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The Parable of 
The Unforgiving Servant

Matt 18:23-35  Therefore the Kingdom of Heaven is like a certain king, who wanted to reconcile accounts with his servants.  When he had begun to reconcile, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.  But because he couldn’t pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, with his wife, his children, and all that he had, and payment to be made.  The servant therefore fell down and kneeled before him, saying, ‘Lord, have patience with me, and I will repay you all!’  The lord of that servant, being moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt.  "But that servant went out, and found one of his fellow servants, who owed him one hundred denarii, and he grabbed him, and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’  "So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will repay you!’  He would not, but went and cast him into prison, until he should pay back that which was due.  So when his fellow servants saw what was done, they were exceedingly sorry, and came and told to their lord all that was done.  Then his lord called him in, and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt, because you begged me.  Shouldn’t you also have had mercy on your fellow servant, even as I had mercy on you?’   His lord was angry, and delivered him to the tormentors, until he should pay all that was due to him.  So my heavenly Father will also do to you, if you don’t each forgive your brother from your hearts for his misdeeds." (web)

Discussion Questions

Was the master's forgiveness of the debt unconditional?
Is God's forgiveness of our sins unconditional?
If not, what is the condition? Or with which kind of attitude must we receive the forgiveness?
If someone asks to forgive their debts against you, what conditions would you attach and what barriers may hinder you from offering such forgiveness?
What kind of behavior would you expect from those who have had their sins forgiven?
If their behavior is deficient, what might you infer?
If you were to pay back your own sins, how much effort or punishment would that require?


If he is referring to talents of gold, ten thousand talents of gold would be about three billion dollars ($3,000,000,000) - This of course was absurd. Who would lend someone $3,000,000,000? And how could he have possibly have spend so much money? But Jesus used this illustration to reveal God's attitude towards our sins and how absurd it is to think that we can pay it back ourselves. But also for another reason. One hundred denari was about $1000, and the contrast between these two numbers reveals the attitude that Jesus demands we take on considering our indebtedness to God compared to others indebtedness to us. It can be humiliating to consider.

We can only obtain the forgiveness of sins which God offers us if we receive it with the right attitude. Jesus advocates the prayer, "Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors." Mt 6:12 The wicked servant in the parable represents the nominal Christian who though he begs forgiveness from God doesn't have an application oriented faith and so ultimately is not saved. Though he may have seen sincere, yet by his behavior it appears that he considered his debt and the master's forgiveness to be trivial. There are those who may pray a prayer for salvation, but who lack serious conviction of sin and don't consider the implications of being forgiven, not receiving it with true humility and conviction. These are not saved.

Though salvation is a free gift, it is not unconditional. It is conditioned upon faith in Christ.Putting our faith in the atoning work of Christ for the forgiveness of our sins requires that we view ourselves as truly in debt to God. We cannot receive Christ without true conviction of sin. We cannot receive him with the attitude: "I'm not really all that bad a person, but whatever trivial things you have against me, forgive me for these."

A person's behavior reveals whether he has received Christ with a proper attitude.

"This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother." 1John 3:10
But those who don't forgive others who sin against them and ask for forgiveness, reveal that they haven't really accepted the fact of the depth of their own sinfulness against God and the extent to which God had supposedly forgiven them. They hadn't received the word in humility. But rather they are like those Peter writes about:
If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. Of them the proverbs are true: "A dog returns to its vomit," and, "A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud." 2Pet 2:20-22
(Here "knowing" and "known" are not "ginoskw" g.k. = relational knowledge as in knowing someone personally, but "epiginoskw" g.k. = having knowledge about someone)

There are those who know about the gospel, they understand it, but they haven't experienced it or received it personally. They know about God, and through that knowledge experience some short term benefits. But without having established a personal relationship with God, such knowledge simply increased their level of accountability on judgement day.

But does God take back forgiveness of sins?

Does this parable teach that a person can lose his salvation? While I think that Jesus meant for people to question their salvation status by evaluating their behavior,  I don't think his point was to fear the loss of salvation, having obtained it. In other words I think this parable deals more with the issue of assurance of salvation rather than eternal security.

There are those who have the attitude that justification (the forgiveness of sins) is obtained by faith, but maintained by one's performance, like forgiving others. But this would be like the servant, having been forgiven by the master, approaching his fellow servant with the attitude - "I don't really want to forgive you, but I do so reluctantly just so the master won't take back the forgiveness of my debt." This is not forgiving from the heart. This attitude reveals the same kind of lack of appreciation of master's forgiveness as if he had not forgiven his fellow servant. Indeed with this attitude he would not have forgiven his fellow servant at all if he believed he could have gotten away with it without word getting back to the master.

The difference between this parable and reality is that God knows all things. The master doesn't know with what attitude the servant received the forgiveness of his debts until his behavior revealed it. But God does know. Thus in reality such a person having asked for the forgiveness of sins may not have actually received it as he may not have a quality of faith acceptable to God for salvation. But other Christians would reckon him as a brother in Christ and no basis for doing otherwise, until his behavior revealed otherwise.

"Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you-- unless, of course, you fail the test?" 2Cor 13:5

There are also some who hold to a purgatorial concept and for a number of parables that speak of punishment of servants or weeping and gnashing teeth, they interpret to mean that such people don't lose salvation, but rather get thrown into some sort of purgatorial situation - either to pay the penalty for their sins judicially or to be cleansed from their sinfulness through being tormented.

However not only is this concept contrary to the basic concept of the gospel of grace as well as the rest of the Bible, but it also simply won't work even on a theoretical basis. Consider the two ideas that people have proposed as to what goes on in this hypothetical purgatory situation.

1. One idea is that people who are "redeemed" may die with some sins left over which haven't been forgiven and so they have to pay the penalty for these sins to satisfy God's justice.

2. The other idea is that people who are "redeemed" have been judicially forgiven of sin, but must be cleansed of their sinfulness - their innate tendency to sin - by being tormented in purgatory. So in general the concept of purgatory simply trivializes the consequence of sin and so devalues the atoning work of Christ.


There once was a king wanting to settle accounts
With his servants and calculated all the amounts
These servants owed to the king in question
His demand for repayment was more than a suggestion
There was a servant who owed him quite alot
But could he repay? No, he could not
So the master demanded all his things be sold
He and his family, his silver and gold
Then the servant fell to his knees
Hoping his master to appease
"Be patient with me. I know that I lack.
But if you wait, the debt I'll pay back".
The master took pity on him, you know
And cancelled his debt and let him go
But the servant then went out and found a fellow man
Who owed him just a little - grabbed him and began
To choke the fellow servant demanding he be paid.
But the servant fell to his knees trembling and afraid
"I will pay you back everything I owe.
Please just wait a while. Don't take this as a 'no'"
But the servant was impatient and threw him into jail.
But word got to the king of this horrid tale.
And called the wicked servant in before his throne
"I forgave, you should too, this should have known.
But now you have revealed your real attitude
And so I am removing all your latitude."
He threw him into jail to pay back all he owed.
Being tortured day and night even after growing old.
This kind of treatment my Father will impart.
If you don't forgive your brothers and do it from your heart

The Berean Christian Bible Study Resources

Aug 13,2020