Monday, April 29, 2013

The Unforgiving Servant

The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant

21 Then 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. 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. 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. 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.”
Matthew 18:21-35, ESV

In order to put this story into perspective, we should understand that a talent was equivalent to 20 years of a laborer’s wages, whereas a denarii was equivalent to a day’s wage. So then, the unforgiving servant had been forgiven a debt equal to 200,000 years wages and did not forgive one indebted to him of 3 - 3 ½ months wages.

This parable is a beautiful picture of the mercy of God. Just as the unforgiving servant could never in his lifetime or by any means available repay the debt he owed the King, so too we can never repay our sin debt to God. Often, the question arises as to how God can be just in punishing the temporal sins of man by the eternal means of Hellfire. Perhaps an illustration I gave to my sons would help to clear the matter:

On a given day, you decide that you will slap a number of people in the face. First, you slap your brother. Second you slap me, your father. Third, you slap a policeman at the end of the street. Finally, you slap the President of the United States. Considering these things, will your punishments be equal for your actions against this group of people?

My sons gave the obvious answer of, “No.” Even at a young age, we understand that a punishment not only relates to the nature of the offense, but also the character or position of whom the offense is committed against. Whereas slapping a brother results in one punishment, slapping a father is a much greater offense. Slapping a police officer may result in jail time, while slapping the President may put one’s own physical safety in jeopardy. The action remains the same against all parties, but the punishment changes based upon the position of the one whom the action is taken against. So, if we sin against each other (100 denarii), the punishment is a drop of water against the ocean if we sin against God (10,000 talents). It is impossible to repay the sin debt we owe to God.

What ultimately happens to the unforgiving servant? He is handed over to the jailers until he can repay his debt. What, then, is the moral of the story? We owe an impossible debt (sin) to the King (God). Being unable to pay this debt, the King rightly demands that we and all that we have be sold (the bondage of sin bound for Hell). Pleading for the mercy of the King, he is moved to compassion (forgiveness of the sin debt). If we do not forgive the debt (sin) of others against us, the King is moved to anger and will throw us into prison until the debt can be paid (sent to Hell remaining unforgiven as we have been unforgiving).

Why does the King remain righteous whether he forgives the debt or not? Speaking plainly, there is no argument that we owe God a debt which can never be satisfied. This is because we have sinned against an eternal God and therefore, the punishment must also be eternal. This is what we deserve and it is the only “fair” action that we should expect in light of our sin. However, praise the Lord, God is not fair in the sense of what we consider to be fair. Rather, God is just and merciful. He is just in that Christ died on the cross as a propitiatory, vicarious atonement (fully satisfying payment made in our place) for those who believe. He is merciful in that, due to the cross of Christ, He may pardon our sins and give us new life in Christ as Christ is the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25). This is all accomplished by means of God’s grace.

Are you an unforgiving servant? Do you hold a double-standard believing that your sins deserve the forgiveness of the King of Kings, yet you do not give this forgiveness to others? I beg you, repent! In light of the unforgiving servant, Christ leaves us with this simple warning:

“So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” Matthew 18:35, ESV