Matthew 18.23-35 – The Unforgiving Servant (Part 3)

Reading Time: 7 Minutes

Today’s article concludes our study of the parable of the Unforgiving Servant. This parable is the key to understanding the entire 18th chapter of Matthew.

If you haven’t already done so, please find time to read the whole chapter. Both the parable and the chapter are best understood as a complete and balanced message.

What is an outline of Matthew 18?

Matthew 18 can be divided into six sections that answer important questions about how to live as followers of Jesus Christ.

(1) Verses 1-5 – Who is the most important kind of person in God’s kingdom?

Answer: People who show similar humility to that of a child are the greatest in God’s kingdom.

(2) Verses 6-9 – According to Jesus, how serious is the problem of sin?

Answer: It is as serious as being drowned in the sea or losing a hand.

(3) Verses 10-14 – How does God view people who are sinners?

Answer: He sees them as lost sheep who need to be rescued.

(4) Verses 15-20 – How should the church respond to people who have turned away from living the Jesus-kind-of-life?

Answer: The church should help people live responsible lives, keeping in mind the teaching of the entire 18th chapter of Matthew.

(5) Verses 21-22 – Are there any limits to the act of forgiveness?

Answer: Forgiveness that reflects the Jesus-kind-of-life is unlimited.

(6) Verses 23-35 – What does the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant have to add to the message of Matthew 18?

Answer: Accountability, responsibility, mercy and forgiveness will be part of the character and behavior of people who follow Jesus and help others to do the same.

In what way is God like the master in the parable?

God is like the master in that he has great compassion for people. God is like the master, who “out of pity for him . . . released him and forgave him the debt” (Matthew 18.27).

Jesus came to show us what God is like and compassion is one of the four major features of Jesus’ message.

God’s compassion does not nullify the fact that he is also the judge. Jesus came to expose and defeat evil. Everything that keeps people outside of and opposes God’s kingdom is destined for destruction.

God does not have torturers (verse 34). That part of the parable is an exaggeration and designed to make a point. However, he knows that unforgiveness keeps people outside of his best for people. To not forgive people is unacceptable for followers of Jesus.

Is God bound by the unlimited forgiveness message of verses 21-22?

When Peter asked if we should forgive people seven times, Jesus said: “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18.22). Does God hold himself to this standard, too?

Grace, compassion, and patience are central features of God’s character. God knows every aspect of our being and literally “feels with” the issues of life we have encountered.

As a father has compassion for his children,
so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.
For he knows how we were made;
he remembers that we are dust.
(Psalm 103.13-14)

That being said, judgment is real. If there was no judgment, then salvation through the work of Jesus would not have been necessary.

God is always ready to forgive, but it must be received if it is to make a difference in our lives.

Does the parable teach a form of “works righteousness” which argues that the forgiveness of others is a precondition for divine forgiveness?

James, the brother of Jesus, made it clear: “So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead” (James 2.17).

We can’t stay where we are and go with Jesus at the same time. Living a Jesus-kind-of-life involves extending mercy, compassion, grace and forgiveness just as our Savior.

This parable is where Jesus breaks with the writers of the Psalms who wished ill on their adversaries and still believed that they were in a right standing with God.

Jesus would never minimize the pain that people suffer from others. However, he wants us to experience the freedom and depth of character that comes from forgiveness.

Going Deeper

As we seek to put Jesus’ message in Matthew into action, let’s take a personal inventory of our lives.

(1) Do I seek the humility of the children in verses 1-5?

(2) Do I live my life, so that I do not cause other people to stumble in their faith in Jesus (verses 6-9)?

(3) Do I take seriously God’s desire to search for and restore people who have strayed from the Jesus-kind-of-life (verses 10-14)?

(4) Do I speak the truth and take care to guard the privacy of a “problem” person (verses 15-20)?

(5) Is my forgiveness unlimited (verses 21-22)?

(6) Do I extend forgiveness, based on the kind of forgiveness, compassion, mercy and grace that is pictured in the parable (verses 23-35)?

About This Blog

Klyne Snodgrass has devoted 12 years of study to produce the book, “Stories With Intent.” His book is recognized as the best book on the parables in print. I am indebted to Dr. Snodrass’ work that helps shape my articles.

If you have a prayer request, please email me at or private message me on Facebook. I will pray for you and so will the prayer team at Maywood Baptist Church.

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