What should a forgiven
sinner’s attitude be toward those who offend or sin against him?
The teaching embraced
in this parable becomes powerful when placed in its first century
Let us look at the setting,
the propensity to vengeance as seen in the pagan world, the rabbinical
teaching concerning forgiveness, and the biblical context.
I. Historical Context
A. In the ancient
world cruel treatment was practiced against debtors, often without regard
to the debtor’s ability or intention to repay.
In Athens prior to the
establishment of democratic rights, a creditor could demand slave labor
of his debtor or of members of the debtor’s family as surety of payment.
Roman law provided punishment
by imprisonment to the debtors.
The reason for imprisonment
and cruel treatment was to force the debtor to sell whatever property he
might secretly own, or to have the debtor’s relatives pay his debt.
The creditor would demand
slave labor of the entire family so that the debt might be worked off.
There were legal restrictions
to prevent extreme cruelty, but in spite of the laws the entire system
of debts and sureties was recklessly abused in the ancient world.
The prophets frequently
condemned violations of the laws.
I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry. 7 I pondered
them in my mind and then accused the nobles and officials. I told them,
"You are exacting usury from your own countrymen!" So I called together
a large meeting to deal with them 8 and said: "As far as possible, we have
bought back our Jewish brothers who were sold to the Gentiles. Now you
are selling your brothers, only for them to be sold back to us!" They kept
quiet, because they could find nothing to say. 9 So I continued, "What
you are doing is not right. Shouldn’t you walk in the fear of our God to
avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies? 10 I and my brothers and my
men are also lending the people money and grain. But let the exacting of
usury stop! 11 Give back to them immediately their fields, vineyards, olive
groves and houses, and also the usury you are charging them—the hundredth
part of the money, grain, new wine and oil." 12 "We will give it back,"
they said. "And we will not demand anything more from them. We will do
as you say." Then I summoned the priests and made the nobles and officials
take an oath to do what they had promised. 13 I also shook out the folds
of my robe and said, "In this way may God shake out of his house and possessions
every man who does not keep this promise. So may such a man be shaken out
and emptied!" At this the whole assembly said, "Amen," and praised the
LORD. And the people did as they had promised. (NIV)
The pagan world was
extremely cruel; cruelty was not only practiced against enemies, but also
against family and friends without remorse or any sense of guilt.
B. The desire for
vengeance in the Greco-Roman world.
The desire for vengeance
was usually regarded as obligatory so that one felt himself justified in
inflicting maximum vengeance or mischief upon one’s enemies.
The desire for vengeance
was often carried from one generation to another so that a son took satisfaction
in wreaking vengeance upon the enemies of his father or perhaps the descendants
of those enemies.
C. The Rabbinical
teaching in the first century. The Jewish teachers encouraged personal
vendettas by a faulty application of the "eye for an eye" precept.
Although this principle
was originally intended for the court to insure that punishment for the
crime would be commensurate with the crime committed.
The precept was given
to curb excessive vengeance, but it had become erroneously interpreted
and applied so that an individual could avenge his injuries and extract
"justice" apart from due process of law.
The problem was a personal
vindictiveness which was being perpetrated by a miss application of the
judicial "eye for an eye" principle.
D. The Jewish
Rabbis also taught that a man was to be forgiven three times, but no more.
The Jewish Talmud reads,
"If a man commits an offense once they forgive him, a second time they
forgive him a third time they forgive him, the fourth time they do not
Amos 1:3 This is what
the LORD says: "For three sins of Damascus, even for four, I will not turn
back. Because she threshed Gilead with sledges having iron teeth, (NIV)
Amos 2:1 This is what
the LORD says: "For three sins of Moab, even for four, I will not turn
back. Because he burned, as if to lime, the bones of Edom’s king, (NIV)
No doubt they thought
that three times was very liberal when contrasted to the pagan world.
Peter was born and reared
in an environment where cruelty to debtors, desire for vengeance, and erroneous
rabbinical teaching thrived.
Naturally he thought
that forgiving his brother seven times would be unusually liberal and sufficiently
E. Biblical context.
Jesus spoke this parable
in response to Peter’s question.
In Matthew 18:15-20
Jesus was teaching his disciples that they were to seek to be reconciled
to those whom offended or sin against them.
