The Unforgiving Servant:
With this parable begins the study of what we have called the second group of parables. (See the Beacon Lights of September). The parables thus far studied were spoken first, and all treated of the origin and growth of the kingdom. This group was spoken second, after the sending out of the seventy and before the final stay in Jerusalem. All of these treat spiritual- moral relationships in the kingdom. In them Jesus illustrates how the children of the kingdom must behave toward one another and toward God. They all have direct, practical bearing upon our life and behavior.
The first of these is the parable of the Unmerciful (better: Unforgiving) Servant. The Scripture passage is Matt. 18:23-35. Don’t fail to read the passage from Scripture first!
Briefly, the story of the parable runs as follows: A king made an accounting of his servants. One was brought who owed him an enormous debt, which he could not pay and for which he was ordered to be sold, together with all his, that payment might be made. The man pleaded for patience and the king moved with compassion forgave him all his debt. But this same servant had the audacity to go out and pounce upon a fellow-servant who owed him a paltry sum, insisting upon immediate payment. This fellow-servant pleaded for time but the man just shortly before forgiven his own enormous debt showed no mercy at all. He cast the man into prison. The other servants of the king saw this and were grieved and reported it to the lord. Again the lord calls the servant, this time severely condemning him for refusal to show mercy and, recalling his previous discharge of the debt, casts him into prison until the enormous debt is paid.
Every parable has one chief lesson. Also, this parable. The lesson taught is the duty and necessity of forgiving one another; if Christians refuse to forgive one another, neither will God forgive them their sins. That this is the lesson is evident if the parable be taken in connection both with the preceding and with the concluding application of Jesus Himself. The “therefore” of vs. 23 points to the fact that Jesus spoke this parable to lay emphasis upon His previous assertion, especially the assertion made in vs. 22. In the entire chapter Jesus had spoken of the high esteem in which each child of God must be held (Woe unto him that offends one of these little ones). He had called attention to the procedure of love in which we must labor to restore the brother that sins, with a view to gaining him if possible. And then when Peter asked how often we should forgive a brother that sins against us, and had suggested seven times, Jesus emphatically declared, “I say not unto thee. Until seven times; but, until seventy times seven’’. Seventy times seven means: ever be ready to forgive his sins against you. And now, to illustrate and emphasize the necessity for Christians ever to be ready to forgive, Jesus “therefore” told this parable. In view of this context, the one main lesson of the duty and necessity of forgiving is plain. But, not only does the preceding point out the lesson, also the applicatory conclusion of vs. 35 does so. This conclusion is drawn, “So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not everyone his brother their trespasses.” This means that God will not forgive but punish him that refuses to show mercy. You cannot live by mercy, if you will not show it.
We take it that it is self-evident that the king represents God; the servant, the sinner indebted to God; the fellow-servant, his brother indebted to him: the fellow-servants are the fellow-church members who are grieved when one Christian refuses to forgive the other.
Questions: The servant’s debt amounted to ten thousand talents. If these are talents of gold, what sum in American currency was involved? If talents of silver, what sum? What sum does the fellow-servant’s debt of a hundred pence represent? Why should man’s debt toward God be represented as ten thousand talents, while that of the brother’s debt as a hundred pence? Why did the man owe forgiveness to his fellow-servant? Mention various ways in which this man revealed a wicked attitude toward his fellow-servant. Why did the fellow-servants grieve? Do Christians frequently need the reminder of this parable? Prove your point.
Various problems arise in connection with this parable. The first regards the question: Does the parable teach a final falling away from grace? The Arminian denies that ‘Once God’s child, always God’s child’, and maintains that this parable shows that one can be forgiven of God, later make himself unworthy, and lose God’s forgiveness and be cast into hell. We of Reformed persuasion emphatically reject the doctrine of the full and complete falling away from grace, insisting that it is un-Scriptural. We leave its discussion to you.
The second problem regards the relation of God’s forgiveness to ours. Does God’s forgiveness of our sins depend upon our forgiveness of the brother? The answer should be negative, of course. God’s forgiveness is independent, it is first, it is complete, it is eternal. We should add that a Christian, truly forgiven of God, is a re-born man, and a re-born man will by God’s grace also bring forth fruits of repentance and be willing to forgive those that sin against him. However, because of indwelling sin this is a battle. Hence, we must frequently be admonished and reminded, and grow also in this grace.
Questions: How would you disprove the contention that a Christian truly forgiven of God can wholly lose this forgiveness and perish? Prove that a Christian may temporarily fall from grace. Why will a true Christian, walking in sanctification, be willing and eager to forgive his brother? Can we in our conscience experience the joy of being forgiven if we will not forgive? Why not, if not? Why does vs. 35 add “from your hearts”? Why is it impossible to be saved if one steadfastly refuses to give forgiveness to a brother?
