The Parable Of The Unmerciful Servant


‘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.’ Matthew 18:21-22

After teaching about the importance of unity within the church, Matthew 18:15-20, it appears that Peter needed some things cleared in his head. He’s basically asking Jesus, “Lord what I really want to know is, how often should I forgive my brother, as many as seven times, is that enough?”

And in Peter’s mind, he was looking to be complemented by Jesus because he was willing to forgive more than most people would. In the Jewish, mindset many Rabbis’ taught that a man was to be forgiven 3 times, but no more than 3.

And so what Peter did was, he multiplied this number by two and then added an extra one in there just for good measure. And he gave himself a pat on the back and thought to himself, ‘Look what a wonderful person I am, to be willing to forgive like that.’

Peter was willing to forgive but his mistake was that he measured himself by human standards rather than by divine standards. Jesus answers Peter and more or less says to him, ‘Peter, you shouldn’t just forgive your brother seven times, but seventy-seven times’.

Now please don’t misunderstand what Jesus is saying here. He’s not saying, ‘we forgive someone 77 times and when we get to 78 that’s it, we don’t have to forgive them anymore.’

He’s not saying that, what He’s saying is that a person should always be ready to forgive, it’s not a matter of counting, it’s a matter of conduct, Matthew 6:12 / Matthew 18:35 / James 2:13.

The Parable Of The Unmerciful Servant

“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 talents 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. “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, cancelled the debt and let him go.” Matthew 18:23-27

Jesus teaches us 3 things about relationships, and He’s going to reveal more truths about the kingdom of God.

1. When it comes to the divine nature of forgiveness, God is merciful and just.

It’s obvious that the king who owns everything is God, the debt stands for sin and the servant stands for all of mankind. And the first thing that strikes you with the King is His pity.

The King couldn’t hold His pity back from His servant who had wasted his money. And that’s because that’s the kind of God we have, He is merciful to everyone, Psalm 130:7 / Isaiah 1:18 / Psalm 103:12.

God is willing to forgive all of our sins. Because although He is merciful to us, He is also just in forgiveness. The heart of this parable is that God will not forgive us our sins unless we freely forgive others, Matthew 5:7. Forgiving others is truly a Christian grace.

The Law of Moses didn’t obligate a man to forgive his fellow man, the forgiveness of enemies wasn’t regarded as a virtue in Israel. But Jesus comes along and says, ‘forgiveness is a duty’.

Jesus says, ‘If someone sins and they repent, then it’s your duty as a Christian to forgive that person,’ Luke 17:3-4.

We need to be careful not to get involved with their sin too but if they have truly repented and are seeking forgiveness from you, you can’t hold their sin against them. Because all that does is stop that person from learning from their mistakes and stops them from growing into the likeness of Christ, Ephesians 4:32.

There’s not an offence which is so great that your brother or sister can commit against you that you cannot forgive. I’m not saying it will be easy to forgive, but what I am saying is that you need to forgive them because we’re to forgive each other just as God forgave us, 1 John 1:9.

Remember that the man who has no pity for his fellow man, will not get pity from God, Matthew 6:12. That text was never meant to be rehearsed week in and week out. That text was meant to be understood and lived by.

God forgives us as we have forgiven others. In other words, we must forgive others before we can be forgiven. Jesus says that when it comes to forgiveness, God’s forgiveness and man’s forgiveness of each other are inseparable.

“But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. 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 you back.’ “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt.” Matthew 18:28-30

2. He says that ‘human judgement is always condemning’.

The unmerciful servant has just had all his debts cleared by the master and this poor guy who only owed him 100 denarii was grabbed by the throat, and this was nothing less than pure heartlessness.

During these times in Greek and Roman culture, it was common practice for a debtor to be taken by the throat and brought before the court to stand trial.

In fact, you’ve probably heard the saying, ‘he almost choked the life out of me’. That saying came from the Greeks and what it meant was that this debtor was going to be made to pay his debt. So what he was basically doing was demanding payment, in other words, he was saying, ‘pay me what you owe me!’

