A Christian Evangelism and Discipling Ministry
The Lord's Prayer 6 - Forgive Our Debts
Sermon by Pastor Eric Chang.
The Parable Of The Unforgiving Servant Helps Us Understand
Here we find a government official, a servant of the king, who has mismanaged his finances and he is in big trouble. The king wants him to give an account of just what is going on in his province, what he has been doing. And of course, [there is a] penalty for misbehavior. We do not know how this money came to be lost, whether it was due to his mismanagement, which is most likely, or through corruption, or whatever it is. But in this case, it seems most likely due to mismanagement. But still he is answerable to the king for all that has been lost. Thus, the king calls him to account. This man appears and he runs a debt of ten thousand talents - an enormous figure! In the Chinese, it is translated as "一千萬両銀子". Oh dear me, "一千萬", a thousand ten thousand, that is, a hundred million ounces of silver! That is not too far off, I suppose, because if you have an RSV, I do not know what RSV you have, in the margin of mine which dates to 1957, a very old RSV I have, the talent is given at the value of £300. So, 10,000 talents would be equivalent to £3M. Now in 1957, the pound was worth about U.S.$4, which will give us, in terms of the American exchange, about $12M.
This poor fellow had to give an account to the king of $12M. Well, he was in big trouble. Of course, there is no way that he could produce $12M from anywhere. And so, the parable goes on to say what happened then. The king did what was the custom in the Eastern nations at that time, especially in Persia, which was to sell him and his whole family off into slavery, not that that would pay the debt, but that was a punishment. From now on, he would become a slave, to be kicked about, to become the slave of other people. He could not manage his own life, so somebody else is going to manage it from now on. That was the custom, the penalty, of those days. Of course, if you sold his entire family, it would hardly produce a few hundred dollars, maybe a few thousand dollars. But that was to be the penalty. Thus, this poor man, desperate as he was, fell upon his face before the king and pleaded to be forgiven, [and said] that he would do everything necessary to earn back this money. How ever could he earn back $12M? But the king had mercy upon him, saw his desperate condition and forgave him. He said, "OK, I forgive you. Your debt is gone." What a joy! What a tremendous change of circumstances! He was cleared of this debt.
Then he goes out. The next day, what does he do? He sees a fellow servant, a fellow government official, obviously much lower in rank than himself, perhaps because he owed so much less. This man owed him a few denarii. In Chinese, it is "十両銀 " - ten ounces. Ten compared to a hundred million - that is the difference of the debt. He owed him so little money. In terms of English pounds, it was £7. In terms of American currency, by that exchange rate, it is about $28. $12M was the debt he was forgiven and this man owed him $28. And that man says, "Please forgive me my debt. I tell you, I am going to pay you back every dollar." Now, it is quite possible to pay back $28. I mean, that is not a debt that could not be paid back. But this fellow grabs him by the neck, takes him thereby as it is a swirl of dust, getting hold of his neck and working at it. Not satisfied with having choked him quite a bit, he throws him into jail. This is the way he treats his fellow servant, until he should pay back his debt. Well, it is very hard for him to pay back his debt in jail. But still, you can see that it was pure spite and vengeance that he wants to get back his $28.
Well, the news gets back to the king, "That servant, that government official of yours, who was in debt to the tune of $12M and you forgave him, would not forgive a fellow servant of $28." Now look at how the story goes on, the parable that the Lord Jesus tells us. The king calls back this servant, this minister, and says to him, "How is it that when I forgave you your debt when you asked me to forgive you, I freely forgave you. Should you not likewise...." Notice the word: "As I forgave you, should you not have forgiven him? But because you did not forgive him, therefore...." What happens? Notice what Jesus says: he "was wroth." [Mt. 18:34-KJV] The wroth of the king was against this minister and he took hold of this man and handed him over to the jailers, the torturers. And there this man was put into jail until he should pay up to the last penny of those $12M. In other words, he would never be able ever to pay. It would be that the punishment would be eternal. All his lifetime, he would never be able to pay $12M. And then the Lord Jesus concludes this parable with these words — "So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart." — and I wonder why this parable is so little preached on.
