THE MYSTERIES OF THE KINGDOM
PART ELEVEN – THE FORGIVEN SERVANT & THE UNFORGIVING SERVANT
Most recently, we have been covering the kingdom parables that Jesus taught in His sermon by the sea. But I have found that there are a few more kingdom parables that Jesus taught in the Gospel of Matthew that were meant to further illustrate the way things operate in God’s kingdom. So, I want us to begin looking at them this week—for in doing so, we can further learn the ways of the kingdom of God. Amen?
So, let’s begin by turning over to Matthew chapter 18, where we have a parable that reveals to us a critical part of the method of operation in God’s kingdom—forgiveness.
Church, forgiveness is one of the most important practices in God’s kingdom. We see it referred to time and time again throughout the New Testament. Forgiveness is what the Lord has freely given us and what He expects us to freely give to others. And the reason why forgiveness is such a big part of His heart is because love is paramount to Him—and forgiveness is what love does.
A CALL TO LOVE
How many of you know that love is the greatest of all commandments? In fact, Jesus told us that it is the new commandment—that we love one another as He has loved us (See John 13:34). Therefore, love is the life of the kingdom. It is God—His way of operating here on the earth and thus the principle that His kingdom operates on.
Now this is not a “new commandment” in the sense that love was a foreign concept to those who were once under the Old Covenant. They had the commandment to love their neighbor as themselves emphasized throughout the law and the prophets. In fact, Jesus referred to these commandments of loving God and loving their neighbor as being the things that all of the law and prophets hung on (See Matthew 22:37-40).
So, this New Testament commandment to love one another was not new in that the subject of love was a new concept to them, but it was new in that it gave us a new standard of love. Today, we are not to love one another as we love ourselves; now, we are to love one another as Christ has loved us.
Now I will say that loving your neighbor as yourself is a very practical way to love others because it offers us a simple change of perspective which can help us to love our neighbor. But the focus in this verse is not simply loving our neighbor, but rather loving one another—that is, loving the brethren, our brothers and sisters in Christ, and our church family. And we have a lot more Scriptures in the New Testament that refer to loving our fellow church members than we do loving the world. Why is that? It is because you evidently are going to have a lot more of a temptation to not walk in love with the brethren. Let me explain …
You know, sometimes it is harder to love your brothers and sisters in Christ. The reason is because we expect more out of them. Therefore, there is a greater opportunity for offense with our brothers and sisters in the church because we place greater expectations on them than we do the world and the ungodly.
As a general rule, we don’t expect the world to love us and treat us a certain way—certainly not to the degree that we expect the church to. Therefore, when our brothers and sisters don’t do right, the temptation to be offended is much greater. This is why we are exhorted time and time again throughout the epistles (the letters written to us, Christ’s church) to love one another and the specific ways to do so. The reason is because the opportunities not to do so will be abundant.
You know, many in the church have this misconception that until the body of Christ eliminates all the disunity, strife, unforgiveness etc., that we will not see the power of God manifest. I’m here to tell you, that is simply not true.
How do I know this, you ask? Well, just look at the early church. They walked in a realm of the kingdom of God that we hope to as well. But were they so perfect? Were they that glorious bride without spot or wrinkle? Absolutely not! No, the apostle Paul had to exhort these churches to stop lying and stealing. He told some of them that certainly had the supernatural operating in and through them that they were divided, full of strife and spiritually immature. So, no, these churches were not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, they were just like us in many ways.
But my point is this—the fact that we are told so many times to love one another in the letters to the church is proof that we are going to have ample opportunity to put these commandments and exhortations into practice. Amen?
And as First Thessalonians 4:9-10 makes the point of, God, who is Love, is primarily going to deal with you to love one another. He is not going to vary from His Word. So, if His Word is emphasizing loving the brethren (and it does in case you haven’t picked up on that yet), then the Lord is going to emphasize that with you in your personal walk with Him. So, He is not going to spend more time talking to you about what a basket case they are; He is going to spend more time teaching you how to love them in spite of the basket case they are. Amen!
So, there are going to be problems in Christ’s church. You know why? Because you’re here! Because I’m here! And with us comes problems. My first pastor used to tell us that if you find the perfect church, don’t join it or it won’t be perfect anymore.
But this is why it is so important for you and I to embrace this new commandment of the New Covenant: Because if both you and I, who are imperfect, will both pursue this love for one another, then we will avoid most of satan’s devices meant to steal, kill and destroy. Sure, there are going to be issues that will come up between us. But if we will commit to making the love walk our highest priority, we will walk in the unity that we are called to walk in and the unity His kingdom is meant to function in.