Peter’s question was
a natural response. He wanted to know the extent of his obligation to an
F. Do we subconsciously
adhere to the same ancient ideas?
Have you ever severed
relationships with close friends after having been repeatedly offended?
How many have thought
or said, "This is the third time that you have hurt me—I am sick and tired
of it—our relationship is finished?
retaliation, and unforgiveness have been prevalent in every age—not excluding
II. Man is
a debtor to God.
God = the king
God must be reckoned
Mt 10:28 Do not be afraid
of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid
of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (NIV)
Ro 14:12 So then, each
of us will give an account of himself to God. (NIV)
1 Peter 4:5 But they
will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the
Rom 12:19 Do not take
revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written:
"It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. (NIV)
He 10:30-31 30 For we
know him who said, "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," and again, "The
Lord will judge his people." 31 It is a dreadful thing to fall into the
hands of the living God. (NIV)
Therefore " . . . whatsoever
ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men" (Col 3:23).
B. God is the
Accounter and man is the accountee.
All men are servants
to the king; all men are debtors to God.
Mt 6:12 Forgive us our
debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. (NIV)
Luke 11:4 Forgive us
our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us
not into temptation.’" (NIV)
The accumulated omissions
and offenses make up one consolidated debt of guilt.
Sin is an account that
all men have with God. There is no way of counting the accumulated sins
of a lifetime.
10,000 talents represented
the enormity of debt.
Inflation makes it
difficult to get an exact idea of how much 10,000 talents would be.
According to Jewish
calculation—Ten million dollars.
Gold 150,000,000 dollars.
were used for the construction of
Eight thousand to build
1 Chr 29:4-7
Eight hundred talents
was the total tax income for the five provinces of Palestine.
The servant's debt was
over ten times the national budget. How would you like to owe ten times
the amount of our national debt?
C. Day of reckoning
arrived for the servant.
2 Kings 4:1 The wife
of a man from the company of the prophets cried out to Elisha, "Your servant
my husband is dead, and you know that he revered the LORD. But now his
creditor is coming to take my two boys as his slaves." (NIV)
Neh 5:8 and said: "As
far as possible, we have bought back our Jewish brothers who were sold
to the Gentiles. Now you are selling your brothers, only for them to be
sold back to us!" They kept quiet, because they could find nothing to say.
The king commanded that
the servant and his family and all his possessions be sold that payment
might be made.
The sale of his property
C. The servant
pled for mercy. He did not understand the enormity of his debt.
A man in anguish will
promise the impossible.
Some believe that if
God will only allow them long enough they will make amends of their sin.
Many believe that future
obedience can make up for past obedience.
Ro 10:3 Since they did
not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish
their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. (NIV)
No sinner can pay the
Many think that they
can hide behind respectability, a cloak of self-righteousness, and religion
thinking that their deficit will not be noticed.
Others hide in darkness
so their evil deeds will not be exposed.
John 3:20 Everyone who
does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that
his deeds will be exposed. (NIV)
There will be no escape.
Heb 2:3 how shall we
escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first
announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. (NIV)
A day of reckoning
will come for every soul. On that day noting will be hid.
Ro 2:5 But because of
your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath
against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment
will be revealed. (NIV)
One can reckon with
God before the final judgement. One can receive forgiveness today.
The final day will be
Mt 25:41 "Then he will
say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the
eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. (NIV)
On that day nothing
will be hid.
Ro 2:16 This will take
place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ,
as my gospel declares. (NIV)
III. Magnitude of
parable demonstrates the magnitude of God’s forgiveness.
God will show mercy
toward the humble penitent man and will cancel the debt of sin entirely
In God’s sight no offense
is so great or so frequent as to be beyond forgiveness.
What would life be worth
if one could outstretch the limit of God’s forgiveness?
God is willing to forgive
seven times each day, seventy times a day, and 4900 times a day! There
is no stopping place with God.
Isa 1:18 "Come now,
let us reason together," says the LORD. "Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall
be like wool. (NIV)
Isa 55:7 Let the wicked
forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD,
and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
Ex 20:2,6 "I am the
LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery
. . . but showing love to a thousand of those who love me and keep my commandments.
