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17. The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant


Chapter 17

The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant

Matthew 18:21-35

by Pastor Eric Chang

October 12, 1980


The whole passage Matthew 18:1-17 concerns sin, sin among Christians, sin in the church, and how to deal with it. If a brother repents, we are to forgive him. But if he does not repent, we are to take the matter before two or three witnesses, and if he still does not repent, we are to take the matter before the church. Now I would really like us to bear the Lord Jesus’ teaching in mind.

Don’t leave the church when a person sins against you

Many times, when a brother or sister has sinned against us, we become so fed up that we decide very easily not to go to church anymore. That is very unfortunate, and that is not the way to deal with the problem. The problem does not go away by running away from it; in fact, the problem becomes worse. You simply must deal with sin. If someone has offended you in the church, you must have sufficient confidence in the sense of justice of the brothers and sisters before God, that they will straighten things out with you. So if somebody has offended against you, it is no solution simply to run away from the church. The church is not there to take sides with one person against another. Trust the fairness of the brothers and sisters, and take the matter before two or three elders of the church, or two or three brothers and sisters, and say, “Look, this brother or this sister has committed this sin against me.”

Why don’t you do this? Why do you say, “Well, I won’t go to church anymore”? That doesn’t help that person, and it doesn’t help you, and it doesn’t help the church, because the church doesn’t even know what happened. Take this matter to the church. Of course, if you have no confidence in the fairness of the church, you won’t do this. But I hope you have sufficient confidence in the fairness of the church to give it a chance to see if they will deal with the matter fairly or not.

The Lord Jesus is dealing with a very practical problem in Matthew 18, because so many people find that somebody has carelessly, or perhaps, willfully offended them, and they say, “They have offended me, so I’m not going to church anymore.” Well, only one person has offended you, not the whole church. And if you are a Christian, you have as much right to be in the church as the other person. Why should you quit? I don’ t understand this thinking at all. What is more, sometimes, there are problems like this in the church that I don’t know anything about. Otherwise, I could have intervened on your behalf if you are the offended party, and straightened the matter out.

So the Lord Jesus deals with a very practical matter which happens often. When somebody offends you, you decide to say, “Oh, all Christians are hypocrites.” Are you a Christian or not? What do you mean by all Christians are hypocrites?

Surely, if you have been offended against, take the matter to one of the elders, or the pastor, or even to any other brother and sister and say, “Look, this person has done this. I don’t think Christians should do that, should they?” Then the matter is set in motion. Somebody will talk to that Christian and ask, “Why did you treat this brother or sister like this? Have you any reason? If not, you must repent of your action.” If that person repents, then he is satisfied and you are satisfied. Everything is dealt with and there is no more problem. But if you let the disease fester in the church, the whole church will become sick. You must deal with this for the sake of God’s Christ (the church being his body), for your own sake, as well as for the sake of the brother and sister.

“Forgive seven times in the day”: Forgive without limit?

Here, the Lord Jesus is dealing with another question: This person has offended against me and he has apologized and I have forgiven. But he does it again, and then he does it again! Now this is the question that the Lord Jesus wants to deal with. How many times is he going to offend me and I keep saying, “Okay, I forgive you”? There must be a limit somewhere.

Today, we continue to study the Lord Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 18:21-35, but we will look at Luke 17:3-4, the parallel passage first:

“Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins, rebuke him. And if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times and says, “I repent,” you must forgive him.”

Is there some kind of limit to this? Do you mean that if he steps on my shoes and toes seven times a day and says, “Sorry,” I will say, “Okay.” Then he steps on me again and says, “Sorry,” and I will say, “Okay.” Seven times a day? He is going to wear my shoe out! How many more times am I still to continue forgiving him? There must be some limit to this!

The Lord Jesus says in Luke 17:4, “If things happen, forgive seven times in a day.” Of course, in saying “seven”, he doesn’t mean to say seven is the limit. Seven is a perfect number, as you know. If you can forgive a person seven times, you can certainly forgive him eight times. In fact, you can forgive him ten times. If you have been able to forgive him seven times all in one day, you can certainly forgive him thereafter. You start all over again the next day, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven times. You forgive seven times a day, every day, for how long? He did not tell us. Forgiveness is going to go on every day. That is the Lord Jesus’ teaching. We are to be unlimited in our forgiveness to others.

