Character Teachings of Jesus

Deep Lessons

“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21)

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When we study the life of our Lord, we often turn to the doctrinal truths that are so important. An understanding of the ransom and sin-offering gives us a wonderful perspective on the meaning of salvation. We rejoice to know of the resurrection of
mankind and the prospect of a perfected earth. The high calling is still open and the hope of sharing in kingdom work is thrilling. To help prepare us for the work of reigning with him, Jesus knew that the development of our characters was essential. To that end, he provided important lessons for us to study and use in the growth of the New Creature.

The Unforgiving Servant

When Peter asked Jesus how many times must we forgive a sin committed against us, the Lord answered by giving a remarkable parable (see Matthew 18:23-35). He began by saying “The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a certain king which would take account of his servants.” By likening the parable to the kingdom of heaven, Jesus was sharing a divine principle that all his people should live by, whether in this age or the next. This distinction stresses the importance of the lesson to follow.

When the king began the process of reckoning with his servants, one was brought before him who owed him a great sum of money, 10,000 talents. The Greek word for 10,000 means “very many, innumerable, many” (Strong’s #3463). Adam Clarke says, “a myriad of talents, the highest number known in Greek arithmetical notation.” Some have endeavored to calculate an actual monetary value to Jesus’ words. But, rather than designating a specific amount that was owed to the king, Jesus
indicated that it was an amount too great to repay.

Because of the great debt owed, the king’s intent was to sell the man, along with his wife and children, in order to make payment for the debt. Upon hearing this, “the servant, therefore, fell down, and worshipped him [i.e. prostrated himself], saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt” (verses
26, 27).

When Peter had asked his original question, he had suggested that forgiving an offense seven times might be enough. But Jesus’ reply indicated that keeping a count was missing the
point entirely. There was no limit to God’s forgiveness. That was the pattern Peter was to follow.

As the servant left the king’s presence, he immediately found a fellow servant who owed him 100 denarii. He grabbed him by the throat and demanded to be repaid. The denarius was one day’s wage for a typical day laborer, who worked six days a week. So, the amount was equivalent to about four months of work. Like the first servant who begged the king for time to repay, the second servant did the same, but with quite a different response. He was cast into prison until he could pay the 100 denarii owed.

When his fellow servants saw what had been done, they reported it to the king who called for the servant, saying “O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me. Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellow-servant, even as I had pity on thee?” (verses 32, 33).

How could the first servant have missed the point? How could he not show mercy after experiencing the forgiveness of an unpayable debt? A reasonable conclusion may be that he did not really appreciate the size of the debt he had been forgiven. He may have felt the king had been far too generous. But he would not make the same mistake. He would receive what was rightly his.

Whatever his reasoning may have been, he was profoundly mistaken and was to pay dearly for his lack of compassion. “And his master being provoked, delivered him to the jailors, till he should discharge the debt” (verse 34, Diaglott). How unfortunate! His debt was so large he would never be free again. Jesus explained the lesson when he said, “So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you if ye from
your hearts forgive not everyone his brother their trespasses” (verse 35).

Peter was likely embarrassed for suggesting forgiveness has its limits. Along with Peter, we have been released from an unpayable debt. Our sins have been remitted by the sacrifice of
our Lord. Truly appreciating this fact should change us. When others sin against us, our knowledge should remind us of what we have been forgiven. Though the flesh may still have its demands for justice, our understanding of God’s mercy should create in us a forgiving heart. As we contemplate the depth of God’s compassion, our goal should be to have our first response be one of mercy and compassion. In this parable, we see how understanding a doctrine should develop character. The ransom
sacrifice is a foundation doctrine. The characteristic that motivated such a sacrifice was love. It is not enough to understand the facts of the doctrine. We must understand and apply the principles on which it is based.

Ten Lepers Healed

Another example of how Jesus taught a character lesson occurred when he healed ten men suffering from leprosy (see Luke 17:11-19). On his way to Jerusalem, Jesus passed through “a certain village” and ten lepers called out from a distance. “Have mercy on us,” they cried. “And when he saw them, he said unto them, ‘Go shew yourselves unto the priests.’ And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed. And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan” (verses 14-16).

The ten men were healed as they went to show themselves to the priest. It is interesting that these men obeyed Jesus’ instructions even before being healed. In their obedience, they exercised a measure of faith. They may have recognized the Lord’s instructions were in accord with the Mosaic law that only a priest could pronounce a leper cleansed and allow
him to return to society (see Leviticus 14:2). However, of the ten who were healed of this terrible, debilitating disease, only a Samaritan returned to express his heartfelt appreciation. This seemed to surprise Jesus. “Were there not
ten cleansed? but where are the nine? There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger. And he said unto him, ‘Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee
whole’ ” (verses 17-19).

