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Sunday School is a vital part of any ministry. In it, one is able to experience a deeper knowledge of God’s Word. Here at “Word For Life Says,” I want to help you help others. Below you will find resources to help you prepare for your upcoming lessons and my personal summary notes that I use when teaching. May God bless you!
“Parable of the Unforgiving Servant”
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Please Note: All lesson verses and titles are based on International Sunday School Lesson/Uniform Series ©2014 by the Lesson Committee, but all content/commentary written within is original tounless properly quoted/cited. I am glad you like to read my personal summary notes, musings, and thoughts that I use when teaching, but as always you are encouraged to do your own studies as well. Blessings!)
Forgiveness is one of the most beautiful gifts we can receive, and it is one of the most beautiful gifts we can give away.
For right now, we can only imagine what it would be like to live in a world where offences do not exist, or feelings of hurt do not reside; when others are not wronging others, where everything is fair and square with no division, corruptness, or hindrances in one’s life and walk with God. Alas, we have not yet ascended to glory. Therefore, while we remain there will be times of being wronged against that we have to deal with. In that, it also means there are times we must forgive those very wrongs committed against us.
Jesus explains in this lesson just how important it is.
Matthew 18:21 “Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?”
Opening at the beginning of this chapter, the disciples are questioning, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (Matthew 18:1). Jesus, bringing forth a little child, explains that one must humble themselves as a child to enter into the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:2-5).
In His teaching, Jesus pointed out many truths He wanted to reveal to His disciples including dealing with offences (6-9), care and importance of the least of these little ones (10-14), and how to deal with it when a brother trespasses against us (15-19).
Jesus then stated, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them,” (20).
It is after this statement when Peter poses his question, wanting to know more about forgiveness.
“Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?” Notice, Peter isn’t asking Jesus what he should do with his own sins committed against another, for this should have been the question that weighed heaviest on his mind. His focus shouldn’t be on the concern of others and what they are doing, which is where many of our focuses lie. Rather, it should be on how he is personally striving to enter that “strait gate” (Matthew 7:13).
Nevertheless, Peter poses the question of how he should respond to repeated faults committed against himself. Isn’t it ironic in how caught up we get in what’s done “against” us? Although we are told time and again of the things we will face in this world and the perils and troubles that sometimes follows, it still seems to bewilder us when we are exposed to things done “against” us?
Peter wanted to know when he can legitimately cut off the line of forgiveness due to repeated offences and still be right in the graceful eyes of God?
“Till seven times?” was his suggestion. Peter probably assumed he was being more than generous in his willingness to forgive offences at least “seven times.” After all, seven is the number of perfection and completeness. And, it seems reasonable according to the human mindset to put limits on how much suffering and wrongs one endures at the hand of another. Don’t we sometimes use that old phrase, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me?”
That phrase implies there is a deficit or weakness in us if we keep letting occurrences go unchecked or happen to us, and still are willing to offer forgiveness to the offender. But, in the next verse, Jesus shows us that way of thinking is wrong. That mindset may seem “logical” according to human standards. But Jesus has heavenly standards in mind and if heaven is where we are seeking to go, then it is heaven’s measurements we must live up to.
Matthew 18:22 “Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.”
Take out the record book and let’s start keeping score, God NEVER said to any person. No human has the right to judge or keep score of another, especially one’s own brother or those in the faith. Rather, than pinpointing an exact number, which seems to be what Peter was after, Jesus was encouraging the human heart to take the cap off preconceived ideas regarding forgiveness and let the love of God flow freely without limitations. Forgive as God forgave you (Ephesians 4:31-32; Colossians 3:13).
Forgiveness may be a hard pill to swallow for some, but it’s one we must not only swallow but offer to others as well. We thank God for chance after chance offered to us to get it right, but Peter thought his calculations were sufficient when dealing with others, particularly one considered a “brother.” After all, if the rabbis teach that three times of extending forgiveness for a said sin is sufficient, Peter’s idea of seven must be absolutely outstanding. Of course, Jesus had a different perspective on the whole matter. His view was from what goes on behind the scenes in the heavenly courts of God.
Jesus knew one cannot receive from God and not be willing to reciprocate the same in return. Each one of us has the responsibility to forgive and through His usage of the number “seventy times seven” Jesus was encouraging people to lay down their personal logs of keeping tracks of wrongs committed against us and offer, without limits, the same thing that God offers us.
In case there is any doubt about what the Lord is looking for in the hearts of His people, He tells the story of the unforgiving servant to drive His point home.
Matthew 18:23-27 “Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.”
