Pastor David B. Curtis


The High Cost of Not Forgiving

Matthew 18:23-35

Delivered 06/17/2001

Last week we talked about "Responding to Hurt", and one of our points was that we must be willing to forgive those who have hurt us. In the church we often talk about forgiveness and how important it is. We understand that we should forgive, because God has forgiven us, but would you tell that to someone like Elizabeth Morris?

Let me tell you here story. She had been sitting up late in the evening two days before Christmas in 1982, waiting for her son, Ted, to come home from his temporary job at a shopping mall. He had just completed his first semester at college and was working to get some extra money during the Christmas break.

But at 10:40 p.m., Elizabeth got the telephone call that all parents fear. 'Mrs. Morris, this is the hospital,' said the voice. 'Your son has been in an accident.'

As it turned out, another young man who had been driving drunk - in fact, whose blood-alcohol level was three times the legal limit - had crossed the highway's center line and smashed head-on into Ted's car. The drunk driver was only slightly injured, but before the night was over, eighteen-year-old Ted Morris was dead.

Elizabeth and her husband, Frank, were devastated. Ted was their only child, a well-behaved son with a bright future, and suddenly he was gone. The Morrises' anger escalated when the twenty-four-year-old man who killed Ted was given probation for his crime. Elizabeth told me that the hatred within her was like a wildfire sweeping down a dry canyon, consuming every part of her." Lee Strobel, God's Outrageous Claims, p.13.

How would you counsel Elizabeth Morris, who is a believer? Would you tell her she needed to forgive this young man who killed her son, or would you just back off and leave her alone? What do you think Jesus would tell her? We have Jesus' words on this subject in:

Matthew 6:14-15 (NKJV) "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 "But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

I think that these words of Jesus make it clear that we are to forgive those who hurt us. We'll talk about the meaning of these verses a little later on.

Are you aware that we are under a Divine mandate to forgive those who have wronged us? It is not an option, or a suggestion that God makes to us depending on how we feel. As children of God, we are under a mandate to forgive. We all need to meditate on the Bible's exhortations to forgive.

Colossians 3:13 (NKJV) bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.

What does it mean to forgive? An early meaning in English was: "to give or to grant". Then, forgive came to mean: "to remit a debt; to give up resentment or claim for requital; to pardon an offense."

Proverbs 19:11 (NKJV) The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, And his glory is to overlook a transgression.

Man is at his best when he is forgiving. It is the glory of a man that he should forgive another. And it is the mandate of a Christian. We are to forgive those who have wronged us.

To illustrate our necessity to forgive, the Lord gives us a parable on forgiveness, and the high cost of unforgiveness:

Matthew 18:23 (NKJV) "Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.

The parable deals with the importance of us forgiving one another. It is a very clear and powerful truth. The only question is whether we will choose to obey its application.

In this parable Jesus is telling us what it is to be like in the "kingdom of God." The kingdom of God is the sphere of God's rule on the earth through grace and salvation.

To say the least, there is much confusion as to when the kingdom began and as to its nature. I believe that by comparing Scripture with Scripture we will see that the "kingdom of God" came in the first century, and that it is a spiritual kingdom and not a physical kingdom:

Daniel 2:31-35 (NKJV) "You, O king, were watching; and behold, a great image! This great image, whose splendor was excellent, stood before you; and its form was awesome. 32 "This image's head was of fine gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, 33 "its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay. 34 "You watched while a stone was cut out without hands, which struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces. 35 "Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold were crushed together, and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; the wind carried them away so that no trace of them was found. And the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.
Daniel 2:44 (NKJV) "And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever.

Now look at the time statements. In Daniel 2:44, Daniel said, "In the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom..." As he interprets Neuchadnezzar's dream, he says that Nebuchadnezzar was the first of four kingdoms. It was in the days of the kings of the fourth kingdom that the eternal kingdom, which would take in all other kingdoms, was to be set up. Most agree that this was in the days of the Roman empire. The kingdom of God began to unfold at Pentecost and was brought in, in its fullness, at the destruction of the temple in AD 70.

In this parable, Jesus is telling us how he wants the citizens in his kingdom to live. It could be said that the "kingdom of heaven" is illustrated by the following situation. Barns puts it this way, "God will deal with the members of his church as a certain king did with his servants." This parable is for us, now, we are living in the kingdom of God.

