1 “Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 3 But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly” (Matthew 6:1–4, NKJV).
Acts of charity ought to be driven by compassion, not by seeking the accolades of men. Jesus addressed the motive of helping the needy by contrasting the public displays of the hypocrites with acts of kindness that escape the attention of others. If our motive for helping others is to be seen and honored, that is the only reward we will have. On the other hand, we will not seek attention when compassion moves us to help the needy. We will not go around telling people what we did; We just do it. People may not see our acts of compassion, and that’s okay. The Father in heaven does, and He will reward us. The good Samaritan, who unhesitatingly helped a stranger, sets the example for us (Luke 10:29-37). Moved with compassion, he was a neighbor to the man in need, caring for him immediately and arranging for his ongoing needs. Compassion for those in distress moves citizens of the kingdom to act, not for men’s praise, but to relieve suffering and honor God.
7 “But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. 8 For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:7–8, NKJV).
The Lord of the Sabbath did not violate the Sabbath, nor did He sanction its violation when His disciples plucked the heads of grain to eat on the Sabbath (Matt. 12:1-2). The Pharisees accused His disciples of being Sabbath-breakers. But Jesus pronounced them “guiltless” because His disciples acted consistently with the law and its provision of mercy (Matt. 12:7; Hosea 6:6; Deut. 23:25). The Pharisees had developed a tradition that such conduct was work, and so to do it on the Sabbath was a sin. They added their tradition to God’s word and bound it on others. Thus, they “condemned the guiltless.” Jesus was not approving situation ethics and justifying violating God’s law. Jesus came to fulfill the law and the prophets, not destroy them (Matt. 5:17). Neither does this occasion endorse breaking God’s word for a so-called greater purpose (mercy, for example). The law of God allowed for mercy, which the apostles received as they plucked and ate the grain. The tradition of the Pharisees denied compassion and condemned the innocent. Both mercy and truth are present in God’s law (Ps. 85:10). Beware of human traditions. They nullify both (Col. 2:8, 20-23).
1 Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him. 2 And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them.” 3 So He spoke this parable to them, saying: (Luke 15:1–3, NKJV).
Simply put, a parable is an illustration of divine truth. The illustration is taken from ordinary life events, from which the spiritual lesson is drawn. Greek dictionaries define a “parable” (parabole) as “a similitude…fictitious narrative (of common life conveying a moral)” (Strong’s, G3850). Understanding the parables depends on the condition of one’s heart. Jesus explained this in the parable of the soils, which He said is key to understanding the parables (Mark 4:13, 14-20). An open, honest heart receives its meaning, holds it fast, and bears good fruit (Luke 8:9-10, 15). Hard, closed hearts do not receive God’s word and fail to understand and apply the parables of the Lord (Matt. 13:10-22). In today’s passage, the scribes and Pharisees complained against Jesus for receiving and eating with sinners. They distorted the truth of the matter. The sinners came to Jesus to hear Him teach. He did not endorse their sins; just the opposite. He taught them the way of God in truth to save them. Jesus answered His critics with three parables. God is compassionate toward sinners (Luke 15:4-7), God values each and every soul (Lk. 15:8-10), and God mercifully forgives sinners who repent and return to Him (Luke 15:11-24). Like the elder son, the complainers were ungrateful of their blessings and unmerciful toward sinners (Lk. 15:25-32). Powerful lessons for those who have “ears to hear” (Matt. 13:9).
17 Then they began to plead with Him to depart from their region. 18 And when He got into the boat, he who had been demon-possessed begged Him that he might be with Him. 19 However, Jesus did not permit him, but said to him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you.” 20 And he departed and began to proclaim in Decapolis all that Jesus had done for him; and all marveled.” (Mark 5:17–20, NKJV)
Jesus had just healed a man possessed by Legion (many demons, Mk. 5:1-13). Instead of rejoicing, in fear, the people pleaded with Jesus to leave (Mk. 5:14-16, 17). So, Jesus went away (v. 18, 20). Jesus will not stay where He is not welcomed and wanted. Like that day on the seashore, Jesus does not abide with us when we choose unbelief and sinful disregard of Him and His will (Jno. 14:21, 23-24). Conversely, the healed man begged Jesus to allow him to travel with Him (v. 18). But Jesus urged him to stay and tell his friends about the compassion he had received from the Lord. Without resistance, he announced to the region’s ten cities all Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled. Like him, we have received God’s compassionate mercy and forgiveness in Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:4-10). May we, in turn, proclaim the good news of salvation to others, that they too may be saved (Acts 8:4).
