The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant

stained glass window of the unforgiving servant

Matthew 18 shows Jesus speaking a great deal about forgiveness. He talks about the value of the forgiveness of even one person. Peter asks Jesus about how often he should forgive an offender, and Jesus gives the famous answer of seventy times seven. Jesus then culminates this teaching by telling a parable of a servant who owed his master a debt.

Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants.

When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.

But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’

So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt.

When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt.

So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.

Seeing Ourselves in the Servant

This debt the servant owes is our debt to God, and, like that servant, I can never repay that debt. It is beyond my ability to pay, but God forgives that debt through Christ. However, there is another debt in this passage — a smaller debt. In that case, the servant refuses forgiveness after having been shown great mercy. The servant is forgiven for an exponentially larger debt, but instead of letting that grace change him, he is unforgiving toward another.

Colossians 3:12 tells us we should forgive others as God forgives us. To do this, we put on love, which binds all else together. That ingredient has to be present if we are to be forgiving toward one another. We have to let the grace soften us and make us more forgiving people. Compared to the forgiveness God has shown us, any offense another can do against us is small. How then can we deny forgiveness with such a great example?

Withholding Forgiveness

When we withhold forgiveness, Hebrews 12:14 – 15 says we allow bitterness to grow within us. The solution is to instead pursue peace. Think of the man who had been accused of adultery in I Corinthians? In II Corinthians 2, Paul rebukes that congregation for not fully forgiving him once he repented. We can be guilty of this same thing when our brothers and sisters struggle. Instead, we should be forgiving and supportive when we see our fellow Christians struggling to recover from sin.

Jesus is serious about us being forgiving. Forgiveness is a command every bit as much as worship, baptism, and honesty. This parable makes it clear that refusing forgiveness toward others removes God’s forgiveness from us. Even the model prayer contains these words: “Forgive us our debts as we have forgiven others their debts.”

Forgive As We’ve Been Forgiven

Romans 4:7 – 8 says that we are blessed when we’re forgiven. And God’s forgiveness is not a one time thing. He forgives again and again, and He expects us to do the same. If I am holding a grudge, it’s time to forgive. If you’ve refused to talk about the challenges you face, open up so we can all forgive and support you. We should all keep in mind the amazing mercy shown to each of us in God’s forgiveness, and we should be extending that mercy to others. When we look at the immensity of God’s grace, how can we do anything other than share it?

lesson by Kent Ward