Our small group lesson last week was on the topic of forgiveness. Forgiveness is one of those topics that everyone agrees we should do (Ephesians 4:32), though it's rare that any of us actually agrees on what forgiveness means.

Biblically speaking, Jesus' parable of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18:21-35 gives a good perspective on how Jesus looked at forgiveness. Here are a couple of things to notice:

1. Forgiveness does not mean pretending a wrong never occurred. Both the king and the servant knew there was a legitimate debt owed that the servant was unable to pay (18:24). We don't have to pretend like a wrong never took place in order to forgive.

2. There are often just consequences in the absence of forgiveness. The king would have been absolutely just to require the servant to be sold to repay a legitimate debt (18:25). Forgiveness doesn't indicate that a person is unworthy of punishment. To the contrary, forgiveness means that the person who sinned against us deserves to be punished for what they did. Otherwise, there is nothing to forgive.

3. Jesus defines forgiveness as "cancelling the debt" (18:27). The king erased the debt the servant owed him. Be careful with 18:26-27. When we demand someone apologize before we forgive, we erase our chance to erase the debt. If someone "owes us an apology," and they apologize, they have paid their debt and it cannot be erased any longer. The king didn't forgive the debt because the servant made things right emotionally. He forgave the debt because he chose to do so.

4. Our forgiveness of others should be in direct proportion to the amount we have been forgiven. We should be the first to forgive others who sin against us only up to the point that their sin against us is equal to our own infinite sin against an infinite God. Beyond that, we aren't obligated to forgive.

5. Forgiving does not mean forgetting. When the king's servants heard of the forgiven servant's harsh treatment of another debtor (18:28-30), the king did not need to be reminded about their earlier encounter (18:31-32). Forgiveness means cancelling the debt. It doesn't mean you have to loan to the same person again.