Why should we forgive?

Think for a moment, how unforgiving you or the average Christian might be. Somebody offends you once, and you are blue or red in the face, or whatever color your face becomes when you get angry, and you decide that that is it! “I shall never talk with this nasty creature again! I shall never again see the inside of a church!” Only once, and that is enough? What happens to the seven times in the day? Is our forgiveness as limited as that? Why should we forgive? I never did anything against him, and he offends against me? Why should I forgive him?

Let us turn to the Lord Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 18: 21-35.

When 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 times seven.”

Now Peter here was thinking that he was quite generous. He thought seven times is not a bad figure, because the Jewish rabbis said, “You can forgive a person once, twice and three times, but not the fourth time. Three is the maximum! If the person keeps on doing this kind of thing, you do not forgive him the fourth time.” The rabbis were saying three times is all in the whole lifetime. Peter thought that if he forgives seven times, a little bit over double the number that the rabbis recommended, he was being extra generous. Remember the Lord Jesus said in Luke 17:4, “seven times in one day.” If you take that number through a lifetime, that will give you quite an astronomical figure. So the Lord Jesus says to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.” Again, the figure is meant to be symbolic of a limitless number. If you can forgive a person seven times a day say, for seventy days (two and a half months), that is pretty well without limit.

Why should we forgive? Notice the connection to what goes before with the word “therefore” in Matthew 18:23.

“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the reckoning, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And as he could not pay, the lord ordered him to be sold with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees imploring him, “Lord, have patience with me and I will pay you everything.” And out of pity for him, the lord of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.

But the same servant, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and squeezing him by the throat he said, “Pay what you owe.” So his fellow servant fell down and besought him, “Have patience with me and I will pay you.” He refused and went and put him in prison till he should pay the debt.

When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you besought me. And should you not have mercy on your fellow servant as I had mercy on you?” And in anger, the lord delivered him to the jailers (or torturers) till he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

Notice “to forgive from your heart” is done joyfully, “Sure!” Absolute forgiveness from the heart is what the Lord Jesus requires. It is not just grudging forgiveness: “Okay, I’ve got to forgive you. After all, the Lord Jesus said so. But don’t do it again! I won’t be so generous with you next time!”

Why should we forgive? The Lord Jesus explains it in this parable.

King revoked pardon of the servant who refused to forgive

The Lord Jesus compares his “heavenly Father,” God, to the lord of a great kingdom, a great establishment, if you like. One of his servants has so mismanaged his business that he is in debt to the tune of 10,000 talents. How much is 10,000 talents?

If you had the RSV Bible (Revised Standard Version), it tells you in the margin, one talent was equivalent to more than 15 years, or over 5,400 days of wages of a laborer. How much is 15 years’ wages of a laborer? This figure makes no sense unless you deal with it according to how much a laborer earns for one day in your particular country. If you take it at a very low figure, and suppose that a worker in Canada earns $30 a day—I am sure that most of them earn more than that—but suppose he earns $30 a day, and in a five-day week, he earns $150, and in a month he earns $600. So, I suppose that a $30 workday would be acceptable.

To put the matter quite briefly, an average common worker earned one denarius in one day. 10,000 talents is equivalent to 50 million denarii. If you multiply by 30—our assumption that a worker in Canada earned $30 a day—the figure will take us to $1.5 billion! So you can get a good idea of what kind of figures we are talking about here. When we talk about a billion dollars, it is the kind of finances that has to do with the government. A city or province in Canada would talk about one billion dollars here and two billion dollars there in its budget, but no private individual can manage to talk about money in those figures.

This servant of the kingdom may be the finance minister, because all the ministers or high officers are also called “servants of the king.” This finance minister has so mismanaged the government’s finances that he has put the government in deficit to the tune of $1.5 billion. That does happen from time to time. So the king calls him to account for the $1.5 billion deficit and says, “What kind of a mess have you made with our government’s accounts? What have you done? As punishment for committing such a complete mess, you and your wife and your children will be sold into slavery!”

Maybe they should do that in modern countries too. Maybe you will get better Finance Ministers if they realize that they and their families might be sold into slavery if they mismanaged the government’s finances. That might not be a bad idea at all! Anyway, in the old days, this kind of thing did actually happen.

