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ [34] And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. [35] So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

This pointed ending sums up the matter perfectly. God demands that we forgive others, and gives us the power to do so by helping us to remember just how much we ourselves have been forgiven. We can release others from our debt when we realize just how much more God has released us from his debt. In other words, the key to being a person who can forgive those who wrong you is to realize that you once owed God $10 billion.

If you are someone who is holding a grudge, or is unable to forgive someone who has sinned against you from your heart, then here is what you need to do: rather than rehashing what that person has done to you and just how awful it is, meditate on what you have done to God and just how much more awful that is. And do this until you feel like you owe God $10 billion, and then remind yourself that Jesus paid that fine in full on your behalf and you walked out of the courtroom of God, not as a debtor of $10 billion, but as a free person with an account balance that is all squared up.

If you realize this and ponder this until you really feel it, forgiving others won’t be nearly as hard a thing to do as you might think.

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