We began looking last week at the subject of forgiveness. This is a subject that effects us all. We have all been hurt by other believers at one time or another in our lives. We all need to meditate on the Bible's exhortations to forgive.
We saw last week that there is to be no limit to the number of times we forgive others. We will continue to be hurt by people we love and we must continue to forgive them. If we fail to forgive, if we harbor bitterness and resentment, it will effect our lives and our relationship with the Lord.
After giving Peter the exhortation to forgive others no matter how many times they sin against you, our Lord gives us an example of forgiveness. To illustrate our necessity to forgive, the Lord gives us a parable. A parable is "a placing along side of" for the purpose of comparison. Dodd says, "A parable at its simplest is a metaphor or simile drawn from nature or common life, arresting the hearer by its vividness or strangeness, and leaving the mind in sufficient doubt about its precise application to rouse it into active thought."
The golden rule of parabolic interpretation is, Parables attempt to teach one central truth. The details are not intended to have independent significance. Parables have to be understood in view of their context in Scripture.
Matthew 18:23 (NKJV) "Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.
The "therefore" goes back to verses 21 and 22 dealing with forgiveness in the family of God. The parable deals with the importance of us forgiving one another. It is a very clear and powerful truth. The only question is whether we will choose to obey its application.
In this parable Jesus is telling us what it is to be like in the "kingdom of God." The kingdom of God is the sphere of God's rule on the earth through grace and salvation.
The kingdom of heaven or kingdom of God is the central theme of Jesus' preaching, according to the Synoptic Gospels. While Matthew, who addresses himself to the Jews, speaks for the most part of the "kingdom of heaven." Mark and Luke speak of the "kingdom of God." which has the same meaning as the "kingdom of heaven", but was more intelligible to non-Jews. The use of "kingdom of heaven" in Matthew is certainly due to the tendency in Judaism to avoid the direct use of the name of God. In any case, no distinction in sense is to be assumed between the two expressions as is seen in:
Matthew 19:23-24 (NKJV) Then Jesus said to His disciples, "Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 "And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."
Three of the parables, which appear in Matthew 13 as parables of the "kingdom of heaven", appear in Mark and Luke as parables of the "kingdom of God". The kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven are synonymous.
To say the least, there is much confusion as to when the kingdom began and as to its nature. I believe that by comparing Scripture with Scripture we will see that the "kingdom of God" came in the first century and that it is a spiritual kingdom and not a physical kingdom.
Daniel 2:31-35 (NKJV) "You, O king, were watching; and behold, a great image! This great image, whose splendor was excellent, stood before you; and its form was awesome. 32 "This image's head was of fine gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, 33 "its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay. 34 "You watched while a stone was cut out without hands, which struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces. 35 "Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold were crushed together, and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; the wind carried them away so that no trace of them was found. And the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.
Daniel 2:44 (NKJV) "And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever.
Now look at the time statements. In Daniel 2:44, Daniel said, "In the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom..." As he interprets Neuchadnezzar's dream, he says that Nebuchadnezzar was the first of four kingdoms. It was in the days of the kings of the fourth kingdom that the eternal kingdom, which would take in all other kingdoms, was to be set up. Most agree that this was in the days of the Roman empire. The kingdom of God began to unfold at Pentecost and was brought to its fulness at the Parousia. The first-century saints were said to already be in the kingdom:
Colossians 1:13 (NKJV) He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love,
It began in the first-century and it has no end. Christ will reign forever.
Luke 1:30-33 (NKJV) Then the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 "And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. 32 "He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. 33 "And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end."
Now that we know when it began, it should be apparent that it is not physical, it is a spiritual kingdom. Jesus told Pilate in:
John 18:36-37 (NKJV) "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here." 37 Pilate therefore said to Him, "Are You a king then?" Jesus answered, "You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice."
It is quite obvious that Jesus was indicating that his kingdom was spiritual and not physical.
Luke 17:20-21 (NKJV) Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, "The kingdom of God does not come with observation; 21 "nor will they say, 'See here!' or 'See there!' For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you."
Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:50 that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. So, we have seen that the kingdom of God is a spiritual kingdom, and that it is a present reality. It is not a physical kingdom that is yet future. The kingdom came in the first century and will never end. So, we are now living in the kingdom of God. We are citizens of the kingdom.
In this parable Jesus is telling us how he wants the citizens in his kingdom to live. It could be said that the "kingdom of heaven" is illustrated by the following situation. Barns puts it this way, "God will deal with the members of his church as a certain king did with his servants." This parable is for us, now, we are living in the kingdom of God.
Matthew 18:23 (NKJV) "Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.
The King, in this parable, represents God the Father. The servant is a picture of unsaved man. A servant was an attendant of a King. They were Satraps or provincial governors whose duty it was to collect the royal taxes and to deliver these large sums to the King.
The king is settling his accounts. The servant is called before the king to give an account, to settle up financially. This would be an annual accounting. This pictures God calling into account unsaved man. This is not a final accounting or the story would end here. This is picturing the conviction of sin as God calls the elect to Himself. Apart from the sovereign irresistible call of God, no man would ever come to God.
Ephesians 2:1 (NKJV) And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins,
Man is dead in his sin and needs a spiritual resurrection in order to understand the things of God.
1 Corinthians 2:14 (NKJV) But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
The Holy Spirit must give man new life, spiritual life, before he can believe the things of God. No human appeal of itself can lift a man out of spiritual death. The new birth is a change wrought in us, not an act performed by us.
John 1:13 (NKJV) who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
Thomas Boston illustrated man's spiritual condition by comparing the unconverted person to a man in a pit. ":He can only get out of the pit in one of two ways: he may, through much toil and difficulty, scale the sides of the pit to the top, which is the way of works, or he may grab hold of the rope of grace let down by Christ and be pulled out of his misery. Yes, he may decide to pull himself up by the rope of the gospel, but, alas the unconverted man is dead in the pit, and cannot help himself either of these ways."
IN VERSE 24 WE SEE: OUR DEBT OF SIN.
Matthew 18:24 (NKJV) "And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.
This man had been embezzling the king's money. The 10,000 talents that he owed is an incredible debt. Barclay says, "The total revenue of the province, which contained Judea and Samaria, was only 600 talents. The total revenue of even a wealthy province like Galilee was only 300 talents." Ten thousand talents would be the equivalent of 190,000 years work. This pictures the bankrupt sinner before God with nothing to pay. He has offended an infinitely Holy God.
Matthew 5:3 (NKJV) "Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
The Greek word for "poor" is ptokos, which means to cower or cringe like a beggar. He is absolutely incapable of helping himself, and is totally dependant upon God's grace.
Matthew 18:25 (NKJV) "But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made.
The selling into slavery of insolvent debtors, was nothing unusual in those days. Top price for a slave brought about one talent and one tenth of that amount was a more common price. The practice of being sold for debt was sanctioned by the OT.
Leviticus 25:39 (NKJV) 'And if one of your brethren who dwells by you becomes poor, and sells himself to you, you shall not compel him to serve as a slave.
2 Kings 4:1 (NKJV) A certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets cried out to Elisha, saying, "Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that your servant feared the LORD. And the creditor is coming to take my two sons to be his slaves."
Outside of Israel, the practice of selling those who were unable to pay their debts was common. The proceeds of their sale would go toward the paying of the debt. There were no bankruptcy laws in those days. You paid, one way or another.
The point of the parable is that the amount of this debt is unpayable, picturing hell, because people can never pay for their sins in hell, or it would end at some point. Hell is everlasting, showing the debt is never paid. The duration and punishment of hell should help show us how terrible sin is, it creates an unpayable debt.
THE DEMONSTRATION OF GUILT
Matthew 18:26 (NKJV) "The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, 'Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.'
Notice that he didn't deny the debt. He falls down before God, an attitude of humility. He knew what he was facing and he was devastated. He was in the very attitude where God wants men to be when He shows them their sin. This man is pleading for mercy. He is convicted of his sin, though he probably doesn't understand the depth of his sin. No matter how much patience God has, we could never repay the debt.
