Parable of Unforgiving Servant (2 of 2)

unforgiving servant 2

(Continued from yesterday)

Yesterday we saw that forgiving everyone is not a condition for salvation. Today we explore what our Lord meant by Mt 18:35.

1. Immediate Context. The subject of the immediate preceding text, Mt 18:15-20, is about dealing with sin in the church. The parable of the unmerciful servant then follows, and is concerned about forgiving my brother or sister who sins against me (v 21, 35). The text is therefore targeted at Christians, not unbelievers seeking salvation.

2. Wider Context. There are several passages that talk about something similar:
Mt 6:12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
• Mt 6:14-15 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Also Mk 11:26)
• Lk 6:37-38 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Mt 6 and Lk 6, the Sermon on the Mount, are about Jesus teaching His disciples, in the hearing of the crowd. In particular, Mt 6:15 and Mk 11:26 talk about “your heavenly Father”. So all the parallel passages including Mt 18:35 address Christians.

3. Principle. The principle behind these verses is reciprocity – the measure you use will be measured to you. This principle is taught in other Scriptures which aren’t even related to forgiveness:

Prov 21:13 Whoever shuts their ears to the cry of the poor will also cry out and not be answered.
• Mt 7:1-2 Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
• Jas 2:13a because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful.

This is an application of the Golden Rule Mt 7:12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. God deals with us using the same rule He gave us.

For example, Jacob took Esau’s birthright and blessings. God gave him a taste of his own medicine via Laban, who deceived Jacob by giving Leah instead of Rachel to be his wife, and cheated him by changing his wages 10 times (Gen 31:7). When Israel sinned by idolatry, God gave Israel over to the pagan nations whose gods they worshipped. However, His intention was not to utterly destroy them, but to chastise them so that they will repent. As a result of the exile, they eventually did return to one true God by the time of Christ.

So, when God had mercy on us by forgiving all our sins, and we don’t forgive our brothers and sisters from our heart, He will use our own measure on us, which is poetic justice, so that we will come to our senses and repent. His goal is to restore us, not destroy us. I think your relative knows God’s righteousness but not His compassion and grace. Mercy triumphs over judgment (Jas 2:13b), and we should all learn that. Hope this helps.

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