We must take to heart this word from Christ’s parable: “O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt. . . . Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?” (Matthew 18:32-33).
The question for every Christian is this: “Do I forgive my brethren? Do I put up with their differences?” If I refuse to love and forgive them, even as I have been forgiven, Jesus calls me a “wicked servant.”
Don’t misunderstand; this doesn’t mean we are to allow compromise. Paul preached grace boldly, but he instructed Timothy, “Reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Timothy 4:2). We are to be bold guardians of pure doctrine.
Yet we are not to use doctrine to build walls between us. That was the sin of the Pharisees. The law told them, “Keep the Sabbath holy,” but the command itself wasn’t enough for their flesh. They added their own safeguards, multiple rules and regulations that allowed the fewest possible physical movements on the Sabbath. The law also said, “Do not take God’s name in vain.” But the Pharisees built even more walls, saying, “We won’t even mention God’s name. Then we won’t be able to take it in vain.”
What was the king’s response to his servant’s ingratitude in Jesus’ parable? Scripture says, “His lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him” (Matthew 18:34). In Greek, this translates, “taken to the bottom to be tormented.” I can’t help thinking Jesus is speaking here of hell.
So, what does this parable tell us? How does Christ sum up His message to His disciples, His closest companions? “So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses” (18:35).
As I read this parable, I shudder. It makes me want to fall on my face and ask Jesus for a baptism of love toward my fellow servants. Here is my prayer and I urge you to make it yours as well: “God, forgive me. I am so easily provoked by others, and too often I respond in anger. Yet, I don’t know where my own life would be without Your grace and forbearance. I am amazed at Your love. Please help me to understand and accept Your love for me fully. Then I’ll be able to to be patient with my brethren, in your Spirit of love and mercy.”
What is behind judgmental strife? Why do servants of God, who have been forgiven so much personally, mistreat their brethren and refuse to fellowship with them? It can be traced back to the most grievous sin possible: despising the goodness of God.
I came to this conclusion only as I searched my own heart for the answer. I recalled my personal struggle to accept God’s mercy and goodness toward me. For years, I had lived and preached under a legalistic bondage. I tried hard to live up to standards that I thought led to holiness. But it was mostly just a list of dos and don’ts.
The truth is, I was more comfortable in the company of thundering prophets than I was at the cross, where my need was laid bare. I preached peace, but I never fully experienced it. Why? Because I was unsure of the Lord’s love and His forbearance of my failures. I saw myself as being so weak and evil that I was unworthy of God’s love. In short, I magnified my sins above His grace.
Because I didn’t feel God’s love for me, I judged everyone else. I saw others in the same way that I perceived myself: as compromisers. This affected my preaching. I railed against evil in others as I felt it rise up in my own heart. Like the ungrateful servant, I hadn’t believed God’s goodness toward me (see Matthew 18:32-33). And because I didn’t appropriate His loving forbearance for me, I didn’t have it for others.
Finally, the real question became clear to me. It was no longer, “Why are so many Christians hard and unforgiving?” Now I asked, “How can I possibly fulfill Christ’s command to love others as He loved me, when I’m not convinced He loves me?”
Paul admonishes, “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: and be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:31-32).
Jesus says: “Every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:2).
Christians who bear fruit get pruned? That’s not what most of us expect from a life of service to God. Deep down most of us expect a reward. After all, isn’t that fair?
What Jesus says here is counterintuitive and countercultural. When I grew up, it was tough to get a compliment for any achievement. Today, if a child merely participates in a team sport, he or she is awarded a trophy. Don’t think I’m some bitter old guy who thinks he never got his due. And I’m all for the amazing support many parents give their children today. But our society is starting to discover a negative effect of coddling our children. It teaches them to hate being corrected and when they’re celebrated for everything they do, they believe everything they do is right.
This describes much of the church today. As Christians, we enjoy unconditional love but we hate being corrected. In His analogy of the vine, Jesus says our Father wants us to know a deeper love than that of a coddling parent. Our loving God says, in effect, “Yes, you’re bearing good fruit, and that pleases Me. But I want to increase your joy of abundant life. And I will accomplish that by pruning you further.”
