A customer ordered a book online. The distributor, noticing that the bill for a previous book hadn't been paid, notified the customer, "We can't ship your new order until you pay for the last one."
A few days later, the book supplier received this note from the customer: "Please cancel the order. I can't wait that long."
You can understand both sides of that one. If you don’t pay your bill, you have no right to continue to receive merchandise. But, some bills are hard to pay off. It sometimes seems that we’ll never catch up. We don’t want to wait that long to order something new.
Shift those concepts to the spiritual side. Have you placed an order with God for forgiveness? (Maybe “order” isn’t the best word to use for prayer, but you understand what I mean.) Most of us continually ask God to send us mercy. But God says he can’t ship more forgiveness to us until we’ve paid for the last order.
“What!” you may be thinking. “We can’t pay for forgiveness; it’s a gift that we could never afford.”
True, but Jesus reminds us of a universal principle built into the cosmic system: What we receive depends on what we give. In this case, Jesus applied that principle to forgiveness.
“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you,” he explains, “unless you forgive your brother from your heart," (Matthew 18:35). He’s referring to a parable he just told about a man forgiven of a multi-million dollar debt who then refused to forgive his friend the few dollars owed to him. The king, representing God, summoned the unforgiving man and “turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed” (18:34). The message is clear; “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you.” If we don’t pass on God’s forgiveness to others, we will not receive more for ourselves.
Jesus connected the amount of forgiveness we receive to the amount we give. As he put it in another conversation, “with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Luke 6:38).
It is tempting to say “Enough is enough” and refuse to forgive a repeat offender. One collection agency sent a debtor a notice reading, “Your account has been delinquent for 14 months. We have now carried you longer than your mother did." We also feel often like we’ve carried people long enough.
But, we are all repeat offenders. If we want God to continue shipping forgiveness to us, we must freely extend it to others.