He falls upon his knees before his master and begged him to have mercy upon him. Notice his very ambitious words in verse 26, “and I will repay you everything.I don’t know how he proposes to do that. Maybe he thinks: “Give me another chance as Finance Minister, and I will bring the whole budget to the tune of $1.5 billion of credit!”

I am sure that no king will give him another chance to make a second mess after he has made one mess already. Notice how generous this king is—he forgives his servant his debt freely. He says, “Alright, since you repent, I freely forgive you your debt.” He writes off the debt, and gives him another chance! So this minister is extremely happy and leaves.

After a little while, in Matthew 18:28, he runs into a fellow servant who owes him one hundred denarii. Now if we take thirty dollars to be equivalent to one denarius, this man owes him about $3,000. $3,000 is quite a considerable sum, but of course, it is nothing compared to $1.5 billion. He grabs his fellow servant and says, “Look here! I want this $3,000 back!”

That man falls upon his knees and says, “Please, have pity upon me. I just don’t have $3,000 in my pocket, but I will certainly repay you the $3,000.” It is possible to repay $3,000, is it not? This considerable sum is still within reach of the average working man given enough time. But he refused to give allowance of time, and throws this man into prison. He had this man jailed over $3,000.

Well, this news was reported back to his master, the king, and the master is very angry, calls this Finance Minister, who we are supposing about at this moment, and says to him, “If I have forgiven you, shouldn’t you have forgiven your debtor?”

Do you remember the Lord’s Prayer? “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” But if we do not forgive our debtors, neither will we be forgiven. Therefore, this man has his original forgiveness revoked, as verses 32-34 tell us:

“Then his master summoned him and said to him, “You wicked servant, I forgive you all that debt because you besought me, and should you not have had mercy on all your fellow servant as I had mercy on you?” And in anger, his master delivers him to the torturers.”

The word there is “torturers”. He is to be tortured until he pays back the $1.5 billion he owes, which means he will never be able to pay it back, most certainly not in jail!

3 commentaries on this parable

Schweitzer: “Loss of grace”

The message of this parable is quite plain to us. It is very easy to understand.

In Prof. Schweitzer’s commentary, Das Neue Testament Deutsch, which has recently been translated into English, he entitled the message of this parable as “Loss of Grace”. The grace that was originally given was lost through this man’s unworthiness to receive of that grace.

Meier: God revoked the initial forgiveness

The great German scholar, H.A.W. Meier, has also written on this parable in his twenty-volume Commentary on the Greek New Testament. In fact, it is one of the best commentaries available today, although it was written a hundred years ago, and it has only been re-printed in 1980. This is what he writes under the heading, “Doctrine of this parable”:

“The remission which thou (the reader) hast obtained from God of thy great unpayable debt of sin must stimulate thee heartily to for­give thy brother, the far more trifling debts which he has incurred as regards thee. Otherwise, when the messianic Judgment comes, the righteousness of God will again rise up against thee, and thou wilt be cast into gehenna (hell) to be punished eternally.”

Now this message is plain enough. Even this great evangelical Ger­man scholar, Meier points out that the original forgiveness is revoked, and even if a person has been forgiven, he will then be cast in gehenna to be punished eternally.

Watchman Nee said, “The initial grace was not revoked”

Of course, this teaching does not go down well with most Chinese churches. They want to reject the plain words of the Lord Jesus for the sake of their doctrines. When I was looking at Watchman Nee’s comments, it was almost painful to see how he gets into a greater mess when he tries harder to wriggle out of the truth. For example, he says in this parable, it is not that the initial grace was revoked, but that the subsequent grace was revoked. This makes absolutely no sense, because if the initial grace was not revoked, he would still be forgiven his $1.5 billion debt. And if he were still forgiven his $1.5 billion debt, there would be no debt for him to repay, and he would not be cast into jail to be tortured. Our rationale is almost unintelligible when we sacrifice the truth of the Word of God to dogma.

When asked how the king’s servant might repay the debt in prison, Watchman Nee goes on to say something which sounds remarkably like heresy. He says that the person will be tortured through the one thousand years of the messianic reign. Then somehow, by being tortured for one thousand years, he might be forgiven at the end of the thousand years. This is the nearest thing to purgatory that I have ever heard in Protestant teaching. This is incredible! If suffering and being tortured can actually atone for sin, if by being tortured for one thousand years, the 1.5 billion-dollar debt can be removed, then why did Christ need to die? This is the kind of tragic situation that those who don’t want to face the Word of God come into.