21 Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18:21–22, NKJV)
Repeatedly forgiving one who has sinned against us is not easy. It requires faith to do as Jesus said (limitless forgiveness). He went on to describe God’s forgiveness is driven by compassion, not withheld due to wearisome repetition. Such unceasing forgiveness means our hearts must be filled with the love, mercy, and longsuffering of God (see Sword Tips #2116 on 1 Timothy 1:15-16). It requires a generous, sympathetic heart toward the sinner and the struggles against sin to repeatedly forgive when wronged. Oh, the magnitude of God’s repeated forgiveness of us and our sins against Him! As God forgives us, we are to forgive others (Matt. 6:12, 14-15; 18:32-35). The numbers Peter proposed were literal. He thought seven was a perfectly generous amount of times to forgive repeat offenders. Jesus used numbers figuratively (“seventy times seven” does not make the four hundred ninety-first sin beyond our need to forgive). In another place Jesus said, “And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him” (Lk. 17:4). Ready, willing, abundant forgiveness is our task of faith when sinned against. We want and need God’s unending compassion and forgiveness (Matt. 18:23-27). Let us not withhold the same from those who sin against us (Matt. 18:28-35).
15 This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. 16 However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life. (1 Timothy 1:15–16, NKJV)
God’s forgiveness is deep and wide. Note what motivates, mandates, and maintains God’s forgiveness of our sins. 1) God’s love. Paul said, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” and he considered himself to be the prototype, the chief of sinners. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son to save us by His death (Jno. 3:16). Without God’s love, we cannot be saved. 2) God’s mercy. Forgiveness is the compassion applied, and God is rich in mercy toward all who call on Him for forgiveness (Eph. 2:4; Rom. 10:12). 3) God’s longsuffering. His forgiveness hinges on His longsuffering toward sinners. He does not want anyone to be lost. He wants every sinner to come to repentance. That’s why He is longsuffering toward us (2 Pet. 3:9). He could punish us all for our sins without patiently giving us opportunities to repent. His “forbearance and longsuffering” ought to “lead us to repentance” (Rom. 2:4). Do not think God cannot save you. Paul’s forgiveness is an example for all believers. Like Paul, have faith to “arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). Do not take God’s love, mercy, and longsuffering for granted. The day of the Lord will come, and we must be ready (2 Pet. 3:10-13). His longsuffering is for our salvation (2 Pet. 3:14-15).
3 So He spoke this parable to them, saying: 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ 7 I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance. (Luke 15:3–7, NKJV)
Jesus taught the parable of the lost sheep in response to those who complained He “receives sinners and eats with them” (Lk. 15:1-2). This slur was against Jesus and those who came to hear Him. The record shows Jesus was teaching these lost souls, not endorsing their sins. The parable illustrates the compassion of the Lord toward the lost. His work of teaching them the gospel was heaven’s work of seeking and saving the lost (Lk. 19:10). The parable also reflects heaven’s joy when one sinner who repents. We cannot escape the linkage of the sinner’s repentance to salvation. God is seeking the lost, and when the lost repent, they are “found” (saved). Instead of chastising Jesus for trying to save sinners, these complainers revealed themselves as ones who needed to repent; they needed saving, too. Like Jesus, compassion for the lost drives us to teach them the gospel, persuading souls to repent toward God and have faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:20-21).
26 The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ 27 Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt. (Matthew 18:26–27, NKJV)
The parable of the unforgiving servant testifies to the depth and breadth of God’s compassion and forgiveness (Matt. 18:21-35). God’s extraordinary mercy is vividly displayed when contrasted with the ungrateful and unwilling response of the forgiven servant toward his fellow servant’s plea for mercy (Matt. 18:28-30). We fail to grasp the magnitude of God’s forgiveness of our own sins when we refuse to forgive those who sin against us (Matt. 18:31-35). We must not comfort ourselves with a selfish (if not self-righteous) limit to our willingness and responsibility to forgive others. Peter asked Jesus whether forgiving a sinner “up to seven times” would be sufficient. Jesus said, not “up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven” (Matt. 18:21-22). Christians forgive others “from the heart” without regard to the amount and frequency of the sins. God’s model of forgiving us in Christ is how, with tender hearts, we forgive one another (Eph. 4:31-32). We reflect God’s mercy toward us when we do. The heartbreaking truth is that if we do not forgive others, our heavenly Father will not forgive us (Matt. 18:33-35; 6:14-15). Thank God for His merciful forgiveness that shows us how to forgive others.
17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. 18 Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:17–18, NKJV)
Just as the wisdom that is “earthly, sensual, and demonic” has identifiable traits (bitter envy, self-seeking, pride, lies, and confusion, Jas. 3:14-16), so does the wisdom from above. God-approved wisdom is marked by dignified purity, and so is “consecrated to the service and glory of God” (Lange). With God as its object, wisdom from above has a social character that reflects innocence toward men and women. This wisdom is peaceable (not warring, Jas. 4:1). It is gentle – mild, moderate, fair, and just in its judgments and treatment of others. Approved wisdom is “willing to yield,” it is easily entreated, “open to reason” (ESV). Wisdom hears all the evidence instead of entrenching itself without reason against it. It is full of mercy and it bears the impartial, genuine fruit of compassion. Because of its nature, heavenly wisdom plants the seeds of peace (not hostile confusion, Jas. 3:14-16), and so produces peace (Matt. 5:9). Let us pursue the wisdom that is from above and bear the fruit of righteousness.