Grace Hoarder

The Holy Spirit recently showed me a passage of the Bible that I’m very familiar with in a new light. It is the parable Jesus shares in Matthew 18:21-35:

21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. 23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. 26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins.  He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. 29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’ 30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened. 32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. 35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

There is a lot going on here. First, Peter thinks he’s showing off by asking if he should forgive seven times, when the Jewish standard of the day was three. Jesus tells him no, 77 times. Other translations say 70 times 7, but the point remains the same, Peter whiffed badly.

Next, the debt the first servant owes is difficult to convert to the 21st century, but it’s north of a half-billion dollars in our economy. Jesus is intentionally making repaying the debt unthinkable, let alone forgiving it. The second servant owes the first servant about $7,000 in today’s dollars, a micro-pittance compared to what the first servant owed.

What’s at work here is mercy and grace. The master showed the first servant mercy by not giving him what he deserved: moving against him and his family to repay the debt. The master then showed grace by giving him what he didn’t deserve, cancellation of the debt. The first servant showed neither to the second and was severely punished for it. Jesus cautions us that this is how God the Father will treat us unless we show both mercy and grace to others. What the Spirit revealed to me that was new is that we can be misled by Jesus using large financial debt. How often do I rejoice in the immeasurable grace Jesus shows me while being stingy with grace to others? The answer: far too often:

  • When someone speeds ahead of me to move into my lane, rather than drop behind me, do I tap the brakes to let them in or do I accelerate to close the gap ahead of me?
  • When I’m convinced that I’m right and the other person is wrong, do I immediately whip out my phone (I often have) to prove my case, or can I let it go?

Author Paul Tripp puts a fine point on it:

“For the believer, harsh, critical, impatient, and irritated responses to others are always connected to forgetting or denying who we are and what we have been given in Jesus. It is very clear that no one gives grace better than a person who is deeply convinced of his own need of it and who is cogently aware of the grace he has been, and is being, given.”

That was the Spirit’s “ouch” moment for me. When I fail to extend grace in “the small things,” Jesus sees me the way he saw the first servant, receiving God’s grace and hoarding it. When it comes to grace, there are no “small things.” A heart in a constant state of gratitude to God for the grace received will make extending grace to others nearly effortless.  Don’t hoard or try to produce for yourself what Jesus gave everything for, so you can have it for free and share it liberally!

— Pastor Jerry Bader

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