1 Kings 8:23 and said:
"O LORD, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on
earth below—you who keep your covenant of love with your servants who continue
wholeheartedly in your way. (NIV)
2 Chr 7:14 if my people,
who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my
face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and
will forgive their sin and will heal their land. (NIV)
B. The truth about
God’s unlimited forgiveness is very hard to grasp.
Man has the ideal that
when he sins it is difficult, if not impossible, to receive forgiveness
and to be reconciled to the love and favor of God.
In history the Hindu
mother feeds her baby to the crocodiles, to appease the wrath of her God.
Some fast and agonize
Others punish and mutilate
But it is not difficult
to get God to forgive.
IV. Man’s forgiveness
is conditional on forgiving others.
A. The unmerciful
servant went from the king’s presence and forgot that he had been purged
of his old sins.
1:9 But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and
has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins. (NIV)
Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore
him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. (NIV)
He remembers his fellow
servant’s debt; he forgets his past experience.
He takes his fellow
servant by the throat and demands that payment be made.
He did not listen to
the man’s plea.
He had been so freely
and fully forgiven, but he failed in the extending of forgiveness.
There was no love, no
compassion, only hard-heartedness.
B. It is so easy
to forget our deep need of mercy and forgiveness and to become harsh and
unforgiving to others.
This outrageous occurrence
is made by Jesus to stand as the true picture of all his followers who
will not forgive others.
The man had just been
forgiven, yet he cast his fellow servant into prison without even an extension
He extracted the utmost
punishment till the debt was fully paid.
C. God forgives
more freely than man forgives.
We think mercy
is a good thing as long as we are the objects of it.
How difficult it is
to deal with others as God has dealt with us.
The unmerciful servant
probably thought that he had a right to treat him that way, "after all
I am only asking for what is rightfully mine."
For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the
measure you use, it will be measured to you. (NIV)
We desire to measure
our fellow man by one standard and ourselves by another.
It will not work.
We must not stand on
our own rights and exact our dues; we should be moved by the desire to
promote the welfare of our fellow man.
Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. (NIV)
F. Man’s debts
to God are much greater than man’s debts to man.
Comparison in the two
sums owed 1 to 1,250,000.
Forgiven of $150,000,000
and refused to forgive $16 debt.
The worst offenses committed
against men are nothing compared to the offenses all have committed against
Usually quarrels among
men are a look, a word loosely spoken, an expression carelessly dropped.
Is our shame for our
sins against God as intense and real as our indignation concerning the
injuries done to ourselves?
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as
in Christ God forgave you. (NIV)
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. (NIV)
must never be refused when sought with repentance.
So watch yourselves. "If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents,
forgive him. 4 If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times
comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him." (NIV)
In the meantime you
must maintain a forgiving spirit whether the offender repents or not.
repentance leaves a man’s evil nature unchanged.
Forgiveness must be
from the heart.
Do we really have a
clear conscience in our relationship with others?
Is the atmosphere between
men and my fellowman open and unclouded by hostilities?
Do I still harbor
old hates in my heart?
Are we inclined
to hold a grudge?
Is there a gnawing grudge
against someone that is tucked away secretly in the back of your memory?
Is there a bitter root
of recrimination buried deep down in my subconscious mind whenever I am
reminded of some abuse of injustice I have suffered?
Do the wrongs I have
endured from others eat away inside me like a consuming cancer?
These probing questions
get below the surface of our superficial attitude.
A backlog of lingering
ill will, hostilities, resentments, and animosities clouds many of our
relationships with others.
They are still demanding
restitution. They want their pound of flesh.
H. This parable
teaches that forgiveness can be revoked.
2:13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not
been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment! (NIV)
All forgiveness is conditional;
the condition in every case is dependent upon the forgiven continuing in
faith and obedience.
Jesus said, that having
received grace, one must show grace or he will fall from grace.
V. Final punishment
of the unmerciful and unforgiving.
He forfeited his wife
It would have been impossible
for him to repay the debt while free, even less of a chance now.
He shall have justice
without mercy; he shall always be paying; yet he shall never pay off the
That’s what hell is
In this parable our
Lord announces the law of unlimited forgiveness as one of the essential
laws of his kingdoms.
Forgiveness cannot have
a limit. Forgive until seventy times seven . . . which indicates unlimited