15 “If your brother or sister[a] sins,[b] go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’[c] 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
19 “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”
The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant
21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.[f]
23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold[g] was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins.[h] He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.
29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’
30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.
32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
Jesus expects those who follow him to look after each other. They should do all that they can to help each other. They should always be ready to forgive.
How to deal with those who sin against us (verses 15–20)
These verses are about society. It is not just about the leaders. They have responsibilities. But everyone is responsible for the other members.
If someone sins, God’s children must correct that person. But note the process that Jesus gave. (Read verses 15–17.) It must not be for personal satisfaction. That is not a good reason to point out another person’s bad habits. It must not be because of personal pain either. There must be a desire to help that person. We must not be thinking about it all the time. This often leads to being bitter. Then it would be easy to hate that person. Jesus said, ‘You are both disciples. So, go to him or her. Try to make things right again.’
The person who has sinned might not listen. (We will call him person A.) But Jesus was very practical. So he gave some good advice in verse 16. Another Christian will say things in a different way. And this could help person A to understand his sin. (That advice is good for today too.)
But person A may still refuse to listen. Then the members of the church must know about it (verse 17). It is important to deal with sin. Person A may not listen to the group of believers. Then they must cause everyone to know about the sin. Person A is living like a non-Christian. People must know about this. But, even here, Jesus was being kind. Perhaps person A would repent. This is what Jesus always wants.
There is a danger that we should avoid. We might talk about the bad habits of other Christians. Then we might start to gossip about them. This happens because we are doing things for the wrong reasons. We might like to talk about the weaknesses of other people. We do not desire the best for them. But our words should help people. Our words should not hurt them.
Real disciples should always deal with sin in Jesus’ way. Then Jesus promises to be there with them. So they can speak and act with his authority. Jesus promises to give them his wisdom too. (Read verses 18–20.)
God forgives you. So you must forgive other people in the same way (verses 21–35).
Israel was the country where Jesus lived. A dinar was the daily wage of a workman there. There were 6000 dinars in every talent. The man in the parable owed 10 000 talents to the king. Galilee was a small part of Israel. A year’s taxes from Galilee were 300–500 talents. This showed that the servant’s debt was very large. Jesus wanted to emphasize the size of the debt. So he combined two things from the Greek part of the world. He used the largest number. And he used the largest measure of money.
In ancient times, a man who had a debt like this would die. The debt might be even a small part of this amount. But he would still die because of it. So the punishment that Jesus described was a reasonable one.
The servant promised to pay the debt. But he asked the king to give him more time. The king did much more than that. He cancelled the debt completely (verse 26). What wonderful mercy this was! Jesus told this parable for a reason. He wanted his disciples to learn about God’s great mercy to them. He forgives all their sin.
But that was not the end of Jesus’ story. The king had been very kind to his servant. But the same servant would not be kind himself. Another servant owed him 100 dinars. That was a very small amount.
This servant asked for mercy too. He used the same words that the other servant had used to the king. (Read verse 29. Compare verse 26.) The king had forgiven the first servant. He had cancelled his huge debt. But this same servant refused to forgive another servant for a small debt. All the other servants were very upset. They told the king everything. Of course, the king was very angry. He sent the first servant to prison. (Notice that, even then, he did not kill the man.)
Often, people say that they are real disciples. They know that God has been very patient with them. God has forgiven them. God’s mercy has been great. But they refuse to deal with other people in the same way. Behavior like this brings awful results. These people make it impossible for God to forgive them. They are refusing to forgive other people. So they cannot know that God has forgiven them. And there must be punishment for them. (Read 6:12, 14–15.)
Peter had understood Jesus’ words in verses 15–20. But he was still thinking like the Jewish teachers (rabbis) thought. The rabbis said that people should forgive 3 or 4 times. Peter thought that he would be generous. So he suggested 7 times. He probably expected Jesus to approve of him. But Jesus’ answer shows that mercy must have no limits.
1. Someone has hurt you. You have not forgiven him or her. What should you do about it? Perhaps that person does not think that he or she has done a wrong thing. What would you do then?
2. What does it mean to forgive? Is it a form of words? Is it a feeling? Is it a determination to forget the past? Or, is it a form of prayer?
3. Do you need to forgive somebody? Ask God to show you. Then, pray about this important matter.