Summer Parables: Unforgiving Servant

August 22, 2010 Series: Summer Parables 2010

Topic: Gospel Passage: Matthew 18:21–18:35

The Unforgiving Servant

Sermon by Mark Hakso

August 22, 2010



Open your bibles to Matthew 18.  That’s where we are going to be spending our time this morning.  But first I’m going to read a passage from Matt. 6 where Jesus is teaching his disciples how to pray: 9 Pray then like this:

    "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. 10 Your kingdom come, your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread, 12and forgive us our debts,
   as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13And lead us not into temptation,
   but deliver us from evil.

 14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.


Today’s sermon is on the parable of the unforgiving servant and is found in Matthew 18: 21-35. This parable, in which Jesus teaches us that Christians need to be a forgiving people has rightly been described by some as a parable of judgment because of the way with which Jesus concludes it with a warning of eternal judgment for those who do not forgive their brother from the heart.  So I think it fair to say that it is wise for us to humbly hear this parable and learn what Jesus is teaching us about forgiveness.


The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant

 21Then 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?" 22Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.

 23"Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24When 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. 26So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.' 27And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28But 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.' 29So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you.' 30He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 31When 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. 32Then 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."

Peter’s question

The impetus for the telling of this parable by Jesus is a question that is asked of him by his disciple Peter.  And it is a good question indeed.  Peter had been walking with Jesus for some time now and one of the things he has picked up on is that Jesus is a man who has demonstrated some amazing compassion and grace to a variety of people, like tax collectors, adulterers, sick people with various diseases, blind people and deaf people.  He probably remembered the time that Jesus showed grace to the woman who had been caught in the very act of adultery, and refused to condemn her as the religious crowd had. 


I’m sure that as Peter thought about this question he asked Jesus, he considered the fact that Jesus had never turned away anyone that was broken over their sin or who was expressing their need for a savior or healer. 


It’s important to consider the Jewish context from which Peter asks this question.  The question of how many times should a person be forgiven for the same offense was a question that had been long debated by rabbis.  One of their famous rabbis is later quoted to have said that “If a brother sins against you once, forgive him; a second time, forgive him; a third time forgive him; but a fourth time, do not forgive him.”  So I think that when Peter went to Jesus with this question it was with the idea that he was modeling some grace that he had picked up from Jesus along the way;  that forgiveness was to be offered not just three times but seven times.


It’s interesting to note a couple of personal interactions which Peter has with Jesus in the 16th chapter.  In the first one Peter and the other disciples are asked by Jesus who they say that He is.  Peter is the first to answer when he says that “You are Christ, the son of the living God.”  In this instance, Christ blesses Peter for this knowledge which had been given him by the father in heaven.  Only a few verses later, when Christ tells the disciples that he must soon go toJerusalem to suffer many things and be killed and on the third day be raised, Peter takes Jesus aside and rebukes him, telling him that these things shall never happen to you.  This time Jesus is not so kind with Peter and says, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man."

Perhaps Peter was trying his best to get back in the good graces of Jesus again when he came to him with this question, thinking he was so filled with grace and love that Jesus might say to him, “Well, Peter, you sure are progressing nicely in your sanctification.  Not bad for a fisherman. Seven is exactly the right number.” 


But before we condemn Peter too quickly, we really need to examine ourselves and ask the question, “How quick are we to forgive others when they sin against us?  Are we able to forgive someone over and over again or is it difficult for us to forgive someone when there has only been one offence against us?


Jesus’ answer

2Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven. In other words, there is no limit to forgiveness.  There is no limit to the grace we are to show to one another.  And in order to demonstrate why this is to be the case, he tells the parable of the unforgiving servant. 


The parable


Jesus compares the Kingdom of heaven to a king who decides that it’s time to settle accounts with those who owe him money.  A certain person is brought before him who owes him ten thousand talents.  Now the value of ten thousand talents in today’s dollars varies a lot of course depending on the current exchange rate.  Today it would be worth many Billions of dollars.  How, you wonder, could anyone accrue such a debt? Perhaps he was an employee of the king who was entrusted to look after the king’s treasury, and had over many years time stolen large sums and lost it by gambling it away or by living in luxury himself.  Nevertheless, the point of the large number is that this person owed such a large debt that he was totally incapable of paying it off, ever. Even Dave Ramsey with all his students at financialpeaceUniversitywould have been helpless to devise a debt snowball big enough to make a dent into this  And the only thing that he can do is appeal for mercy and grace from the king.


