The Bankrupt Servant

The number seven in the Bible refers to perfection. When Peter asked Jesus how many times he should forgive, and then suggested seven times (Matthew 18:21), I am sure he was in a state of shock when Jesus said, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven” (verse 22).

Jesus then told Peter a story to illustrate forgiveness. “Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents” (verses 23, 24).

This is a symbolic story of a servant who could not pay the debt because he was bankrupt. The King in the parable is the God of heaven. He has many other servants who are not bankrupt. We read, “Men living in this little atom of a world are finite; God has unnumbered worlds that are obedient to His laws and are conducted with reference to His glory.” Counsels to Parents, Teachers, and Students, 66.

However, the king has one servant that is bankrupt, and that servant represents the people of this world. We are bankrupt because we owe a debt that we have no means to repay. Adam and Eve sinned, and as a result, we are all under a death sentence. Genesis 5:3 says, “And Adam lived one hundred and thirty years, and begot a son in His own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth.” Notice, that son of Adam was under the sentence of death and so it has been since the beginning of the world. Every descendant of Adam and Eve is under the sentence of death.

There was only one person in the universe able to pay the debt. Adam and Eve had broken the law of God and the angels could not pay it because they were under the law. The debt could only be paid by someone who was above the law of God. Only one Person had the qualification. His name is Jesus Christ. Originally that was not His name, but the name He acquired because He decided that He was going to pay the debt on man’s behalf. The name Jesus comes from the English equivalent of the Greek translation of the Hebrew word Jehoshua, which means Saviour or deliverer. Christ comes from the Greek work Christos, which means anointed.

Jesus told the angels that in order to save the human race, He would come to earth as a man. He would be a teacher. He would be rejected and lifted up between heaven and earth and die the most agonizing and cruel death. It would be so bad that no one would be able to look at it, but He would rise again on the third day. By His actions He would open the door to heaven and save all who are willing to be saved. The debt that sinners are unable to pay would be paid by Him. (See Patriarchs and Prophets, chapter 4.)

The man in the parable who had a ninety-million-dollar debt wished he could pay it and begged for patience, but he was totally deceived. No matter how much patience the Lord had, the debtor would never be able to acquire what was needed to pay it.

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).

This is such a stupendous idea that the apostle Paul does not believe that our minds can take it in all at once. So he says in Philippians 2:5, 6, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery [or did not consider it a thing to be grasped] to be equal with God.” Jesus Christ, as a member of the Godhead, was equal with the Father, but He did not consider holding that position was something to hang onto while man, whom He had created, was lost. He was willing to lay all that aside and come to this world as a man. The reason we do not understand this sacrifice is because we do not understand how great He really is.

Christ’s sacrifice was a humiliation, a condescension that we cannot even comprehend. But becoming a man was just the beginning; the Bible says He “made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men” (verse 7).

It would be one thing to come as a respected king or as a rich person, or high-class, or a person honored, but Jesus came to this world as a servant, as one of the common men. Even that was just the beginning. “And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (verse 8, literal translation). He went so low that it was not possible to go any lower.

Ellen White wrote, “Christ did not come to this earth merely to live as any man might live. He descended to the very depths of human woe, becoming obedient to a shameful, ignominious death, even death by crucifixion. So deeply was Paul impressed with the Saviour’s condescension that he traces His history from stage to stage, as if the sacrifice were too great to be comprehended all at once. Step by step he leads us down, until the lowest depths of humiliation are reached, and we see the Saviour hanging on the cross, while the priests and rulers say tauntingly, ‘He saved others; Himself He can not save. If He be the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him’ (Matthew 27:42).

“I present to Christians this wonderful picture. If it is clearly discerned, will it not annihilate selfishness? As we see the royal Sufferer hanging on the cross, let us think of the height from which He descended in our behalf.” The Signs of the Times, May 22, 1901.

“From the heavenly courts He beheld the misery of the race, and coming to this earth He found a ransom for us, even through great humiliation and suffering. To rescue us, the Lord of life and glory took up the position and duties of a servant. For us He submitted to mockery, insult, and rejection. He became a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. ‘He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and with His stripes we are healed’ (Isaiah 53:5).” Ibid.

The first and most important commandment in the law is to love the Lord thy God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind (Mark 12:30). If that command seems arbitrary or severe then you don’t understand what the cross is all about. When relieved from such an impossible debt it should be an automatic response to love God with all of your heart, for has He not proved Himself to be worthy of the first place in your affections?

