Study Questions – Parables #7

Jeff South   -  

An Unmerciful Servant


Matthew 18:23-35


INTRODUCTION:  Have you ever experienced forgiveness that took you by surprise? It was so significant or so unexpected, or you knew just how undeserving of that forgiveness you actually were that it still gives you pause? In the parable of the unmerciful servant, Jesus gives us a picture of the extravagance of the Father’s forgiveness that is extended to us through Jesus. Like the parable of the wedding feast, the parable of the unforgiving servant does not present two equal but opposite servants of a master but successive reckoning scenes with two different subordinates. Unlike all the previous parables surveyed, however, this parable does not describe that reckoning as taking place between master and servant in both instances. In the second scene it occurs between servant and fellow servant. The unforgiving servant, therefore, rather than the master figure, becomes the unifier or determiner who appears in all of the episodes of the parable (hence the hierarchical diagram above). The episodes of Matthew 18:23–35 number three—verses 24–27 (master and first servant), verses 28–31 (first servant and fellow servant) and verses 32–34 (first servant and master)—and they are framed by introductory and concluding verses (vv. 23, 35). The unforgiving servant contrasts with his fellow debtor with respect to the amount forgiven and with the master with respect to his attitude toward forgiving others.[1] When we experience the forgiveness of the Father, we are to be changed in our attitude towards forgiving others. And when we forgive as the Father has forgiven us, we will find that forgiveness is powerfully disarming.



GETTING STARTED – As you begin your group time, talk about a time in your life when you experienced significant forgiveness. How did that experience shape or change you? Or, when did you come to realize the power and importance of forgiveness in healthy relationships? What brought about that awareness?


IN THE WORD –   Let’s dig back into the passage. It is important to strengthen our muscles in reading God’s Word. On Sunday, we walked through the passage in the sermon. Hopefully, that helped you to see the landmarks of the passage with fresh eyes. Now, with your group, go back through it and see what God is saying to you specifically.

First, before you read the passage, take a moment to ask God’s Spirit to quiet your mind and heart and to illuminate the text to you. Second, read the passage aloud to the group. Then, follow the simple method below. (O.P.A)

Observe: Make 8-10 observations from the passage. Pay close attention to observe and note repeated words and phrases, names, places, and themes.



Principles: From your list of observations, what patterns or big ideas do you see emerging? Can you distill it down into 2-4 big idea truths?



Apply: Moving from your list of principles, it is time to apply God’s Word. Remember, we believe that God’s Word is living and active and that it can change the way we live Monday- Friday. What is one tangible way to apply a truth from your list above?


[1] Craig L. Blomberg, Interpreting the Parables, Second Edition. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic: An Imprint of InterVarsity Press, 2012), 314.