Church, love is the way and life of the kingdom of God. This is why we are commanded to walk in it with another. And the point we are going to make today is because we are commanded to love one another, then we are also commanded to forgive one another. In fact, just as we are called to love one another as Christ has loved us, we are called to forgive one another as Christ has forgiven us. Amen.
So, let’s go over to Matthew chapter 18 and see what Jesus had to say about this subject of forgiving one another since it is such an integral part of loving one another …
THE PARABLE OF THE UNFORGIVING SERVANT
In Matthew chapter 18, we have a parable about the kingdom given to us by Jesus. He began in Matthew 18:23, “Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.”
Now as we like to say here, when you see the word “Therefore” you need to find out what it is “There for.” In other words, the things that occurred in the verses prior to this one are why Jesus was telling this parable. Therefore, it’s important to understand the context.
Now if you look back at the beginning of chapter 18, you see where Jesus’ disciples came to Him wanting to know who the greatest is in the kingdom of heaven. So, Jesus used the humility of children to illustrate to them what greatness looks like in heaven. Then, after Jesus talks about receiving children in His name, He moves into warnings of not offending one of them.
In verse 7, Jesus makes it clear that offenses are going to come, while warning us not to let them come through us. But I think the latter point is something we need to realize—that we are always going to have opportunities to be offended. You see, it seems to me that one of the things that opens us up to offense the most is the fact that these offenses take us by surprise. In other words, many people live their lives not expecting them. So, when someone does something hurtful or betrays them, they are devastated. Now I’m not saying we should go around looking for people to do the wrong thing to us, just that we need to be cognizant that there is a devil out there and he is always going to be trying to get to us, and this will be through good, well-meaning people. Living our lives in this sober and vigilant manner is a vital way to not being devoured by the offenses the enemy throws our way (See First Peter 5:8).
Then Jesus goes on to show how the Lord even desires to restore these offenders by describing them as lost sheep and giving us step by step instructions of how to bring them back into the fold.
So, in giving His disciples this tall order of forgiveness and restoration, it provokes a question in Peter: Peter asked, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” (Matthew 18:21)
You see, Peter said this in response to this apparent call by the Lord to forgiving our brothers—to which the Lord responded by saying in verse 22— “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” That’s 490 times! That’s a lot of times the Lord told us to forgive our brother when they offend us, isn’t it? But it was not like Jesus was giving us a specific number of times to forgive our brother—for I would venture to say that we have not needed to forgive one person 490 times unless we are married of course😊. No, Jesus was just using a play on words to describe unlimited forgiveness. Amen.
So, this is what led up to Jesus giving His disciples His Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. Now let’s look at the parable in detail so that we can learn more about this kingdom principle of forgiveness …
THE PARABLE OF THE UNFORGIVING SERVANT
You see, in this parable, Jesus likens God to the King of a particular kingdom—which is certainly an appropriate analogy considering we are talking about the kingdom of God.
So, we are told that this king wanted to settle accounts with his servants. Now we are not necessarily talking about the end time judgment here. The reason I say this is because we know in this parable that the servant went out and held a fellow servant’s debt against him. Therefore, this “settling of accounts” is something that is done while we are still here on the earth, not when our time here is done. Amen?
So, Jesus describes the King as wanting to settle accounts with his servants. And this is something we need to understand: that the Lord desires for all men to “settle up” and get their sin debt taken of care here on the earth by calling on the name of the Lord, becoming a saved, born-again Christian, and having our sins forgiven and cleansed.
Then we are told that one servant in particular was brought to this king who owed him “ten thousand talents”: Now depending on what resource you use, ten thousand talents can have a wide range of meaning in today’s economy. You see, depending on whether the talents are of gold, silver, or some other precious metal, ten thousand of them could have been worth anywhere from two hundred million dollars to twelve billion dollars! But regardless of if we are talking about hundreds of millions of dollars or tens of billions of dollars, the point is clear—this was a tremendously steep debt and one that I would venture to say that we all would be unable to pay just like Jesus said in verse 25 when He said, “but as he was not able to pay.”
To me, the way this is worded shows us that there was no way that he could have paid it. It is a statement that basically says, “And, of course, he was not able to pay back that kind of debt.” Likewise, we could not ever have done enough works to deserve the forgiveness we needed. Yes, our debt towards Him was so large that it was impossible to deserve the mercy He showed us. Amen, and thank you, Jesus!
So, we are then told that when the servant was brought before his king that judgments were made that both he, his wife, children and his possessions all be sold until his debt was paid. Church, this is something that we need to understand about our sin debt. The poor choices we make and the things we tolerate in our lives that are wrong can affect those we love. I know a lot of people make all kinds of bad choices with their life and think the only ones its effecting is them, but that’s not true. Our sin can affect the ones we love.
