Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Forgiveness...The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant Part 1

One of my favorite topics covered in “Everything We Need: God's Path to Know Him Better” is the kingdom of heaven. It was also the hardest topic to write…by far. Words like struggled and wrestled don’t begin to describe the days spent writing the two chapters dedicated to the kingdom of heaven.

But you see, John the Baptist and Jesus Christ both began their preaching ministries with the same words, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 3:2 and Matthew 4:17, respectively). They both began that way…seems significant, doesn’t it?

Jesus also said in Matthew 13:11 that “the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.” “Given to you” – His followers; “but not to them” – those who don’t follow Him. He gave the knowledge in parables in order to make this happen.

I’m His follower. I want to know Him better. I want to know His kingdom. Despite how hard it might have been, I struggled through the seven parables given in Matthew 13 and wrote about them in the book.

Those seven parables took a lot of book space – two whole chapters. The problem was that five more parables are scattered throughout the remaining pages of Matthew. Did I dare dedicate a third chapter to this already extensive section? I decided no, that would be too much. It would outweigh the scope of the book.

Those five remaining parables have been nagging at me though. Now that the book is done and available to you, I find myself going back to them. What treasures of truth hide in their words? I want to KNOW. So for the next five weeks, that’s where we’re going to go.

Parable of the Unmerciful Servant – Matthew 18:21-35

How many times do we have to forgive someone who has wronged or offended us? Not seven, but seventy times seven (490) times. That’s a lot of forgiveness; that’s the context that begins this kingdom parable.

Nine of the twelve kingdom parables begin with a man performing some action. In all of them, the man symbolizes God. He is the one performing the action. This parable depicts Him as the king. Fitting, isn’t it?

The king intends to settle accounts with His servants. One servant owes Him 10,000 talents. A talent was a unit of money, not a gift or ability as we use the word today. It’s really hard to know exactly how much money this amount represents in today’s culture and standards. As close as I can figure, based on the average wages for a common worker, this amount is about 160,000 years worth of salary. Yeah, go back and read that again because I did type it correctly. Even if I’m off a little bit in my calculations, it’s easy to see this was an insurmountable debt. The servant was never going to be able to pay it. The king decreed that not only would He sell the man’s possessions to pay the debt, but He would even sell the man, his wife, and his children. I’m going to make an assumption here and guess that even if all items and family members brought the highest price possible, the total still wouldn’t come close to the amount owed. 160,000 years worth of salary is a debt no servant will ever be able to pay. The servant begged forgiveness of the debt. Compassion moved the king; He forgave the debt at His own sacrifice.

The insurmountable debt forgiven, the servant left the presence of the king and met up with a fellow servant. This new guy owed the servant a hundred denarii. A denarii is a much smaller amount of money. Using our same conversion system as earlier, one denarii was about one day’s wages for a common worker. One hundred denarii equaled about fourteen weeks’ worth of pay – not a small amount, but not insurmountable either.

Even though a smaller debt, the second servant still couldn’t repay the first servant. He likewise begged for time to pay the debt. Compassion didn’t move the servant like it did the king. The servant ordered the second servant thrown into prison.

When the king heard about the servant’s hard heart, compassion no longer moved Him. Anger did. The king turned the servant over to the jailers to torture him until he could pay back all he owed.


It’s not hard to see that this parable 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.

I thought this parable was going to be pretty straightforward but, I tell you, some of these details rocked my world. Would you rather be tortured than forgive someone? Click here to read the rest of the story

Click here for a free, downloadable Bible study on several of the Kingdom parables.

Tweet: Forgiveness. How far are you willing to go? Read more at http://ctt.ec/3web5+ #Forgiveness


  1. I am looking forward to tomorrows because this one baffled me. If God were the King why would he have the man tortured? I get that the servant should have forgiven the smaller debt because the King forgave his larger debt. On the other hand we can't all forgive everyone's debts--the economy couldn't take it and it wouldn't be fair to those who paid!

    1. Yes...the torture question. That was part that I struggled with in this parable. The answer really convicted me, though. Tomorrow. :-)

  2. Kathi i have been reading the book of Matthew and just came across that reading today. I've been wondering about these parables so I'm interested in reading further. How do I get an update to your blog when you post on here.

    1. Hi Pam! These kingdom parables are some crazy stuff, aren't they?

      If you're commenting from a computer, you should see a box on the right near the top where you can enter your email address. New posts will automatically email to you then. If you're commenting from a mobile device, finding that email subscription box can be a little more tricky.

      The rest of this series will post tomorrow morning so you can be sure to catch it then. In general, I post every Wednesday morning. You can catch the rest of the kingdom parables that aren't covered in the book every Wednesday over the next few weeks.

      Thanks for asking!