What can we learn from the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant?
God wants a closer relationship with each of his children, and by applying the teachings within these parables, we can all grow closer to God and develop stronger faith.
Let's take a look at the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant, which shares the story of a king who forgives his servant of a great debt, only to learn that the servant refused to forgive a fellow servant of a much smaller debt.
Jesus’ parables often teach us how we should approach God and deal with others, and this parable is no exception.
If you’ve been having trouble forgiving someone who hurt you, this story can help you move toward healing and forgiveness.
Let’s learn how this story teaches us the importance of extending God’s forgiveness to others.
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Parable of the Unforgiving Servant Story
The Parables of Jesus are powerful teachings that can help us understand the Kingdom of God in practical ways.
Before we unpack this story, it’s important to note that many people confuse the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant with the Parable of the Two Debtors.
The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant is found in Matthew 18:21-35 and was Jesus’ response to Peter’s question about how many times we should forgive those who sin against us.
This can also be called the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant and is an illustration of God’s forgiveness.
The Parable of Two Debtors is found in Luke 7:40-50 and focuses on the link between God’s forgiveness and our love for him.
Jesus shares this parable after a previously sinful woman anoints him with expensive oil.
But the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant, begins when Peter asks Jesus, “
Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” (Matthew 18:21, ESV).
Jesus’ response is, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22).
In other words, Jesus was teaching that we should forgive without limits. Whenever others hurt us, mistreat us, and offend us, we should always extend forgiveness.
This teaching is much easier to read than it is to practice in real life; however, it is for our well-being.
An angry and unforgiving heart is toxic to every other realm of life. If we want to walk in Christ’s healing and wholeness, we need to practice forgiveness.
After addressing Peter’s question, Jesus shares the illustration of the unforgiving servant to teach his disciples about the Kingdom of Heaven.
In the parable, a powerful king decides to take account of his servants and ask for these servants to pay back any debt they owe.
One of his servants owes a tremendous debt, and he has no bags of gold or silver coins with which to repay his debt.
The servant’s master decrees that the man, his wife, and his children will all be sold until he can repay his debt.
In desperation, the servant falls to his knees and begs the master of the servants for forgiveness. Out of pity, the master of that servant forgives him of the huge debt and sets him free from his entire debt.
Later, after this first servant has been set free from his enormous debt, someone who owes him a much smaller amount of money asks to be forgiven his debt.
The man lacks mercy and does not extend the kindness he received in the first place. He refuses to forgive the indebted man’s small debt.
When the angry king hears about the behavior of his wicked servant, he is greatly infuriated. He retracts his mercy, throws the evil servant into prison, and commands him to pay the huge amount he is owed.
Parable of the Unforgiving Servant Meaning
So, what it the meaning of the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant?
Jesus’ teaching in this parable addresses the necessity of forgiveness and offers an important principle of forgiveness: Just as our Heavenly Father forgives us, we need to forgive those who sin against us.
The forgiveness of God knows no bounds, and God will forgive anyone who comes to him with a sincere heart.
Every human being has a great sin debt, and because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, God offers forgiveness to all who call on the name of Jesus Christ for forgiveness.
Sadly, many people who have received the forgiveness of God have trouble adhering to the teachings of Jesus. They know that their debt has been forgiven, but they do not forgive those who sin against them.
This should not be so. Anyone who understands how much God has done for him (or her) should extend the same mercy and kindness toward others.
It’s also important to note that God longs for a closer relationship with each of his children.
However, until we receive the forgiveness Jesus purchased for us when he died on the cross for our sins, we cannot have a close relationship with God.
Parable of the Unforgiving Servant Lessons
So, what is the point of this story? What lessons can we take away from it that can help us in our daily lives?
As with all of Jesus' teachings, there are several imporant lessons that we can learn from this parable.
Lesson 1: We All Need Forgiveness
First, this parable teaches us about our need for forgiveness. We are like the first servant, who approached his master and pleaded for pity.
Our Heavenly Father wants us to humble ourselves and recognize our need for forgiveness. This is the first step toward salvation.
Until we humble ourselves, recognize that we have fallen short of God's perfect standards, and approach him in humility, we cannot be saved or forgiven.
