Refusing to Extend Grace
Jesus told a shocking parable in Matthew 18:21-35, in response to a question from Peter about how often he should forgive his brother. Jesus’ basic answer was to forgive limitlessly. To summarize the parable, a slave owed his king 10,000 talents – an incomprehensible amount of money that would be equivalent to about 200,000 years’ wages in that day. Yes, years. The only way the slave could pay his debt would be to sell his family and all that he had, so he begged his king for mercy. The king had compassion and released him, completely forgiving the debt. What a massive relief that would have been! Upon leaving the king, the slave came across a fellow slave who owed him a hundred denarii – equivalent to 3 months’ wages (600,000 times smaller than the debt that had been forgiven him). Despite having just been forgiven an unpayable debt, the slave began to choke the man who owed him, demanding to be paid. When the man asked for patience and time to pay him back, the slave had no compassion and had him thrown into prison. The parable goes on to say that when the king heard the news, he rebuked the slave for not showing his fellow man the mercy that had been shown to him.
I used the word “shocking” to describe this parable because when I first heard it as an adult, I remember thinking how absurd it was that the slave immediately demanded the money owed to him. However, my shock quickly turned into conviction as I realized the irony of my response…is this not what I do so often in my own life when I refuse to extend grace to the people around me? While this parable refers to forgiveness, grace can equally be applied here. As Christians, we have all been administered grace and forgiveness for a debt that we could never pay, through Christ’s sinless life and sacrificial death which paid that debt for us. We are obviously just like the slave in the parable, in that sense. And yet, how often – for me, multiple times a day usually – do we refuse to be gracious to the people around us, for the tiniest “debts” we think they owe us, when we have been forgiven an unpayable debt? Recently, this has been something I have felt great conviction over, as the Lord has been constantly bringing it to my attention how ungracious I can be. If you share in this with me, my prayer is that we will both find encouragement and conviction from scripture and be more gracious to those around us, particularly as this is the Christmas season!
Today, I’ll discuss 4 areas where we may struggle to extend grace and some encouragement from scripture.
1) Refusing to extend grace to family
Why is it that the people we love most are always the people we struggle the most to be gracious toward? Perhaps it is because we spend the most time with them, or perhaps it is because they “have to” love us – either way, when I consider my own life as it relates to being gracious, this is probably the area that I struggle the most in. For me, it can be as simple as literally “crying over spilled milk”, by getting flustered and over-reacting when my 9 year-old boy eats cereal (in the same manner as any typical 9 year-old boy eats cereal) and gets milk all over the counter.
Ephesians 4:29-31 (ESV; underlined emphasis by me) says, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” This entire blog post could probably end right now, with this one scripture, as it sums up perfectly how we are to be toward others and how we are not to be, along with why – because God in Christ has forgiven us. If I place every word, thought, and deed of mine throughout the day into the verse, as a way to filter my behavior toward my family, I quickly recognize how often I am not tenderhearted, kind, or building up, but rather malicious in speech and frankly, selfish.
However, it is not only the small offenses that require grace in our lives, like spilled milk and other such daily inconveniences, but the larger more egregious offenses…those that anyone would say we “deserve” to be angry over. Regarding family relationships, this could be any number of things, such as a family member saying something hurtful or wronging us in some way that is legitimately sinful against us. Do these instances give us an out when it comes to being gracious? No.
The good news is that we can take encouragement from Jesus to show grace to others when we have been hurt and feel, least of all, gracious. Hebrews 12:3 (ESV) says, “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.” Jesus faced tremendous hostility and suffering that he did not deserve, and even endured the horrific death of crucifixion, yet he never wavered in obedience to his Father.
2) Refusing to extend grace in the church
The same biblical principles from the first section apply to the next 3, and especially with regard to the church who is our eternal family – brothers and sisters in Christ. When we refuse to extend grace to those in our church family, it is sinful and contrary to whom God is. 1 John 4:7-8 exhorts us to love one another because love comes from God. Later, verse 19 says that we love because he first loved us, and I am reminded once again of the previously mentioned parable. We don’t love because someone else loves us first and makes us feel good…we love because God first loved us, regardless of what we receive from other people.