“He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” Most of us do not get this concept. My wife and I learned it the hard way last year when a gardener took a pruning blade to our plants. We returned from a trip to find every green thing in our yard reduced to nubs. Our beautiful garden looked like the barren landscape of a lonely planet. We were ready to fire the guy!
But when spring came this year, every plant had doubled its blossoms. Each one had shot up faster and fuller, and what was once clutter was now clean and beautiful, with flowering fruit. God’s pruning work in our lives is like that. It isn’t easy on us—in fact, it’s painful. And it isn’t pretty—but it yields glorious fruit that could not have come in any other way.
Recent studies have predicted that by the year 2020 Islam will be the primary religion in Norway and all Scandinavian countries. If that is correct, we can expect to see it as the state religion in Norway within the next few years. That’s what has happened in every other country where Muslims developed a foothold.
It saddens me to see how little impact Christians have been making in Europe. We’ve been all but powerless in effectively reaching the lost—not only in European countries but in the United States. We pray for God to expand our territory, to help the Body of Christ grow and flourish, yet so few denominations are seeing that happen. Most are shrinking, and some are dying out altogether.
What will it take for God to finally grab hold and bring about the transformation that we need—the transformation we pray for? When will we finally rise up and make a serious dent in Satan’s foothold on the world?
The answer is so simple it feels strange to have to say it: We must trust in God for great miracles! We must rise together with contrite hearts and bold faith, asking God to make us mighty warriors for the kingdom. Like the young people who work with us—our Twelve Disciples—we must open our hearts and lives to God and allow Him to instill His passion for souls within us, to develop in our hearts a soul obsession. To break us, to use us, to empower us for service!
When you look at our small band of young people, these twelve unlikely heroes, these bruised and battered kids who own little more than a few sets of clothes and a raging fire of passion in their hearts, and you see how mightily God is using them on the front lines of battle, you begin to get just a small glimpse of what God can do with even the smallest ounce of faith. You see what it was that caused the early church to explode in numbers, drawing thousands to the faith from only a handful of disciples. You understand what it was that attracted people to the message—the message of Jesus. And you see how much God can accomplish with so very little.
“God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty” (1 Corinthians 1:27, NKJV).
Nicky Cruz, internationally known evangelist and prolific author, turned to Jesus Christ from a life of violence and crime after meeting David Wilkerson in New York City in 1958. The story of his dramatic conversion was told first in The Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson and then later in his own best-selling book Run, Baby, Run.
“Despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering: not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?” (Romans 2:4).
What does Paul mean when he says this person despises the riches of Christ’s goodness? The word for despised here means, “He could not think it possible.” In other words, this believer said, “Such grace and mercy isn’t possible. I can’t fathom it.” It didn’t fit into his theology. So, instead of accepting it, he set his mind against it.
Why couldn’t the ungrateful servant of Matthew 18:23-35 accept the king’s grace? There is one reason: he didn’t take seriously the enormity of his sin. Yet, the king had already told him, “You’re free. There’s no more guilt, no more claim upon you, no probation or works required. All you need to do now is focus on the goodness and forbearance I’ve shown to you.”
Tragically, a person who doesn’t accept love is not capable of loving anyone else. Instead, he becomes judgmental toward others. That’s what happened to this servant. He missed the whole point of the king’s mercy to him. You see, God’s forbearance and unmerited forgiveness are meant for one thing: to lead us to repentance. Paul asks, “Don’t you realize that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?”
It’s clear from the parable that this is the reason the master forgave his servant. He wanted this trusted man to turn away from his own works of flesh to rest in the king’s incredible goodness. Such rest would free him to love and forgive others in return. But instead of repenting, the servant went away doubting his master’s goodness. He determined to have a contingency plan. And despising the king’s mercy, he treated others with judgment.
Can you imagine the tortured mind of such a person? This man left a sacred place of forgiveness, where he experienced his master’s goodness and grace. But instead of rejoicing, he despised the thought of such unmitigated freedom. I tell you, any believer who thinks God’s goodness is impossible opens himself to every lie of Satan. His soul has no rest. His mind is in constant turmoil. And he’s continually fearful of judgment.
I wonder how many Christians today live this tortured existence. Is that why there is so much strife, so many divisions in the Body of Christ? Is it why so many ministers are at odds, why so many denominations refuse to fellowship with each other?