The Unforgiving Servant

I spend a lot of time talking about a “purposeful reliance upon doctrine”.  What I mean is this – to be a “confessional Lutheran” means that there are things that we believe and teach and confess and we might actually want to live out the things that we believe, teach and confess.  The central teaching of the Church is the justification of the sinner for the sake of Christ, also known as forgiveness.  We love to preach this free forgiveness for Christ sake.  I may be harder to live what it means in our life together.  It means that we are to forgive one another as well.  I hear all the time about unrepentant sinners, dissenters, trouble makers, etc and the inablility or unwillingnesss to apply the same principles to them as God applied to me and the whole world.  “What choice do I have but to remove, avoid, seperate from these ________(you fill in the blanks)?  What choice do I have but divorce?  What choice do I have but to go to court and get my rights?  You can “live” your confessionn and forgive!!

Luther wrote a sermon on the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18.  Here is a part of it …………

Now this follows out of mercy; because God pities our distress, he yields his claims and nullifies them and never says: Sell what you have and make payment. He might well have proceeded and said: You must pay, I have the right to demand it, I will not on your account annul my own right, and no one could have blamed him. Yet, he does not wish to deal with him according to our ideas of right, but changes justice into grace, has mercy on him, and gives him liberty, with wife and child and everything he has, and makes him a present of the debt besides.

This is what God preaches through the Gospel, namely: He who believes, to him not only the debt, but also the punishment shall be remitted. To this no works are to be added; for whoever preaches that through his works one can atone for his debt and punishment, has already denied the Gospel. For the two can not be tolerated together, that God should have mercy, and that you should have any merit. If it is grace, then it is not merit: but if it is merit, then it is justice and no grace. Romans 11:6. For if you pay what you owe, he shows you no mercy; but if he shows mercy, you do not pay for what you receive. Therefore we must leave him alone to deal with us, receive from him and believe. This is what to-day’s Gospel teaches.

(Luther goes on to say that we owe or neighbor not only forgiveness but works of love and if we fail, the other servants are scandalized and need to react and of course God reacts too.)

 Those who do not prove their faith by their works of love are servants who want others to forgive them, but do not forgive their neighbor, nor yield their rights; hence it will also be with them as with this servant. For when the other servants, who preach the Gospel, see that God has freely given them all things, and they refuse to forgive anyone, they become sad to see such things, and they are pained, that they act so foolishly toward the Gospel, and no one lays hold of it. What do they do then? They can do no more than come before their Lord with their complaint and say: So it goes; you forgive them both the debt and the punishment, and freely give them all things; but we cannot prevail upon them to do to others as you have done to them. This is the complaint. Then God will summon them to appear before him at the last judgment and accuse them of these things and say: When you were hungry, thirsty and afflicted, I helped you; when you lay in sins I had compassion upon you and forgave the debt; therefore you must also now pay your debt. There is now no grace nor mercy, nothing but wrath and eternal punishment, no prayers will help from now on, and they become speechless, and are cast into torment until they pay the uttermost farthing.

This is a part of our life together.  When we see someone being unmerciful and unforgiving we are called to “come before our Lord with our complaint”.  But we are also called to confront and admonish and teach and confess.