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Dear friends,

Welcome to my blog. I am honored to have you visit. I hope you'll find my articles a blessing. I welcome your input and especially comments and questions.

I write as a Christian from Jerusalem, Israel about Biblical subjects.

I am particularly interested in the subjects of children, families, women's issues, corporal punishment, science and nature as these subjects relate to the Holy Scriptures.

For more information, see my website: www.biblechild.com

With every good wish - Samuel Martin

Saturday, October 01, 2011

The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant – A symbolic teaching for parents

I am posting this in dedication to my own two children, Jessica and Christine.
It is an excerpt from a book I am currently working on. In light of the very sad story about Hana-Grace Rose Williams which is out today, I have decided to post this chapter from my upcoming book in full. I pray it is a blessing for you. Samuel Martin

The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant – 
A symbolic teaching for parents

This may seem an odd title for a chapter, but it is specifically titled as such to introduce a subject that needs discussion and clarification in this context. It may also seem somewhat of a complex subject only to be discussed by religious university professors at the graduate students level. However, this is not true at all. 
All Christian parents desire their actions to please God. This is especially the case when it comes to matters of children and how we are to raise them, care for them and guide them into adulthood. Jesus Christ did not give us any specific teachings about parents punishing their children. We just don’t have any really specific statements we can point to and find clear teachings on this issue. 
Yes, we do have biblical information, but it is terse and general and can be interpreted differently depending on who is doing the interpreting. Of course, I have endeavored to address this issue in a more comprehensive way in my own book “Thy Rod and Thy Staff, They Comfort Me: Christians and the Spanking Controversy.” (see http://whynottrainachild.com/2013/06/22/download-martins-book/ to download it for free ) However, since I published that book several years ago, I have even learned some new things about this issue, an aspect of which is the subject of this present article.
It is interesting that we who are earthly fathers and mothers to children, who we call our own, but in fact, we along with them are all the children of one God and Father of all. This is the precise teaching of St. Paul, who very eloquently quoted a Greek poet, Aratus saying: “For we are His offspring… (Acts 17:28). Therefore, if we are all His children, we who are parents, in a sense, to borrow the phrase of a close friend’s wife who said: “We are just babysitting our children for the Lord.” This in some ways is very much the truth. God has entrusted us with the monumental task of being a part of raising His children.
            So, we have a specific dynamic in place involving three parties which looks something like this. It involves Almighty God, the Father of all creation and the One who sustains everything as the first party.

Then, as the second party, we have those of us who are earthly parents.
 Finally, to conclude this relationship we are here talking about, our children (who are also God’s children) are the third group.

When we look at the relationship between God the Father, an earthly parent and an earthly child, some interesting ideas come to mind.
First, we must understand and appreciate that we have a dynamic in place involving two parties who are somehow on the same level spiritually with God. That is a fact! Both parent and child, while on earth occupy very different places in the social order, but from a heavenly perspective, they are looked on by God very much in the same
way. After all, both pray the Lord’s prayer to the same Lord (if they are Christians, of course) saying: “Our Father…” So, we have a relationship in place that while on earth, some inequality exists between parents and children, however, from a heavenly point of view, both are really very much in the same boat theologically speaking.
There are many Scriptures which clearly demonstrate this, but let me refer only to one here. It is from Romans 3:23 saying: 
“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, …”
Therefore, we have on the one hand, humanity, who have sinned and fall short of God's glory and then on the other hand, we have God who is without sin. So, we have this ongoing dynamic that while we who are
parents are older, supposedly more experienced in life, wiser (supposedly once again), more mature, etc. for all of this, we still are in that same theological boat with our children though we might be above 75 years and have children who are just babes in arms. All are the children of Adam, who, of course, was the son of God Himself. (Luke 3:38)
Now, since we see this paradigm universally in place, what can we learn about it that might help us better understand our positions as earthly parents and our obligations and responsibilities in that role vis a vis, on the one hand, to Almighty God, the Father of all and on the other hand, to the children that God has entrusted to our care during our and their time on earth? What does Scripture say about this? Do we have any information in this regard that we can latch on to to help us become at the same time better people and better care givers to our/His
            On the surface, one might say that we do not have any specific information that covers this issue or addresses these questions openly in Scripture. Yes, we do have the general admonitions about parent/child relations in Ephesians (6:1) and Colossians (3:20), but if a person is willing to look below the surface and to also be willing to look in the not so obvious of places, one might be very surprised at the information one could learn and this, I believe, could very well have great bearing on the role of the parent in the life of children and in their collective relationship with God.
In this regard, I want to refer here to one of the Parables given by Jesus, which I have referenced in the title to this section: The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. We have all read it many times, but I am going to reference it here for your consideration.  

