Theme: Offenses and Forgiveness
In this week’s lesson we see a man forgiven, but unforgiving
“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.”
We concluded yesterday’s story with the king turning the debtor over to a jailer. At that point the story is finished, and we might wish that Jesus had stopped there. But he had this additional disturbing word: “This is how my heavenly father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart” (v. 35). That is troubling because it seems to imply a “works” salvation, that is, if you forgive others (a work), you will be forgiven. But even if it does not teach that, it seems to imply a continuance in grace by means of works. We may be saved by grace; but if we fail to act rightly, God may cancel his forgiveness and have us thrown into hell anyway. That is unacceptable for several reasons. So some have tried to work out ways of getting around it.
l. Evasion number one: Jesus did not mean what he said. Some regard the parable as simple hyperbole, an exaggerated statement given for its emotional or rhetorical effect. According to these writers, Jesus did not mean to say that God would send us to hell if we do not forgive our debtors, but only that forgiveness is an extremely important matter and that we really ought to be forgiving. We should forgive others just as God has forgiven us. But if we do not, we are not to suppose that we are not saved or that we will lose our salvation.
That approach is a bit childish, for it is just what children do. When a mother is about to go out, she instructs her children on what is to be done in her absence. She says, “I have to go to the store for a few minutes. I want you to use the time when I’m gone to straighten up your rooms. Make your beds. Hang up your clothes. Put the toys back in the toy box. Don’t waste time watching television. Do you understand that?”
“Yes,” the children answer.
“And you’re going to do it? You’re not going to put it off so I find your rooms still a mess when I come back?”
“Oh, no,” the children say, “we’ll do it.”
The mother goes out. When she comes back the rooms are exactly the way they were and the children are watching television. What do they say when she asks why they haven’t cleaned up their rooms? They say, “Rooms? Did you want us to clean up our rooms? We must have misunderstood you. We thought you wanted us to do it tomorrow.”
2. Evasion number two: applying the words to someone else. According to this view, Jesus meant what he said, but his words do not apply to people living in this age. Jesus’ teaching was for Jews living under the law and it does not apply to us. We are justified by faith apart from works. God’s forgiveness does not depend in any way on our forgiveness of others and is, in fact, not even linked to it. That is like speeding down a highway and then, when you see the police car coming with its siren sounding and light flashing, you hope that it is going after someone else. That won’t work. It is not to other people but to us that Jesus is speaking.
3. Evasion number three: rejecting the rest of the New Testament. The first two of these evasions are found in evangelicalism, but the third is not. It is that of liberalism, which instead of trying to get around Jesus’ teaching, actually delights in it by sacrificing the New Testament. The liberal says, “Here we are getting to the heart of that beautiful and simple gospel that Jesus actually taught. He is not teaching the later Pauline doctrine of justification by faith in a so-called work of atonement. This is merely that beautiful teaching of doing to others as we would want them to do to us. Since God forgives us, we should want to forgive everyone.”
Jesus is not repudiating Paul, of course. In fact, we can tell from even the most casual reading of the verse that if we do not forgive others, God is going to send us to hell. That is not the gospel of liberalism! No. Another way of understanding these words is needed. We will present this in tomorrow’s study.
What is troubling about a works salvation?
How have some explained this parable to sidestep a works salvation? What is wrong with each explanation?
Pray that you will genuinely forgive others.