We have been thinking through the nature of the life of an ambassador and it is the best of all possible lives. The problem is that we live that life within a corrupt human nature that always wants to revert to the way of the world from which we were redeemed. We live with the constant menace of the world around us, and also within us in our ego. Jesus, of course, knows this and consistently warns us about it. Today we consider three related warnings from Revelation 2, Luke 16, and Matthew 18.
Revelation 2 begins with a letter from the Lord Jesus to the church in Ephesus. While that church has been fighting to preserve the true teaching of Jesus, the Lord warns that they have left their first love. God is love and His first love is to be gracious. God’s first love provided universal atonement and infinite mercy from before the creation of the world. This first love of God provides all of the good message that we have explored in previous posts. The nature and danger of losing our first love is taught in two powerful parables from Jesus.
Luke 16 records a parable known as “the unjust steward.” In this parable a steward is accused of wasting his master’s goods and told he cannot be steward any longer. The steward decides to provide himself with friends for the future by calling in the debtors and reducing their debts. When the master hears of this, he commends the steward – which is utterly incomprehensible to us.
This incomprehensibility is evident in the struggle everyone seems to have with this text, commentators and theologians included. Is this evidence that we have lapsed from the mind of an ambassador back into the corrupt ego of a native of this world? But what if we approach the parable from a Green V, three-dimensional worldview? What if the employee in question worked for the Red Cross? He was sent to a disaster area with hundreds of semi-truck loads of everything people would need to recover. The Red Cross worker, worried about funding, decided to hold back most of the materials and sell food and water to the disaster victims for high prices because they had no alternatives. When the CEO of the Red Cross came to check on his work, would he be commended? The CEO would be furious and prosecute that worker for abusing the disaster victims and wasting the goods that were sent to help them.
Now, back to the parable of the unjust steward. The Master is God whose greatest good is grace, which is always, infinitely, and comprehensively providential. The unjust steward’s waste of that good is obvious in the fact that he was holding people in debt. Jesus taught us to forgive our debtors as God has forgiven us. Notice that the steward mused that he was too weak to dig and ashamed to beg. There is the human ego—too lazy to work and too proud to beg—incapable of satisfying the law, yet refusing to beg for God’s pardon. Nevertheless, the steward’s crisis turned him in the right direction: grace.
The lesson of the unjust steward is corroborated in the latter half of Matthew 18 in the parable of the unforgiving servant. Here is the Master again, this time considering a servant who owed ten thousand talents ($4.5 billion in today’s U.S. dollars). Listen to the corruption of the servant’s ego as he begs for more time rather than forgiveness. It is the Master’s gracious nature that knows the only solution for the servant is to forgive the debt, so He forgives. The magnitude of the Master’s forgiveness did not change the nature of that servant. That servant immediately found a fellow servant who owed him 100 day’s wages. The servant who owed him less than a third of a year’s income also and reasonably asked for time, but the first servant began to choke him and demand payment immediately. When the fellow servant could not pay, he was thrown in prison. Other servants, grieved by this event, told the Master, who condemned the unforgiving servant: “I forgave you all that debt and should you not have also shown mercy to others?”
We learn from the Lord’s warning to the church in Ephesus, from the unjust steward, and the unforgiving servant that extending God’s grace to others is not something we do when all else fails but because all else has failed. Our ambassadorship is not to forgive others when we can’t get them to do what we want. Grace is what we extend to others as ambassadors to the kingdom of God, where His grace provides because our corrupt ego refuses to do what God wants. Grace is not a last resort for us but the very essence of our life’s work as ambassadors.
God’s extraordinary redeeming work regenerates our soul in the image of Christ, making us citizens of His kingdom of grace and ambassadors while we live in this world. The warnings of the law in the two parables and in the letter to the Ephesians are essential forces to keep us from lapsing back into the corruption of our ego. The Spirit and promises of God inspire our consciousness to the joyful work as ambassadors of God’s kingdom of grace and love.