 It’s very much like the debt that we owe because of our sin; an insurmountable amount.  No amount of working would ever pay off what we owe.  The poor servant pleads with the king that if only the king would have patience he would pay back everything.  Never mind the fact that it was humanly impossible for him to repay him.  But that did not stop him from making the plea.  Much like us I’m afraid.  How often do we foolish humans cry out to God that if only He will have patience with us we will pay for our sins by doing some extraordinarily good things in His behalf, or turn away from our evil ways and embrace some good clean living for a time?  Our ability to satisfy God in this way is just as impossible as the servant portrayed in this parable.  Our only hope is that God would be gracious toward us and that He would completely pardon our debt.  And He is.  For many of us who have experienced the Divine forgiveness of a spiritual debt of ten thousand talents, the memory of how great a debt we have been forgiven is sometimes lost on us, and that is why this parable is so important to us.  And being creatures with such short memories of our own wretchedness, we can sometimes be stingy with how we administer grace to others.


So this poor servant finds grace in the sight of his King and is forgiven all his debt. What a king!  He doesn’t have to forgive him.  He is under no obligation to do so, but he does so anyway, because he had pity on him.  Then Jesus says that he went out and finding one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii’s seized him by the throat and demanded payment.  When he cried for patience that he would pay him back all of it, the first servant had no mercy on him and had him thrown into prison. Now in comparison, the hundred denarii’s was worth a week or two wages, a world of difference of the debt that he had just been pardoned of. Now it’s natural for pretty much anybody who reads this parable to be aghast at how ungrateful and unforgiving this servant is.  It seems incomprehensible to us. Doesn’t it? So why are we sometimes so apt to behave just like him?  When we have been forgiven so much; all of our sins completely wiped away, the punishment of hell taken away, the glory of heaven given to us as an absolutely free gift, and still, there are times when we withhold forgiveness from someone who has wronged us.  How do you explain that?   


Now this unforgiving servant had some friends who were not really at impressed by his lack of grace and they went and reported it to the king, who was equally unimpressed, and had this guy summoned and brought before 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."


At this point it’s very important to get the message of this parable straight. First of all, for all of us who claim the name of Jesus, this is very sobering teaching on what the extension of forgiveness should look like in our lives.  There quite literally are no occasions where it is acceptable to not forgive someone who is repentant.  The truth is, we tend to be forgiving to the extent that we have experienced forgiveness. The more we comprehend the depth of our depravity and the fullness and completeness of God’s grace in addressing it, the more likely we are to forgive and show grace to those who have sinned against us.  If you find it impossible to forgive those who have sinned against you, you probably haven’t experienced the greatest pardon of all for yourself. 


The point is, if you haven’t been rescued from your debt of ten thousand talents then no amount of trying to forgive others will get you closer to being forgiven yourself.  You first must have your own debt forgiven.  You must first have a personal visit with the King of Kings and admit to him that you are broke and completely incapable of paying off your debt and appeal to his mercy in pardoning it.  The scriptures promise that he will forgive you.  John tells us that 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us 1 John 1:9-10.


Once you have been forgiven then forgiveness can flow from you as a work of grace in your life. 


What forgiveness is

Seventeenth century Puritan Thomas Watson in his explanation of the Lord’s prayer where Christ says to “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors”, gives a good definition of what forgiveness is: He asks the question, When do we forgive others?

When we strive against all thoughts of revenge; when we will not do our enemies mischief, but wish well to them, grieve at their calamities, pray for them, seek reconciliation with them, and show ourselves ready on all occasions to relieve them. This is gospel- forgiving. 

This means that when you forgive someone you no longer hold their sin against them. You will not harbor ill feelings or bitterness toward them because of their sin.  Depending on the severity of the sin, this can be humanely very difficult, but possible only through the power of the Holy Spirit.  But forgiveness is not only essential and beneficial to the one being forgiven but also to the one who forgives.  Forgiveness allows you to release the feelings of anger and bitterness you may feel toward the sinner and bring about healing and restored relationship.  This does not mean that as the forgiver you should never be angry or that you should always attempt to eliminate the consequences that come as a result of more grievous sins.

What forgiveness is not

It is just as important for us to take a few minutes to consider what is not included in Watson’s definition of forgiveness.

1. An absence of anger at sin.  Even God gets angry at sin.  It would be disingenuous for me to say that you should never get angry when you have been sinned against.  Sin is ugly, and some sin is uglier than others, and being the victim of someone’s sinful behavior can bring about anger.  Consider what it’s like for a wife to find out that her husband has been having an affair.  Or for a child to endure years of sexual abuse at the hands of a relative.  It’s normal to have feelings of anger.  It’s what you do with the anger that matters.  Allowing it to turn into to bitterness is where your own sin comes into play.  But after the anger subsides, the having a forgiving heart is the antidote to bitterness.