The Good Samaritan:
This parable may be read in Luke 10:30-35. It clearly teaches the duty of playing the part of neighbor toward all with whom we come into contact and not only toward those that are our friends. A Christian should be merciful, desirous and willing to aid those in distress—he should be that toward all those he comes into contact with.
The occasion that called forth a parable often sheds light upon the one chief lesson taught in the parable. Such is also the case in this instance. Vss. 25-29 furnish the setting for this parable. A lawyer came to Jesus with the question, “Master, what shall l do to inherit eternal life?” However, he did not come in earnestness, he was not a seeking soul: on the contrary, he came to tempt Jesus, that is, to show Him up, to catch Him in His words, to get something on Jesus, to accuse Him. Jesus, knowing the heart, counters with a question in which he asks him what is written in the law. After the lawyer correctly summarizes the law as teaching, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart. . . . ; and thy neighbor as thy self”, Jesus said, “Thou hast answered right: this do and thou shalt live’’. Thereby the man’s attempt to catch Jesus had come to naught, and “willing to justify himself”, that is, intending still to catch Jesus in some wrong statement, he (undoubtedly in somewhat of a sarcastic way) put the question, “And who is my neighbor?’’
It is that question, “Who is my neighbor?” that is answered in the parable. Notice, that Jesus does not enter into a theological dispute about the question, but He by implication clearly and pointedly settles the matter with this parable. Notice further, that Jesus really turns the question about. At the conclusion of the parable he asks, “Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbor unto him that fell among the thieves?” The Samaritan did not go about asking “Who is my neighbor?” but he played the part of neighbor toward a Jew in distress.
In connection with the lawyer’s question it ought to be borne in mind that the wicked Jews had made God’s law of love toward the neighbor of none effect by teaching that one’s neighbor excluded the Gentiles and even one’s enemies. See Matt. 5:43—they taught “Love your neighbor, and hate your enemy”. As Jesus condemned that interpretation in the Sermon on the Mount, so he also did here by implication in this parable.
Taken in the light of vs. 87, “Go. and do thou likewise” the clear teaching of the parable is the duty of mercifulness toward all that are in distress, irrespective of nationality, etc.
The picture of vs. 30, of a man that had fallen into the hands of thieves and robbers and left bleeding at the wayside is a very striking one. Such things must have happened even in Palestine. It is said that the road from Jerusalem to Jericho was a dangerous one: it led through a wilderness region and was frequented by marauding brigands. Robbed and beaten and left at the wayside to die—what a picture of man’s inhumanity to man! As true today as then. The man left to die must be thought of as a Jew. The distance from Jerusalem to Jericho was about twenty-one miles. Perhaps the man was going home from a visit to the temple?
First Jesus, in the story, lets a priest come by. Priests were privileged to serve God in the temple, and their duty was to represent the people to God. They, of all men, should have been the most consecrated to God and to His people, and full of mercy. Especially this priest, who was on his way home from Jerusalem and had undoubtedly just finished his temple- service. But the priest passed by “on the other side”; hard-hearted and unmerciful.
Then Jesus lets a Levite come by. He. too, was busy in the service of God and His temple, be it only as a common Levite. This man “came and looked” on the wounded man, and then passed by on the other side also. He had the heart to take a look, and then go on, leaving the man unattended and unaided!
Says Edersheim, “It was the principle of questioning, ‘Who is my neighbor?’ which led both priest and Levite to such heartless conduct. Who knew what this wounded man was, and how he came to lie there; and were they called upon, in ignorance of this, to take all the trouble, perhaps incur the risk of life, which care of him would involve? Thus Judaism (in the person of its chief representatives) had, by its exclusive attention to the letter, come to destroy the spirit of the Law.” Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus, Vol. II, p. 239.
Finally, Jesus lets a Samaritan pass by. The Samaritans were a mixed race, with a temple of their own, occupying the land of Samaria (between Judea and Galilee). They were hated of the Jews, John 4:9ff. It is one of these despised semi-heathens that put the priest and the Levite to shame, and showed mercy: mercy in giving first aid, mercy in seating him on his
donkey and bringing the man to an inn, mercy in leaving the necessary money for his care, mercy in promising to pay the rest of the bill if it should still be more.
Questions: How did the Jewish interpreters explain ‘love thy neighbor’? Who were the Samaritans, and what was the Jews’ attitude toward them? May a church limit its duty of charity toward those in its own midst? Should a Christian give toward the Community Chest and the Red Cross? Is there need of emphasizing the duty of mercifulness today? Does mercifulness toward all imply that a Christian may company with all men?
The Impertinent Friend:
The parable itself is contained in the vss. 5-8 of Luke 11. For the entire setting, it is well to read all the first thirteen verses of the chapter.
