In the parable of Matthew 18:23-35 did the king overlook his servant’s sin? Did he wink at his debt and merely excuse it? No, not at all. The fact is, by forgiving him, the king placed upon this man a weighty responsibility, a responsibility even greater than the burden of his debt. Indeed, this servant now owed his master more than ever. How? He was responsible to forgive and love others, just as the king had done for him.
What an incredible responsibility this is. And it can’t be separated from Christ’s other kingdom teachings. After all, Jesus said, “If ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:15). His point is clear: “If you don’t forgive others, I won’t forgive you.” This word isn’t optional, it’s a command. Jesus is telling us, in essence, “I was forbearing with you. I handled you with love and mercy and I forgave you out of My goodness and mercy alone. Likewise, you are to be loving and merciful toward your brothers and sisters. You’re to forgive them freely, just as I forgave you. You’re to go into your home, your church, your workplace, into the streets, and show everyone the grace and love I showed you.”
Paul refers to Jesus’ command, saying, “Even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye” (Colossians 3:13). He then expounds on how we pursue obedience to this command: “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any. . . . Above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness” (3:12-14).
What does it mean to be forbearing? The Greek word means “to put up with, to tolerate.” This suggests enduring things we don’t like. We’re being told to tolerate the failures of others, to put up with ways we don’t understand.
Jesus gave the parable in Matthew 18:23-35 to show us an example of a trusted, gifted servant who is suddenly revealed to be the chief of all debtors. Here is someone who is undeserving, full of wrong motives, not worthy of compassion at all. Yet his master forgives him freely—just as Jesus did you and me.
Let me say a brief word here about repentance. This concept is often defined as a “turning around.” It speaks of an about-face, a 180-degree turn from one’s previous ways. Also, repentance is said to be accompanied by godly sorrow.
Yet, once again the New Covenant takes an Old Testament concept even further. Repentance is about much more than merely turning away from sins of the flesh—more than sorrowing over the past and being sad for grieving the Lord. According to Jesus’ parable, repentance is about turning away from the mind-sickness that allows us to believe we can somehow make up for our sins.
This sickness afflicts millions of believers. Whenever such Christians fall into sin, they think, “I can make things right with the Lord. I’ll bring Him sincere tears, more earnest prayer, more Bible reading. I’m determined to make it up to Him.” But that is impossible. This kind of thinking leads to one place: hopeless despair. Such people are forever struggling and always failing, and they end up settling for a false peace. They pursue a phony holiness of their own making, convincing themselves of a lie.
Tell me, what saved you? Was it your tears and earnest pleading? Your deep sorrow over grieving God? Your sincere resolve to turn from sin? No, it was none of these things. It was grace alone that saved you. And like the servant in the parable, you didn’t deserve it. In fact, you’re still not worthy of it, no matter how godly your walk is.
Here is a simple formula for true repentance: “I must turn aside, once and for all, every thought that I could ever repay the Lord. I can never work my way into His good graces. Therefore, no effort or good work on my part can wipe out my sin. I simply have to accept His mercy. It’s the only way to salvation and freedom.”
When revival broke out in Jerusalem, an angel spoke to the apostle Philip, instructing him to go to the Gaza desert where he would meet an Ethiopian diplomat riding in a chariot. Philip found the man reading aloud from the book of Isaiah, so he asked the official, “Understandest thou what thou readest?” (Acts 8:30).
Apparently, the diplomat was stuck on a passage that baffled him: “He made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied” (Isaiah 53:9-11).
Try to imagine the Ethiopian’s excitement as he read these wonderful things. Evidently, he was hungry for God or he would not have been reading the Scriptures. And now Isaiah’s prophecy revealed the coming of an eternal king. With every revelation, the diplomat’s thoughts must have mounted: “Who is this wonderful Man?”
First, “Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus” (Acts 8:35). Philip explained to the diplomat, “The Man you’re reading about has already come. His name is Jesus of Nazareth, and He is the Messiah.”