Refusing to show grace to one’s fellow church members goes beyond obvious external actions such as causing dissension within the body or vocalizing complaints to leadership, and extends to what we say (and think) in the privacy of our own homes (and heads) about our church members. It may be tempting to criticize the sermon or the worship on a particular Sunday, the way someone acted toward you during the greeting, the theology of a fellow Sunday School member, what someone was wearing, or any number or small things we find to be worthy of commenting on, but this is not gracious or loving…even if the party we deem guilty of a bad outfit or faulty theology never hears our thoughts. We should always be giving the benefit of the doubt, inwardly and outwardly, by assuming the best of all our fellow church members and staff. Perhaps the most popular passage on love in the Bible, 1 Cor. 13, says, “Love believes all things”. If we are to love others, we are to believe the best about them, not assume the worst.
3) Refusing to extend grace in the community
You have probably heard it said before that restaurant staff view the Sunday lunch crowd as the rudest, with the implication that those who have just been to church are hypocritical in the way they treat restaurant servers. Whether or not this is true, it shouldn’t be true of Christians. We ought to be the most loving people in the community, yet all too often we are even less gracious than those who do not know Christ. There are numerous opportunities when we are in the community, whether that’s in the workplace or eating out or getting our oil changed, that we can choose to be gracious and loving or choose otherwise.
We are commissioned to share the good news of Christ to everyone around us (Matt. 28-18-20), and while loving others and being gracious toward them is not the gospel nor sufficient to save them, it does demonstrate to a dying world the love that should separate Christians from the rest of the world. Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35, ESV). If we share the gospel with our mouths, yet we lack grace in the way we treat others in the community, we send a conflicting message. On the flip side, if we are gracious to those in the community, even when they have wronged us and are undeserving, we demonstrate the love of Christ, which is unlike anything the world has to offer.
4) Refusing to extend grace in our thought lives
Finally, and perhaps most difficult to control, is a refusal to extend grace in our thoughts toward/about others. The religions of the world outside of Christianity largely teach that one’s external actions are what matter. Christianity is set apart because it gets to the heart of who we as humans truly are – sinners, in thought and deed, unable to save ourselves. In his Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5), Jesus teaches that hate is the root of murder, and lust is the root of adultery. He makes the point that our sin is not merely outward, but an inward condition of the heart. Therefore, we must remember as we seek to repent of sin in our lives, that our sinful thoughts are equal in nature to sinful actions.
It is likely that we are ungracious in our thoughts often when it comes to any of the above mentioned areas of family, church, and community. Another area that I find myself lacking discipline in graceful thoughts is social media. It is easy and tempting to criticize internally everything we see on the pages of Facebook or Instagram because no one will ever know. But, we must recognize that God knows, and it is sinful and should be repented of. I have caught myself having ill-feelings or making judgments about others based solely upon social media, and for myself, that means I need to spend less time there to avoid that temptation. Proverbs 4:23 (ESV) says, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” Ultimately, sins of the mind do not stay there, if unchecked. They cannot be contained there and will eventually “flow” out of us in some manifestation of outward sin.
Sometimes, when I consider sins such as ungraciousness in my life, I feel defeated and unable to overcome them; however, the good news is that we have the love of God that has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5); a love that God will enable us to extend to others if we are diligent in prayer, reading God’s word, confessing and turning from this sin, and choosing to practice extending grace in our homes and in the smallest opportunities God gives us. May we not be like the ungrateful servant in the parable, who refused to extend grace to the man who owed him; may we always be conscious of the debt that Christ has paid for us as we think about and interact with our families, church, and community.
Heather has been married to her husband Don Mark since 2005. They have three kids – 10, 8, and 1 yrs old. Having grown up in Canyon and attended West Texas A&M, Heather has a desire for the people of this community to know Christ. Recently, she started the venture of homeschooling her two oldest children. Heather has a Ph.D. in Agriculture from WT and operates a scientific writing business from home. In her spare time, she enjoys being outdoors with her family, having coffee with Mark, cooking, and reading.