Lessons from the Unforgiving Servant

Lessons from the Unforgiving Servant

We know that Jesus often spoke in parables in order to teach and illustrate profound, divine truths. In the parable of the unforgiving servant which is found only in Matthew 18:21-35, Jesus teaches several lessons on forgiveness and how to deal with unforgiveness.

The Definition of Forgiveness

Forgiveness is the act of pardoning an offender. When you forgive someone, you basically dismiss or release that person from all charges against you.

In the parable of the unforgiving servant, Jesus equated forgiveness with canceling a debt. That is because, in the Bible, the Greek word translated “forgiveness” literally means “to let go,” as when a person does not demand payment for a debt.

The Frequency of Forgiveness

The passage begins with Peter asking Jesus, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times? (Matthew 18:21)” By offering up the suggestion of the figure of seven, Peter thought that he was being over-generous and extremely loving. That is because many Jewish rabbis of that time taught that three times was the accepted limit.

But Jesus said to Peter, “not up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven” Matthew 18:22). Did Jesus really mean 490 times is the limit? And deny forgiveness at the 491st offense (70X7 =490)? Of course not! The idea behind “up to seventy times seven” is UNLIMITED forgiveness. Jesus is saying, There should be no limit to your forgiveness, Peter. So stop counting and just keep on forgiving!”

Hindrances to Forgiveness and How to Overcome them

1) Forgetting what we have been forgiven from.

Where the servant failed is in forgetting how much he was forgiven of. He forgot the merciful treatment his master gave him. He forgot how his master forgave him of his “unpayable” debt.

The denarius and talent were units of currency used in the New Testament times. A denarius is a Roman silver coin weighing 4 grams and is equivalent to a day’s wages for a common laborer and soldier (Matthew 20:1-2). While a talent which is a unit weight for gold typically weighed about 33 kg (75 lbs).

Item Unit Value
1 Denarius 4 g of silver coin A day’s wages
1 Talent (6,000 Denarii) About 33 kg of gold 16 years’ wages

 

The servant owed his master 10,000 talents (60 M Denarii) which is worth about 160,000 years’ wages, a tremendous amount of money which he could never pay in his lifetime in his own strength and ability. His co-servant owed him 100 denarii (roughly a hundred days’ wages), which was almost nothing compared to the debt forgiven by his master.

Note: Most commentators list the modern value of ten thousand talents as anywhere between $12 million and $1 billion US dollars.

Ten Thousand Talents

In the same way, we too have committed grave sins against God deserving of punishment. But because of God’s great love, mercy and compassion, He wanted to pardon us. He does not want us to rot in hell to pay for our sins that is why He Himself provided a way for us to be forgiven, even if it means sacrificing His only begotten Son on the cross of Calvary (John 3:16; John 14:6).

Let us not make the same mistake that the unforgiving servant did. Let us always make sure to remember how God forgave our enormous debt. In times when we are tempted to lose patience with someone or withhold forgiveness, let us remember the great mercy God has shown us when we needed it.

2) Anger that can lead to bitterness and revenge.

When we are offended, it’s but natural to feel hurt and anger. But anger in itself is not sin. Even Jesus got angry when He saw the people buying and selling goods in the temple (Matthew 21:12-13).

It’s what you do when you’re angry that might cause you to sin. That is why there is a warning in Ephesians 6:26-27 about not letting anger control us; we should not hold on to anger for more than a day. Because anger when not properly dealt with will lead to bitterness which in turn will lead to a strong desire to seek revenge against the offender.

“Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” – Ephesians 4:31-32

Do you know that a root of bitterness can grow up in a person because of unforgiveness? This root can be buried deep inside your heart which not only blocks the flow of God’s love from penetrating deep within your heart; it also blocks the flow of God’s love for others through you.

When the king found out that his servant whose debt he canceled did not forgive his co-worker who owed him a much lesser amount, he gave him up to the torturers until he should pay all his debt. In the same way, Christians with an unforgiving spirit find themselves miserable, unhappy, tortured and slowly being eaten up by anger and bitterness. As a result, they would want to seek revenge against their offenders.

In your anger do not sin

Some of the most miserable people are those who will not forgive others. They live only to imagine ways to punish the people who have wronged them. But they are really only punishing themselves.

The word of God tells us not to take revenge but to leave it to God. “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay’, says the Lord” (Romans 12:19).

3) Unwillingness to forgive.

Going back to the passage, the servant who was forgiven of his “unpayable” debt of 10,000 talents was unwilling to forgive his co-worker whose debt did not even amount to 1 talent. His co-worker begged him for more time to pay his debt but he refused and threw him into prison.

Often times Christians find themselves doing the exact same thing to their offenders. They find it hard to forgive despite knowing how God has not only forgiven them of their sins but were also declared righteous in the sight of God.