We shall not waste time with people’s notions of this kind. As I have always said and I say again, when you come to the Word of God, you must come with an open mind, with no preconceived doctrines in your mind. Otherwise, you are going to try to escape the plain truth that Prof. Schweitzer, or H.A.W. Meier have no problem in seeing. But because you are locked into a dogma, you try to avoid the plain statement of the Word of God. We begin to speak complete nonsense, and the consequences that will follow will be dreadful. What the Lord Jesus is saying here is too clear even to discuss. The great exegetes have completely and frankly confessed the plain meaning of these words.

Three stages to our salvation

You might say that this parable is extremely important theologically. I don’t want to talk theology, but for the moment, I must use a few theological terms. First, we will see that the three fundamental stages of salvation are all mentioned in this parable, and we will look at the most important principles involved. So I hope that you will attend carefully to this parable, because your salvation depends on it. If you make one mistake here, you are in big, big trouble!

1. Justification—God’s forgiveness of man’s sins

The first stage mentioned in this parable is the stage concerning what is called “justification” in theology. Put in plain language, it means forgiveness. We need to be forgiven because we have sinned against God. Sin in the Bible is spoken of as a debt that you owe to God. Every time you commit a sin, a debit goes on your computerized spiritual account; you are in the red. And every time you sin, your debt before God increases, so that it is utterly unpayable.

In England, if you owe the bank fifty pounds, that fifty pounds will be printed in red. In Canada, the banks put a mark indicating that it is a debit, but it is still printed in black. Thus we have the idiom, “in the red”.

Another figure of speech is, “the wages of sin is death.” How can you pay off the death penalty with money or any other means? There is nothing that can buy you back from death. The Lord Jesus’ picture of the debt of an astronomical figure shows us, that because we sin against God so much, we are so heavily in debt, so much in the red, there is no way we can pay off our debt to God.

There is no use saying, “I can pay off with some good works,” because good works are expected of us. There are no good works that can write off the debit. In other words, if you are good, you are doing no more than what you should have done anyway. That is why the notion that we can save ourselves simply by being good does not understand the problem of sin. We cannot save ourselves by good works, because it is simply our job to do good works. Therefore you cannot clear the past debts by doing your job. This is something very important to observe.

God only clears debt through Christ’s death, and repentance

What is more, the debt—of such a size that the Lord Jesus used to illustrate—tells us that when we have sinned against God, we are in debt to the tune of an astronomical figure, and we have no way to pay back. Therefore, the only way you can clear your debt with God is to come before Him and say, “God, I am a sinner. I realize that there is no way I can repay my debt. I beg of You to have mercy upon me, to forgive me.” Only on that condition of repentance can God clear your debt.

How does God clear your debt? The only way is through Christ dying on the cross to clear the debt. This man came to an enormous burden that amounted to $1.5 billion. And God lifts the burden off him through Christ who takes the penalty. That is what “justification” means in theology, that when you have repented, God forgives you your debt. He clears your account and says, “Okay, I forgive you your sins freely.”

Now that is where most churches stop at. It is absolutely true that God freely forgives our sins, but you may not stop there because if you do, you might just end up not being saved at all in the end. Why? Notice that this man had his debt forgiven, but when he proved unworthy of that forgiveness, he lost the forgiveness eventually. That is a very sobering teaching in the Word of God that you must bear in mind. You must see to it that you never become complacent and say, “I’ve been forgiven of $1.5 billion, and I am free now! I can twist that brother’s neck because he owes me $3,000.” If you twist his neck, you will discover that you will have lost the forgiveness first granted to you.

2. Sanctification—changed conduct of forgiving others

The second stage is often called, “sanctification” in theology. It is very important for us to understand that God is concerned about our conduct. You have been forgiven, but that forgiveness places upon you a very serious responsibility. As I have said before, and I say again, there are no privileges without responsibilities. It is a privilege to be forgiven, but that privilege immediately brings with it a very serious responsibility: forgive others. God expects us to forgive others because He has forgiven us.

Supposing somebody owes you a hundred dollars and says, “I have no money to return to you, and my mother and brother are sick.” And you say, “Just forget the one hundred dollars. It’s no problem.” Then he grabs another fellow who owes him one dollar, punches him in the nose and gives him a black eye. “Give me back my one dollar!” You will say, “What is this? I forgave you one hundred dollars and you deal with the other fellow like this for one dollar? I don’t believe this! Now I’m going to expect you to pay me back the whole one hundred dollars.” You would feel like that since you dealt with him so generously.

