Lesson 21: Matthew 18

“Lesson 21: Matthew 18,” New Testament Seminary Teacher Manual (2016)

“Lesson 21,” New Testament Seminary Teacher Manual

Lesson 21

Matthew 18


Jesus Christ taught His disciples principles that would help them lead His Church after His Ascension. The Lord also gave the parable of the unmerciful servant in response to Peter’s question about forgiveness.

Suggestions for Teaching

Matthew 18:1–20

Jesus Christ teaches His disciples principles that will help them lead the Church

List the following offenses on the board: being lied to; having something stolen; being betrayed by a friend. Ask students to silently rate each offense on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the easiest to forgive and 10 being the hardest. Invite a few willing students to report how they rated each of the offenses.

Invite students to ponder why we should forgive others even when it’s difficult to do so.

Invite students as they study Matthew 18 to look for truths that can help them understand why we should forgive others.

Summarize Matthew 18:1–14 by explaining that Jesus instructed His disciples to humble themselves and become as little children. He also explained that those who “offend” little children, lead them astray, or cause them to stumble in the faith, would be subject to the justice of God (see verses 6–7, including verse 6, footnote a). The Savior then counseled His disciples to remove from their lives those things that could offend them, or cause them to stumble (see verse 9). (Note: The Savior’s teachings found in Matthew 18:1–14 will be discussed in greater depth in the lessons on Mark 9 and Luke 15.)

Explain that after the Savior counseled His disciples to remove from their lives those things that could cause them to stumble, He told them what a person should do if someone trespasses, or sins, against him or her. He also taught the Apostles principles of Church discipline.

Invite a student to read Matthew 18:15 aloud, and ask the class to look for what Jesus told His disciples to do if someone trespassed against them.

  • What can we learn from this verse about what should we do if someone trespasses against us?

Summarize Matthew 18:16–17 by explaining that the Savior told His Apostles that if a person refused to acknowledge his or her wrongdoing and confess his or her sin, and two or more witnesses testified against him or her, that person would be cut off from the Church. You may also want to explain that, today, those who preside over Church disciplinary councils where such decisions are made always seek the Lord’s will regarding whether an individual should be cut off from the Church, or excommunicated.

Invite a student to read Matthew 18:18–20 aloud. Ask students to follow along, looking for what authority the Apostles had received.

  • What authority did the Apostles have given to them? (Explain that the Savior had given the Apostles the keys of the priesthood, which gave them authority, under the direction of Peter, to perform sealing ordinances and make binding decisions regarding the Church, including whether a sinner could remain a member [see Matthew 16:19].)

  • What did the Lord promise His Apostles in verses 19–20? (You may want to suggest that students mark the promise in verse 20.)

Matthew 18:21–35

The Lord gives the parable of the unmerciful servant

Invite a student to read aloud the following account, related by President Thomas S. Monson, of a family whose two-month-old baby had died:

Monson, Thomas S.

“[The] father was a cabinetmaker and fashioned a beautiful casket for the body of his precious child. The day of the funeral was gloomy, thus reflecting the sadness they felt in their loss. As the family walked to the chapel, with Father carrying the tiny casket, a small number of friends had gathered. However, the chapel door was locked. The busy bishop had forgotten the funeral. Attempts to reach him were futile. Not knowing what to do, the father placed the casket under his arm and, with his family beside him, carried it home, walking in a drenching rain” (“Hidden Wedges,” Ensign, May 2002, 19).

  • If you had been a member of that family, how would you have felt when the bishop failed to show up for the funeral?

  • Why would it be difficult to forgive the bishop?

Explain that after the Savior instructed the Apostles, Peter asked the Lord a question about forgiveness. Invite a student to read Matthew 18:21 aloud, and ask students to look for Peter’s question.

  • What did Peter ask the Savior?

Explain that some religious leaders in Peter’s day taught that an individual did not need to offer forgiveness to another person more than three times. In asking the Lord if he should forgive someone seven times, Peter may have thought he was being generous (see Bruce R. McConkie, The Mortal Messiah, 4 vols. [1979–81], 3:91). Invite students to read Matthew 18:22 silently, looking for the Savior’s response to Peter.

  • How many times did the Savior say we should forgive those who offend or sin against us? (Explain that “seventy times seven” is a way of saying we should put no limit on the number of times we forgive others.)

  • What truth can we learn from the Savior about forgiving others? (Students may use different words, but make sure they identify the following truth: The Lord has commanded us to forgive those who offend or sin against us.)

  • What does it mean to forgive others? (Explain that to forgive others is to treat with love the person who has offended or hurt us and to have no unkind feelings toward him or her [see Guide to the Scriptures, “Forgive,”; D&C 64:9–11]. Forgiving does not mean that we continue to allow others to harm us or that the offender should not be held accountable for his or her actions, legally or otherwise.)

Explain that after answering Peter’s question, the Savior taught His disciples a parable that can help us understand why we should forgive others.

Group students into pairs and invite each pair to read Matthew 18:23–35 together, looking for why we should forgive others. After sufficient time, invite students to report what they found.

Media Icon
Instead of having students read Matthew 18:23–35, consider showing the video “Forgive Every One Their Trespasses: The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant” [6:06]. As students watch the video, invite them to look for why we should forgive others. After the video, invite students to report what they found. This video is available on

To help students deepen their understanding of this parable, copy the following words on the board:




  • How much did the servant owe the king? (Write owed the king 10,000 talents under Servant.)