Once we realize that we cannot earn our way into heaven or rely on our good works to earn God’s favor and forgiveness, our hearts are ready to receive Jesus’ sacrificial gift of eternal life and the forgiveness of our sins.
This leads to our second lesson from the parable.
Lesson 2: Forgiveness is a Gift
Just as the master of the servants offered mercy and was willing to release his servant, Jesus sits on the mercy seat in heaven’s throne room.
Jesus’ death on the cross was the ultimate act of mercy because Jesus willingly took the punishment we deserve for our sins.
God poured his wrath out on his Son instead of pouring it out on us.
Jesus was without sin; nevertheless, he took our place and received the punishment we deserve.
This is a powerful demonstration of God’s love for us. As Romans 5:8 reminds us,
“God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
We didn’t do anything to earn this gift, and all we need to do is open our hearts to receive it. John 1:12 teaches us,
“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”
The greatest act of mercy God ever offered humankind was the gift of welcoming us into his family through the blood of Christ. We need only receive this gift, and we become God’s children.
If not, turn to God today. Admit that you need him to forgive your sins and recognize that you cannot earn his forgiveness. His forgiveness is a gift.
Tell God that you receive this gift today, thank him for forgiving your sins, and commit to walking with Jesus.
Lesson 3: Extend Forgiveness to Others
Third, this parable challenges us to extend the same forgiveness to others that we have first received from God.
This principle is illustrated in different parts of Scripture, as well. For example, Matthew 18:35 reminds us,
“So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
In addition, Luke 17:3 reads,
“Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.”
As God’s children, we have been greatly forgiven. God calls us to extend this same forgiveness to others.
You might be having a difficult time forgiving someone who has hurt you greatly. Perhaps you were betrayed by a close friend or loved one.
Maybe your spouse turned away from you or broke your marriage covenant. You might be struggling to forgive an adult child who rejected you or someone who abused you in the past.
Perhaps your parents mistreated you throughout your childhood, and you have never forgiven them.
These are difficult situations, and forgiveness often does not come easily.
However, it’s important to realize that forgiveness isn’t the same as declaring that another person’s hurtful actions were acceptable.
Instead, forgiveness is letting someone off the hook and deciding that you’re no longer going to hold onto offense.
This kind of forgiveness doesn’t require you to reestablish a relationship with someone who hurt you or require you to trust someone who betrayed you.
Instead, forgiveness is choosing to stop holding an offense against another person.
Perhaps you’ve heard that forgiveness is not only for the person who is forgiven but also for the person who extends it. This principle is true as well.
Holding onto unforgiveness leads to a hard heart, bitterness, and resentment. The person you cannot forgive might very well be living a happy and carefree life, while bitterness eats away at your soul.
Choosing to forgive not only lets the other person off the hook, but it also softens the heart of the person who extends forgiveness.
When our hearts are soft, God can begin to heal us.
This message is at the heart of the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. God wants us to walk in freedom, peace, and joy. When we hold onto unforgiveness, we deprive ourselves of these gifts.
Unforgiveness is like a poison that eats away at our souls. It eventually seeps into every other realm of our lives, destroys our relationships, and leads to pain.
Lesson 4: Forgiveness is a Choice
Lastly, it’s important to realize that forgiveness is something that we do and not something that we feel. Forgiveness is a choice.
Instead of praying, “Dear Lord, please help me to forgive the person who offended me,” God calls us to make the deliberate choice to pray, “Dear Lord, I forgive the person who offended me.”
Do you see the difference?
We don’t wait until we feel like forgiving to extend forgiveness.
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Instead, we intentionally offer forgiveness, even if the person never apologizes—and even if we never have the opportunity to tell the person that they are forgiven.
At times, we might need to forgive people who are no longer in our lives.
When we offer this forgiveness, we mentally let these people off the hook and decide not to hold their offenses against them any longer.
Forgiveness is also often an act that we must repeat—even regarding the same offenses—many times.
Every time angry thoughts arise about the person who offended you, choose to forgive that person again. Moreover, take forgiveness a step further and pray a blessing over that person.
With time, you will find that you cannot pray blessings over someone and continue to harbor angry thoughts toward them.
God is waiting. Will you follow Jesus’ teaching and extend forgiveness today?