Thursday, January 16, 2014

Forgiveness...The Unmerciful Servant Part 2

If you haven’t read part one yet, I encourage you to do so before proceeding.


It’s not hard to see that the parable of the unmerciful servant teaches the kingdom of heaven is a kingdom of forgiveness. God forgives an insurmountable sin debt in our lives; our natural response should be to forgive the more minor – even if still significant – sin debts people owe us. But more intrigue hides in the details.

Why two different penalties?

The king at first demanded all the servant’s possessions and family members be sold to pay the insurmountable debt. The servant imprisoned the second servant until he could pay the minor debt. Possessions sold or imprisonment – why use two different penalties in the story?

The King’s demand to sell the possessions and family members shows us that no matter how much we give, work, sell, or sacrifice, we will never be able to pay the debt we owe. Although the King gives the chance for repayment, it will never be enough. We can never pay the price.

The servant’s imprisonment of the second servant shows the extent of his hard heart – an extent we don’t want in our own life. The servant didn’t even provide an opportunity to sell items in order to pay the debt. The amount was manageable; perhaps the second servant could have sold enough belongings to pay it. But the first servant jumped straight to condemnation. Those of us whom God has forgiven much must offer opportunity for reconciliation to those who wrong us. We don’t really grasp how much God forgives in our own lives if we can’t extend even a little of it to others.

Why did the servant choke the second servant?

Did you note that little detail? The servant encountered the second servant and began to choke him before he even expressed his demand for repayment. Again, this shows the servant’s heart – no compassion, no forgiveness. I think there’s more here, though.

When formulating this story, Jesus could have used any method of attack yet He chose choking. Jesus used choking as an example in one other place in the New Testament and it happens to be another kingdom parable – the parable of the sower in Matthew 13. My complete take on that parable is in the book, “Everything We Need: God's Path to Know Him Better.” But for here, “the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke [the good seed] making it unfruitful” (Matthew 13:22). That gives us a clue as to the concerns of the servant. He was worried about life and deceived by wealth so he attacked the second servant to get more. He didn’t realize worry keeps us from trusting God and money deceives us so we trust it instead of God.

Why did the King allow the servant to be tortured?

This next part blew my mind a little. A commenter asked me after reading part one of this series, “If God were the King why would he have the man tortured?” I admitted that I struggled with this as well, especially since he had already forgiven the servant’s debt.

The servant imprisoned the second servant while the King turned the servant over to the jailers. We may think this is the same thing but I found a significant difference when I looked at the original words. The imprisonment imposed on the second servant meant that he was under guard. He was watched. However, the king permitted the jailers to torture the servant after his lack of forgiveness to his fellow servant. The torturers (Greek: basanistēs) were “those who elicit the truth by the use of the rack.” Ouch. This servant had the truth in him; but he had to stretch on the rack to have that truth pulled out of him.

Yes, God does allow us to struggle sometimes. He allows persecution, problems, and pain – He allows torture. But one reason He does so is to pull the truth out of us; He wants to make it real in our life. I don’t want Him to have to use those methods for my life, though. My truth is that the King has forgiven much in my life – an insurmountable debt that I could have never paid. How much easier to let that truth flow out of me as I forgive those who wrong me than to have to be stretched until I painfully admit to it?

What debt did the servant owe?

The king allowed the torture until the servant “should pay back all he owed” (Matthew 18:34). Here’s my question – what did he owe? What did he have to pay back? The king forgave the debt; he cancelled it. Friend, when God forgives our sin debt, it’s gone. Nothing’s going to bring it back. (There’s a whole chapter on that in the book as well.) The king even says, “I canceled all that debt…” The details of the Greek verb tense here indicate the cancellation was a done fact without regard to time frame.

Yet, Jesus ended the story by saying the servant had to pay back all he owed. So what did he owe? I don’t think this debt had anything to do with talents or denarii. It’s the same debt I owe today, as do you if you’re a follower of Jesus Christ. I owe Him my life – a life defined by His truth willingly poured out to those around me. A life defined by my extension of His compassion in acknowledged gratefulness for the sacrifice He made on my behalf.

Click here for a free, downloadable study on more parables of the Kingdom of Heaven.


  1. Interesting , have you ever heard that Oprah says," God whispers in your ear, if you don't listen, he yells, and if you still don't listen his words will crash down on you!" or something to that effect. I , too, prefer to listen to the whisper.

    1. Yes, it's always easier to learn the first time. You know my personality though - that's not the way I tend to do it!

  2. Interesting insights. Thanks for a thought-provoking post.

    1. You're welcome, Ginger. Thanks for reading!