And in the unmerciful servant’s mind, he’s probably thinking, ‘honest people pay their debts’. But what a short memory he has, hasn’t he?

It was only moments ago that he had ‘ten thousand talents’ cancelled and yet the text tells us that even though his fellow servant begged and pleaded with him, he didn’t listen and so he had him thrown into prison.

The unmerciful servant expected from his fellow servant what he didn’t expect himself. In other words, it’s very easy to see other people’s faults and failures, but we’re so slow when we look at our own. It’s in mankind’s nature when we judge people, to also condemn them.

What did Jesus say about condemning judgment? He said before you go judging and condemning others, take a close look at yourself first, Matthew 7:1-5. Take a look at your own life and see if you are sinless.

Or in the words of Jesus when he’s speaking to those who claimed that a woman had been caught in the act of adultery in John 8:7 ‘Let you who have no sin throw the first stone.’ If only we were as gentle and as understanding and as kind to others as we are to ourselves.

‘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 cancelled 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.” Matthew 18:31-34

3. All men are debtors to God.

The unforgiving spirit of the wicked person stirred anger in the heart of the forgiving master. Even those who witnessed the unforgiving spirit of the man were grieved. As a result, he was tortured and put in prison until he could pay off the debt.

I don’t care who you are or where you’re from, you are a debtor to God and you need to know that, Isaiah 53:6 / Romans 3:23. In other words, man’s relationship to God is one of, debtor to creditor.

We owe much more than we can ever pay. Jesus deliberately chose the two sums of money mentioned in the parable, because both amounts are extreme.

Jesus said that ‘the servant owed his fellow servant 100 denarii.’ A denarii was a Roman coin, which was worth around 5p or 6p, which made the total debt around £5 or £6.

But Jesus that ‘the unmerciful servant owed the king ten thousand talents. It’s hard to imagine just how large an amount of money that was. The talent was worth around £500 so that meant that 10,000 talents would be worth around £5,000,000.

This was a staggering amount of money, it was an unimaginable amount of money.

When you read your Biblical history, it’s said that Judea, Idumea, Samaria, Galilee and Perea brought 800 talents in tax money every year. So this guy’s debt was much more than all the tax money brought in from many provinces.

What’s the point Jesus is making? The point is simply this, neither guy could pay! And it is the same with our obligation. How much do we owe Him?

Because some people believe that they owe Him nothing and yet they breathe in His air, they enjoy His sunshine and rain but yet they never give Him a passing glance or an ounce in return.

There are people who acknowledge that they owe the Lord something, but there are others who confess that they owe much. This parable of Jesus screams out and says to each and every one of us, ‘you owe the Lord much more than you can ever pay.’

What can we give to God? Shall we give Him some animal sacrifice? We can’t give Him animals because He owns the animals, Psalm 50:9-10. Or shall we give Him our life-long service? Luke 7:10.

So if our debt to God is enormous and if we really have nothing with which to release our obligation, then salvation truly is of divine grace and not of mortal merit. We all are debtors because none of us has anything to offer God.

Jesus warns us that, we too will be punished, if we are not willing to forgive our brothers and sisters in Christ if we’re not willing to show mercy to others when we’re in so much need of it ourselves, James 2:13.

When our brothers or sisters sin against us, we must forgive them, Matthew 6:12-14 / Matthew 7:2 / Mark 11:26 / Luke 6:37 / Ephesians 4:32 / Colossians 3:13 / James 5:9.

I don’t know if you have noticed but this parable has got many contrasts.

For example, there’s a contrast between Peter’s number and the Lord’s number. Peter was willing to forgive seven times but the Lord said to forgive infinitely.

There is another contrast between the two debts. One was almost a silly sum of money, the other was unpayable. And likewise, the wrongs done to us and the injuries we receive from our fellow servants are amazingly small in comparison with the magnitude of our sins against God.

And lastly, there is a contrast between the creditors. The mighty king forgave but the lowly servant wouldn’t. If God is willing to forgive the more, then surely we should be willing to forgive the less.