For example, I can remember all the terribly poor choices I made with my life and, guess what, they hurt those who loved me. I wonder how many people who have made the ultimate worst decision of taking their own life have affected those they left behind, leaving them wondering what they did to drive them to that point, etc.
I’m reminded of the life of David and how although he was shown mercy for his sin with Bathsheba, it still affected his household. In fact, the Lord told him that the sword would never depart from his house—which was obviously manifested in his sons leading Judah and Israel down the wrong path more times than not.
Church, our choices absolutely affect those around us—and that is something we need to consider before making them. Amen or oh me?
So, this servant’s response would be like any of ours if we were in the situation—he threw himself down before the king and begged for patience and mercy until he could pay back the debt.
Now an important thing to point out from verse 26 is the attitude of the servant as he pleaded for mercy. He wanted mercy so that he could pay back the debt. No, He was not asking the king to cancel it, just to give him a chance to pay it back. To men, this shows a truly repentant heart because he wanted to do what he could to make it right. You see, if you are truly sorry for what you have done you will have a heart to make it right and not just expect someone to give you a clean slate. Now, of course, we know we cannot make our sin debt to God right no matter how hard we try but the principle still holds true. Our repentant heart will be to serve Him for the massive dept He forgave us of.
Of course, we know that the king was moved with compassion, released the servant, and totally forgave him of this multi-million even billion-dollar debt—which shows us the heart of our God: When we are truly repentant and cry out for mercy from Him, His compassion wells up. He just has such a heart to show mercy and forgive, and why? Because He loves us with all His heart!
Did you know this is why He desires for us to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength? It’s because He first loved us with all His heart, soul, mind, and strength. He is love, church, and His heart is moved with compassion for us! Never forget that!
The story then progresses to that same servant who was forgiven of this astronomical debt going out and finding a fellow servant who owed him a hundred denarii—which, like the ten thousand talents, can have a range of equivalent. I’ve heard that it can describe anywhere from $20 to $2000. But again, the point is not what is the exact amount of the money in today’s economy; rather, it is what is the difference between 100 denarii versus ten thousand talents. And I don’t have to tell you that there is a big difference between $20 and two hundred million and between $2000 and twelve billion.
So, when he found that fellow servant, Jesus tells us that he grabbed him by the throat and said, “Pay me what you owe me!” Notice what the other servant’s response was in verse 29 … It was exactly the same response that the original servant gave to the master— “Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.” But this time, the outcome was different: The servant who was forgiven of the huge debt threw his fellow servant into prison till he could pay back the little debt that he owed.
But there is another important point here: How was this servant going to be able to pay back the debt while he was imprisoned? That is exactly what we do when we do not forgive people. When we choose to confine people to the debt we feel they owe us, it does nothing to recompensate us. Instead of showing them mercy and restoring them into your good graces, we ostracize them to where they do not have the opportunity to make up for their mistakes against us. If we would just give them grace, then that kind of unconditional love might end up bringing conviction to them and they would be more apt to pay us back. Not to mention, releasing them of that debt in our hearts sets into motion things that restores the things they might have robbed us of. Amen.
Nonetheless, when this got back to the king, he was extremely angry. He called that servant to return to him and said some powerful things: He said, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?” (Verses 32-33)
THE HINDRANCE TO WALKING IN FORGIVENESS
You see, the main issue of this parable is compassion and pity. These virtues really describe being touched with the feelings of another—that is, being able to sympathize or empathize with them. But how do we do that? By staying mindful of the great sin debt that God canceled on our behalf. If we would keep this fresh on our minds, then when our brother sins against us we can just refer back to all that God has forgiven us of and be able to have compassion on them.
You see, this is the main point of the parable: We ought to forgive our brothers and sisters in Christ because God has forgiven us of infinitely more than they could have ever done to us. In other words, in light of how much mercy God has given us, forgiving the brethren of the sins that they commit against us should be no problem whatsoever.
Let me share with you what the Lord shared with me several years ago …
Back in the first few years of my Christian walk I was spending some time with the Lord and was specifically thanking the Lord for making me the righteousness of God in Christ. I was praising Him for putting me in right standing with Him not by anything good that I had done but simply by His awesome grace. As the words— “Thank you Lord for freely putting me in right standing with You”—came out of my mouth, I heard the Lord say to me, “Freely you have received, freely give!” What I knew Him to be saying was, “Just as you have freely received right-standing with Me, you freely give right-standing with you to other people.” In other words, when people are hurtful, hateful, and just plain ugly towards me I should grant them good standing with me even though they might not deserve it. Why? Because what someone does to me in the natural cannot hold a candle to what I have done to God in the spiritual.