Continuing the story about the bankrupt servant, we read, “As he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made” (Matthew 18:25).

In ancient times there were two ways of solving problems with bankruptcy. One was to sell the debtor and his family into slavery. The money recouped would at least partially pay the debt. We read in 2 Kings 4 about a woman in that very situation who came to Elisha to appeal for help. Her sons were to be sold as slaves because she was bankrupt and couldn’t pay the debt.

The other way people dealt with bankruptcy was to put the debtor into prison. England once had debtors’ prisons. Those unable to service their debts were put in prison and would stay there indefinitely unless someone came to their aid and arrangements made to service the debt.

In this parable of the bankrupt debtor the king says to take everything he has, his wife and his children, and sell them as slaves.

“The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt” (Matthew 18:26, 27).

The man was set free, but his freedom would not be forever. If you believe that you are saved today, don’t be deceived into thinking that your salvation is ensured forever. The doctrine of “once saved, always saved” is disproved very clearly by the Scriptures, and this is one of the stories that disproves it. This man was saved and forgiven, but it was not forever. By his behavior towards a fellow debtor He soon lost his salvation.

Verse 28, first part, says, “But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii.” A debt of a hundred denarii is a debt that a working man could pay off within a year or two. If he was making really good wages, he could actually pay that debt off in less than a year. This servant was not bankrupt. He was in debt, but not bankrupt. He just needed more time. Notice how the forgiven man treats his fellow servant: “He laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’ So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt” (verses 28, last part–30). He showed no mercy, foreclosed on him, and threw him into debtor’s prison.

“So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done” (verse 31).

Whom does this fellow servant represent and what was the debt that he owed? This is not a debt between the servant and the Lord. This is a personal debt owed to one of his fellow men. Let’s think that through for a moment. The plan of salvation has been offered to both of these servants. So, what did the one servant owe the other?

In Romans 13:10 we are told: “Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” Remember, if you want to go to heaven, you must not only keep the first commandment of the law, which is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and He has proved that He is worthy of that; but the second commandment of the law is to love your neighbor as yourself.

John says in 1 John 4:7–11, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins [pay the ten thousand talent debt]. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love another.” We have an obligation “to love one another.” We owe that to one another.

Consider if there have been any times when you have neglected to manifest to your brothers and sisters the love that you should have. If so, then you are in debt, because you owe it to them. What are you going to do to pay the debt? It takes time to show that you really do have the love of God in your heart. Throughout life’s experiences we either make payments on that debt of love owed to others or sink deeper into debt.

The devil wants you to go deeper into debt by neglecting to show the love and compassion to your brothers and sisters that you should. To love is a Christian obligation. As God has loved us we are under obligation to love one another. If we don’t we sink further and further into debt.

The Lord came to the first servant and asked him why he didn’t give him more time. He certainly had character defects, but he was not allowed time to overcome them. Don’t you expect the Lord to allow you more time to work on your own character defects?

Following are a few statements where Ellen White comments on this very subject. She said, “The spirit of Christ will lead us to think kindly of our brethren [these include the people in your own family]. It is the work of Satan to seek some stain upon the character of Christ’s followers, to talk of their faults, and magnify their errors. Satan is an accuser of the brethren, and all who engage in this work show that they are actuated by the same spirit. All our prayers will be in vain while we cherish feelings of envy, jealousy, suspicion, and enmity. We shall be forgiven only as we forgive. It is no better than mocking God to engage in religious worship with hearts thinking evil, and full of bitterness toward our brethren or our fellow-men.

“Jesus, our exemplar, looks with abhorrence upon all who are cherishing unkindness.” The Review and Herald, November 6, 1883.

In Letter 69, 1896, she says: “You cannot be too careful of what you say, for the words you utter show what power is controlling your mind and heart.”

“If you are fully satisfied with your own peculiar ways, so that you feel justified in complaining of your brethren, you will never reach heaven. If you cannot live in harmony on the earth, how could you live throughout eternity in love and peace? There must be kindness, love, courtesy, and delicate regard shown for one another here and now.” The Review and Herald, July 22, 1890.

“Satan is an accuser of the brethren, and when he can set the leaven of dissatisfaction to work in human hearts, he is exultant. When he can divide brethren, he has a hellish jubilee.” Manuscript Releases, vol. 11, 261, 262.