THE DELIVERANCE OF SIN
Matthew 18:27 (NKJV) "Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt.
It was out of sheer compassion that the master granted this servant far more than he had asked for, completely canceling the loan. That is salvation, free and total forgiveness.
Romans 3:24 (NKJV) being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,
Isaiah 1:18 (NKJV) "Come now, and let us reason together," Says the LORD, "Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool.
Before we can receive the forgiveness of God at salvation, we must see the debt of our sin. We must see it as a debt that we cannot pay. Before we come to Christ for forgiveness, we must come to a realization of our sinfulness and our helplessness.
People who don't see their sin, don't see their need for a savior.
Matthew 18:28 (NKJV) "But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, 'Pay me what you owe!'
It seems that he forgot very quickly just what had happened to him. This was no accident, he was looking for this guy. The Greek word for "fellow servant" is sundoulon, which means, another man who has been forgiven, another believer. This man had been fully forgiven, yet he would not forgive others. If he wasn't a Christian, we wouldn't expect him to forgive.
Notice the comparison, 10,000 talents, which equals about 190.000 years work. 100 pence, which equals about 3 months work. The 100 pence debt could have been carried in one pocket. The 10,000 talent debt would take an army to carry it of about 8,600 carriers, each carrying a sack of 60-80 pounds in weight, and they would form a line about five miles long. The contrast is staggering. Do you often forget what God has done for you?
This man grabs his brother around the throat and begins to choke him. Roman law allowed this. You might say, "this can't be a Christian." Really, do you think that Christians don't have problems forgiving each other? Have you ever read 1 Corinthians 6:1-8? The Christians at Corinth were dragging each other into court, trying to get justice. Have you ever done this to another believer, verbally or mentally? How many times have you wanted to do this to a Christian who hurt or wronged you? Be truthful. I did this to another believer just a few weeks ago. I felt that I had been wronged by him and when I saw him, I let him know what I thought about what he had done.
Verbally, I had him by the throat and was choking him. I was doing to him the very thing that I was accusing him of doing to me. I called him afterward to ask his forgiveness for my actions. We are a lot like the man in this parable, we want justice from those who have wronged us, but we want mercy from those we have wronged.
This man says, "Pay me what you owe." He wasn't even sure how much the man owed him, he only knew that he owed him something.
Matthew 18:29 (NKJV) "So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.'
Does that sound familiar? The difference is that this guy could have paid him what he owed him. Compared to our debt against God, our sins against each other are minute. Our debt to God is unpayable. Our debt to each other are easily payable.
Matthew 18:30 (NKJV) "And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt.
He would not forgive his fellow servant. Because of the smallness of the debt, he was not legally permitted to sell his fellow servant into slavery. He went the legal limit and threw him into jail.
At times, we act just like this man in the parable and cast others into prison. Not literally of course, but we cast them into the prison of rejection, we isolate them through gossip. We want full payment. Aren't you glad that God didn't demand full payment from you? We couldn't pay Him, but our brothers could pay us.
Matthew 18:31 (NKJV) "So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done.
I think that this pictures other believers going to God in prayer about the situation. In light of the context (Matthew 18:15-17), let's assume that they have gone to this sinning brother and confronted him with his sin. Believers, I think that a very important aspect in our practical sanctification, our holiness, is us holding each other accountable. If I see you being unforgiving toward another believer, I am to bring it to your attention. And you are to do the same for me. I know what the Bible says, but often I am not aware that my actions are sinful until another believer brings that to my attention. If we truly love each other, we will help each other to walk in holiness.
They were "very grieved" over the situation. Does sin in the body grieve you? It should, we are all one body.
Psalms 119:136 (NKJV) Rivers of water run down from my eyes, Because men do not keep Your law.
Matthew 18:32 (NKJV) "Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, 'You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me.