2. Not the removal of the serious consequences of sin. Being forgiving does not mean that the consequences of the sin are automatically eliminated.  Even God allows us to feel the sting from the bad choices we make.  Sometimes people go to jail even after they have been forgiven.  Murderers on death row have been known to seek God’s forgiveness for their crimes but still face the gallows.

An important theological truth for all of us to understand is this:  when a sinner gets saved, he or she no longer faces the wrath of God; in this life or the life to come.  God has removed the curse of sin from our lives.  But this does not mean that when we sin, God turns a blind eye to it. Absolutely not! It’s a sure thing that if we are living in non-repentant sin, that we will invoke our father’s displeasure and He will discipline us and correct our course to bring us back to himself.

Hebrews 12:6 - 10 tells us, "My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
   nor be weary when reproved by him.
6For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
   and chastises every son whom he receives.  7It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? .10For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.  Hebrews 12:6 – 10.

Also, consider the life of King David.  David was a good man, described as being a man after God’s own heart.  After committing adultery with a woman named Bathsheba he tried to cover up his sin by having her husband Uriah set up to killed in a battle the Israeli army was engaged in. The bible tells us that God sent the Prophet Nathan to go and talk to David about his sin.  After David admits and confesses his sin, Nathan assures him that his sins are forgiven.  However Nathan also gives him a solemn prophecy about his future: 10Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.' 11Thus says the LORD, 'Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house. And I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. 12For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before allIsrael and before the sun.'"

And then Nathan tells him that 14Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the LORD, the child who is born to you shall die."

 This is but on of numerous biblical examples where God forgives a sinner but allows him to feel the consequences of his sin.

Restitution – Being forgiven also means that depending on your sins, you may be paying restitution for your sins.  Consider Zacheus who after receiving grace from Jesus said to the Lord, "Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold." 9And Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house. . .” Luke 19: 8-9a

What about non-repentant sinners.

Everything that we’ve been talking about this morning about forgiveness is true so far as it concerns forgiving someone who expresses sorrow over their sin and is asking for forgiveness. What about people who are non-repentant? That is, those who do not have any remorse for their wrongdoing and are unapologetic about it?  Do we just automatically forgive in this situation?  I think that many well meaning Christians believe that we are to always forgive those who have wronged us regardless if they are repentant or not.

This parable that we’ve been looking at this morning concerns the sin of not forgiving a person who is obviously begging for grace and mercy, so let’s look at another verse where Jesus teaches about this.  In Luke 17:3-4 this is what Jesus says about it: 3Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, 4and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, 'I repent,' you must forgive him."

So Jesus teaches that repentance is a necessary prerequisite for forgiveness. Unfortunately, this leaves many people in a situation where they would like to forgive but can’t because of non repentance.  Rather then becoming embittered, pray for the person, that God would grant unto them repentance and grief over their sin. We can still lay down our ill will, hand over our anger to God, and seek to do him good, but we cannot carry through reconciliation or intimacy. 

Finally, I want to speak to you about the difference between apologizing and asking forgiveness.  Have you ever noticed how much easier it is to say “I’m sorry” versus saying “Will you forgive me?”  The root word for apology is apologia, which means to make a defense.  Hence the study of apologetics in theology, to make a defense for the gospel of Christ.  Not to be too legalistic about this matter, but I believe that for forgiveness to be complete, it’s important to speak the correct language of forgiveness.  So the next time you done wrong to someone and you want to make it right with them, don’t just say you’re sorry.  Ask for forgiveness as well. 

This is something that I am learning, teaching my family and trying to put into practice myself.  We were just on vacation in Mexico for a week and halfway through it I had to call a meeting with our four teenagers to try and help them put a stop to some bickering and fighting that had been going on between them for the past couple days.  After discussing things with them for about an hour, they finally got to the point where they began to see where they each had fallen short in the relationships.  Slowly they began to confess their sins and apologize to one another.  I felt compelled to remind them that in addition to saying they were sorry it was even more important for them to actually name the sin and ask for forgiveness.  Perhaps with a little reluctance at first they acquiesced and spoke forgiveness to each other.

Each week we remember the suffering and death of Jesus by taking communion and bringing forth our tithes and offerings.  This morning, before you come and partake of this sacrament or bring forth your gift, listen to these words of Jesus, 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.


More in Summer Parables 2010

September 5, 2010

Summer Parables: The Rich Fool

August 15, 2010

Summer Parables: The Good Samaritan

August 8, 2010

Summer Parables: The Foolish Bridesmaids