“A person’s dress, bonnet, or apron takes their attention. They must talk to this one or that one, and it is sufficient to dwell upon for weeks. I saw that all the religion a few poor souls have consists in watching the garments and acts of others, and finding fault with them. Unless they reform, there will be no place in heaven for them, for they would find fault with the Lord Himself.” Testimonies, vol. 1, 145.

You see, friends, finding fault is a habit that people develop and eventually you would find fault with the Lord Himself. We have to overcome that if we are going to go to heaven.

The following is a dream given to Ellen White and recorded in Manuscript Releases, vol. 12, pages 10, 11.

“I had a dream. I saw A in close conversation with men and with ministers. He adroitly would make statements born of suspicion and imagination to draw them out, and then would gain expression from them. I saw him clap his hands over something very eagerly. I felt a pang of anguish at heart as I saw this going on. I saw in my dream yourself and B in conversation with him. You made statements to him which he seemed to grasp with avidity, and close his hand over something. I then saw him go to his room, and there upon the floor was a pile of stones systematically laid up, stone upon stone. He placed the additional stones on the pile and counted them up. Every stone had a name—some report gathered up—and every stone was numbered.

“The young man who often instructs me came and looked upon the pile of stones with grief and indignation, and inquired [of A] what he had and what he proposed to do with them. A looked up with a sharp, gratified laugh. ‘These are mistakes of C. I am going to stone him with them, stone him to death.’ The young man said, ‘You are bringing back the stoning system, are you? You are worse than the ancient Pharisees. Who gave you this work to do? The Lord raised you up, the Lord entrusted you with a special work [to be a minister]. The Lord has sustained you in a most remarkable manner, but it was not for you to degrade your powers for this kind of work. Satan is an accuser of the brethren.’

“I thought A seemed very defiant and determined. Said he, ‘C is trying to tear us to pieces. He is working against us, and to save our reputation and life, we must work against him. I shall use every stone to the last pebble here upon this floor to kill him. This is only self-defense, a disagreeable necessity.’

“And then said the young man solemnly, ‘What have you gained? Have you in the act righted your wrongs? Have you opened your heart to Jesus Christ, and does He sit there enthroned? Who occupies the citadel of the soul under this administration of the stoning system?

“ ‘You have a higher calling, a more important work. Leave all such work of gathering stones for the enemies of God’s law. You brethren must love one another, or you are not children of the day, but of darkness.’

“I then saw C [the person that A planned to stone] engaged in a similar work, gathering stones, making a pile, and ready to begin the stoning system.” Ibid. Each one of them was going to stone the other. “Similar words were repeated to him with additional injunctions, and I awoke.” Ibid.

My dear friend, to get ready to go to heaven takes time. The Lord is giving us time here in this world to prepare. So as the time passes, it is impossible for any of us to pay the debt that Jesus has paid for us. All that is possible is to thank Him for it and receive it. But there are debts that you and I owe to our fellow men, to the people in our household, and that is to love them as ourselves. If we are not doing that, we are going deeper and deeper into debt.

Remember there is a recording angel keeping track of what is being talked about in our homes, not only the content of the words, but also the tone of voice and the emotions behind them. Does this speech reflect love?

If we are planning on going to heaven, we have to learn the lessons of loving our neighbor as ourselves. Take the challenge to pray about this, and pray, “Lord, am I really loving my neighbor as myself? Does my speech reflect the fact that I love my neighbor, or am I going deeper and deeper into debt?”

“The longest journey is performed by taking one step at a time. A succession of steps brings us to the end of the road. The longest chain is composed of separate links. If one of these links is faulty, the chain is worthless. Thus it is with character. A well-balanced character is formed by single acts well performed. One defect, cultivated instead of being overcome, makes the man imperfect, and closes against him the gate of the Holy City. He who enters heaven must have a character that is without spot or wrinkle or any such thing. Naught that defileth can ever enter there. In all the redeemed host not one defect will be seen.” Lift Him Up, 346.

Use this time we have been given to service the debt that we owe to each other. We must love our neighbor as ourselves if we are going to be in the kingdom of heaven.


(Unless appearing in quoted references or otherwise identified, Bible texts are from the New King James Version.)

Pastor John J. Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by email at:, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.