How do you think God would feel after He has so generously forgiven your sins, and you think you can live the old, bad-tempered, nasty and selfish life again? What difference does it make to be a Christian? Nothing, except that you have been forgiven.

Many preachers preach the gospel like this, which is a misrepresent­ation of the gospel. You may not believe this kind of thing at all, because being forgiven means that it has to be worked out in sanctification. God has forgiven you, now you go out and forgive others. That is what Paul means by “work out your salvation.” God has loved you, now you go out and love others. God has been gracious to you, now you go out and be gracious to others.

Refuse to forgive, and God will revoke His forgiveness

Then you will ask, “God has already forgiven me. What will happen if I’m not gracious to others to forgive them?” Yes, God has forgiven you, but He will take His forgiveness back, and you will go back to square one, and end up paying the whole debt again. This is the crucial point about the Lord Jesus’ teaching on salvation which so often, the churches have not wanted to swallow. That is strange! But this is indisputably what the Lord Jesus is saying. No serious exegete on the Word of God would even care to deny that that is what the Lord Jesus is saying. It is as plain as that.

This means that God’s justification, God’s forgiveness of me must immediately find appropriate expression in my life, if I am to continue in His forgiveness. This is most important to understand. That is what I have been preaching consistently all through the years. You cannot accept God’s forgiveness and behave in a mean manner to other people, because if you do this, God warns you that the forgiveness granted to you will be revoked. In fact, as he finishes the parable in verse 35, he says to his disciples plainly,

“So my heavenly Father will do to you if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

What will God do to every one of you, his disciples? He just said in verse 34, “deliver you to the torturers.” Now he cannot put it plainer than that, unless a person is simply spiritually deaf and blind, and does not want to hear the Word of God. The Lord Jesus says to his disciples, “If you don’t forgive your brother from the heart, God will hand you to the torturers until you repay every cent of the original $1.5 billion debt, that you owe Him through your sins.” There is not even anything to discuss let alone argue.

3. Judgment

The third theological stage is “judgment”.

There is a strange teaching that goes around saying that Christians do not come under judgment. Either we have not read the Bible, or they have not read the Bible. Somebody has not been reading the Bible, because this person who has been forgiven is under judgment again. Judgment is something that Christians will also come under. Make no mistake about that. Let nobody tell you, “Christians can live as they like and they will not be judged.” It is this kind of teaching that has reduced the church to the spiritual mediocrity it is in today. Christians live lives that are often below the standard of non-Christians, and they congrat­ulate themselves that they will be in heaven, while all these other people will be in hell. This is sheer nonsense! God expects from Christians, and Christians will come under judgment!

If we don’t live in the way that God expects us to live, be assured that you and I will come under judgment. This is what the Lord Jesus says, so it doesn’t matter what any preacher says about this. Remember again, this servant who had been forgiven his $1.5-billion debt goes to jail. His forgiveness is revoked, and he will never come out again, because in jail, there is no way to repay even a $100 debt, let alone a $1.5 billion debt.

Two most important spiritual principles

Let us draw two most important spiritual principles about the Christian life from this parable.

1. Law of Sanctification: Deal with others just as God deals with you

The first principle the Lord Jesus is teaching us in this parable is: God expects us to deal with others in the same way as He deals with us. This principle is put specifically by the Lord Jesus like this in Luke 6:36,

“Be merciful as your Father is merciful.” In the same way as God has been merciful to you, so you must be merciful to others.

The spiritual life is ordered with the same precision as is this universe that God has created. Any of you who study the universe and its structure, or any physics, will know that there are laws by which all mat­ter is governed, and the violation of these laws brings its consequences. You do not escape unscathed.

There is the Law of Gravity, and if you want to deal with this problem of gravity, you have to do it according to these set laws that we have in the world. You need power to overcome gravity. Without power, you are going to get your legs broken, and maybe your neck broken as well, if you jump off the third floor of a house. And if you jump off from a higher height, you can be sure that you would be pulverized, because there is a law of gravity that will pull you down. There is no way you can say, “When I step out of the window, I will stand in mid air.” The law of gravity will pull you down, unless you have power by some other means to overcome it.

