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Understanding the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant in Matthew 18:23-31

If you’ve read any of Jesus’ parables, you’re probably familiar with how they always have underlying lessons we can learn from. One parable that has always stood out to me is the one about the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18:23-31. It’s a story about a servant who owed his master an outstanding debt, and when he couldn’t pay it back, the master forgave him. However, the servant refused to forgive another servant who owed him a much smaller debt. It’s a story that’s easy to relate to, but what is its actual meaning? In this blog post, we’ll dive deeper into the parable of the unmerciful servant to understand what it’s trying to tell us.

The parable of the unmerciful servant is told in response to a question asked by Peter in Matthew 18:21. Peter asks Jesus how many times he should forgive his brother who sins against him, and he suggests seven times. However, Jesus replies that he should forgive not just seven but seventy-seven times. To further emphasize this point, Jesus tells the story of the unmerciful servant.

In the story, the servant’s debt is so outstanding that he could never have repaid it. This symbolizes how our sinful debt to God is too outstanding for us to refund. However, the master shows mercy and forgives the servant’s debt. This resembles how God shows us mercy and forgives our sins through Jesus Christ. Paul alludes to this when he says in Colossians 2:13-14 that God “made us alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.”

The unmerciful servant’s response to being forgiven sets the stage for the rest of the parable. He refuses to forgive a fellow servant who owes him a much smaller debt, leading to his being imprisoned. This is symbolic of how Christians are expected to forgive others as Christ has forgiven us. Jesus says in Matthew 6:14-15, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

The master’s response to the servant’s actions is also noteworthy. The master becomes angry and has the servant imprisoned until he can repay his debt. This symbolizes how God will hold us accountable for our actions if we do not forgive others as Christ has forgiven us. It’s a reminder that forgiveness isn’t just a nice thing to do but an essential part of living out our faith.


In conclusion, the parable of the unmerciful servant is a powerful reminder of the importance of forgiveness in the life of a Christian. It shows us how outstanding our sin debt to God is and how Jesus paid it on the cross. It also shows us how we are expected to forgive others as Christ has forgiven us. If we don’t, we will be held accountable for our actions. Forgiveness is not just a nice thing to do, but it’s a crucial part of living out our faith in Christ. So let us be quick to forgive others and extend the same mercy and grace that God has shown us.

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