The Parable of the Unforgiving Debtor is a story that Jesus told his disciples to teach them about the importance of forgiveness. In the story, a man owes a large debt to a king. The king forgives the debt, but the man does not forgive a small debt he owes to another man.
Jesus teaches that we should forgive others because God has forgiven us. This parable has a powerful message for us today about the importance of forgiveness.
The Parable Of The Unforgiving Debtor
21 Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”
22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. 23 Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. 26 The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ 27 Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt.
28 “But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ 30 And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt. 31 So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. 32 Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. 33 Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ 34 And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him.
35 “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”Matthew 18:21-35
Jesus understood how to use a parable to teach. This is probably because Jesus knows our hearts and expects we will look for ourselves in stories. Jesus demonstrates how to deal with forgiveness in the parable about the unforgiving debtor. He knows how difficult it is.
However, just as every weakness God recognizes is part of us, he can redeem our selfishness and bitterness for his glory; our freedom.
The parable about the unforgiving debtor is one of the more difficult to hear of all the parables Jesus shared during his earthly ministry. Although we don’t necessarily want to identify with this parable, it is always true.
Let’s look at the Bible and see what we can learn from it.
What is the Parable of the Unforgiving Debtor?
Peter asks Jesus in Matthew 18.21 how many times he should forgive his brother or sister for their sins against him. Jesus multiplies Peter’s guess seven times with a surprising number.
Some Bible translations of Matthew 18.22 state that Jesus answered “seventy-seven,” while others say “seventy times seven.” Jesus, however, continues to speak in a penetrating manner and paints the scene with a parable.
Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. 26 The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ 27 Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt.Matthew 18:23-27
The story begins with the servant’s inability to repay and the possible punishment. The servant begs for mercy and is freed. He is free from the obligation to repay. Completely forgiven No fighting, no negotiating. Only immediate mercy from the heart of a king moved by the surrendered heart of the servant.
According to the story, the servant who was forgiven walks out of the grace of the King and puts a stop to someone who owes him a small amount. He is fully forgiven and turns around, but he does not give any of his gift to anyone else. He instead threatens, harms, and imprisons another person who is unable to repay.
The unforgiving king learns of the unforgiving servant and calls him in. He then teaches the lesson.
Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. 33 Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’Matthew 18:32-33
Instead of forgiving, the king chose ‘fair’ and imprisoned the servant until he can repay. This parable contains the hardest sentence to process at the end.
“So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”Matthew 18:35
What is the meaning of the Parable Of The Unforgiving Debtor?
It was common to forgive three times in Jesus‘ time. Peter asks if it’s possible to forgive seven times and then doubles the number. Seven refers to the number of perfection in Scripture.
Jesus, however, raises consciousness above the “seventy-seven times” mentioned in Genesis 4.24 and invites us to forgive as many times as possible to eliminate the desire for vengeance.
It doesn’t matter if God asks us to forgive 77 times or 490. The concept of not counting our sins against others is more important. It forgives so many times that it’s easy to lose count. He knows that we will be hurt, betrayed, deceived, and many other offenses, but love covers all of these sins. He has demonstrated that forgiveness does not forget our sins ( Hebrews 8.12).
He forgives us, and we repent. But do we forgive others when they say, “I’m sorry” or “I can’t repay?”
What does the Parable of Unforgiving Debtor have to do with Christians today?
We have many options, conveniences, and easy ways to present a positive face to the world via social media or other surface connections. You can ghost, swipe, and move on. We can pretend that we don’t need a resolution and instead focus on putting on a happy face.
God can’t fully forgive us unless we can lay aside the sins that cause us pain. It is necessary to be open-minded. We can let go of our hold on others by allowing ourselves to be forgiven and feeling his grace.
Let’s take a look at some key points for Christians today.
Six Applications from the Parable of the Unforgiving Debtor on Forgiveness
1. All sinners are equal; no one is better than another.
Jesus is laying the groundwork when he says, “This is how my Heavenly Father will treat each one of you unless your brother or sister forgives you from your heart.” All his children are our family, and we are one. Families are full of imperfections and grievances.
Unmerciful behavior is simply a competition to be better than our fellow humans. We can sin against God by keeping our hanging on to our anger and keeping ourselves in darkness. Everyone needs to forgive.
2. We cannot repay God’s grace in our own strength.
Jesus demonstrates that God grants us power and expects others to forgive. We can’t forgive others unless we are humble enough to admit we have been forgiven. Open the valve. Forgiveness is possible when you admit to God that you need it. Show it to Him; however, He leads.
3. God knows all that we keep.
In the parable of the unforgiving debtor, the other servants tell the King about the poor choices made by the wicked servant by those who see his cruelty. This parable is relatable and helps us to see that our actions are not hidden from the King. This is a word picture that shows us how we can understand mercy.
4. God forgives us completely when we confess and repent.
This parable shows how the servant pretends to be the king. He isn’t truly repentant; he hasn’t accepted the graciousness of the king’s forgiveness. He minimizes it by refusing to share his experience of forgiveness with others.
The important thing to remember is that the forgiveness of unpaid debts by the King is gracious, prompt, and complete.
5. Because we have been forgiven, we can forgive.
We love God because He loves us. The same applies to forgiveness. None of us are perfect. Yet, God in the flesh was crucified for all our sins. It is not something that anyone can do by themselves. It is supernatural, and we need God’s grace daily to forgive as we should.
6. God desires peace, not bitterness.
Are you happy if you continue to hold on to your anger and agony? Do you find it helpful to replay the hurtful experience repeatedly? God doesn’t want you to be stuck when imperfect people fail each other. He wants us to lift each other up with grace. You can eventually replace your pain with His peace by doing this.
We all will sometimes be the unforgiving characters in this story. Sometimes we accept grace from others but neglect to extend it. Or, we may choose to withhold grace in self- righteousness blindness of our continuing need for mercy.
From this parable, Jesus wanted us to understand that God provides what we need and are expected to share. Forgiveness demonstrates God’s fellowship that propels his kingdom work forward.
In conclusion, the parable of the unforgiving debtor is a powerful story that teaches an important lesson about forgiveness. Jesus tells the story to emphasize forgiveness’s importance and illustrate the consequences of not forgiving others. The story also reminds us that we should always be prepared to forgive others, no matter how much they have wronged us.