Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Following Jesus - The Unmerciful Servant//Has The Gift Been Received?

"Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

"The servant fell on his knees before him. 'Be patient with me,' he begged, 'and I will pay back everything.' The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

"But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded.

"His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.'

"But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened.

"Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

"This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart." Matthew 18:23 - 35

It should be easier to forgive others in light of how much believers in Christ have been forgiven. But it isn't. When I am hurt, I struggle to forgive. While the pain may be in my heart, the battle is in my head. The arguments, justifications, memories, and angry words are in my head. I think most of us are like that. When we lie awake at night, it's because we are thinking. It's hard to turn our brains off when we have been hurt. So, what are we thinking? What was the unmerciful servant thinking?

We can't really know exactly what he was thinking, as the scripture doesn't tell us. We can speculate, though. One thing that I have always suspected lies in the fact that the servant begged the king for more time to pay off his debt, while the king actually canceled the debt. I don't know whether it was arrogance, pride or desperation that led to the promise to repay the debt, because it was an impossible one for him to pay. It just wasn't going to happen. No doubt he desired to pay it off. Having to borrow money can be painful enough to the pride. Not being able to pay it back is so much worse. Is it possible that he did not catch the word "cancel" coming out of the king's mouth? Or that he understood that the king was canceling the debt, but still intended to pay it back? Maybe he didn't want to accept charity. Maybe it made him feel small and weak. Maybe he had a "Real men pay their debts" bumper sticker on his donkey. Whatever the case, it is obvious that he did not leave the castle with any sense of gratitude, which means that while he was given a huge gift, he somehow did not receive it.

So, he's walking down the road making plans to pull in a few debts himself, gather a bit of money, maybe start making payments to the king. When he meets up with a fellow servant who owes him a few bucks, the collecting starts. His friend doesn't have the money and begs for more time, for mercy. The unmerciful servant is unrelenting. Who has more time? He has debts to pay! To the king! For goodness sake, he's still shaking from the thought of being sold to pay his debt! And if he has to pay back his debt, so does his friend. There is no time for mercy, no room for kindness.

Now, I don't know that this is what he was thinking. But I see that this is what some of us think. We come to Jesus with an awareness of our sin debt, we know what we have become, what we have done. Jesus gives us full forgiveness, our debt is canceled, washed away, leaving us clean and whole, in full relationship with Jesus. We may walk away with a sense of relief and love, but then things get weird. We are told that we are fully forgiven by the mercy of God, but then we are given a list of rules to follow, and we realize there is an expectation that we do things. Tithe. Stop swearing. Take our turn in the nursery. Lengthen our skirts. We may experience disapproval by the church if we do not do these things. They are expected. We thought we were signing into a relationship with Jesus that was based on His love for us, but we find that it seems we actually signed into a way of doing things that would please God...to earn His love? No, they say that's not why we do the things we do, but it seems like it. They say our faith should show itself in works. We get that. But we just met Jesus, and our faith is small. Shouldn't the focus be on growing our faith? Could we just spend a little time with Jesus, like a honeymoon or something?

In any case, the work begins and confusion can set in. If we are good workers, we feel good about ourselves and may begin to feel like God really approves of us. If we struggle, we sometimes sense resentment from certain members of the church. We see that the majority of their contact with us is designed to resolve our issues, not to be our friends. We can't get together with the more mature Christians for coffee and fellowship without it becoming a counseling session because the thing that seems to stand out about us is not our hopes and dreams and loves and fears and joys, but our failure to do what we're supposed to be doing. Sometimes it is our own pride that leaves us determined to earn our way to God. Yes, He offers it freely, but we are able to earn it. We need to at least try. After all, doesn't God help those who help themselves?

This doesn't happen to all of us, but it can happen. And when it does, we leave the church as the servant left the castle, believing that we have just been given another opportunity to earn what we owe. The gift has been given, but not received. The result is anger, resentment and a lack of kindness and mercy to others who owe us a sin debt.

The initial meeting with Jesus, like the servant's meeting with the king, is to deal with the sin debt that interferes with our relationship with Him. We can't be close to Him because our sin keeps us at arms' length. God forgives our sin totally, and the relationship is begun. It is full, complete, unrestricted and unhampered. It's literally starting the relationship at the marriage altar. We are the bride, He is the Bridegroom. Nothing can separate us from His love. From there, we certainly need to get to know this wonderful new Person in our lives, but nothing we do from here on in will be any more effective than anything we could have done in the past to earn God's love and forgiveness.

"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." Ephesians 2:9 - 10

The stuff that we do for God is done out of gratitude, love and a sense of purpose. It is like the servant who had been forgiven a large debt frequently showing up at the castle to tend the roses outside the king's bedroom because he knows the king loves the scent and beauty of the flowers. It is done not to earn forgiveness, but to celebrate it!

When we fully grasp our freedom because of what Jesus has done for us, the celebration begins. It is important, if we are struggling to forgive others, to ask God to show us if, in our hearts, we have really received the gift of forgiveness that He has given. It would be a tragedy to live out our lives with this glorious gift left in a back closet, still unwrapped. Once we receive it, truly and fully, it gets much easier to offer the same to others. We may need a reminder once in a while from God, to be graceful and merciful. But when He speaks, it will be a reminder that will result in quick attitude, mind and heart changes.

If you have come to Jesus Christ and asked Him for forgiveness for your sins, make sure you have fully unwrapped the gift of forgiveness! Throw the wrapping paper in the air with joy, twirl around the room with the ribbons hanging from your hands! Show your gift to anyone who is interested. Illustrate the wonder of the gift by giving them your forgiveness freely, as a sample of the gift outstretched in God's hand. Never stop celebrating, never stop thanking Him, never stop reveling in the awesomeness of it all. By doing this, you ensure that the next time someone needs your forgiveness, your cup of joy and mercy will be so full it will splash over on them before they are finished asking!

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