Explain that in Jesus’s day “10,000 talents equaled 100,000,000 denarii [Roman currency]. One denarius was a typical day’s wage for a common laborer” (Jay A. Parry and Donald W. Parry, Understanding the Parables of Jesus Christ [2006], 95). Ask students to calculate how many years it would take for the servant to pay off this debt by dividing 100,000,000 denarii by 365 days (100,000,000/365 = 273,973). Write 273,973 years on the board under owed the king 10,000 talents.

  • How much did the fellowservant owe the servant? (Write owed the servant 100 pence under Fellowservant.)

Explain that 100 pence equaled 100 denarii. Therefore, the fellowservant owed the servant roughly 100 days’ worth of work, or nearly one-third of his yearly salary. Write 100 days on the board under owed the servant 100 pence.

  • Why do you think the king told the servant he was wicked for not forgiving his fellowservant this debt?

Ask students who they think each of the three people in the parable could represent. After they respond, write the following possible representations on the board: King = Heavenly Father, Servant = Us, Fellowservant = Those who have offended us.

  • What principle do you think the Savior was trying to teach His disciples about why we should forgive others? (Students should identify a principle similar to the following: If we want God to forgive us, then we must be willing to forgive others. Write this principle on the board.)

  • What can a person do if he or she is struggling to forgive someone?

To help students understand what we can do to be more willing to forgive others, invite a student to read aloud the following statement by President James E. Faust of the First Presidency. If possible, make a handout for each student.

Faust, James E.

“We need to recognize and acknowledge angry feelings. It will take humility to do this, but if we will get on our knees and ask Heavenly Father for a feeling of forgiveness, He will help us. The Lord requires us ‘to forgive all men’ [D&C 64:10] for our own good because ‘hatred retards spiritual growth’ [Orson F. Whitney, Gospel Themes (1914), 144]. Only as we rid ourselves of hatred and bitterness can the Lord put comfort into our hearts. …

“… When tragedy strikes, we should not respond by seeking personal revenge but rather let justice take its course and then let go. It is not easy to let go and empty our hearts of festering resentment. The Savior has offered to all of us a precious peace through His Atonement, but this can come only as we are willing to cast out negative feelings of anger, spite, or revenge. For all of us who forgive ‘those who trespass against us’ [Joseph Smith Translation, Matthew 6:13], even those who have committed serious crimes, the Atonement brings a measure of peace and comfort” (James E. Faust, “The Healing Power of Forgiveness,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2007, 69).

  • What did President Faust tell us to do that will help us forgive others?

  • According to President Faust, what can happen when we forgive others?

Remind students of President Monson’s story shared earlier in class and ask a student to read the conclusion of the account:

Monson, Thomas S.

“If the family were of a lesser character, they could have blamed the bishop and harbored ill feelings. When the bishop discovered the tragedy, he visited the family and apologized. With the hurt still evident in his expression, but with tears in his eyes, the father accepted the apology, and the two embraced in a spirit of understanding” (“Hidden Wedges,” Ensign, May 2002, 19).

  • How has the Lord helped you forgive someone who has sinned against or offended you?

  • What has helped you forgive others? (Consider inviting students to respond to this question in their class notebooks or scripture study journals.)

Invite students to ponder whom they may be withholding forgiveness from. Invite them to pray for a desire to forgive and the ability to let go of hurt and anger so that Jesus Christ can help them feel peace and comfort through His Atonement.

Commentary and Background Information

Matthew 18:20. “Where two or three are gathered together in my name”

President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught that this promise of gathering together in the name of Jesus Christ applies to us when gatherings are presided over by proper authority:

“The Lord has told us, ‘Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.’ (Matt. 18:20; see also D&C 6:32.)

“There is safety in learning doctrine in gatherings which are sponsored by proper authority” (“Reverence Invites Revelation,” Ensign, Nov. 1991, 21).

Matthew 18:21–22. “Seventy times seven”

“The answer ‘seventy times seven’ (a hyperbolic quantity, meaning indefinitely) is for those who sin against us but repent. And for those who sin against us and refuse to repent, the first three times we are still obligated to forgive, but the fourth time the testimonies against the sinner are to be brought before the Lord. If sincere repentance and restitution ensue, forgiveness is required; but if there is no repentance, the sinner is given over to the judgments of God. All of this additional instruction is given in Doctrine and Covenants 98:39–48, the law of forgiveness” (D. Kelly Ogden and Andrew C. Skinner, Verse by Verse: The Four Gospels [2006], 371–72).

Note that the phrase “thou shalt not forgive” in Doctrine and Covenants 98:44 means that unrepentant perpetrators should be held fully accountable for their actions. It does not mean that we should withhold forgiveness from or continue to feel animosity toward them (see Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Manual [Church Educational System manual, 2013], 349).

Matthew 18:22. Forgiveness and Church discipline

Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught how Matthew 18:22 relates to situations involving Church discipline:

“There is no limit to the number of times that brethren should forgive each other their personal trespasses upon conditions of true repentance. This, however, is not intended to mean that the Church itself shall continue times without end to forgive and fellowship its erring members. There are instances in which sinners must be cast out of the kingdom no matter how sorry they may be for their unrighteous acts” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [1965–73], 1:423).

Matthew 18:23–30. The Lord has commanded us to forgive those who offend us

Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles helped us understand how we are blessed for forgiving others:

“Forgiveness heals terrible, tragic wounds, for it allows the love of God to purge your heart and mind of the poison of hate. It cleanses your consciousness of the desire for revenge. It makes place for the purifying, healing, restoring love of the Lord” (“Healing the Tragic Scars of Abuse,” Ensign, May 1992, 33).

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the First Presidency taught the following about forgiveness:

“Remember, heaven is filled with those who have this in common: They are forgiven. And they forgive” (“The Merciful Obtain Mercy,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2012, 77).