The Unforgiving Servant Matthew 18:23-25
The Unforgiving Servant was a parable Jesus told that might be easily misunderstood if one does not realize that it has a spiritual application.
The parable of the unforgiving servant, Matthew 18:23-35, ends with this:
“And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.” (Matt 18:34-35)
Remember, this is a parable. It can’t be equated in every detail. We do not owe God any money. And take note that “delivered” can mean to allow the consequences (as in wrath).
Here is a comparison of the literal details in the parable and its spiritual application:
|Parable - literal||Application - spiritual|
|the master granted forgiveness of debt||God grants forgiveness of sins|
|the servant did not receive forgiveness||God cannot make you receive forgiveness*|
|the servant did not appreciate his master's mercy and therefore did not grant mercy||if people do not appreciate God's mercy they will not be merciful to others|
|the servant was delivered to tormentors until he should pay the debt||unforgiving people will be "delivered" to "torment" but of their own conscience|
|*See the booklet Biblical Forgiveness: Are There Two Types?|
Some people will conclude from this that God will not be merciful to such people:
“One who shows no mercy to others cannot expect God’s mercy.”
However, the evidence is that the ungrateful servant did not receive or accept the forgiveness of his master as an act of mercy. He could have been thinking:
“Hah, I got away with it” or
“That fool (thinking of his master), I wouldn’t have done that – taken such a loss.”
Actually receiving mercy would include a feeling of gratitude.
“Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain [receive] mercy.” (Matt 5:7)
A person who is not merciful/forgiving in character will not expect mercy or be able to receive it from others
“Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.” (Matt 7:1-2)
If a person judges others in an unmerciful manner, they will not be capable of understanding that God does extend mercy and therefore they will not accept or receive it.
In fact, we can expect God’s mercy always, in every situation, for whatever we have done because:
“Gracious is the LORD, and righteous; yea, our God is merciful.” (Psa 116:5)
“O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever.” (1 Chron 16:34)
Righteous people are described as merciful:
“I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread. He is ever merciful, and lendeth; and his seed is blessed.” (Psalm 37:25-26)
They are not more righteous (Isaiah 64:6) or merciful than God. See more about the definition of mercy – another very misunderstood term. In fact, some sources deny that God is merciful:
“… our sin debt was paid in full by Christ and is the only basis for God’s forgiveness.” (https://www.gotquestions.org/parable-unforgiving-servant.html, emphasis added)
“The only basis”? Such reasoning makes God unmerciful such that He will only act in a merciful way if He is first paid to do so (see Appeasement). A merciful person freely grants mercy. By definition, you can’t both collect and forgive a debt.
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