Jesus often used parables as he taught his disciples. The parable of forgiveness was initiated by Peter’s curiosity about forgiving. He knew that Jewish law required someone to be forgiven up to three times. But to show his generosity, maybe he thought offering forgiveness seven times would be super spiritual!
Peter was one of the most outspoken disciples. He enjoyed stepping out of the boat and being the first to meet a challenge. So, one day he asked the Master a question, “How often should I forgive my brother?” But not waiting for an answer, Peter offered up what he thought was a generous number. “Seven times?” he asked.
Jesus turned to him and answered, “Not seven times, but seventy times seven!”
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Which Parable Teaches About Forgiveness
In Matthew 18, Jesus taught us about forgiveness and told us why we are required to freely offer it as Christians.
The parable is about a king who was settling all debts owed to him. One servant owed him a very large sum. It was a debt that he would never be able to pay. So, the king ordered the man to be put into prison and his wife, family, and all his possessions to be sold for payment.
The servant begged for forgiveness, and with great compassion, the king forgave the debt and allowed the man to go free.
After leaving the palace, the forgiven man ran into a fellow servant who owed him a few hundred dollars. Grabbing the man by the neck, the forgiven servant shook him and demanded that he pay back what was owed to him.
The other servant fell on his knees and begged forgiveness just as the first servant had done before the king. But instead of offering forgiveness, he refused to forgive the debt and had the man thrown into prison until his debt could be paid.
However, when the news of this encounter reached the king, the king reprimanded the unforgiving servant. He was thrown into prison to spend the rest of his life.
What is the Message of the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant?
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The first servant was forgiven a debt he could have never paid but was unwilling to offer the same forgiveness to a fellow servant who could have paid back his debt in time.
In our relationship with God, he is the king, and we are the servant. God has forgiven us of our sin debt. There is no way possible for any of us to pay that debt. That’s what Christ did on the cross.
So, what right do we have to hold onto unforgiveness when we have been forgiven so much?
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Colossians 3:12-13 (ESV)
Lessons We Learn from the Parable of Forgiveness
As entertaining as parables are, they also teach us something we can apply to our everyday lives. So what are some of the lessons from the parable of the unforgiving servant?
Forgive Because We are Forgiven
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:32 (ESV)
It’s hard to immediately forgive people that hurt us, and there are many hurts that take time to heal. But as Christians, we have been forgiven so much, and for us not to offer that forgiveness to fellow “servants” is ungodly. It may be something we need to get help with, but to be more like our Father, wanting to forgive should be in our hearts.
Practice the Golden Rule
And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. Luke 6:31 (ESV)
We have all done something that hurt someone else, maybe on purpose, maybe on accident, and maybe we didn’t even know it. When this happens, our relationships are strained and completely severed at times. But when restoration happens, it’s usually because forgiveness is offered. I don’t think anyone enjoys it when an apology is offered and not accepted. So, if we want to be forgiven, we must be forgiving.
Our Prayers will be Answered
If you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. Matthew 6:15 (ESV)
When Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them how to pray (Matthew 6:7-13), Jesus concluded the lesson with verse 15, “If you do not forgive, God will not forgive you.”
This does not mean you will no longer have your sins forgiven, as we receive that gift the moment of salvation. However, it does mean that God has a hand up saying, “Wait, you’re asking for something, but you haven’t taken care of your responsibility yet.”
If we want our prayers to be answered, one of the things that we have to have is a forgiving spirit.
Be Holy as God is Holy
John MacArthur has said, “We are never more like God than when we forgive.” That’s a powerful statement. Think about it for a second. As a human race, we have broken all of the Laws of God, not some of us, but all of us.
We run after false idols when we put anything before the Lord. Jesus tells us that our own thoughts condemn us. And Paul describes the internal turmoil that we all struggle with–wanting to do right, but always doing wrong.
For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. 16 But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. 17 So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. – Romans 7:15-17 NASB
Yet, in this condition of condemnation, God chose to send His Son to become a sacrifice for our sin–before we even knew who God was!
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 1 John 4:10 (NIV)
In our faith-walk, we must be like God in the way we forgive.
Has someone hurt your feelings? Perhaps your name or reputation has been slandered? Or have you tragically been abused at the hand of strangers or a loved one?
Broken people do bad things. But God calls us to a higher walk–a walk of mercy, grace, and forgiveness. It’s not always easy, and sometimes we need to reach out for help. But we are different than other people when we become a part of the family of God.
Final Thoughts on the Parable of Forgiveness
In the parable of the unforgiving servant, the king called the unforgiving servant wicked. The servant was given so much, and he did not show kindness to others.
Forgiveness is the greatest gift we have received. Without it, we cannot enter into the Kingdom of God. If forgiveness is of God, then it’s reasonable to say the opposite, unforgiveness is ungodly.
We have been given so much by being accepted into God’s family; shouldn’t we show that kindness to others?
Related Posts and Resources:
- Bible Studies for Women
- Bible Verses that Teach Us How to Love Like God
- Sorry Not Sorry You Hurt My Heart
- What the Bible Says About Loving the Unlovable
About the Author:
Cindra is the author of Heavenly Placed. She became a Christian as a young mother and has seen evidence of God’s loving hand in her life for over 40 years. She has three core beliefs: there is power in prayer; God works all things out for our good and His glory; the more you know the Lord, the more you will want to know.