“21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven. 23 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 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. 26 So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28 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.’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. 32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:23-35 ESV)

Now, this is a very interesting parable given by Jesus and the subject clearly is forgiveness. Jesus is using this parable as a comparison to teach forgiveness.  However, let us look deeper into this passage in light of the picture I have painted earlier in this article. We can see some similarities to the dynamic relationship that I referenced earlier and to that found here in this parable. In fact, it is all here and I believe that if a person looks really carefully at this passage, we who are parents might find in this passage some important instruction relative to how we treat our children and what God expects of us concerning His children who He has placed in our care.
First, note the overall example in this passage. Here you have a king, who obviously is in a position of almost absolute power and under him he has a servant who is in a great debt to him. This servant obviously has been placed over great responsibility of the king to have become so indebted. Then, we are introduced to another servant underneath the first servant who owes a very small debt to the servant who owes the major debt.
Here we are reminded of Christ’s famous teaching from the Sermon on the Mount: “and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. (Matthew 6:12) What we as Christians understand as the primary teaching of the Gospel message is that by accepting Christ, we acknowledge His death and He has died for our sins. So, we are no longer spiritually in debt, but have been freed from sin by Christ’s atoning death. However, in this life, death still reigns and we still have sin in our members to deal with and one day we will receive the wages of sin in this life, which is death (Romans 6:23), but we know that spiritually our eternal life is assured through our identification with Christ and His death.
To the Christian believer, this is clear and plainly taught in Scripture, however, when we look at the human experience, we understand that without question, those who are older and have more experience in life and know the difference between good and evil have a greater debt to God as they understand more maturely the Gospel. They are very much like that servant who owed 10,000 talents. Likewise, these people who owe a great debt also have their debtors who also owe them: their children!
When we look at the text once again, we start to see how the comparison starts to make sense. Look, all debts owed are owed to God ultimately but God allows us who are parents to participate in His redemptive plan, by bringing children into the world. In looking at the comparison here though, note that this description of the relationship between the servants resembles very much that which parents and their children find themselves in their individual and collective relationships to God.
For sure, grown adults who have lived longer and committed more sins are in a greater debt to God for His mercy and forgiveness (they owe the Lord a lot for His forgiveness of their sins – they are like the one owing 10,000 talents) and likewise children also have a debt to the Lord, but because they are much younger and have had less life experience, their level of debt is so much less than their parents, but it still is there, (because all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God - Romans 3:23) hence the example of the servant who owes a much much lesser amount.
Look at some other aspects of the passage which are interesting in this light. Note that Peter asks Christ about “my brother” and how many times should he forgive one who sins against him? Of course Christ gives the answer. But isn’t it interesting, the term “my brother” could extend theologically speaking to one’s child because as I have already shown, we are all God’s children and as such are all a part of the family of God!
We can also mention here the issue of the whole doctrine of “Love your neighbour as yourself.” A dear brother in the Lord (R.S.) very wisely pointed out to me a number of years ago that in looking at this pronouncement of Christ, he always first referred it not to the individuals who lived outside his door across the street in the traditional sense of neighbour – not at all – in fact, R.S. commented that this passage refers in a Christian home to the primary relationship between first the husband and the wife and (I think R.S. would agree here) secondarily their children! This is in my view an exceedingly important observation full of Christian truth because once again if we refer to the teaching of St. Paul, in fact, all neighbours are in fact our brothers and sisters in the Lord because we are all His offspring. Jesus also mentioned in Matthew 12:48-50 (and Mark 3:33-35) about anyone is His mother and brethren.  His point being, all people are equal in Father God's and His eyes, it is just a matter of time and development, not relationship. (much thanks R.S.) Jesus follows up this thought by reiterating the phrase “your brother” in the last verse and He clearly links the story to God the Father also in the last verse saying “so also …” (v.35)
It is also interesting that when you look at the passage you can see that the person who clearly is the one that should be showing the mercy to the lesser debtor (the earthly child) is the one with the greater debt (the earthly parent). In any case, though, note that both owe debts to God. This is a very interesting example which all of us who are parents can really relate to. Our children are constantly in our debt due to the mistakes they make and the sins they commit against us and those sins are also committed against God ultimately.  
The point to this whole discussion of Christ is this: forgiveness. This is the teaching that He is giving. Before you start delivering your children to the jailers and punishing them (like the unforgiving servant did), remember that you have a greater debt to God and a greater requirement to forgive.
Since Jesus has used this method to teach forgiveness, should we who are studying the issue of forgiveness not seek to use this information to help us develop a better understanding of this issue and what to do when it comes to forgive someone or not to forgive them? I think we should definitely pay attention to this story and “compare” it to situations in our lives where we can use the information to be a person who does not forgive a sinner “seven times” but rather “seventy times seven times.” What better place to start in modeling this teaching than with the children of God that He has placed in our care?

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