Matthew 18:23 (NKJV) "Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.

The King, in this parable, represents God the Father. The servant is a picture of unsaved man. A servant was an attendant of a King. They were Satraps or provincial governors whose duty it was to collect the royal taxes and to deliver these large sums to the King.

The king is settling his accounts. The servant is called before the king to give an account, to settle up financially. This would be an annual accounting. This pictures God calling into account unsaved man. This is not a final accounting, or the story would end here. This is picturing the conviction of sin as God calls the elect to Himself.


Matthew 18:24 (NKJV) "And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.

This man had been embezzling the king's money. The 10,000 talents that he owed is an incredible debt. Barclay says, "The total revenue of the province, which contained Judea and Samaria, was only 600 talents. The total revenue of even a wealthy province like Galilee was only 300 talents." Ten thousand talents would be the equivalent of 190,000 years work. This pictures the bankrupt sinner before God with nothing to pay. He has offended an infinitely Holy God. He is absolutely incapable of helping himself, and is totally dependant upon God's grace:

Matthew 18:25 (NKJV) "But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made.

The selling into slavery of insolvent debtors was nothing unusual in those days. Top price for a slave brought about one talent, and one tenth of that amount was a more common price. The practice of being sold for debt was sanctioned by the Old Testament:

Leviticus 25:39 (NKJV) 'And if one of your brethren who dwells by you becomes poor, and sells himself to you, you shall not compel him to serve as a slave.
2 Kings 4:1 (NKJV) A certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets cried out to Elisha, saying, "Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that your servant feared the LORD. And the creditor is coming to take my two sons to be his slaves."

Outside of Israel, the practice of selling those who were unable to pay their debts was common. The proceeds of their sale would go toward the paying of the debt. There were no bankruptcy laws in those days. You paid, one way or another.

The point of the parable is that the amount of this debt is unpayable, picturing eternal judgement. The unbeliever's sins are never paid for in the Lake of Fire, or it would end at some point. The Lake of Fire is everlasting, showing the debt is never paid. The duration and punishment should help show us how terrible sin is, it creates an unpayable debt.


Matthew 18:26 (NKJV) "The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, 'Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.'

Notice that he didn't deny the debt. He falls down before God, an attitude of humility. He knew what he was facing, and he was devastated. He was in the very attitude where God wants men to be when He shows them their sin. This man is pleading for mercy. He is convicted of his sin, though he probably doesn't understand the depth of his sin. No matter how much patience God has, we could never repay the debt.


Matthew 18:27 (NKJV) "Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt.

It was out of sheer compassion that the master granted this servant far more than he had asked for, completely canceling the loan. That is salvation, free and total forgiveness.

Romans 3:24 (NKJV) being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,
Isaiah 1:18 (NKJV) "Come now, and let us reason together," Says the LORD, "Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool.

Before we can receive the forgiveness of God at salvation, we must see the debt of our sin. We must see it as a debt that we cannot pay. Before we come to Christ for forgiveness, we must come to a realization of our sinfulness and our helplessness.

People who don't see their sin, don't see their need for a savior.

Matthew 18:28 (NKJV) "But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, 'Pay me what you owe!'

It seems that he forgot very quickly just what had happened to him. This was no accident, he was looking for this guy. The Greek word for "fellow servant" is sundoulon, which means: "another man who has been forgiven, another believer". This man had been fully forgiven, yet he would not forgive others. If he wasn't a Christian, we wouldn't expect him to forgive.

Notice the comparison, 10,000 talents, which equals about 190,000 years work, and 100 pence, which equals about 3 months work. The 100 pence debt could have been carried in one pocket. The 10,000 talent debt would take an army to carry it of about 8,600 carriers, each carrying a sack of 60-80 pounds in weight, and they would form a line about five miles long. The contrast is staggering. Do you often forget what God has done for you?

This man grabs his brother around the throat and begins to choke him. Roman law allowed this. You might say, "This can't be a Christian." Really, do you think that Christians don't have problems forgiving each other? Have you ever read 1 Corinthians 6:1-8? The Christians at Corinth were dragging each other into court, trying to get justice. Have you ever done this to another believer, verbally or mentally? How many times have you wanted to do this to a Christian who hurt or wronged you? Be truthful. We are a lot like the man in this parable, we want justice from those who have wronged us, but we want mercy from those we have wronged.