You see, it was my sin and your sin that put Jesus on that cross! He would not have had to die in my place if I would have not sinned against Him. And no one has ever done anything as wicked to me as killing my own son. Therefore, if God can extend me grace for all that I have done against Him, then I most certainly can extend grace to someone who has done much less than that to me. Amen?
You see, this is the main reason why a believer has such a hard time forgiving someone else for an offense. It is because they are totally focused on the sin committed against them and are absolutely not considering the sin God has forgiven them of. If we would just take the time to consider all that God has forgiven us of when someone has hurt us, we would be more able to show mercy to the ones who have hurt us. Amen.
HOW TO FORGIVE
But, you see, this isn’t all there is to it. Even though we might totally be cognizant of all we have been forgiven of and know that we have no right to hold anything anyone else does to us against them, we still need to know how to handle the hurts and truly forgive them from our hearts.
So, a good question then is—How do we forgive? Let’s wrap up this teaching today by answering that question …
Well, how did the Lord forgive this servant in this parable? We saw that He was moved with compassion for him. That means His heart was moved for them. He wasn’t totally focused on the debt they owed, but rather how this judgment was affecting them—which is a big part of this forgiveness thing.
Church, we need to be able to see beyond the offense and have compassion on the person who offended us. In other words, understand why they might have done the thing they did.
You see, anytime a person is ugly towards us it for this very reason: because they are currently, at that moment, not knowing how loved they are by God. Yes, hurting people hurt people! God did not create us to be mean-spirited, angry, and hateful. So, when we are, it is because we are operating outside of our God-created value. Therefore, when someone else is hurting us know this—that is not who God created them to be, and all they are doing is hurting themselves, and they are doing it because they are already hurting themselves. This will help us to be more compassionate towards them and to more readily forgive them.
But, you see, so many people think that you either have compassion or you don’t. They don’t realize it’s something you can choose to put on. The apostle Paul taught us this in Colossians chapter 3 …
In Colossians 3:12, he said, “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering …”
So, Paul told us—the church—to “put on” on these specific virtues. He didn’t pray to the Lord to give them to you or wait until you grow up spiritually and they just become a part of you. No, he simply said, “put” them on. This literally describes someone “clothing or dressing” themselves with something. In other words, it is as if the following virtues and fruit that Paul is about to give us are like pieces of spiritual clothing that the Lord has put in our closet (i.e., spirit), and it is our responsibility to cloth ourselves with them.
Now I want you to notice the first one he tells us to put on— “tender mercies.” This phrase comes from two different Greek words— the words spalgchnon & oiktirmos. The word spalgchnon is the word translated “bowels, intestines, and other inward parts of the body.” The original King James version actually translates this word as “bowels” and the reason is because in the First Century, they located the deeper emotions in the intestinal area—saying that this was the seat of both the tenderest compassion and the strongest anger. Today, we might say that the seat of those strongest emotions is in our heart. But the other word Paul used (i.e., oiktirmos) shows that he is only talking about the good affections of our heart such as compassion, mercy & sympathy. Thus, a good translation of this phrase would be— “tenderhearted sympathy” or “heartfelt compassion.”
So, to me, an interesting point here is Paul is telling us to put on this compassionate heart. One might tend to believe that you either have these tender emotions or you don’t. For example, some people believe you possess sympathy & empathy when you have actually experienced what the other person is experiencing. And while that certainly can be the case, we are wrong to think that is the only way one develops compassion. According to Paul, it is apparently a choice to become more compassionate & sympathetic.
Now here is the key to doing this: Begin to put yourself in other people’s shoes by imagining what it would be like to go through what they are going through. Consider and imagine it! No, not because you want it to happen to you too, but because you are strategically wanting to be touched with the feelings of their infirmities. Sounds like a godly aspiration to me!
Then guess what Paul moves into exhorting us to put on. He goes on to say in verse 13, “bearing with another and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.’
So, apparently putting on forgiveness is the same too. It’s not something we wait for God to clothe us with. No, we choose to put it on like we choose all other godly virtues.
Now I looked these words “forgiving and forgave” up and noticed something very significant about forgiveness: The word “forgive” comes from the Greek word “charis” which is commonly translated “grace.” Now the word “grace” means to give something freely, with no strings attached. If you are giving someone “grace,” you are giving them something they don’t necessarily deserve nor have they done anything to earn it. Therefore, a common definition for “forgiveness” when considering the word “grace” is to freely forgive.
