The Unmerciful Servant


  1. Ask about different situations when one was shown mercy or was not shown mercy, for example…
    1. Professors extending deadlines or offering extra help after class vs. Professors bragging that no one could get an A in their class.
    2. Showing up late for an appointment—the waiting person being mad or understanding
    3. Car wrecks when someone is mad and yelling vs. when they can be glad no one was hurt
  2. Talk about “what would you do if…” Show mercy and forgive?  Or make them pay for it?
    1. Roommates not doing housework or eating all the food.
    2. When someone borrows something and loses it/breaks it, etc.
    3. When a significant other says the wrong thing or forgets an “important” event/memory.
  3. Think of all the excuses that people could come up with to explain away/justify their actions or to put the responsibility on someone else, like the classic, “the dog ate my homework” or “I was going to, but then ____ happened and I couldn’t help it so it’s not my fault.”
  4. Ask how many times someone could apologize for a repeated action before one would be unwilling to forgive him.
    1. Some things, like being late, are easier to overlook multiple times than other things are.
  5. These are discussion openers, but you could also use a song or movie that introduces being wronged in love or reuniting friends who had fought.


Main Points (Choose ONE)

  1. Learning to show mercy and forgiveness to others
  2. Understanding—and fully accepting/living in—God’s mercy and forgiveness for us



The story:  found in Matthew 18:21-35

Peter wants to know how many times Jesus thinks you should forgive the same person, suggesting 7 times as a generous number.  Jesus goes way beyond that, saying 70 x 7 would be a better number. Then Jesus illustrates his “extreme” view on mercy and forgiveness with this parable (story):


There was a king who was settling accounts with people, and one guy owed him millions of dollars, but couldn’t pay it.  Well, the law said he and his family would be sold to pay the debt back.  But the servant begged the king to be patient and promised to pay it back some day.  The king took pity on him (had mercy on him) and canceled the debt (forgave him).


This same guy who just had millions of dollars in debt erased, went to someone who owed him a few dollars. He physically grabbed the guy’s throat and demanded to be paid.  This debtor asked the first guy to be patient and he would pay him back.  Well the first guy didn’t want to wait, and had his debtor thrown in prison.


The king found out from the other servants what happened, and told the first guy he was wicked for begging to be forgiven what he owed and then being unwilling to forgive someone else.  “Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” The king threw the guy in prison until he could repay the debt.


Jesus tells the disciples this is how God will treat us unless “you forgive your brother from your heart.”


Point #1:  So it looks like the patience, pity, mercy and forgiveness we’ve received from God, he expects us to show to other people.  We have to ask God to show mercy and forgive over and over again for the same things, even when we know we should obey, and we expect him to do it every time.


Just like that, we’re supposed to willingly show mercy to everyone—even people we don’t like very much or people who’ve hurt us.  We’ve received a huge amount of mercy and it’s silly/ridiculous/childish to not give them a fraction of it.


***We need God’s help and perspective to be understanding towards other people and to find a way to forgive, even when it doesn’t seem “fair” from the human perspective.


Point #2:  Wait… the king canceled that huge amount of debt, just because the servant asked him to??  He didn’t say, “Well, I can lower your monthly payments,” or “I’ll give 60 days to try to find the money.”  What the servant deserved was to be thrown in jail.  The servant probably would have thanked the king for a few more days to try to come up with the money.


But the king went way beyond what he was required to do or even what would have been nice to do:  He forgave the whole debt!! That king represents our King and heavenly Father.  God’s mercy made him unwilling to give us what we deserved—eternity in hell, separated from him.  He was even too merciful to say, “Try to do more good than bad to pay off the debt over time.”

Instead, he sent Jesus to pay the whole debt of sin so we would be victoriously free from its hold on us.


***This forgiveness frees us from the attempt to “do” enough to make up for our past so that God will be pleased with us.  As his children, we’re forgiven and we please him just by being his.  Obedience to him is so much better when it’s done for love than for debt repayment.


Human Struggles

  1. When it comes to forgiving others we sometimes:
    1. Hold our family/friends/strangers to a strict standard, forgetting the great amount of mercy/forgiveness we expect to be shown to us.
    2. Justify acting without mercy because the other person is in the wrong when really the “wrong” is small or petty compared to what we, ourselves, have already needed to be shown mercy for.
    3. Mistakenly think that showing mercy to others will keep us from getting what is rightfully ours.  Especially when it comes to “big” wrongs, we think that by not showing mercy/forgiveness, somehow we’ll get repaid for what we’ve lost.


  1. When it comes to receiving divine forgiveness, we sometimes:
    1. Think God holds past sin over our heads, ready to punish us or remind us of it, instead of realizing how infinite his mercy is—it never fails, never gives up.
    2. Feel the need to work off our sin—like doing enough “good” things will make us “more” forgiven or more “worthy” of God’s mercy.
    3. Forget that with God’s mercy not only comes forgiveness of sin but also the victory over them.


Application Helps  (DISCUSSION GUIDES to lead to the points)

1.  Questions to make the discussion of the “forgiving others” point personal

  • Have you ever been hurt by someone?
    • How did it happen?  What about the situation made it offensive?
    • Do you think they deserved for you to forgive them?
    • What would make it difficult for you to show them mercy?
    • Have you ever hurt them or had to ask them to forgive you for something?
  • Have you ever hurt someone else?
    • Did you try to explain it or excuse it?
    • Did they forgive you?
  • In either situation—being hurt or hurting someone else—what were the long-term consequences?
    • In some situations, the consequences when put into the context of 5 years or 10 years seem really small.  In that context, is it easier to forgive?
    • In some situations, the consequences seem life-long.  Maybe harder to forgive?  But what about eternity in heaven?  Does that context put the consequences in a better perspective?
    • Or, maybe non-forgiveness could make the consequences worse over a lifetime?
  • What happens when you refuse to show mercy or to forgive someone?
    • Does giving them what they “deserve” make the situation feel more “fair?”
    • Does it make you feel better or get back some of what you lost?
  • How could mercy minimize the consequences of the situation?
    • Does “letting go” free just the debtor, or also the forgiver?


2.  Questions to make the discussion of the “God’s forgiveness” point personal

  • What would you say if God asked you “Why should I let you into heaven?” (You know where this is going) J
  • Do you ever try to do something “good” to make yourself feel less guilty for something “bad?”
    • Is acting out of guilt or obligation as satisfying as doing something because you want to?
  • If you were given a clean start, how would you use it?  Would it be important to you to keep it clean?