We often pray the Lord’s Prayer. We say, “Lord, forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” Do we really know what we’re asking? Do we know the depths of this prayer? When we ask God to forgive our sins, we’re actually asking God for something that we’re not prepared to give to others.

The Lord's Prayer

This is plain “hypocrisy.” We want God to just cover all our sins but we’re not willing to reach out and forgive others. This should not be! Any sin that others could ever commit against us is just like the hundred denarii; it is insignificant compared to the horrible sins we have committed and will commit against God all the days of our lives.

Why Should We Forgive?

1) We forgive because we have been forgiven (1 John 1:9; Ephesians 1:7).

The first point of being forgiven is acknowledging that we are sinners in need of forgiveness. And since we’ve been forgiven so much, we must also choose to forgive others.

2) We forgive out of obedience to the Lord (Colossians 3:13; Ephesians 4:32).

Having a proper understanding of how much we have been forgiven would make it easier for us to recognize how much “God in Christ forgave” us.

Having received God’s infinite forgiveness would naturally make us want to forgive others. We commit sin every day; in our thoughts and in what we say and do. And God is faithful to forgive us when we acknowledge our sins and confess them (1 John 1:9).

3) We forgive so that God will forgive our sins (Matthew 6:14-15).

Jesus warned that God cannot forgive us if we do not have humble and repentant hearts. The true condition of our hearts is revealed by the way we treat others. When our hearts are humble and repentant, we will gladly forgive our brothers and sisters.

4) We forgive so that our prayers will not be hindered (Mark 11:24-25).

One of the reasons we do not receive what we ask for in prayer is an unforgiving spirit. Do you want to live a victorious Christian life? Forgive. Want to experience God’s presence and power in your life? Forgive. Do you want to be effective in your ministry? Forgive. And you must forgive from your heart.

To forgive from your heart does not mean forgetting the offense. Let’s face it, no matter how many years will pass by, we will never forget the incident. Consider God’s perspective; He is an omniscient God, He knows everything and nothing is hidden from His sight.

But when God forgives, He will also “forget” our sins and “remembers them no more” (Hebrews 8:12; Isaiah 43:25). Well, it does not mean that God will suddenly have amnesia. It means God does not hold our sins against us anymore. This tells us that when God expects us to forgive those who have wronged us, He also expects us to not hold the person accountable for his sins any longer.

How to Forgive when it Hurts

You may ask, “How can God expect me to forgive when I am hurting so badly? And how do I forgive when I don’t feel like it?” We forgive by faith. Forgiveness just like loving our enemies is against our nature, so we must forgive by faith.

Corrie Ten BoomNo matter how hurt we are; whether we feel like it or not, we must choose to forgive. Forgiveness is a conscious choice that we make through a decision of our will, regardless of how we feel.

When asked about how she was able to forgive the people who have caused her a lot of pain and suffering, Corrie Ten Boom in her book Hiding Place made this powerful statement:

“Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.”

How to Know if we have Truly Forgiven

We must understand that forgiveness does not always come easy. It’s not a one-time choice that we do and then we automatically live in a state of forgiveness. Most of the time, forgiveness is a slow process.

For some, the act of forgiving may take a lifetime. The most important thing is we continue to forgive until the matter is settled in our heart. But how do we know if we have truly forgiven? Freedom comes as a result when Lewis Smedesforgiveness is complete.

The world’s worst prison is the prison of an unforgiving heart. Just like the unforgiving servant who was thrown into prison by his master, you are also imprisoning yourself and causing your own torment if you refuse to forgive others.

Lewis Smedes in his book Forgive and Forget says, “When you release a wrongdoer from the wrong, you set a prisoner free, but you discover that the real prisoner was yourself.”

Conclusion

One of the best ways to break down the wall of unforgiveness in our heart is prayer. If you have been wronged or badly treated by someone, why not begin praying for that person. And as you pray, God will give you new eyes to see and heart to care for that person. You will begin to see them the way God does – a guilty sinner who is in need of forgiveness just like us.

And if God did not withhold His forgiveness from us, who are we to withhold our forgiveness from others? It is normal for us to be angry toward sin and injustice but it is not our job to judge others in their sin.

If you have had experiences with having to deal with unforgiveness in your heart, please do share your testimony in the comment below.

6 Replies to “Lessons from the Unforgiving Servant”

  1. While I disagree on the general concept of religion and believe it was invented to control the masses, there are some aspects of religion I totally agree with, such as forgiveness. Forgiving someone is more about yourself than anything else. Letting go of the anger and resentfulness is essential in order to live a mentally healthy life. Helping others always relieves my inner pain and makes me feel better.

