Have you ever wondered why the Bible instructs and urges Christians to keep asking the Lord to forgive them of their sins even after they’ve been saved? Once a person accepts Jesus as their Savior and becomes born again, aren't all of their sins forgiven and forgotten? As we learned last week, when a person repents God completely forgives all of their sin debt - no matter how great it may be. So again I ask, why should believers continue to seek the Lord’s forgiveness after they’ve accepted Christ if indeed all of their sin have already been forgiven? Doesn’t this seem redundant and unnecessary?
Jesus answered this question regarding the need for forgiveness during the Last Supper when He washed the disciples’ feet. On this occasion, Peter asked Jesus to wash his whole body - not just his feet. Jesus answered that someone who had already bathed did not need to be completely rewashed, but rather just their feet needed washed for them to be entirely clean. During this exchange, Jesus was speaking about the need for forgiveness.
At the moment when a person receives salvation, they are spiritually bathed. All of their former sins are washed away and they stand completely forgiven and clean before God. This is a one-time event that does not need to be duplicated again and again. However, even spiritually clean Christians will still “get their feet dirty” as they walk through this life and struggle with the ongoing reality of sin. Thus, they will still need the Lord’s forgiveness to wash their feet periodically as they journey through life.
There are 2 applications of forgiveness discussed in Scripture. The first is the forgiveness of sin as it applies to our eternal salvation. It leads to our pardon from death and the grave. Such forgiveness is complete and eternal. The second is the forgiveness of sin as it applies to our daily fellowship with God. It involves the removal of clutter and dirtiness from our earthly lives which hampers the effectiveness of our prayers and our intimacy with Him.
In “The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant”, which we will discuss today, both applications of forgiveness are referred to. Knowing this in advance is critical to properly understanding the meaning of the parable.
I. THE BEAUTY OF FORGIVENESS - Matthew 18:23-27
This parable begins by introducing a king who has decided to settle all of his debts. In the course of doing so, he brought forward a man who owed him 10,000 talents. A single talent is worth about 6,000 denarii, so the total debt was around 60 million denarii - an exorbitant sum. The king demanded payment but the servant was unable. Thus, the king commanded that he and his family be sold into slavery until repayment was complete. The indebted servant begged for patience and mercy. Hearing him, the compassionate king mercifully and fully forgave his servant’s tremendous debt.
The inflated size of the debt owed in this parable clearly demonstrates the immeasurable debt that we as sinners owe to God. It is a price that we could never repay on our own. Fortunately our gracious heavenly Father, through the atoning work of Jesus Christ on the cross, lovingly forgives this enormous debt. We must simply receive the forgiveness that He offers. This is the only way to escape eternal slavery to death all Hell.
The application of forgiveness in view during the opening scene of this parable relates to our eternal salvation. God has completely washed our sins away, bathing us fully in His grace. He has, through Christ, forgiven us of a debt we could never pay.
II. THE UGLINESS OF UNFORGIVENESS - Matthew 18:28-31
Having been released from his own indebtedness, the relieved servant went out and found a companion who owed him money. This time the debt was much smaller - only 100 denarii. The servant demanded immediate repayment of this debt, but his friend was unable to repay. The fellow servant pleaded for patience and promised to repay if given time, but the unforgiving servant became angry and was unwilling to wait. He had his companion thrown into prison until the debt was paid in full.
Though he himself had been forgiven of a far greater debt, the unforgiving servant chose not to forgive the much smaller debt other another person. Sadly, this is the case for many Christians. Jesus has completely forgiven us of our all our sins, yet we often don’t extend such forgiveness to others. We hold grudges and keep records of wrong-doing. Our unforgiving nature is appalling and it reveals that we have little appreciation for or understanding of what God has truly done for us.
Notice that the other slaves in this parable who saw what happened were deeply grieved and quickly went to tell the king. Beloved, those outside of the church are watching us. When they see the forgiven Children of God unwilling to forgive others, they too are saddened and upset. And why shouldn’t they be? We have been forgiven so much, and in turn we should forgive much. Anything less is a disgrace.
III. THE CONSEQUENCES OF UNFORGIVENESS - Matthew 18:32-35
When the king heard what had happened, he summoned the unforgiving servant back to the palace. He reminded the servant that he’d forgiven his enormous debt, and then asked why the servant had not forgiven his friend’s significantly smaller debt. Finally the furious king turned the wicked servant over to the torturers until all that was owed was repaid.
In this story, the king initially grants forgiveness and then later takes it back based upon his servant’s inexcusable actions. God simply does not do this. The LORD’s forgiveness is unconditional, eternal, complete, and irrevocable. Thus, there must be a different interpretation of this parable that is consistent with the broader teachings of Scripture. So, what is the message that Jesus is trying to communicate?
I think a major clue is found in the type of punishment that the king renders. Notice that it differs from the first instance to the second, though honestly neither is very pleasant. Why the change? I think this is representative of a greater truth. God will not reinstate our original punishment - condemnation to Hell, but He will impose other serious consequences upon us if we refuse to forgive.
The application of forgiveness in view during the final scene of this parable relates to our temporal fellowship with God. He is rightfully offended and angered by the unforgiving behavior of His children. So, as it pertains to the Christian's the daily walk with God - if we will not forgive others, He will not forgive us. This principle is repeated multiple times in the New Testament. While this does not affect our salvation, it certainly has a great impact on our earthly lives. Unforgiving people forfeit many of God's greatest blessings.
The forgiveness of God that leads to our eternal salvation is not contingent upon our willingness to forgive others. If it were, none of us could be saved. Even at our very best, the level of forgiveness that we offer is weak and flawed. God does not place artificial limits upon Himself based upon our imperfections.
However, the forgiveness of God that He gives to maintain our daily fellowship with Him is contingent upon our willingness to forgive others. If we as Christians harbor unforgiveness in our hearts toward others, or even allow unforgiven personal sin to build up in our lives, it will undoubtedly affect our closeness to God. In this regard, the LORD will not forgive those who refuse to forgive others. Such believers, though saved, will have a damaged or fractured relationship with God.
In closing, it is important to realize that Jesus told this parable to reinforce an answer He’d given to Peter’s question about how many times we should forgive another person. In essence, He was teaching us that we should forgive others in the same manner as Christ forgives us. The Lord’s unlimited forgiveness for us should be the model by which we forgive others.