The Unmerciful Servant

But that same mindset can drive our decision making. We sometimes excuse it by using terms like “justice.” Someone is simply getting what they deserve. And we’re happy about that.

But often it’s revenge that is driving those situations and not justice. Married couples will give each other the silent treatment. Siblings will take turns ambushing each other.

One of the core truths in Christianity is that we are forgiven.Our slate of sin is wiped clean because of what Jesus did on the cross.

The temptation that we face is to stop there. We sometimes fail to take the next step of moving forward and forgiving others in light of the forgiveness that has been given to us. To make it clear how important this next step is, Jesus told a dramatic story of forgiveness and judgment. In this parable, he turns the idea of an unforgiving heart on it’s head.

Jesus wants us to see that we have been forgiven of far more than the wrong that anyone has ever done to us. It might not feel that way. Some wrongs seem quite large. But it’s true that we have been forgiven of more than we have been wronged.

Because of what Christ has done for us, we extend forgiveness to those who have wronged us. An unforgiving heart is evidence that we don’t yet fully understand the gospel.

Principle One: How much forgiveness is required of a Christian? (Matthew 18:21-22)

Matthew 18:21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.

Peter’s asking a common question. People wonder about forgiveness and how much they should extend. Quite honestly, doesn’t Peter’s formula seem reasonable? Someone wrongs you with the same offense over and over again. At what point do you just hang it up and write the person off? The situation is irreconcilable. We just wash out hands of it.

Some settings, marriage for example, it’s not so easy because washing our hands of the person is difficult. What you find though is marriages marked by bitterness because the repeated offenses have surpassed the forgiveness threshold. It may not be 7. It might be 3 or it might be 50. But it’s very common for people to reach a forgiveness threshold.

The handbook provides an important insight: Some translations say “seventy-seven times,” while others say “seventy times seven.” Whichever translation one reads, the point is the same. Jesus is not giving a specific number of offenses after which we are no longer obligated to forgive.

The number does not matter because Jesus is teaching that His followers are expected to forgive completely, without limits. Jesus’ parable, which follows his response to Peter, teaches this point. Christians should keep on forgiving because of the magnitude of forgiveness that has been granted to us.

Have you heard the mantra “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me?” Jesus’ says that no matter how many times a fellow believer sins against you, you are to forgive him or her. There is no limit to your forgiveness because in forgiving you are demonstrating that forgiveness is an integral component to Christian living. Christians cultivate a lifestyle of forgiveness, though not by ourselves. That is why Jesus told a story to reinforce to His followers why forgiveness is important.

Principle Two: As Christians, we have received forgiveness. (Matthew 18:23-27)

Matthew 18:23 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 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. 26 So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.

There is earthly worldview and a biblical worldview. Jesus declares that if you want your thinking to align with the thinking of my kingdom, you’ll think like this. So he tells this story.

The slave has an obscene debt - One talent was 30 kilograms of silver. This week, a kilogram of silver was would cost about $16,000 so this was a debt of $160,000,000. Said another way: One talent was 6000 denari, and a Deneri was one day’s wage. If that slave worked 7 days a week, he would need to work 164,000 years to pay the debt.

The point is that there is no way that this debt can be repaid. The king intended compensate himself for a portion by selling the man. This debt did not just affect the servant but his entire family and his family’s future. In cultures of slavery, children born as slaves would be slaves. Generations would be enslaved because of what the man owed.

The picture is a man so hopelessly in debt that his only value to the king was to sell him, his family, and their possessions to repay only a small part of his debt.

The servant begs for mercy. The king ignores the servants claim that he will repay the debt. That’s Impossible. The king forgives the entire debt! The servants financial situation is wiped clean in one moment.

In the parable, we are the servant. We are the ones who are indebted to the king of the universe. The way we became indebted to him is by withholding what he was due - our allegiance. Every wicked thought. Every evil deed. Even our very sin nature - All of it is an affront to his claim over our lives.

