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The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant

“For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Matthew 6:14-15

We have all been hurt by someone in our life. Perhaps we’re emotionally scarred because of someone else’s actions or words, and those memories are hard to shake out of our minds. And what God requires of us—to forgive—is one of the hardest commands to follow. But it’s a subject that we must get right in our life.

When somebody wrongs us, we have the tendency not to talk to that person. We avoid them. We hold a grudge. We think of ways how we can get revenge. We lose sleep. But is that the way God would want us to act? When Jesus taught the apostles to forgive, their response was, “Increase our faith” (Luke 17:5). They even knew forgiving was hard.

What is forgiveness? It’s a decision to cancel a debt. But how far does forgiveness have to go? In Matt. 18:21-35, Jesus teaches The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. He’s prompted by Peter’s question in v. 21: “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” In His response in v. 22, Jesus’ point is not to keep track. Forgiveness is not meant to be measured or counted; it’s to be given away. As the parable unfolds, it’s clear that the servant who was forgiven of a debt that’d be impossible to repay was ungrateful. He was unwilling to forgive his fellow servant, and suffered the consequences for having an unforgiving heart.

We are faced with the same decision: Will I forgive? The consequences of not forgiving are damaging, and ultimately, are deadly. If we choose not to forgive, we destroy relationships. If we choose not to forgive, it fuels revenge. Resentment and bitterness build within us, and we only hurt ourselves.

But forgiveness heals. Forgiveness is a positive activity in which we go from seeing ourselves as victims to seeing ourselves as victors. It also reflects our heavenly Father. Eph. 5:1 says, “Therefore be imitators of God as dear children.” We can focus on God’s forgiveness of us. That is where the unmerciful servant erred. He didn’t forgive because he had no appreciation for his own forgiveness. We live in an unforgiving world. If we are forgiving, it will show. It will tell the world that God is alive and at work in our hearts.

When we’re offended or hurt, do we use it to get angry, or do we use it to bring glory to God and reflect who God is? Let’s be like Jesus, who, as He was hanging on the cross, said: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34).

Steven Matthews


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