Brief Notes

What the
Servant Owed
His Master

18 May 2023

In His parable of
the unforgiving servant,
the Lord gives a serious
warning to all of
His believers

The parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:21-35 is one of the clearest warnings in the New Testament of how we as the believers in Christ will one day have to render an account to the Lord for how we lived our Christian lives.

The Lord begins this parable by making it clear that it relates to the Kingdom of the Heavens. He tells us,

“Therefore the Kingdom of the Heavens is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.”
— Matthew 18:23

Here we also see that this parable has to do with the time when the king will “settle accounts” with us, which will be when we stand before the judgment seat of Christ (Rom. 14:10-12, 2 Cor. 5:10).

The Lord goes on in this parable to tell of a king who forgave one of his servants a debt of 10,000 talents. That servant, however, then went out and demanded that another servant repay to him a debt of 100 denarri.

In the New Testament a denarius was considered good pay for a day’s work (Matt. 20:2), so that was not a small amount of money. Compared to what he himself had owed, however, it was almost nothing; it was much less than even a single talent, so, well less than 1/10,000 of the debt he had been forgiven!

Eventually his master told him,

“You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?”
— Matthew 18:32-33

The Lord then concludes the parable in this way:

“And his master was angry, and delivered him to the tormentors until he should pay all that was due to him.”
— Matthew 18:34

And then He Himself tells us the lesson we are meant to draw from this parable:

“So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”
— Matthew 18:35

There can be no real doubt about whether the unforgiving servant here signifies a saved believer, since his master had forgiven his debt. Moreover, the Lord is speaking this to His disciples, to the end that they would learn to forgive their “brother” from their heart. And also, he is not judged because of his original debt, but because he did not forgive his fellow servant.

So, beyond any question, he does signify a saved believer in Christ.

Nonetheless, the master said to deliver the servant to the “tormentors” until he paid “all that was due to him.”

Does this parable, then, indicate that the servant lost his salvation because he would not forgive his fellow servant? No, because eventually he will be delivered from the tormentors, once he has paid his debt.

So, the question then becomes, what is the debt that he still owed? It is not the original debt of 10,000 talents; that had already been forgiven. Rather, what he now owed his master was to treat his fellow servants with the same mercy his master had shown him. It was because he failed to do that, that the master delivered him to the tormentors.

So, the Lord gives this parable as a very, very serious warning to His believers. Yes, our sins are forgiven, but He may still deliver us, for a time, to the “tormentors” when we stand before His judgment seat, if we do not follow Him faithfully in this age. (See “Just What Is the ‘Outer Darkness’”?) And, to be very practical about it, the example He gives in this parable shows the importance of our forgiving others, in particular our fellow believers.

So many Christians today are so casual in the way they live their Christian life! This has much to do with the false teaching that once we believe in Christ, there can never be a serious problem between us and the Lord, especially in the next age.

May we indeed be warned by this parable, then, of our need to seek and even struggle to follow the Lord in a much more serious way, so what we may truly be prepared for His return, and be ready to stand before Him at His judgment seat.

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— 18 May 2023 —