In starting out His story or His parable, Jesus began like He did with many of the other parables He taught. He described the story that was to follow as being like “the kingdom of heaven.” This is very important to us because, in the using of those words, Jesus reveals once again, truths concerning our eternity and our relationship with God.
In this parable, there was a “certain king, which would take account of his servants.” When one is “accounting” they are measuring and counting to see if the books are balanced; they are “reckoning” to settle accounts. This is done to see if money, time, etc. owed are paid back. The servant’s records are being inspected and their expenditures are under a microscope if you will. The king is thorough when going through his books and he will make sure the ledgers are correct when it comes to the sum of everything due back to him.
In closely scrutinizing the records, the king noticed the balance of one of his servants was way out of proportion. What he owed was astronomical. “Ten thousand talents,” the balance books revealed, had never found their way back to the king.
To gain an understanding of what that means in today’s dollar figures, well, you’re in for a shock. The amount owed was equivalent to the tens of millions of days wages. With a denarius being a day’s earnings for work (compare Matthew 20:2), and each talent could run anywhere between 3,000 to 6,000 denarius, depending on which precious metal it was made from. Times that by the 10,000 talents owed and we are looking at a number of work days that would average anywhere from 30,000,000 to 60,000,000 days of earnings (basically, a number so large it couldn’t be calculated). Wow!
In other words, what the servant owed wasn’t by any means chump change. His debt was beyond enormous, and the king was demanding that it be paid now! The problem with that is, with the greatness of the debt owed there was no way possible this man could repay enough to even put a small dent in the monies due back to the king.
To remedy the situation the king “commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made” (compare 2 Kings 4:1). The man would lose everything! Everything gained. Everything bought. He would even lose his own family due to his inability to fully satisfy his financial obligations. Basically, his life was over. The rug was literally being pulled from underneath his feet and there was absolutely nothing he could do about it except to beg for mercy.
“The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him.” He threw himself at the mercy of the king. He was desperate. An intervention of power outside of himself was the only way he and his family would make it out of this horrible situation. Throwing himself down in a position of humility, the servant pleaded for his life and the life of his family.
“Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.” A man who couldn’t even make a dent in the smallest of installments of payments owed, is now begging for the opportunity to be given him to “pay thee all” if the king would just bear with him a little longer while he tries to work it all out; while he tries to find a way to settle the account and bring it into good standing.
Judging by the numbers rendered above, this was an impossibility. Yet, it did not stop the man from seeking some sort of grace to be extended to him despite the enormity of the situation. Grace and mercy are just as wonderful to receive as forgiveness is and this man needed a good, healthy dose of it to change his destiny.
Seeing the pleading eyes and the begging stance, the “lord of that servant was moved with compassion.” The king didn’t have to, but he became genuinely concerned for this man even though he had every right to stick to his original judgment of selling him and his family off to settle the debt. Rather, than do that, the king took pity on the servant and “forgave him the debt.”
The king cancelled the debt against him. He wiped his ledger books clean, took the man’s name from bad standing to good standing, and equated the balanced with a zero. No installments. No working to pay it off the rest of his life. He went from owing anywhere between 30,000,000 to 60,000,000 days wages to owing absolutely nothing.
Wow! Oh, what relief he must have felt. He gained instead of losing when he should have lost everything he gained. He was “loosed” from the bondage of debt and its consequences, completely pardoned by the king.
Well, after experiencing such a life-altering reversal of events, surely the mercy he received would cause him to have empathy toward others in the same situation and extend the same grace to them as well.
One would think so, but as Jesus’s parable continues, we find out that this is just not the case.
Matthew 18:28-31 “But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt. So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done.”
The word “but” brings a contrast in the story from what we should have expected to happen to what really happened. And, what really happened told a lot about who this man really was for the worse.
The servant who received the pardon; the servant who received mercy and restoration that was extended to him by the king, now is seen as literally hunting down an offender of his. He “went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence.” He didn’t happen to come across the man, he went out looking for him. There are some that don’t mind their faults being erased but can’t get past the faults of others and pointing them out.
His fellowservant owed him “an hundred pence.” Now, let’s do a quick reality check here. The amount this man owed him compared to the debt the king forgave him of was miniscule at best. If it were grains of sand, a hundred pence (about one hundred denarii) compared to ten thousand talents would not equal a grains worth. That’s how comparatively small it was that was owed to him to what he owed the king. We are talking an estimated guess of about one hundred work days of wages compared to the enormous amount noted earlier in the millions.
But, to this man, it didn’t matter the debt proportion sizes. He wanted his money, and he wanted it now! He physically “laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest,” was his demand.