So too, in the spiritual life, you must understand that there are laws that God has set, that if you violate these laws, you will not go unscathed. And this is a law: We are to deal with others in the same way that God deals with us. It is most important that I must be kind to others because God is kind to me; if God is forgiving to me, I must be forgiving to others. It is irrelevant what the other person does to me. Notice how important this principle is: it doesn’t matter how you behave to me, the important thing is how God behaves to me. This spiritual principle means that my conduct as a Christian is governed by one thing only, namely, God’s dealings with me. It is not governed by any Christian; it is not governed by the non-Christian; it is not governed by the world.

I wonder how many of you live according to this law? Our actions are determined by other people’s actions towards us. He is nasty to me, so I will be nasty to him. It is all passive. I have lost the initiative. I become a robot because I react to whatever he does. Now most Christians are robots. They have not yet arrived at the stage where they understand this principle, that their action is not determined by others.

A Christian is only determined by God, so he is a free person!

Whether you are nasty or not nasty, whether you are kind or unkind is irrelevant to me. My action is determined only by God’s dealings with me. Now you may be very nasty to me, but I forgive you. Why? Because God has forgiven me. My action is determined by Him, not by you. That is why a Christian is the only free person around, because everybody else is governed by somebody else’s actions, but he is never determined by other people, he is determined only by God. Because the Christian’s actions are governed by God’s dealings with him, he becomes a channel of God’s love, of God’s forgiveness, of God’s grace, of God’s power. Can you understand how important is this principle?

So if you find yourself reacting to other people’s behavior to you, for example, if somebody serves someone else faster when you eat out, and you get angry and think, “What is this? Racialism! You serve a white face first and not me, because I am a Chinese? I’m going to be nasty to you.” When your action is determined by his nastiness, you become a robot.

The Christian is not determined by this or that person. He is not determined by anybody. He is determined only by God. That is freedom! That is why the non-Christian will not be able to understand you. Why are you still smiling when I insult you? I don’t understand you. Why are you still nice to me when I am nasty to you? What is going on? Then he begins to realize you are determined by God, not by him! He will say, “I’ve never seen this before! This is something new!”

The Christian then becomes light in the world. He is extraordinary in the world. He never reduces himself to a robot dictated by other people’s actions. He enjoys the freedom in this world because all he wants is to be pleasing to God like the Lord Jesus. You are entirely free because your actions are determined by God alone. Now this is a most important principle to understand.

The first principle then is the Law of Sanctification: I deal with others in the way that God deals with me. That is Biblical teaching on sanctification, if you want to use theological jargon.

2. Law of Judgment (1): God deals with us as we deal with others

The second principle that we derive from this parable is the Law of Judgment, and it is complementary to the first. How does God deal with us in judgment? He will deal with us in the same way as we deal with others. The Lord Jesus has made this teaching plain many times. You can already see this expressed in the Old Testament. Psalm 18:25-26 is just one of many places, where we read that God deals with us in the same way that we deal with others:

With the merciful You show Yourself merciful; with the blameless man You show Yourself blameless; to the pure You show Yourself pure, but to the crooked You show Yourself shrewd.

There, you have this spiritual principle stated very plainly, that God deals with you in the same way as you deal with others. If you deal with others mercifully, God will deal with you mercifully. If you deal with others blamelessly, God will show Himself blameless to you. If you deal with others in a pure way, He will deal with you purely. But if you deal crookedly with others, He will deal perversely with you, that is, He will be hard on you.

Now this principle is very easy to understand. If you know how to apply this, you will understand how the spiritual life works! You can ask for trouble, or you can ask for mercy by the way you deal with others. In other words, if you don’t deal forgivingly with others, the Lord Jesus says his heavenly Father, God will deal unforgivingly with you. If you deal graciously with others, God will also deal graciously with you.

Supposing you act in a loving way to others, you can be sure that God will act in a loving way to you. If you act in a generous way with others, God will deal generously with you. So you see “the cycle of spirit­ual progress”. First, God forgives me, so I am forgiving to others. Because I am forgiving to others, God continues to be even more forgiving to me.