Sin Is Spoken Of As A Debt
We were discussing the other day in the Bible study the very question: Why could God not forgive our sins without Jesus going to the cross? I noticed on that occasion how many people failed to answer that question. It is because they did not understand the nature of sin as debt. You see, if you have caused a loss on somebody else, you are in debt to that person. It is not just a simple matter of forgiving; there is a debt to be paid, a cost to be covered. It is precisely for this reason: whoever forgives you that debt is the person who must himself bear the cost. If you smash somebody's window, you have inflicted the cost of that window upon the person. It is not good enough to say to that person, "Please forgive me." He can forgive you, but that glass is not restored by saying, "I forgive you." He has to pay for the glass. A concrete damage has been done, and we saw in that Bible study, that the damage is just as concrete. When it is not physical, I can damage a person very much in his emotions. I can damage a person in his mind and I can damage a person in his spirit. And that kind of damage is worse even than material damage. A piece of glass can be replaced without too much trouble. I can inflict physical damage; a wound can heal though the scars may remain forever. But a wound to one's spirit can leave scars for eternity. So, the wound to material things is very little; the wound to the body is more; the wound to the spirit is incalculable. That is why Jesus said, "If you cause any man to stumble, if you harm him and damage him spiritually, the cost that is going to come to you is incalculable." So, first, we must notice then that sin is not a light thing which we can simply shrug off by making an apology to God, to say, "God, I am sorry." It is not quite so simple. You have caused damage in the spiritual area, and somebody has to pay for that damage .
We have just noticed that whatever the thing is, the higher the value, the greater the cost. The spiritual things are far more valuable than material things; therefore, the cost is a lot higher. If I break this cup, it may cost maybe a dollar or two. If this cup were made of gold and I smashed it, that would be a different story. If this cup were made of crystal and I smashed it, I might be in debt to the tune of $20,000 and not $2. It is what you have damaged.
In The Spiritual Realm, We Cannot
Pay The Debt Caused By Sin
No Matter How Great Our Sin, God Is Always Ready
But you must first have the humility to repent. And always remember this: no matter how great is your sin, He will forgive. It is almost incredible for us to believe it, but that is His teaching. And no matter how you sin against God, He will always forgive you. Always remember that. But notice here: Judas did not go back to Jesus; he did not ask for forgiveness. What he did not ask, he did not get. So, if we come to God and ask His forgiveness, He will certainly forgive. But, in the case of the Christian, I have to warn you too, He may also bring a certain amount of discipline upon you. But He will still have your sins certainly forgiven.
Forgiveness Can Be Revoked If We Are
Complacent And Secure In It
Here was a person who, like any Christian, comes to God and repents of his sin. Was he sincere? Well, however sincere he was, God forgave him, just as you have been forgiven when you repented of your sins. Was he not genuinely forgiven? Sure he was genuinely forgiven! His debt was cleared. The king said, "Your $12M debt is gone. You are free now. You can go." That is exactly our experience when we come to God and we say, "Lord, forgive me. I am a sinner. I come to you without one plea. I stand under Your mercy. You can do anything with me that You like. I know You can sell me off. You can put me in to the tormentors, to the torturers. But have mercy upon me!" And God forgives us our sins. Then what happens? Well, he goes out, and what does he do? He grabs hold of this fellow servant of his and demands his 28 bucks. Notice again: although he had been forgiven, and genuinely forgiven right at the start, but because he treated this fellow servant in this sort of way, what happened to him? His debt which had been forgiven before was revoked; his forgiveness was revoked. If you, brothers and sisters, are going to live in the complacency of a "once saved, always saved" doctrine, you had better find some scriptural foundations for it. You had better make sure you know what the Bible says, not what some pastor says, but what the Bible says.