His demand and attitude toward his fellowservant were not in accordance with what he himself had just received at the merciful hands of the king. Although the man did the same as he in his pleading, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all” (ironically, this is exactly the same words he used when pleading with the king), this servant, which hunted this man down for payment, refused to extend the same compassion he was afforded by the king.
He refused to pardon. He refused to forgive in the same way that he had received forgiveness. His attitude was that “He would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt.”
Pay special attention to those words. It wasn’t that he “could not” forgive the debt, because he could if he wanted to. But, we are told, “he would not.” He made a conscience decision to blatantly reject the appeal of his fellowservant, to hold his “debt” over his head, and to turn away from another the most valuable thing he received: forgiveness. Instead, this man sought personal retribution even though he himself was restored.
This is a very serious lesson. Previously, I wrote:
“How often do we count people out or disqualify them because of mistakes they have done? Now, we are never given a license to abuse the grace of God, but God is not as quick as we are in crossing people’s names off the list. As far as God goes, we all deserved the worst, but God reaches out to us in our hot mess state and offers to us another chance to get back on that right road of righteousness, which is found in His will. The Bible tells us, “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger for ever. He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities,” (Psalm 103:8-10). He offers us a do over.” (for more information see God’s Love Gives Another Chance/wordforlifesays.com).
The king gave his servant a do over, but he didn’t genuinely appreciate it, nor did it motivate him enough to give his fellowservant another chance as well. That choice would lead to dire consequences.
Those who witnessed both events were outraged and felt “sorry” over all that was done. The first servant was drowning in debt and was thrown a lifesaver. Instead of helping his fellowservant, he metaphorically pushed his head under the water to watch him drown. This just would not do.
They reported, “unto their lord all that was done.” The servant’s deeds were exposed and now he will have to answer for the way he treated his brother.
Matthew 18:32-35 “Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.”
The king was outraged! As a matter of fact, he is noted as being “wroth” which means his anger was at the boiling over level. He couldn’t understand what he was hearing. After receiving such a showing of grace and mercy, after having “all that debt” erased from his account, how could the servant he forgave treat another in this way? Where was his “compassion?” Where was his “pity?”
This time he would answer for the crimes committed and pay the debt owed. Calling him as he truly saw him, a “wicked servant,” the king demanded, “and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him.”
Was it worth it to try and wring the little out for what he was owed instead of looking on him with the same eyes of grace he received?
Jesus’s point in this whole story is very simple. When we receive from our “Heavenly Father” forgiveness, we have the responsibility to forgive others of the trespasses committed against us. As a matter of fact, it is in the Lord’s Prayer, where Jesus teaches His disciples and us to pray and live by these words: “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors,” (Matthew 6:12). This is no small coincidence. As grace receivers and mercy recipients this is how our lives are to be ordered.
It’s not enough to declare forgiveness with one’s mouth. But, “from your hearts” forgiveness must be offered freely. As noted earlier, the caps have to be taken off of the limits and the love of God must be allowed to flow as freely to others as we have received from Him.
Forgiveness is not optional. Christ gave all that we might be free from the condemnation of our mistakes. It is our job to walk in His footsteps and do the same. “Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.” Colossians 3:13
Standard Print PDF: Parable of the Unforgiving Servant Sunday School Lesson Summary Standard Print
Below are activities to support this week’s lesson. Enjoy!
Draw the Scene: Parable of the Unforgiving Servant Draw the Scene
Memory Verse: Parable of the Unforgiving Servant Memory Verse
Below are Activities/Links/Resources to support this week’s lesson. Enjoy!
“The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant” (Activities, crafts, printables, and more. Enjoy!)
“The Story of the Unforgiving Servant” (There is a link for a craft mini book that students can make and illustrate themselves. Enjoy!)
“Forgiveness Preschool Lesson” (Craft: Forgiving hearts)
“Keep On Forgiving” (Activity Sheets, coloring, and group activities)
“Forgiveness Balloon Game” (Your students will enjoy this printable game board to help supplement the lesson. Enjoy!)
“Let it Go Journal Sheet” (Okay! This one is not just for the kiddos. We all have things in our past that we need to let go. Use this journaling sheet to get you and your older/adult students off on the right start. Enjoy!)
“Seventy Times Seven Activity Sheet Older Students” (Click here for the same activity sheet geared to younger students)
“The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant” (Coloring pages and craft activity)
“Forgiving Others” (Scroll down to page 2 under “Creative Application” for a wonderful object lesson to help you illustrate this week’s lesson. Enjoy!)
“The Unmerciful Servant” (There are too many options in this pdf resource to list. But, they do have things like “Forgiveness Kite,” “The Forgiving Game,” and more. Check it out, and enjoy!)