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Forgive Your Brother: The Unmerciful Servant

Matthew 18:21-35

Peter asked the Lord a question about forgiveness: how many times must I forgive my brother when he sins against me? But Peter’s focus seems to be more on his brother’s sin than anything else. Jesus tells a parable to drive home for Peter that there is no limit to the number of times he must forgive a brother.

The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant

A king called his servants in to settle their accounts. One owed him 10,000 talents, a huge amount of money. It is more money than most people will ever make in their entire lifetimes.

The servant was most likely a in charge of collecting the taxes for some part of the the king’s kingdom. The tax collectors in that region brought the money to that servant. Then at an appointed time, the servant would have brought the money to the king. This is the only way this servant could possibly have owed the king so much money.

When it came time to settle accounts, the servant didn’t have the money. This wasn’t just sloppy accounting or poor bookkeeping. It was criminal! He had squandered thousands of talents of the kings money. Those who heard the story would have thought, this man needs to go to prison. And that’s what the king was prepared to do.

But the servant begged the king for mercy, and the king took pity and forgave the servant then entire debt.

The servant left the king and found a fellow servant who owed him 100 denarii. This was not an insignificant amount of money. It was 100 days’ wages for a common laborer, perhaps $7,000 to us today. But it was nothing compared to what he had been forgiven by the king. He seized his fellow servant and demanded payment. When the man could not pay, he threw him into prison, the same fate he had just been saved from!

Eight Reasons to Forgive

In the rest of the parable we see five reasons that we should forgive our brothers and sisters. There are three more reasons that we’ll add from other scripture for a total of eight reasons.

1. Failure to forgive interrupts fellowship with other believers

(verse 31) When the other servants saw what this man did, they were “greatly distressed.” His refusal to forgive hurt his relations not just with man who owed him the money but with all of the other servants.

2. Forgiveness is the most Godlike thing you can do

(verse 32) The king clearly represents God in the parable. Like the king, God is characterized by forgiveness. When we forgive, we emulate Him.

3. Those who have been forgiven greater sins should be willing to forgive lesser sins

(verse 32-33) The servant was wrong to withhold forgiveness of a relatively small debt when he had been forgiven a great debt. Likewise, we have no right to withhold what has been freely given to us.

4. Failure to forgive brings divine chastising

(verse 34) If you are truly a believer, this does not mean eternal punishment, because true believers cannot lose their salvation. But God will discipline you in this life.

5. If you don’t forgive, you will not be forgiven

(verse 34) Again, if you are truly a believer, this does not refer to your salvation. But if you do not forgive your brother, you will not experience the restored fellowship that comes with repentance of sin. Nor will you experience the sanctification that occurs in your life when you confess and are forgiven.

6. Unforgiveness makes you unfit for worship

(Matthew 5:23-24) Jesus tells us that when we are coming to worship and we recall that a brother has something against us, we must leave our offering and go and be reconciled to our brother. Then we may return to worship.

7. Not forgiving usurps the authority of God

(Romans 12:19) Judgment is God’s responsibility.

This does not mean that we are not to discerning sin in the life of a brother and to address that sin with him. Scripture is clear on that. But condemnation is up to God.

8. God will use the wrongs that you suffer for good in your life

(James 1:2-3) John MacArthur observes that “the offenses against you are the trials that perfect you.” We are called to rejoice in trials and many kinds, and that includes insults, persecutions, and offenses.