We Must Prove Worthy Of The Forgiveness We Have
That is why the Apostle Paul says, for example, in Eph. 4:1, Col. 1:10, 1 Thess. 2:12, again and again, he warns the Christians to walk worthy of the Lord. What does that mean? He says, "Walk worthy of the Lord. I warn you! I plead with you because if you do not, you might end up finding that you were discarded; you were disqualified." This is another element in the teaching of Jesus, "lest I myself, having preached to others, become disqualified." [1 Cor. 9:27] What does he mean by 'disqualified'? You think about it. [It is] that I prove myself unworthy! Being a Christian, I say to you, even if you are not a Christian, is no easy thing. It is not a simple business of: "I believe in God", "I believe in Jesus", [as if it is] just so simple. It means here that unless there is a genuine change in your attitude towards other people as a result of your being forgiven by God, unless your whole attitude towards people changes, you can call yourself a Christian to the end of your days and God does not know who you are. Think about it. It is a question of worthiness. Those invited to the feast were not worthy. They were invited, yes, but they were not worthy. So, they did not taste of the feast. The whole teaching of Jesus regarding worthiness is this: once you become a Christian, do not ever sit back and become complacent, and say, "OK, now. I am OK. I am all fixed for heaven." I thank God, in His wisdom, He never allowed us to call this kind of thing 'assurance.' You call that 'assurance'? I tell you what that is. That is not assurance. That is self-deception! That is complacency.
'Assurance' in the Bible is something completely different. 'Assurance' in the Bible means that when you are walking in the light, in fellowship with God, in obedience to His command, the Holy Spirit witnesses with your spirit that you are a child of God. That is 'assurance' according to the Bible. If you have not got the inner witness of the Holy Spirit that you are a child of God, then anything you call 'assurance' is pure self-deception. Have you got the witness of the Spirit? We are going to study that in Romans Chapter 8 in two or three weeks' time, the 'assurance' by which I know I am a child of God. I do not live by guesswork. I know I am a child of God. But that assurance does not give me any ground for complacency to behave and say to myself, "Oh, OK, I am a Christian now." Nothing is so deadly for the Christian and for the church in these days and for these self-assured, complacent, self-congratulating Christians. Do not be among this pathetic group of so-called Christians. You must prove worthy of the Gospel. As Peter says to the people he was writing to, "make your election and calling sure". [2 Pet. 1:10] That is, prove worthy of your high calling. If you do not, you might find on that Day that God does not know you at all. You are not a Christian at all.
God Deals With Us In The Same Way We Deal With
Now the Bible puts this truth in many, many ways. It means this: If you are unkind to your brother, your sister, your mother, your wife, your husband, whoever you are, God is going to be unkind to you. And in the measure as you are kind to them, that is the measure you prove worthy of that grace. Try to understand this. If I am rude and mean to a person, I need not think that God is ever going to be kind to me. But if I am kind to a person, only a little bit, I might receive a little kindness from the Lord, too. Can you understand the principle that is behind this? Try and understand it. At first, you might find it difficult, but as you go on, it will become clearer and clearer to you. The wisdom of God is this: He makes you to be the judge of how you are going to be judged. In other words, you are going to end up being your own judge. That is exactly what Jesus said, "Out of your own mouth, you will be condemned, and out of your own mouth, you will be justified." [Mt. 12:37] In other words, you are going to pronounce your own sentence on yourself. Did you know that? Oh, the wisdom of God is incredible! It is just unbelievable. The more I read the Bible, the more I am amazed at the teaching. You know, on the Day of Judgment, you are going to discover something. You are going to discover that you were your own judge; you put the sentence on yourself. How? Insofar as you judged the other person, you have judged yourself.
That is the point of "loving your neighbor as yourself." Did you realize that? How is he? He is yourself, insofar as whatever you do to him, you have done to yourself. So, you had better love him as yourself because if you judge him, you have judged yourself as well. Do you find that hard to understand? You see, in whatever way you have dealt with other people, it shows that that is the way you consider a person should be dealt with. If you consider other people should be dealt with like this, why should you be dealt with any more differently? That is the point. Do you understand? If I am rude or cruel to this person, why should I expect anything better than that person? Do I think that I am better than he is? If I do, then I am fooling myself.