This man says, "Pay me what you owe." He wasn't even sure how much the man owed him, he only knew that he owed him something.

Matthew 18:29 (NKJV) "So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.'

Does that sound familiar? The difference is that this guy could have paid him what he owed him. Compared to our debt against God, our sins against each other are minute. Our debt to God is unpayable. Our debts to each other are easily payable.

Matthew 18:30 (NKJV) "And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt.

He would not forgive his fellow servant. Because of the smallness of the debt, he was not legally permitted to sell his fellow servant into slavery. He went the legal limit and threw him into jail.

At times, we act just like this man in the parable and cast others into prison. Not literally of course, but we cast them into the prison of rejection, we isolate them through gossip. We want full payment. Aren't you glad that God didn't demand full payment from you? We couldn't pay Him, but our brothers could pay us.

Matthew 18:31 (NKJV) "So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done.

I think that this pictures other believers going to God in prayer about the situation. In light of the context (Matthew 18:15-17), let's assume that they have gone to this sinning brother and confronted him with his sin. Believers, I think that a very important aspect in our practical sanctification, our holiness, is us holding each other accountable. If I see you being unforgiving toward another believer, I am to bring it to your attention. And you are to do the same for me. I know what the Bible says, but often I am not aware that my actions are sinful until another believer brings that to my attention. If we truly love each other, we will help each other to walk in holiness.

Matthew 18:32 (NKJV) "Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, 'You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me.

Could this man, who God refers to as a "wicked servant," be a Christian? Yes! He says this man has had his debt forgiven, that could only be a believer. "I forgave you all that debt," verifies that the transaction of forgiveness was actually made and was effective.

Matthew 18:33 (NKJV) 'Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?'

This is exactly what Paul teaches in:

Ephesians 4:32 (NKJV) And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you.

God tells this servant that he should have had compassion and pity on his fellow servant, just as God did toward him.

Matthew 18:34 (NKJV) "And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him."

What punishment did this guy receive? Some read this, apply the analogy to us, and conclude that if we don't forgive, it proves we were never believers, thus never forgiven to begin with. It looks like the guy goes to hell for his failure to forgive. Other's think this symbolizes true believers, who once were forgiven, but because they were unmerciful, lose their salvation. I don't agree with either conclusion. This guy did pay a high price for his failure to forgive, but it wasn't hell or a loss of salvation.

The king represents God. When God forgives, he forgives completely. Our sins are all accounted as paid for:

Psalms 103:12 (NKJV) As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us.
Jeremiah 31:34 (NKJV) "No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more."

Just as we are completely forgiven, the servant's debt to his master was completely wiped out. It was legally canceled, never to be held against the man again.

Some would say that our forgiveness maintains our salvation, our status as forgiven people. This can't be true with relation to grace:

Ephesians 2:8-9 (NKJV) For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.

If our forgiveness maintains our status with God, then it's not grace that saves us. It is works. This runs contrary to salvation by faith alone.

Notice what he says, "until he should pay all that was due him." He is not speaking here of the original debt, that was unpayable. He was to pay what was due for his sin of unforgiveness. Until he forgave, he would be turned over to the torturers. He was not sold as a slave but given over to the jailers to be tortured until he paid what he owed. The man was disciplined by the king. In the same way, when we fail to forgive, we'd better expect torturous discipline.

What does he mean by "delivered him to the torturers?" I believe that he is referring to the physical and mental pain that God brings upon his disobedient sinning children.

You really can't afford not to be forgiving because of the high cost of unforgiveness. There are physical consequences to not forgiving others. A study at one hospital revealed, through personal interviews with patients suffering from mucous colitis, that resentment was the most prominent personality characteristic, occurring in 96% of the victims. The more serious ulcerative colitis also can be caused by emotional turmoil. The ulcers in the colon can truly plague the sufferer, who often gets little help from any medication. The only surgical procedure of any avail is the removal of the colon and the entire rectum. That's a high price to pay for not being willing to forgive.

Physically, there is a high cost for unforgiveness, but there is a higher cost spiritually:

Matthew 6:14-15 (NKJV) "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 "But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

What are these verses teaching? Are we saved by forgiving others? Will we lose our salvation if we don't forgive others? No. I think that what is in view here is not judicial forgiveness, but relational forgiveness. Judicial forgiveness views God as a judge. God looks down and says, "You're guilty, you have sinned, and you must be punished." But all who have trusted in Jesus Christ have their sin debt paid in full by His work.