Why did the nine not return to offer thanks or to glorify God? We are not told their thought process. They may have had the same disposition as seen in the previous parable of the unforgiving servant. Is it possible they did not fully appreciate what had been done for them?

Or were they simply obeying Jesus and anticipating the joy of being restored to society? We can only surmise their thoughts. But for this one man there was something important that had to be done. He must give thanks for such a gift. And there is the character lesson we see highlighted.

Thanksgiving is a character trait that God requires because it indicates a proper heart condition. It is not enough to simply feel appreciative, but heartfelt appreciation should be expressed. The proper expression is sometimes with words while at other times it is through works. Works that are motivated by
deep heart appreciation are most treasured by God. When Jesus told the Samaritan that his faith had made him “whole,” he was indicating that this man had been raised higher than the others. They were also healed, but this man was made whole. The thought in the Greek is that his faith had saved him. The others could return to a normal life, but the Samaritan was
more blessed because he gave glory to God and fell and worshipped at the feet of Jesus. He clearly understood the full impact of Jesus’ miracle. Once again, we see how understanding develops character.

The Good Samaritan

A Jewish lawyer came to Jesus trying to stumble him and asked, “Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus asked, “What is written in the Law?” The man rightly answered, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind;
and thy neighbor as thyself.” But the man challenged Jesus, asking further, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus responded to this probing question by giving the parable of the Good
Samaritan.

The parable describes a man who was robbed, beaten, and stripped of his clothing.  Being left “half-dead,” he laid on the side of the road. A priest, then a Levite, passed by, each crossing the road to avoid contact with the man. It was a Samaritan who, when he saw the man, was moved with compassion.  He stopped and bound the injured man’s wounds. He put him on his beast and brought him to an inn where he paid two pence with instructions to care for the wounded man (see Luke 10:25-37). If there was any more due, he would pay on his journey back.

Jesus then asked the lawyer, “Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbor unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said, ‘He that shewed mercy on him.’ Then said
Jesus unto him, ‘Go, and do thou likewise’ ” (verses 36, 37).

The lawyer understood the lesson, that our neighbors are not only those who live nearby. We have a higher obligation to help our fellow man when circumstances dictate. The priest and Levite were both on their way to Jerusalem, likely to render service in the temple. This was an important duty. However, their duty began even before arriving at the temple. They
were obliged to stop and help the injured man.

Once again, Jesus emphasized the importance of mercy and compassion. It was the outward expression of a loving heart. The Samaritan lived the reality of the Golden Rule, “As ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise” (Luke 6:31). The priest and Levite, thinking their service to God would forbid helping the man, missed the more important privilege of service. Our duties to God are often fulfilled by helping and blessing others.

There is also the lesson of humility and self-sacrifice, as demonstrated by the Samaritan. To help the injured man he accepted the inconvenience of changing his own plans and was willing to spend his own money. There was no hint of superiority, as there may have been with the priest or Levite. He humbled himself and sacrificed for the needs of another. The welfare of a total stranger was important enough that he was
willing to act upon it. So, once again, Jesus conveyed character lessons through a simple story.

The Widow’s Mite

As Jesus watched people cast their donations into the temple treasury, he noticed that the rich donated large sums, while a poor widow gave only “two mites” (see Mark 12:4143). A mite was the smallest copper coin in circulation at the time. But Jesus said, “this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury: For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.” Our Lord was not saying that the rich
were wrong, or sinful, for what they donated. But he was making the point that there is value in self-sacrifice. The woman was both poor and a widow. However, she gave to her limit. She gave quietly and humbly, without the desire to
be seen by others.

Commenting on this passage, Bro. Russell says “however small our talents, however few or limited our opportunities of service, our offerings are not despised, but are credited proportionately to the real spirit of sacrifice prompting
them” (R3863:6). How typical of the Heavenly Father to value even small offerings. He values them when He sees the pure motivation behind them.

True devotion to God will be manifested through self-sacrifice. The widow’s giving, though small, was born of gratitude. A grateful heart is an essential element of Christian character.

He Taught by Example

The character lessons Jesus taught were vital for our growth and understanding. But he left even more than lessons. He left a living example of a God-like character. The Apostle Paul urges us to follow him faithfully. He said, “If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things,
but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made
himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians
2:1-8).

Jesus left us a legacy of mercy prompted by love, humility, obedience, and self-sacrifice. All these, and more, he gave for our instruction, growth, and spiritual prosperity as we are prepared to serve the needs of mankind.

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