Here is an observation I made while studying Jesus’ Parable of the Unforgiving Servant in Matt 18:21-35. This is basically the first parable which Jesus told in Matthew involving a king and his servants (though Matt 13:24-30 might also be considered the first). But people are often troubled by statements the Lord makes to people He called servants. Consider the following statements He makes about servants in Matthew:
“Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him
into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’” (Matt 22:13).
“…the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him and at an hour that he is not aware of, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt 24:50-51).
“And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt 25:30).
Of course, all three of these deal with servants who will weep and gnash their teeth. Many commentators feel such people are unbelievers and going to hell. But Huber and Sapaugh have shown that the outer darkness is missing out on the joys associated with ruling with Christ.1 They have also shown that weeping and gnashing of teeth is a Semitic expression for grief and that is not something only unbelievers will do. Unfaithful believers at the Judgment Seat of Christ will experience grief too.
But I noticed something else that bolsters their argument. Every use of the word servant in Matthew, when referring to a servant of Jesus, refers to believers.
It is clear that the chastened servant of Matthew 18 is a brother, that is, a believer: “Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants” (Matt 18:23). The idea of settling accounts is a rewards concept: “Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account” (cf. Phil 4:17, emphasis added); “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account” (Heb 13:17, emphasis added).2
Matthew 18:21-22, the verses introducing the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant, concerns Peter’s question about forgiving one’s brother. Brother here refers to a fellow believer. This is brought out in the application of the parable when the Lord says, “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses” (Matt 18:35, emphasis added).
Furthermore, Peter’s question was prompted by Jesus’ statement about brethren and the assembly in the previous section:
“Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother” (Matt 18:15, emphasis added).
“And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector” (Matt 18:17, emphasis added).
Clearly the Lord Jesus is discussing believers (brethren) in this parable in Matthew 18.
But I noticed this also: that the expression fellow servant (sundoulos) is used four times in this parable (Matt 18:28, 29, 31, 33) and they are called brethren in Matt 18:35 (quoted above).
I also noticed in the Parable of the Faithful and Wicked Servant in Matt 24:45-51 this reference to fellow servants: “and [he] begins to beat his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunkards (Matt 24:49, emphasis added).
Matthew 24:45 clearly implies that this servant is a believer who for a time was faithful (Matt 24:45-47) and then, when he thought his Lord was delaying His promised soon return (v 48), he changes and becomes unfaithful (vv 49-51).
Every reference in Matthew to a servant of Jesus, or to the fellow servants of such servants, refers to believers. In addition to the verses cited in this article, see also Matt 13:28; 18:26, 27, 28, 29, 31, 32, 33; 21:34, 35, 36; 22:3, 4, 6, 8, 10, 13; 24:45, 46, 48, 49; 25:14, 21, 23, 26. They all fit.
1. These articles are available at the GES website (www. faithalone.org) under Free Resources/JOTGES (Sapaugh = Spring 1992; Huber = Autumn 1992). Last accessed 6/1/14.
2. In all three verses the word translated “accounts” is logos, which often means word, but in certain contexts refers to an account.