You control your own “cycle of spiritual progress”

If you stop this cycle at any point, that will be the stop of your spiritual life. You can keep this cycle in motion, or you can stop it. God puts the matter in your hands. In other words, this principle means that you be your own judge. God will deal with you in the same way as you deal with others. If you deal harshly with others, God will deal harshly with you. If you deal kindly with others, God will deal kindly with you. He is going to base His judgment upon you in the way that you behave. It is as straightforward and as fair as that. In the Day of Judgment, every man will say to Jesus, the Judge God will send, “O Lord, You have been absolutely fair. I have been ungracious to others, so You are ungracious to me. I deserve that. I can’t argue with that.” But it also means positively. I can move this cycle so as to be truly more and more progressing in grace.

An illustration

Let us take an example. Many of you know that in my student days, I looked to God for my financial supply, as some of you also do. When I was in financial need, God supplied my need so graciously and so generously. Having enjoyed this privilege, it puts me under a responsibil­ity. It means that since God has been working in others to be so gracious to me in my student days, I must be gracious to others who are in need. I dare not hold the money in my own pocket. I must help others in their need whenever I can. That is the first principle we were talking about.

The second principle is that because I am helping others now, God in His graciousness begins to give me more spiritually, not necessarily materially; I don’t ask for more materially. So I’ll have a new influx of God’s grace through helping others. Because of this new influx of grace, I am encouraged to give even more. And because I give even more, God’s grace is even richer to me.

This is the cycle of spiritual progress, by which you go from strength to strength. Try that, and you will find that God’s laws always work. Just as it works in the physical world, so it works in the spiritual world, because we are dealing with the living God! If God were not the living God, none of these laws can function. How do we know that God is real? We know when the principles we apply are so effective!

Law of Judgment (2): Do to others as you would have God do to you

We can formulate this second principle in another way: Do to others as you would have God do to you. Think about that. These amazing principles are given to us for our blessing, that you may know how to use them.

Would you like God to be more generous and gracious to you? Then be more generous and gracious to others and see what happens. He will pour out His blessing upon you. That is what the Lord says in Luke 6:38,

“Give and it shall be given to you, good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

That is exactly the principle. The reason you do not have is because you did not give. Are you living in spiritual poverty? Try being gracious to others, and suddenly, God’s graciousness will overwhelm you. It is so wonderful! If however, you are unforgiving, you will soon find that God’s attitude to you will be very cold. But try forgiving somebody else, and suddenly, God is so generous and gracious to you.

You determine the nature of your own spiritual life. You will also determine the kind of judgment that you will receive at the end. That is the secret of the Christian life! You can move it forward, you can stop it, and you can reverse it, whichever way. When God gave us this freedom of choice, He has put so much responsibility into our hands. Because I want God to be more generous and gracious to me in His spiritual kindness, I will be more gracious to others. I will not let them determine my action, because that will reverse the cycles of spiritual blessedness and spiritual progress. I will determine the action with God moving me forward. Is this hard to understand? I don’t think so. I think it is very easy to understand.

Or here again, you can see God is the living God. People say to me, “I want to serve God but God is not so real to me.” Well, try being gracious and generous, and see if the wheel does not start moving, and God’s goodness will overwhelm you. I experience God’s lovingkindness and mercies daily in such a way that I feel humbled at His goodness to me. Why is He so kind to me? It is just too much! God’s blessing is out of all proportion with the little bit that I do for others! But that is His kindness; that is His goodness.

But His judgment can be equally severe if you are ungracious to others. We read in the Old Testament that if you are nasty to others, God’s judgment will come upon you seven times what you have given to others. (cf. Gen. 4:15; Ps. 79:12) But the same thing works towards goodness. You will find that if you give a little to someone else in need, God’s graciousness overwhelms you many, many fold beyond whatever you have done for others. Then you’ll know God is real!

Forgive as God forgave you: Forgive and He forgives overwhelmingly more

Let me repeat these spiritual principles as we close. The first is, God first forgave us, that is why we are forgiving. We are to deal with others in the same way that God deals with us. In other words, the initiative is always God’s. He starts the ball rolling first.

The second principle is, when you forgive others, He forgives you overwhelmingly more. He deals with you in the same way, but always with His generosity, with His graciousness.

So many Christians never grow spiritually, because they don’t apply these spiritual principles. Maybe you didn’t apply these spiritual principles because you didn’t know them. Experience the Christian life! It is truly exciting and wonderful! It is like an adventure! Launch out knowing how to function with these spiritual principles, and you will see!


(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church