Now why do I make this point? It is because oftentimes the mentality that people have which causes them to have a harder time forgiving people is that the person that offended them doesn’t deserve to be forgiven—maybe they haven’t even been repentant and asked for forgiveness.
Now I would venture to say that most of us, if the person that hurt us came to us and said something to the effect of— “You know, I was wrong. I am so sorry. Please forgive me” that we would forgive them. But what makes forgiveness a little more difficult is when the person who hurt us doesn’t show any signs of being repentant and no remorse for what they did—which is, unfortunately, what happens most of the time.
But that is when this true meaning of forgiveness becomes so important—because now I know I am called to forgive freely whether I feel they deserve it or not. I am “for-giving”—that is, I am giving them grace in advance of them deserving it or asking for it.
Then Paul goes on to say in the rest of verse 13 that “if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.”
You realize that if everything you and I did to sin against the Lord and everything we did to put Jesus on that Cross could be weighed, there would not a be enough scales on the planet that could measure the greatness of that sin? We have truly been forgiven much! And you also realize that with the vast majority of these sins that Christ forgave us of, we are unaware of them and have not confessed them to Him? Absolutely!
I know there are people in the church out there who believe that we have to specifically confess our sins in order to be forgiven of them, but that is not what First John 1:9 was teaching. You realize if that were true, then we are all in trouble because there is no way that we can specifically confess every single sin we’ve ever committed?
So, it is apparent that Christ has freely forgiven us of things we never sought forgiveness for—and aren’t you glad for that?
Well, when Paul said, “even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do” the words “even as” literally mean “to the degree that.” So, we are told to forgive one another to the degree that Christ has forgiven us.
So, this tells me that if Jesus forgave me of this magnitude of sin that I committed that put Him on the Cross, then I am expected to forgive others to the same degree. This is why Paul said at the end of Colossians 3:13, “so you also must do.”—which is the whole point of Jesus’ Parable of the Unforgiving Servant.
So, this is the first step to forgiveness—understanding that we are expected to forgive, that it is a command, and it is our duty to do so.
But I understand and the Lord understands that this is not easy to do. It is not always something that we can just choose, in ourselves, to do. I’ve had people who have been hurt that, while they honestly want to obey the Lord, do not know how to forgive because the offense was so great.
Well, as Jesus’ disciples obviously understood, we will need faith to forgive sometimes. It might be too much for us to handle—releasing someone from the pain that they caused us. This is when our faith in God becomes key.
The Lord recently showed me that one of the ways that we forgive by faith is through our prayer life. What do I mean by that?
Have you ever noticed that in some of our greatest exhortations to forgive others that the forgiving is being done while in prayer? Therefore, there is apparently a connection between the process of forgiveness and our own personal prayer lives.
This is why Jesus combined Mark 11:25with Mark 11:23-24: After teaching us the principles of faith of speaking to our mountains and letting our faith-filled words frame our world, Jesus said, “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.”
You see, these principles of faith don’t just work on the healing of our bodies, finances, etc. They also work in the healing of our hearts. That’s why Jesus answered His disciple’s plea for help in forgiving our brothers with speaking to the mulberry tree (See Luke 17:5-6). Why? It’s because that’s how it works.
How many people when they want to see a tree uprooted or mountain removed in their life, ask the Lord to do it? That’s what the disciples did here. They asked the Lord to increase their faith. But Jesus essentially replied, you don’t need more faith; you just need to use the faith you have.
You see, well-meaning believers who love the Lord and want to love & forgive others will ask Him to “help” them in this respect just like the disciples did here when they said, “Lord, increase our faith!” We might say, “Lord, increase my love” or “Help me to forgive them.” That’s not the right prayer. The right thing to do is when you stand praying, use your faith and love to remove the offense and bitterness from the roots!
One way we do this is by doing what the Lord taught us to do in response to the pains and offenses others might have caused. He said, in Luke 6:27-28to love them. How? By doing good to those who hate us, blessing those who curse us, and by praying for those who spitefully use us.
You see, it is no surprise then that so many people have a hard time releasing people in their hearts. Why? Because they are not doing it God’s way; they are doing it their own way—trying their best to forgive but failing to truly release that person in their hearts.
When we do it God’s way—which is taking it before the Lord when we stand praying, and confessing before Him our willingness to release them for the hurt they caused us and sincerely praying for them—it becomes much more doable.
This is where God’s supernatural ability to forgive gets activated in our life! It is where we are truly able to release them and the anointing to forgive is released in our lives! Hallelujah!
It is just a matter of perspective, church. Are we going to magnify the sins people commit against us, or rather, are we going to choose to consider all that we have been forgiven of by God? Freely we have received, so freely we ought to give! Amen and amen.