Next, Philip explained Isaiah 53:11:“He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied.” Philip told the diplomat, in essence, “Christ’s travail was the crucifixion. That’s when He was cut off and buried. But the Father raised Him from the dead and now He is alive in glory. Everyone who confesses His name and believes on Him becomes His child. Indeed, Christ’s seed lives in every nation. That’s how His life is prolonged—through the Holy Spirit in His children. And now you can be His child, too.”
What incredible news to the Ethiopian’s ears. It’s no wonder he was eager to leap out of his chariot and be baptized. “He answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him” (Acts 8:37-38).
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser” (John 15:1, ESV).
When Jesus refers to Himself as the “true” vine, He is talking about more than accurate information. “True” here carries the same sense as the phrase “true friend”—meaning real, genuine, authentic, on hand to support you with substance.
So what about the vinedresser, our heavenly Father? He tends His garden lovingly and perfectly. It’s His job to keep life flowing through us, and He can be trusted to put the right things into place to make them grow. Therefore, as we abide in Christ, attached to the vine, we don’t have to stress or worry about our lives. We are given true life-flow from Jesus and are caringly tended by our Father.
If we are grafted into the vine, shouldn’t we bear fruit naturally? We know we are saved and secure in Christ and graced by the Father’s love. How could fruit not come from this?
Again Jesus supplies the key word: “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me” (John 15:4). Here is another phrase that sets off alarms in a lot of Christians: “Unless you abide in me.” Some followers grow fearful when they read this. They create dos and don’ts that actually cut them off from true life.
It’s true that Jesus’ statement here is conditional, meaning that we have a part to play. But the other part of the equation is this: Jesus abides in us—and His presence in us is steadfast, stalwart, immovable: “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). When Christ says, “Unless you abide in Me,” He is not referring to our salvation—because our salvation was secured by Him on the cross. He is speaking of the fruit of the Spirit in our lives—our witness, our righteous walk, our joy and peace.
There is no better example of God’s moving mightily in a city than the account told in Acts 11:20-21: “Men from Cyprus and Cyrene went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks . . . telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.”
Such a harvest occurred that Barnabas was dispatched from Jerusalem to check things out. “When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad. . . . And a great number of people were brought to the Lord” (verses 23-24).
Who were these men who launched such a mighty church that it eventually surpassed the mother church in Jerusalem? We don’t know their names. We don’t know their methodology. But we do know a couple of things: They spread “the good news about the Lord Jesus,” and “The Lord’s hand was with them” (verses 20-21).
This turned out to be the first truly multicultural church, with multicultural leaders, according to Acts 13:1—Simon the Black, some Jewish leaders, some Greeks, Manaen, the boyhood friend of Herod (which would have made him suspect to everyone!), and others. Yet they worked together in a powerful model of cross-cultural unity.
The Jewish-Gentile hatred of the first century was even greater than our racial strife of today. God met this problem head-on, for He was building His church His way.
Racial feelings in New York City are worse now than they were ten years ago. A harsh spirit prevails in many churches. We desperately need the love of God to override theses tensions, as it did in Antioch long ago.
No novel teaching is going to turn the trick. There are no trendy shortcuts, no hocus-pocus mantras that can defeat Satan. One man told me, “You know, you ought to think about getting a topographical map of Brooklyn so you could figure out the highest point in the borough. Then you could go there and pray against the territorial spirits.”
Others are saying, “The key to releasing God’s power is to sing through the streets of your city. Put on a march, make banners, and declare God’s sovereignty in a big parade.” Still others say, “Rebuke the devil, face the north, and stamp your feet when you do it. That will bring victory.”
Let’s forget the novelties. If we prevail in prayer, God will do what only He can do. How He does things, when He does them, and in what manner are up to Him. The name of Jesus, the power of His blood, and the prayer of faith have not lost their power.
Jim Cymbala began Brooklyn Tabernacle with less than twenty members in a small, rundown building in a difficult part of the city. A native of Brooklyn, he is a longtime friend of both David and Gary Wilkerson and a frequent speaker at the Expect Church Leadership Conferences sponsored by World Challenge throughout the world.