The parable speaks of the coming of a traveler to the home of his friend at mid-night. He has had a long and wearying journey, and is hungry as well as tired, but the friend-host has not the necessary food to feed him. Hence, he goes to the home of one of his friends, even though it is mid-night and he and his family are in bed. and shamelessly knocks until he receives the needed food. Shamelessly, we wrote, because the Greek word translated “importunity” in vs. 8 means exactly that. He shamelessly persists in knocking- even though the man does not feel much like getting up, even though iris family may be awakened. He does not quit until he has received the three loaves he needs to entertain his traveler-friend properly. And the man at whose home he knocks finally arises and supplies his needs. Although he would not rise and give him because he was a friend, yet he did it because of his insistent knocking.
The lesson of the parable is simply that God certainly hears and answers prayer. If the friend granted the request, God most certainly will not, of course, to get rid of His people’s botherings, as did the man in the parable. That part of the parable does not apply to God: God willingly hears His faithful people. That God answers His people’s prayers and that He answers them willingly is plainly taught in vss. 9:13. This presupposes that His people pray for what they need (vs. 8); for the Holy Spirit (vs. 13): for bread, fish and eggs, and not stones, serpents and scorpions. Praying for the things that they need, they must boldly, constantly and persistently approach God’s throne. They shall receive them, ask and it shall be given.
The parable does not teach, as some claim, prayer in the face of apparent refusal to hear. Thus, some would interpret the fact that the friend knocks, while the man within at first is unwilling to hear. It is true that in the parable the man did not receive at once, but nothing in the application Jesus makes in vss. 9-13 comes back on this. On the contrary, the point of this parable is the unhesitating, bold approach to God at any time and any hour in which we have need. Men may hesitate to answer at inconvenient hours: for God, every hour is convenient. Whenever His people need Him, He is ready to answer. Prayer is most certainly answered, always answered. Hence, let His people boldly pray, in the assurance of being heard.
Questions: For what ought Christians to pray? Does God always hear the cry of those that pray? Does God grant every petition? If not, why not? May we pray for the cessation of the present European conflict? Does God hear the prayer of the wicked? Prov. 16:8, 29. Should we conduct special Prayer Meetings in our churches? Can we expect God’s blessing without prayer?
The Covetous Fool:
Usually this parable, found in Luke 12:16-21, is called the parable of the Rich Fool. However, it would be better to call it the Parable of the Covetous Fool—the fool’s sin was not his riches, but his covetousness.
“The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully”, thus Jesus begins this parable. There is no cause to think that this rich man gained his possessions by unlawful means — “the ground brought forth plentifully” would seem to suggest that he acquired his possessions lawfully. God in His providence made him very successful in his farming. He was successful, but not blessed. The rich man “thought within himself”. He did not seek guidance of God, he did not address himself to God, he did not go to the Scriptures, he did not think of the poor and needy—all his thoughts were only of himself, and in himself. As he has no more room for his crops, he decides to enlarge his barns: he construes all his wealth merely as a means to secure his future. The thoughts of the heavenly treasure, of laying up treasures in heaven, are far from him. He feeds his “soul” on material, earthly things. His wealth is his god and trust, Prov. 18:11. In his own thoughts this man is very wise. God thinks other. God calls him a “fool”. This very night God will require his soul from him. He will be called to account, for God will take him away. And he cannot carry these goods along. As utterly foolish he reaps his reward, and leaves all his goods behind.
The lesson of the parable is evident in various ways. In the light of the context, it is a warning against covetousness. According to vs. 13. while Jesus was speaking to His disciples against the leaven of the Pharisees, a certain man abruptly put the question, “Master, speak to my brother, that lie divide the inheritance with me”. Jesus lets the man know that He has no authority to do this (vs. 1-1), and then in vs. 15 turns about to warn the disciples against covetousness, “Take heed, and beware of covetousness. . . .” While Jesus had been teaching, the questioner had been thinking of his inheritance— that was covetousness. But all His disciples must take heed and beware of covetousness. To emphasize this Jesus told this story, a cogent warning against covetousness (covetousness in the sense of seeking the earthly and material treasures as an end in themselves, to satisfy the insatiable longing after the things of earth and not after God). Finally, Jesus’ own application of the parable emphasizes the lesson not to seek after the earthly things. He said. “So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” Hence everyone that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God in the spiritual things of God’s kingdom, is just such a covetous fool, whose end is perdition.
Questions: Is it true that a man may acquire riches, if he only acquires them lawfully? May a man use his possessions and goods as he pleases? Is it in itself evil to lay up goods for old age? Proof? Why does God call the man “fool”? How must the Christian fight against the sin of covetousness? Do you think that the frequent lack of money for kingdom-work is perhaps due to covetousness?
Proper Attitude Toward Material Things:
It ought to be noted that the Word of God passes on from this warning against covetousness to an exhortation against all anxiety and to wholehearted trust in God. See vss. 22-34. God’s children should seek the true riches with undivided attention, in faith, for God has assured that all that we need of the earthly goods during our sojourn below will certainly be added unto us. Seek the kingdom and its righteousness. In so far as we do not seek the heavenly, eternal things, in so far as we do not have wholehearted trust, we too are guilty of covetousness and are foolish.