To get a sense of how bad it is, all we have to do is remember that hell is eternal. It takes all of eternity to deal with this debt.

But in a moment, our entire slate is wiped clean. The king absorbs the debt himself. Simply because of his mercy, we are free from our debt. We have met with God and He has determined the extent of our rebellion against Him. God has declared that the price is way too high for us to ever pay. It takes all of eternity.

People often think they can repay God by being good. We can never be enough to overcome our debt. Instead, God forgives us and wipes our debt clean because of Jesus. He has extended forgiveness to those most in need.

Now with this setting in place, Jesus gets to the heart of his answer to Peter:

Principle Three: As Christians, we must extend forgiveness. (Matthew 18:28-35)

Matthew 18:28 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.’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 31 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. 32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

The story has you on the edge of your seat! We learn that the servant had this great debt, but he’s also owed a debt. It’s not totally insignificant. One hundred denarii might have been 3-4 months of income. But it was nothing compared to what the servant owed the king.

Acting completely unlike the merciful king, the servant refuses to forgive. Instead, he treats the fellow servant harshly. He has him thrown in debtors prison because he can’t come up with the money.

I know that you’ve likely never had someone thrown in prison for having wronged you. But isn’t this how we act sometimes? God has generously and lavishly forgiven us. When we see the same sins in others, we hold it against them and try to extract revenge instead of extend mercy. We like to identify the flaws we see in other people, while at the same time, we enjoy the fact that God has forgiven us for our flaws.

This is the part of the parable we don’t like. The king looks at how we treat each other and says This is not how I want my servants to behave. I want you to treat each other the way I’ve treated you.

Taken in isolation, most people would think that the servant acted correctly. He was owed a debt. He was entitled to something. He did whatever he could to get was was owed him.

What’s shocking about the parable is the action of the servant in light of how he had been treated. So the king punishes him. Harshly! The word jailer is the Greek word for torturer. In other words, the servant would be tortured until his debt was paid - which it never would be.

Remember, a parable is a fictional story that illustrating a broader truth. In this case, it’s a lesson about forgiveness. It doesn’t mean that Christians can lose their salvation. It’s not teaching that a true Christian could end up in hell.

But there is a measure of torment in living an unforgiving life. When we don’t forgive, God allows us to be handed over to torturers such as bitterness and loneliness. Our relationships can be marked by resentment instead love. These torturers are real for Christians as hell is real for unbelievers. When forgiveness is not present, God allows us to be handed over to our own personal torturers and tormentors. Even when the people who wronged you are no longer in your life, your unforgiving heart can wreak havoc in your soul.

The beautiful truth is that we can be freed from all this when we act like our king. We need to learn to forgiving others. You don’t need to be bound to the people who hurt you. Withholding forgiveness causes as much damage to your soul as your revenge causes to those who hurt you.

So here’s what I want you to consider: You don’t fully understand the gospel, if you refuse to forgive. Jesus is warning his disciples to not make the mistake of thinking they can be forgiven while withholding forgiveness from others. Living that way eats away at you should and locks you in the torment of your own bitterness. That’s not how God called you to live!


We have wronged the King of the universe in ways and to the extent that we can never repay. In one gracious act called salvation, your debt was eliminated. God sent Jesus, and by faith in Christ, forgiveness is extended to us.

Our problem is that we don’t often see our own sin the way the king sees it. We tend to think of our sin and minor, and the sins committed against us as major. This parable flips that paradigm!

Our sin is unforgivable. Our sin is beyond our ability to fix. Only the king can take care of it for us!

The measure and means by which we forgive has nothing to do with the person who wronged us. The measure and means by which we forgive has everything to do with the Savior who forgave us. When a professing Christian has difficulty forgiving others, it reveals a deep problem of the heart.

We have much to learn about how to live in Jesus’ kingdom. Your life and mine should be characterized by forgiveness simply because we have been forgiven. It has nothing to do with the wrong that was done of the person who wronged us. Forgiveness is based only on the gospel, and what God, through Christ, has done for you.


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