It’s impossible to live in America and not be bombarded with politically charged rhetoric (especially this time of year). These days, one of the most popular discussions during debates and among the talking heads is the “debt crisis.” While “crisis” might seem a little dramatic, the United States of America is currently over 19 trillion dollars in debt, and it increases every second (you can watch it tick skywards here). Debt is not a good thing. Countless people’s lives have been ruined by excess debt, and teens across the nation are wheeling and dealing to accumulate as little student debt as possible. Yet, here America is with an incomprehensible amount of debt. If it wasn’t for my citizenship in a spiritual kingdom (Jn. 18:36; Phil. 3:20), America’s debt crisis would keep me up at night. Admittedly, because of my age and circumstances, I don’t personally know anything about insurmountable debt. Nor do I wish to discuss plans to release America of its debt. What I do know very well is insurmountable spiritual debt, and how to be relieved of that.
Consider the parable of the unforgiving servant
Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt (Mt. 18:23-27).
With our 21st century frames of reference, some details may be overlooked in this parable. First, notice the amount that the servant owed is “ten thousand talents.” One talent in first century Palestine was equivalent to one year’s wage. Ten thousand talents would have taken the servant 10,000 years to pay off! This amount of debt would have been impossible to pay. In modern day language, this servant owed $510,000,000. Nearly all of us have absolutely no hope of paying off that amount of debt. We could work overtime for the rest of our lives and still not have enough money to pay that debt.
Yet, that is how much we owe the King of heaven. We owe God an un-payable debt because of our sins. Sin is defined as a transgression of God’s law (1 Jn. 3:4), and as with any law, there are consequences for transgressing. When we transgress God’s law, we have earned the wage of death (Rom. 6:21, 23). Likewise, our sins create a separation between ourselves and God (Isa. 59:1-2). I am that unforgiving servant—I owed God a debt that I never could pay.
But, I was forgiven of that debt. Not because I worked it off, I couldn’t work it off! I was forgiven because the King had pity on me. Everyone who sins owes God a debt, a debt we cannot pay. Can we say we have not sinned (Rom. 3:23; 1 Jn. 1:10)? But, God looked upon man with pity, and sent His only begotten Son into the world, that He may be the just and the justifier of all who have faith in Jesus (Rom. 3:22-26). Despite my debt, “at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom. 5:6). At the right time, Christ died for me. Because of God’s love, my debt is forgiven at the cross of Calvary: “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” (Rom. 5:8-10).
Praise God for forgiving our spiritual debt through Christ!
The unforgiving servant is called the unforgiving servant for a reason. If we read the rest of Jesus’ parable, we see that this servant didn’t show the mercy of his master to others:
But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt … Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart (Mt. 18:28-30, 32-35).
Notice that this servant—though forgiven an insurmountable debt—is unwilling to forgive his fellow servant who owed him a fraction of a fraction of what he was forgiven of. I am that unforgiving servant–I don’t forgive my brethren of little after God has forgiven me of much. After all that God has forgiven us when we were hopelessly in debt, are we so unwilling to do the same to our neighbor? James tells us that “judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (2:13). Likewise, Christ tells us, “if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Mt. 6:14-15). With all of the mercy God has given us, we have to show that to others!
Let us realize our spiritual indebtedness without Jesus and be thankful for the reconciliation found in God’s Son (Gal. 3:26-29)! And, unlike the unforgiving servant, let’s be willing to show God’s mercy to others—it’s the least we could do!