Romans 8:1 (NKJV) There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.

God says, "I declare you forgiven, by virtue of your faith in Jesus Christ." By that judicial act of forgiveness, all of your sins, past, present, and future are completely forgiven. You are justified forever.

I think that what is being referred to in this passage is relational forgiveness. Although our sins are forgiven, we don't stop sinning. When we sin and will not repent of that sin, it affects our relationship with God. We don't stop being His child, but we lose an intimacy, our communion is broken. We restore our communion through confession of our sins:

1 John 1:9 (NKJV) If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Our relationship is hindered by sin, and unforgiveness is sin!

We are to forgive them by not holding it against them. We are to hold no bitterness or grudges against a person, no matter how they may have wronged us or how deeply we were hurt.

Matthew 18:35 (NKJV) "So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses."

Here Jesus applies the principles of the parable to us. My father will do this same thing to you if you don't forgive each other. This parable teaches us that we should be willing to forgive any and all offenses, because we have been forgiven so much. It also teaches that if we don't forgive, we will not be forgiven. We won't lose our salvation, judicially we are forgiven forever. But relationally, we will be separated from fellowship, and put under chastening until we are willing to forgive.

If that's how you want to spend your days on earth, a tormented believer, it's your choice. There is a better option.

"[Elizabeth Morris] began replaying the videotape of that night like a horror movie, over and over again. She ached for revenge. Sometimes she would fantasize about driving down the street and encountering Tommy Pigage, the man who killed her son. She would imagine hitting him with her car, pinning him up against a tree, and watching him suffer in agony as she slowly crushed him to death.

She spent a lot of her spare time actually tracking Tommy to see if she could catch him violating the terms of his probation, so he would be sent to prison. Over time her bitterness and negative attitude began to drive a wedge between her and her husband. It began to chase away her friends. It drained away her ability to laugh and enjoy life.

Elizabeth described it as a cancer that was eating away at her from the inside. She desperately wanted help, but it was some time before she discovered the only cure. Elizabeth came to the realization that her heavenly Father also had lost his only Son. Any yet when Jesus was suffering on the cross - before he died as payment for Elizabeth's own wrongdoing - he looked at the merciless soldiers who were in charge of torturing him and said, 'Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.'

That's when Elizabeth knew it was time for her - as an act of her will - to offer forgiveness to the man who killed her only son. So that's what she did. And over time as her attitude began to change, not only was she rescued from her caustic bitterness but she and her husband were actually to build a relationship with their son's killer. In fact, it was their friendship that influenced Tommy Pigage to begin following Jesus and turn his life around.

As unbelievable as it sounds, Elizabeth's husband, a part-time preacher, ended up baptizing Tommy, and as Tommy emerged from beneath the water, symbolizing the renewal of his life through Christ, they hugged and sobbed. Later he presided at Tommy's wedding. Today the Morrises ride to church every Sunday with Tommy and his wife, and together they worship the God of the second chance.

How were the Morrises able to do all that? Because their animosity toward Tommy, the killer, had been replaced by their acceptance of Tommy, the person who matters to God. And the result has been a personal peace that goes beyond human understanding." Lee Strobel, God's Outrageous Claims, pp. 13-14

We are to take the sins of others and, according to the literal Greek of the word, forgive, which is aphiemi: "to send forth, or send away". It involves the remission of the punishment, due to sinful conduct. And it involves the complete removal of the cause of offenses. Lord Herbert said, "He who cannot forgive others, breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass." A saint of long ago said, "Revenge, indeed, seems often sweet to men; but, oh, it is only sugared poison, only sweetened gall, and its aftertaste is bitter as hell. Forgiving, enduring love alone, is sweet and blissful: it enjoys peace and the consciousness of God's favor."

How could we be so cruel as to not forgive, after we have been forgiven so much?

Ephesians 4:32 (NKJV) And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you.

May God help us to live as good citizens of His eternal kingdom. May we live our lives in obedience, out of a deep gratitude, for all that the Lord has done for us. To do this not only honors God, but it will keep us from being handed over to the torturers.

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