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The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant

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A detailed analysis of the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matthew 18:21-35):

I have read several commentaries on this parable with each having a different interpretation of the passage in question. Some have suggested that the unforgiving servant refers to a *true* believer; while others have suggested that it refers to an unregenerate person. My take on this is that it refers to ANYONE -- whether saved or not. Jesus COMMANDS us to forgive others even if they have done NO WRONG. That is, we are not to harbor any root of bitterness within us towards our fellow human beings (cf. Ps. 51:10-13; Prov. 14:10; Eph. 4:26,31; Heb. 12:15; Js. 3:14; cf. 4:1-2; 1 Jn. 2:9). Such behavior will only result in that person having their conscious tormented until they come to the realization that this sort of behavior needs to be done away with (cf. Rom. 2:15; 1 Cor. 8:12; 1 Tim. 4:1-2; 5,19; Tit. 1:15; Heb. 13:18; Js. 4:17; 1 Pet. 3:16).

On the parable, this is a parable.  In parables, only the critical details contain doctrinal information. There may be some application to be made from the non-essential details, but this sort of thing is usually overdone to the point of obscuring the main interpretation and confusing the issue (as some of the commentators demonstrate).  So while a person might make a point of comparison from the fact that the steward had a wife and children who were going to be sold into slavery before his master relented, trying assign significance to what the wife and children "represent" is no doubt a mistake.

The particularly violent action of this fellow (i.e., "the unforgiving servant") is chosen by our Lord to make the point in parable style of just how hard-hearted he is.  It is not to be taken as the only possible negative action a person might take -- it merely represents an unforgiving attitude which results in actions which bespeak a lack forgiveness (Matt. 6:14-15; Eph. 4:26-27; 2 Cor. 2:10-11; Eph. 4:26; Heb. 12:14; cf. 1 Jn. 4:20). We have all certainly seen believers act in that way I would imagine.  It's not proper believer behavior, but it happens.  Whenever, for example, a believer is poorly treated by another believer, it is tempting to retaliate or else remain aloof in an unforgiving way.  This does not mean, of course, that we are required to stay best friends with someone who betrays us, e.g. That would be foolish.  But it does mean that we need to forgive them in our hearts and move on, and not withhold prayer, for example, because of the wrong we have been done . . . even if we're simply agitiated with that person which may be just our own faulty judgment.

So this parable applies to everyone.  Remember, our Lord came to the lost sheep of Israel, and Israel was God's special nation.  Everyone was supposed to be a believer; those who were not were supposed to be stoned.  So everyone to whom Christ spoke this parable was to understand from it that, having been forgiven everything by the Lord, being forgiving towards neighbors (other members of Israel) was not optional -- not if a person wanted to continue to receive God's forgiveness. And, after all, that is exactly what the Lord says without the use of a parable when asked by His disciples how to pray:     

And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6:12 & 14-15)

God Bless!

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