We find the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant only in Matthew 18:23-35. The Apostle Peter had asked how many times one should forgive, “Till seven times?” and Jesus answered, “Not seven times but seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:21-22). The context of this passage is Jesus teaching His disciples about the “kingdom of heaven.” We can take some very important principles from this parable and apply them to our lives today.
The servant whose lord forgave him much, ten thousand talents, equivalent to several millions of dollars, was unwilling to forgive another servant who owed him a hundred denarii. A denarius was a day’s wage and was worth approximately sixteen cents. Therefore, compared to what the first servant was forgiven, this was a very small amount. The principle here is, “the one forgiven much should forgive much.” In other words, the principle of forgiveness is that grace or forgiveness to another is without limit. The disciples are not to count the number of times they forgive. Rather, as the parable teaches, they are to forgive much because God has forgiven much.
In the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant, Jesus is presenting a new principle that is similar to the basis of the forgiveness command for believers found in Ephesians 4:32, “And be ye kind to one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” Jesus is teaching His disciples pre-cross, and therefore in the pre-church age, but the basis for forgiveness is the same. Because God has forgiven us, we are to forgive each other. Therefore, because we have received much grace, “while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8), we are commanded to give that same grace to others. In the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant, the first servant’s debt was forgiven, and he was not required to repay until his unforgiving nature was discovered. In contrast, our sin debt was paid in full by Christ and is the only basis for God’s forgiveness. We cannot repay our debt to God or earn our salvation. It is a gift of grace (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Therefore, in the Parable of the Unforgiving / Unmerciful / Unjust Servant, Jesus is teaching His disciples, and us by extension, that forgiveness should be in like proportion to the amount forgiven. The first servant had been forgiven all, and he then should have forgiven all. In like manner, a child of God by faith through Christ has had all sins forgiven. Therefore, when someone offends or sins against us we should be willing to forgive him from a heart of gratitude for the grace to which we ourselves are debtors.