Put this in a different language. Many different pictures are used in the Bible to express this one and the same truth. For example, in Gal. 6:7, Paul puts the same truth in a different way. He says this: "Whatever you sow, you will reap". Do you see that? If you sow unkindness, you will reap unkindness. You get it back to yourself. If you sow kindness to the other person, you get kindness to yourself. That is the principle. Paul is using the same word, the same idea, put in a different picture to help you understand it. The Lord Jesus uses the same image again in Mt. 7:2. He says, "In the measure that you give will be the measure that you get." Can you understand that? Look at Mt. 7:2 then: "The measure you give is the measure that you get." That is why He said, "Do not judge," because the measure you give is the measure you [are judged with]. If I judge a person harshly, I am going to be judged harshly. The measure I give [is] the measure I get. If I judge a person kindly, I will be judged kindly. If I do not judge at all, I will not be judged at all. Do you understand? Oh, the wisdom of God is incredible. The only problem is - as the problem of a teacher - trying to get those who hear to understand. Therefore, if I am going to be forgiven, I must forgive.
Now, do you understand the 'as' [in] "Forgive me as I forgive"? If I do not forgive, neither will I be forgiven. Vv14&15 say exactly that, "If you forgive, you will be forgiven. If you do not forgive, you will not be forgiven." It is such an incredible truth. It can be summed up in these words: God will deal with you as you deal with others. So, next time you deal with others, think about it. God will deal with you as you deal with others. Any other person - it does not matter: you deal with a child like that, you deal with an grown-up like that, you deal with anybody like that - how you deal with them will be the measure that you will be dealt with. That shows how a Christian had better walk carefully and learn to walk worthily of the Lord. Do you think life does not matter, i.e., what kind of a life you live? Oh, it matters very much. That means, too, when I love a person with everything I have got, I am going to be loved by God with everything He has got. That is worth it.
That is the principle of the Christian life. You learn that secret, you have learned everything that is worth learning, as far as living the Christian life is concerned. You keep something back to yourself and God is going to keep something back from you. So, you think about it. When you do not want to live for God, when you want to hold back something to yourself, you think about it, how much you are going to lose. If you live for God, He lives for you. You live for yourself, and that is the finish. That is the end of it. He is not going to live for you. Nothing avails for you. That is the vital principle of the Christian life that Jesus is telling us here, that God deals with us, and I say it one more time, because it cannot be repeated often enough, God is going to deal with you as you deal with other people. That is the principle that you must understand.
Once we realize this, my, how it is going to affect our relationship to other people! Next time I am inclined to lose my temper with somebody, I think, "Wait a minute! If God loses His temper with me, I am going to be in trouble. No, sir, I'm not going to have this. I remember every time I pass judgment on him, I pass judgment on myself. No, no! I'm not going to try this at all." Judge not! That is why it says, "Judge not, that you be not judged." [Mt. 7:1] If you want to exercise the luxury of judging, you go ahead, but you are going to be judged according to the same principle that you have laid down for judging others. And if those big, loud mouths in so many churches realize that, who are talking behind other people's backs, slandering other people and saying unkind things, dear me! I would not like to be in their shoes when God is going to settle His accounts with them.
Our Obligation To Forgive - Seventy
Strangely enough, there are some Christians who do just that. You know, when I was in London once - I never forget that incident - I was moving into a flat with two brothers. Here they call it an apartment; in London, we call it a flat. I was moving into this apartment with two brothers and they were due to come at an appointed hour. I think it was 9:00 in the morning or something. So, I was ready and waiting. Nobody turned up! From 9:00 it came to 10:00, then 11:00. There was a telephone, but nobody ever rang. I did not know what was happening. Two-and-a-half hours later, they turned up all smiles, saying, "We're sorry; we are late. You don't mind, do you?" I said, "No, it's OK. That's fine." One turned to the other - and this is what I will never forget - and said, "You see, I told you! I told you that Eric is a kind of person who will always forgive you." He said to the other person, "You see, if you did this to anybody else, he would be red in the face and fuming angry by now. But you look at Eric, he is very quiet. He does not take it that way at all. He always forgives you." I thought to myself, "Dear me, so that is what being a Christian is." He knows me so well that it does not matter, that he can keep me waiting two-and-a-half hours and he knows at the end of it that I will say, "OK. That is all right. Don't worry." So, keep him waiting two-and-a-half hours. What does it matter? So we find that the Christian becomes very exposed. That means to say that you can take advantage of him any amount of times; he will always forgive you. It is so nice to have good Christians around. You can stamp on their toes, yet they will always forgive you.
