What Does the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant Teach Us?

Randy Alcorn

unforgiving servant parable

"Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?" Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times."Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. "At this the servant fell on his knees before him. 'Be patient with me,' he begged, 'and I will pay back everything.' The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. "But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded. "His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.' "But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened. "Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. "This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart."

The parable of the unforgiving servant, also known as the unmerciful servant, in Matthew 18:21-35 teaches us two things about sin. First, it is beyond our capacity to repay, and second, it is greater than any offense we have suffered—or could suffer—at the hands of others. Without really seeing ourselves as impoverished sinners, we cannot appreciate God’s grace and cannot truly forgive others as we should.

The forgiveness of God is a prominent theme throughout Scripture, one that should invoke from us expressions of wonder and praise. Here is a passage from the Old Testament. There are countless others throughout the Bible.

What is the bottom line of God’s forgiveness? He has seen me at my worst and still loves me; because He knows everything I’ve ever thought or done, there are no skeletons in my closet; His love for me cannot be earned and therefore cannot be lost.

Christ not only removes my condemnation and considers me innocent, he declares me righteous. I am as acceptable, yes commendable, to the Father as Christ himself (2 Corinthians 5:21). God is totally and irreversibly satisfied with me because He is totally and irreversibly satisfied with Christ’s work on my behalf (1 John 2:2, 1 John 4:10)....

If we have admitted, confessed, and repented of our sin, we have been forgiven by God whether or not we feel like it. But there is yet another dimension and evidence of forgiveness. If we have experienced God’s forgiveness, it will be shown in our forgiveness of others. In the parable of the unmerciful servant, Jesus teaches that forgiving others is part of our own forgiveness (Matthew 18:21-35).

Taken from "Good News: God Forgives" by Randy Alcorn, Eternal Perspective Ministries, 39085 Pioneer Blvd., Suite 206, Sandy, OR 97055, 503-668-5200, www.epm.org

Additional Commentary on the Unforgiving Servant

Though we live wholly on mercy and forgiveness, we are backward to forgive the offences of our brethren. This parable shows how much provocation God has from his family on earth, and how untoward his servants are. There are three things in the parable: 1. The master's wonderful clemency. The debt of sin is so great, that we are not able to pay it. See here what every sin deserves; this is the wages of sin, to be sold as a slave. It is the folly of many who are under strong convictions of their sins, to fancy they can make God satisfaction for the wrong they have done him. 2. The servant's unreasonable severity toward his fellow-servant, notwithstanding his lord's clemency toward him. Not that we may make light of wronging our neighbour, for that is also a sin against God; but we should not aggravate our neighbour's wronging us, nor study revenge. Let our complaints, both of the wickedness of the wicked, and of the afflictions of the afflicted, be brought to God, and left with him. 3. The master reproved his servant's cruelty. The greatness of sin magnifies the riches of pardoning mercy; and the comfortable sense of pardoning mercy, does much to dispose our hearts to forgive our brethren. We are not to suppose that God actually forgives men, and afterwards reckons their guilt to them to condemn them; but this latter part of the parable shows the false conclusions many draw as to their sins being pardoned, though their after-conduct shows that they never entered into the spirit, or experienced the sanctifying grace of the gospel. We do not forgive our offending brother aright, if we do not forgive from the heart. Yet this is not enough; we must seek the welfare even of those who offend us. How justly will those be condemned, who, though they bear the Christian name, persist in unmerciful treatment of their brethren! The humbled sinner relies only on free, abounding mercy, through the ransom of the death of Christ. Let us seek more and more for the renewing grace of God, to teach us to forgive others as we hope for forgiveness from him. (Matthew Henry Complete Bible Commentary)


Originally published September 01, 2010.