Could this man, who God refers to as a "wicked servant," be a Christian? Yes! He says this man has had his debt forgiven, that could only be a believer. "I forgave you all that debt," verifies that the transaction of forgiveness was actually made and was effective.
Matthew 18:33 (NKJV) 'Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?'
1 John 4:7-11 (NKJV) Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
This man was certainly not being loving. Had he been exercising some of the characteristics of love mentioned in 1 Corinthians 13, he wouldn't have acted this way toward his brother. Some of the qualities of love that he violated are:
Love is Patient, it is long tempered. It has to do with patience with people. It's the ability to be wronged and wronged again, and have the ability to retaliate and never even think about it. We make heros out of people who strike back. But love doesn't. How do you react when you are wronged? Are you patient with your loved ones? Love is not only patient, but it is Kind, this is the flip side of patience. Patience endures the injuries of others, kindness pays them back with good deeds. Love asks, "What can I do that will be useful to the person who has wronged me?" Love also endures all things. Endure is a military term. It speaks of being positioned in a violent battle. It refers to love that stands against incredible opposition, and still loves. Look at David's attitude of forgiveness in:
Psalms 35:11-14 (NKJV) Fierce witnesses rise up; They ask me things that I do not know. 12 They reward me evil for good, To the sorrow of my soul. 13 But as for me, when they were sick, My clothing was sackcloth; I humbled myself with fasting; And my prayer would return to my own heart. 14 I paced about as though he were my friend or brother; I bowed down heavily, as one who mourns for his mother.
God tells this servant that he should have had compassion and pity on his fellow servant, just as God did toward him.
Matthew 18:34 (NKJV) "And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him."
God was angry. He gets angry every time you sin. He always gets angry about sin, because He is Holy.
1 Kings 11:9 (NKJV) So the LORD became angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned from the LORD God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice,
God puts us under pressure, difficulties, stress and chastening until we confess and turn from our sin. Notice what he says, "until he should pay all that was due him." He is not speaking here of the original debt, that was unpayable. He was to pay what was due for his sin of unforgiveness. Remember what we talked about last week concerning judicial and relational forgiveness? The judicial act is forever! This pictures the relational forgiveness broken by sin. God chastens us to conform us to His standard of Holiness, to change our behavior.
What does he mean by "delivered him to the torturers?" I believe that he is referring to the physical and mental pain that God brings upon his disobedient sinning children.
John 15:3-6 (NKJV) "You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4 "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. 5 "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. 6 "If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.
This is not a reference to hell. These were believers, they were clean. Fire is often used as a figure of temporal afflictions.
Psalms 78:21 (NKJV) Therefore the LORD heard this and was furious; So a fire was kindled against Jacob, And anger also came up against Israel,
There are many Scripture references that speak of the temporal pain a believer experiences when in sin.
1 Timothy 6:6-10 (NKJV) Now godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. 8 And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. 9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
The word "pierced" means to pierce through from one end to another, as a piece of meat on a spit.
I believe that the torturers could refer to physical problems, it could also refer to mental problems, emotional pain. The bottom line is, when we sin and will not repent we are chastened.
Matthew 18:35 (NKJV) "So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses."
Here Jesus applies the principles of the parable to us. My father will do this same thing to you if you don't forgive each other. This parable teaches us that we should be willing to forgive any and all offences, because we have been forgiven so much. It also teaches that, if we don't forgive, we will not be forgiven. We won't lose our salvation, judicially we are forgiven forever. But relationally, we will be separated from fellowship, and put under chastening until we are willing to forgive.
Take a look at your own life. Are you being chastened by the Lord? Is there a joy missing? Do you have a lack of intimacy with God? Maybe you should examine your life and see if there is someone that you still have a strangle hold on. It could be a husband or wife, a Mother or Father, a child, a retaliative, a brother or sister, or anyone else.
How could you be so cruel as to not forgive, after you have been forgiven so much?
Ephesians 4:32 (NKJV) And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you.
May God help us to live as good citizens of His eternal kingdom. May we live our lives in obedience, out of a deep gratitude, for all that the Lord has done for us.