    I strongly believe that we are here for a purpose, but do not take the biblical teachings too seriously. However, being kind, forgiving and helping others are key principles to live by and if everyone adopted those principles, the world would be a much better place.

    1. Hi John,

      I’m so sorry to hear that you have such a negative concept of religion, I completely understand that. But I really encourage you to take a deeper and more objective look at Christianity and what the Bible has to say.

      Anyway, I’m glad that there are some things we agree on such as forgiveness. Yeah, I often hear people say that forgiveness is more about doing it for yourself than for your offender because it will set you free from bitterness and resentment. That’s absolutely right! But it’s a lot more than that.

      The greatest example of what it means to forgive is God Himself. Sin started in the Garden of Eden, which is the very reason why man was separated from God. We all deserve to rot in hell because nothing impure (no one sinful) can enter heaven where God resides. But because of God’s great love, He gave His only Son to die in our place for the forgiveness of our sins (John 3:16).

      This is the reason why we also ought to forgive those who have offended us. We have been forgiven and we continually need God’s forgiveness, so who are we to withhold forgiveness from others.

      Regarding what you said about having a purpose but do not take biblical teachings seriously, what is your purpose? And what is your standard of good when you said that being kind and forgiving are good principles? In Christianity, the standard of good is God. If we remove the God of the Bible from the equation, what are we going to use as a standard to say that a certain principle is good and the others are bad?

  2. Hi Alice!
    The bible says in Hebrews 8:12 that God forgives their wickedness and shall remember their sins no more.

    You said in your article and I quote “To forgive from your heart does not mean forgetting the offense”. Almost every human being including myself would concur on this, at least on the first glance

    My question is: Is forgiving the offender but remembering the offense biblically considered as true forgiveness?

    May the Lord continue to bless you with more knowledge to share with the willing! Thank you in advance to your response. God bless!

    1. Great question brother Jess. Is remembering the offense considered true forgiveness? Please allow me to answer your question by sharing the story of one of my best friends.

      It was bad enough that my best friend Tessa’s husband cheated on her after being married for barely a year. What’s worse is that he kept calling her in the middle of the night telling her how a terrible wife she is. (By the way, they’re miles apart.) And that he regrets marrying her because she’s a single parent, when he knew all about this before asking her to marry him.

      Tessa was so hurt and devastated that she questioned God; she also did not come to church for two Sundays. I was worried sick about her especially when she told me that she started having heart palpitations every time her phone rings. But I was more worried that she might never be able to forgive her husband, who eventually abandoned her to be with another woman.

      A couple of months had passed when Tessa told me that she has finally decided to forgive her husband. As a Christian, she’s fully aware that unforgiveness is a sin so even when she’s still hurting she knew she had to do it and leave the rest to God.

      Fast forward to today, Tessa has completely forgiven her ex-husband for what he did to her and she is now very happy serving the Lord; she also has a family of her own.

      But does she still remember how her ex-husband treated her? Of course she does! It’s not as if she can erase that part of her life from her memory. But unlike when she hasn’t completely forgiven him wherein I could sense how hurt and bitter she was when the topic comes into play, today she can talk about it casually and openly. She even laughs about the crazy things she did in order to cope with the situation.

      True forgiveness means not holding the offense against the offender any longer. The offense will forever be in our memory but having forgiven the person responsible for it, from our heart, will give us peace and freedom. This is the kind of forgiveness that the Lord expects from His children who have received forgiveness from Him.

      God bless you more!

  3. Hi Alice,

    Very interesting topic. This is a great reminder to every human who’s reading this and thinking to themselves they can never forgive, even for the sake of love. Because the act for forgiving for some is very difficult as a result of the pain and hurt that they’ve been through.

    Jesus’ words will always remain to be true. Sadly, many people either forget to love or do not know how to love their enemies. If people, especially Christians, are willing to “let go” they will be happier and will maintain a pure heart and a clear conscience.

    We must learn not only to ask for forgiveness but also to release forgiveness to our family, friends or anyone who has offended us. While we are still alive and strong, may we strive to do good things and live at peace with everyone.

    “Love one another,” Jesus said. And part of loving one another is learning to forgive those who have offended us, even when they do not ask.

    1. Hi Ed,

      Thank you so much for taking the time to read the article. Indeed, the word of God is a constant reminder about the importance of forgiveness. Some would say it’s easier said than done, which is true. Because of our “fallen” nature, the natural thing for us to do when offended is to get mad and start thinking of ways to get even. We refuse to forgive even though we know what Jesus taught about forgiveness.

      It’s only by faith that we are able to forgive those who have wronged us. Like I said, the process may take some time, it could take a lifetime for forgiveness to be complete. But what matters is that we are willing to forgive because we ourselves have been forgiven.

      Blessings to you!

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