Matthew 18:23–35 recounts one of Jesus’s well-known parables in which a servant, after being forgiven an impossibly huge debt by the king, refuses to forgive the tiny debt a fellow servant owed him. The parable ends with this forgiven—yet unforgiving—servant punished by the king for his lack of grace. Although the word grace never actually appears in the story, this parable is a lesson about grace for us who have received far greater grace from our heavenly Lord, Jesus. Here we see how grace is a gift of undeserved kindness and forgiveness and also how God’s great grace should transform us.

The Greek word χάρις (charis) is most often rendered “grace,” but also “benefit,” “thanks,” “credit,” or “favor.” Paul is the most focused on grace of all the New Testament writers.  Of the 155 times the word χάρις occurs in the New Testament, 100 appear in Paul’s epistles. In fact, he gives special emphasis to grace by opening every letter with “grace and peace to you” (e.g., Romans 1:6; Philippians 1:2; Titus 1:4), and often closing his letters with “grace” (e.g., Romans 16:20; 1 Corinthians 16:23; 2 Corinthians 13:13; Galatians 6:18). 

We may find ourselves having difficulty accepting grace or giving it to others, but we must learn from Jesus and Paul. Paul sees himself as completely unqualified to be an apostle (1 Corinthians 15:9; Ephesians 3:8) and the greatest of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15), therefore, undeserving of God’s grace. In fact, we are all sinners (Romans 5:8–12) in need of God’s grace. And grace is the very fabric of the gospel God has given Paul to preach. Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone, apart from any human works (Ephesians 2:8–9). We believers in Jesus now find ourselves in God’s favor because of “this grace in which we now stand” (Romans 5:2 NIV). God’s grace and kindness flow into every area of life for us now and into our eternal future with him (Romans 5:17).

Like Jesus, the Apostle Paul underscores and amplifies the connection between God’s grace to us and our forgiveness of others:

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32 NIV)

The Greek verb translated “forgiving” and “forgave” in v.32 is χαρίζομαι (charizomai), which is the verb form of our noun χάρις (charis).

While χαρίζομαι is often translated forgive, the meaning of the word is much broader. God’s grace to us includes His forgiving our sins and His giving overabundant kindness in “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 8:9; cf. Ephesians 1:3–6; 3:20–21; 1 Corinthians 2:9; Isaiah 64:4). This is the very attitude that Paul asks us to imitate in our relationships with each other (Ephesians 5:1).

So, another way to read “forgiving each other” (Ephesians 4:32) is “being gracious to one another.” When we fully understand the enormous debt we have been forgiven, we should be eager to emulate our King and offer others the same overflowing grace. Perhaps this is why Paul’s favorite greeting to the churches is “grace to you.”

About the Contributors

J. William Johnston

Before Dr. Johnston was a believer he doubted the accuracy of Scripture translations, and therefore the integrity of the Bible. After coming to faith he decided that the only way to find out whether the translations were reliable was to learn the original languages. After majoring in the classics at the University of Texas, he came to DTS and discovered that teaching was his passion. His research interests are Greek grammar, syntax and Johannine studies.