The Parable of the Two Debtors

(Matthew 18:23-35)

The parable of the two debtors gives us an insight into the need for forgiveness. It explains why we must forgive our brother from the heart. The underlying principle shown here is to forgive as we have been forgiven.

In the parable of the two debtors we see a king settling accounts with those who owed him money. One debtor was brought to him owing ten thousand talents, and as he could not pay, the king ordered the man to be sold into slavery along with his wife, family and all his possessions.

This amount of ten thousand talents is interesting because we cannot reconcile that figure in today’s monetary terms to see how great a debt this was. The footnote to this scripture indicates that one of these talents was equivalent to fifteen years wages for a labourer. So the total sum involved was equivalent to wages for one hundred and fifty thousand years for a labourer. Bringing this into today’s terms, the average weekly earnings for a labourer in the construction industry during 2010 was a little over $1,300-00 per week. (Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics – Ave Weekly Earnings, Series ID: A2734096L) So extrapolating that out we find that today the equivalent of fifteen thousand talents is $10,140,000,000! That’s $10.14 billion dollars, which in anyone’s terms is a lot of money and an awful lot of labouring. I doubt Bill Gates could pay that debt off.

Then we see the man in verse 26 say, “Lord have patience with me and I will pay you everything.” And out of pity for the man the King forgave him the debt and released him.

The analogy here is that we are that debtor servant. We have this huge debt of sin in our lives before coming to Christ and we cannot repay that debt. It is highly improbable that the servant in the scripture would ever have been able to repay the King this debt. So it shows the compassion and forgiving nature of the king who rather than taking what he could, released the man, set him free and forgave this huge and monstrous debt. God has done exactly the same for us. He has released us from sin, released us from condemnation be removing us from his law, forgiven our past sins and set us free to follow his Son Jesus Christ.

Now as the parable of the two debtors continues we see this man just released comes across another man who owes him money. This second debtor owes the first debtor the sum of one hundred denarii. Now a denarius was a day’s wage for a labourer. So again converting that into today’s currency, one hundred denarii is equivalent to about $26,000-00. A fair sum, but not even the price of a new car today. It is certainly not outside the realm of being repaid in a reasonable period of time for someone on average weekly earnings.

However we see the first debtor demand payment from the second debtor say, “Pay what you owe.” The second debtor then fell down begging for patience and that he would pay it all in due course, just as the first debtor had done with the king. But the first debtor, unlike the king, did not show any compassion. Instead he had the second debtor thrown into prison until the debt was paid. This was despite the fact that the first debtor had just been forgiven an unbelievable debt by the king.

When the other servant saw what happened they told the king. The king summoned the first debtor and said, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you besought me; and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” (Verse 32-33) In his anger he threw the first debtor into the prison until he should pay all of the debt, which would clearly have been a death sentence give the size of the debt.

What we learn from this is that we have been forgiven a huge debt, much greater than anything we could possibly imagine. From time to time our brothers and sisters around us will do the wrong thing by us too, which is like being owed a much smaller debt. But because we have been shown compassion by God, we too must show compassion to his people when they ask for our forgiveness and mercy. We are to forgive them from the heart as the Lord has forgiven us.

There is another interesting point in this teaching too. There is a doctrine about along the lines of “once saved, always saved.” The basis of this is that when a person is saved, regardless of what they might do wrong, other than apostasy, they are always saved. This scripture shows that doctrine to be false. The Lord is saying here that if we do not show mercy and compassion to our brethren, we will not be forgiven our debts and we will be subject to the death sentence. Once saved, always saved may provide comfort to some, but it is scripturally inaccurate, and you should not set your hopes upon such a doctrine.

Even in the Old Testament the prophets showed that it was the last state of a person that determined whether they live or die. Consider the words of Ezekiel 18:21-29, and especially verse 24. It says, “But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity and does the same abominable things that the wicked man does, shall he live? None of the righteous deeds he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed, he shall die.”

Does this sound like a person who is once saved is always saved? No. It is repentance that is the key and if a person is unrepentant, they will surely lose their salvation. We must not be like that. We have an opportunity to come to Christ and learn his ways and receive the salvation of God. But we have a responsibility to learn and apply his teachings in our life and turn away from evil. If we deliberately turn back into sin after coming to Christ, we cannot presume that we will be saved because of past good or righteous deeds. “The soul that sins shall die.” (Ezekiel 18:20) Our past good deeds will not commend us to Christ if we have turned away from his righteousness.

And ultimately it is by grace we have been saved through faith in Jesus Christ. Anyone who turns back to sin after knowing the truth of Jesus’ way has lost their faith, fallen from grace and lost their salvation. The doctrine of once saved, always saved is a false doctrine.

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!

Leave a Reply