Sin Is Always Offense Against God
So, remember this, the scriptural teaching is this: as we pray this prayer, we are asking God to forgive us. The prayer is not addressed to man; it is addressed to God. Why? It is because, ultimately, the Bible tells us, any sin you commit against anybody is sin against God. That is the point of sin. You have sinned against someone else; you have broken God's command. This is the reason why David says in Psalm 51, "Against thee, thee only, have I sinned". No, no, David you did not sin only against God; you sinned against Uriah. But why then did David say, "I have sinned only against You"? It is because he knows that ultimately that all sin is against God. That is the point, that in the end, He is the One that is only concerned about it.
I can forgive you, but the question is, "Does God forgive?" That is a more important question. This really means this: that when I forgive a person, what have I done? I have said, "I am not going to judge you. I am not qualified to judge you." But now I have passed on the judgment to God. Now it is between God and you. It is not between you and me. So you remember this: that whenever we commit sin against a brother and a sister, do not think, "Well, he said I am forgiven, so that's OK. That's finished." It is not finished! So remember, then, the important things that we see in this passage, that becoming a Christian vitally affects our relationship to other people. It means that our whole attitude to other people must become different. But if not, then we are going to be judged according to our attitude to other people. Think about it. Next time, as I say, if you are going to lose your temper, or you are going to be mean, or you are going to be nasty, and you say, "I am a Christian, it's all right, I've got my seat reserved in heaven," let me tell you, "Stop kidding yourself" because God is going to judge you according to the measure in which you have judged the other. So we see in conclusion that in whatsoever that we have dealt with others, that is the way in which God is going to deal with us. Becoming a Christian is not simply a matter of my relationship with God, a personal, private affair that does not concern anybody else. When you become a Christian, on the contrary, you become involved with everybody else. That is the reason why if any time you have been ungracious, unkind, rude, unforgiving, harsh, or ill-tempered towards anybody else, I tell you, you had better rush to the throne of grace, and say, "Lord, forgive me. I beg of You", because, otherwise, God is going to treat you in exactly the same way.
Torment For The Unforgiving; Sonship
For Those Worthy Of Forgiveness
Notice again when we studied earlier on in Matthew, when it says, "that you may become the sons of your Father in heaven", that you may be worthy of being His sons. If not, you might find that He does not recognize you as son at all. Oh, the importance of this teaching I hope each one of us truly appreciates and takes to heart. So, I say to you then, brothers and sisters, remember this, we have a high calling and it matters what kind of a life we live. God is ultimately concerned with the purity of His Church, the quality of our lives. God cannot stand the kind of Christian that is neither here nor there, neither hot or cold, indifferent towards people, who behaves in a nondescript fashion. Remember this: if God behaves towards us in the way that we behave towards Him and towards others, ask yourself the sort of life you are living now, will you really make it? Will you prove worthy of His forgiveness? We love Him because He first loved us. He first loved us, and therefore, we love Him, but make sure that we do love Him. And the way we love Him, John tells us, is seen in the way we love others. John says, "If you do not love the brother you can see, how can you love God who you do not see." [1 Jn. 4:20] It must be seen in our lives! That is absolutely vital, so that there may be a church that really reflects the glory of God. That is what we are called to. So, remember again these vital words: "...forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors." If we do not forgive, neither will we be forgiven. In what measure we give, that measure we will get.
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