The Unforgiving Servant

But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another. ~ Galatians 5:15

But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another. ~ Galatians 5:15


Matthew 18:21-35

As far as parables go, this one is rather simple and the point is clear. Jesus told this parable in direct response to Peter’s question: “Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Till seven times?” (Matthew 18:21). Peter asked about forgiving our brothers and seemed to have repeat offenders especially in mind.

Jesus answered, “I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, until seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22). He then proceeded to illustrate forgiveness with a parable that serves a few purposes. It provides a narrative illustration, which makes an impression. It highlights the basis for forgiveness and concludes with a sober warning to the unforgiving.

Before we look into the parable, let’s have a few words about parables in general. We have to be careful with them that we let them make their point and not try to press them too far. Sometimes people want to pick up every detail in the parable, no matter how minor, and try to tie it to some significant teaching. This can do more harm than good and possibly lead into serious error.

In the parable before us, Jesus is not laying out a whole theology of forgiveness, nor seeking to explain fully how God forgives sinners and reconciles them to Himself. This is an important point to understand, as we will see later on. The context clearly indicates this parable is about forgiveness between men and particularly brothers in Christ. The conclusion in verse 35 confirms this.

At the very least, this parable speaks to the child of God about how we are to handle forgiveness toward others. The parable does not try to get into every possible scenario of offense. We can all appreciate how tangled and thorny situations between people can be. But the point of this parable is clear: We are to forgive one another.
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