Forgiving Others – Matthew 18:21-35

Forgive As You Have Been Forgiven

21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’

30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

A Quantifying Question

Peter asks a question of Jesus, which he then answers.  But Jesus does something that Peter doesn’t expect – He gives him an answer that is far beyond the fathomable realm of belief.  The prophet Amos indicated that three times was the appropriate number of times to forgive before exacting justice.  Seven times would have been more than gracious.  Then Jesus comes out with what appears to be a ludicrous number – seventy seven times.  Some translations of the Bible put the number at seventy times seven.  It is not the number that should be focused upon – no one would be able to mentally remember how many times that would be.  The number was so exceedingly high as to indicate that we should continually forgive others.

A Perfect Parable

Jesus then introduces one of the most frightening of parables.  It has royal intrigue, forgiveness, hardness of heart, and a terrible outcome.  We should take and internalize it so that we can understand its implications and realize the perilous ground that we find ourselves standing on when, by hardness of heart, we refuse to forgive others of their offenses against us, no matter how insignificant, nor how great and devastating.

Insurmountable Indebtedness

The debt was astronomical – ten thousand bags of gold.  Just for a reference, let’s place a fictitious weight in each bag, then get a rough idea of how much money was at stake.  Let’s say that each bag of gold held twenty pounds of gold (for the sake of argument).  That would be 200,000 pounds of gold.  Each pound of gold would have twelve Troy ounces – 2,400,000 ounces of gold.  And at today’s prices, even if we were to low-ball – $1000 US per ounce – that would be 2.4 BILLION US dollars!

This would have been an unfathomable debt for the average person.  But if it seems like someone could actually pay that off, multiply it times one million, or a billion.  The idea is that there is an unfathomable debt to repay, and that no reasonable person could repay it.  We find ourselves in that very situation.  For all have sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God.  Each of us owes a blood-debt that we cannot pay.

Royal Relief

The man who owed this to the king begged for mercy.  And in a show of great compassion, the king forgave the man of his debt.  Imagine the relief that the man must have felt!  And imagine the pain it must have caused the king to lose that much.  But the king was gracious, and the man greatly profited from his compassion.

This is the same situation that we each find ourselves in.  The price of sin is the blood of a sinless person.  Because none of us are sinless, we cannot repay our debt.  But Jesus Christ died for our sins, and shed His sinless blood for us, so that we could pay our blood-debt to God, and be free.

A Hardened Heart

The forgiven man then went out and found a man who owed him just a little money.  Possibly not having any money after squandering the billions in gold, he began to try to get some money from people who owed him.  And when the man who owed him asked for mercy, the forgiven man wouldn’t forgive his debt.

When we refuse to forgive someone of their debt to us, we are like the forgiven man who won’t forgive a much smaller debt.  We should be grateful that God has forgiven us, and show that same forgiveness to others.  When we will not forgive another person’s debt to us, we are acting out of a hardened heart.  We forget what God has done for us, and desire justice where there should be mercy.

Forgiveness harms the forgiver three ways:

  • The original pain of the offense
  • The pain in forgiving the debt
  • The knowledge that there will be no justice for the debt

Yet, God did this for each and every person who would believe in Him.  And it is up to us to do the same.  Is the pain real?  Yes.  Does it hurt?  Most certainly.  Will the pain ever go away?  Some pain takes longer than others to heal.  Yet, we are still to do what is right.

Colossal Consequences

When the king heard about the hardness of the forgiven man’s heart, he turned the man over to the jailer to be tortured until he repaid his debt.  Since the debt was not payable, he would be tortured for a very long time indeed.  We are warned that unforgiveness is a great offense to God, and that He will deal with us in a similar manner if we don’t forgive others as we have been forgiven.

We can look at this several ways.  We can look at this as an obligation, a direct command from God – forgive others, for I have forgiven you.  While certainly this is implied, it is difficult to do.  Another way to look at this is through the heart of compassion.  Do you realize just how much God has forgiven you?  Every mistake, every sin of commission and omission, every little and great thing we have done wrong, has been completely forgiven.  When we realize just how little a debt that others owe us in comparison to what we have been forgiven, we can place it in its rightful place and let it go.  Even terrible things like molestation, psychological and physical abuse, and other things that are so terrible that they can barely be spoken about, are minuscule in comparison to the debt that we have with just one single, little sin against God.  For when we break any part of the law, we have broken all of it.

A Qualifying Question

Let’s ask a question:  When someone sins against me, am I quick to forgive them?

A short prayer of preparation:

Father in Heaven, You are gracious to me, and have forgiven my sin.  Help me, Father, to recognize just how much I have been forgiven.  Help me to have a heart of compassion and mercy to others, so that when they sin against me, I may forgive them.  Help me to embrace Your character, and to grow in grace and mercy as I put forth every effort to forgive.  And I pray, Father, that when someone does something that hurts me so bad that I don’t want to forgive them, that You would help me to put their sin in its proper place, and give me the strength, courage, and ability to lay their sin at the foot of the cross where it belongs.  And when the enemy of my soul, Satan and his minions, try to dredge up the memory of other people’s sin against me, I pray that You will give me the ability to remember that it at the foot of the cross, and to not be emotionally compromised by it.   And help me to remember that when the final trumpet is sounded, the enemy of my soul will be cast into the lake of fire, to be tormented forever, as justice is properly served.  This I ask in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Want more? Why not try A. B. Simpson or A. W. Tozer?

Combat Training with God – Matthew 18:15-17

 Discipline Is a Corporate Issue – Not Just a Personal One

15 “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

Personal Part

In fact, we ARE our brother’s keeper! It has been drilled into our minds that we shouldn’t judge others, or we will be judged in the same fashion.  But Jesus clearly provides us with a path of reconciliation when there has been a wrongdoing between the redeemed.  The hardest part is the initial confrontation. But we are told to do it anyways.  Proverbs 9:8 states that a wise person will love you if you rebuke them.  A person who has tuned their heart to God will want to know if they are doing something unrighteous – they have purposed their heart to do right.  Pointing out a wrongdoing helps them to learn, grow, be wiser, and better honor God.

And while everyone is at a different point in their walk with God, and we aren’t the Holy Spirit, we should confront those who are sinning against us personally or sinning openly.  If you see someone engaging in open sin, it needs to be addressed.  They will become leaven, and a little leaven will leaven the whole lump of dough.  You don’t want your local church to be known as, “the people who do everything the world does.”

Sometimes when the person sins, they are deeply steeped in their sin.  Since sin blinds us to itself, there is the possibility that the person won’t acknowledge that they are doing something wrong.  When that happens, it is time to take it to the next level.

Additional Assistance

When a person refuses to acknowledge their sin against you (or open sin), it is now necessary to confront them with two or more witnesses.  Since you are a witness, you only need one or two more people with you.  The purpose of the additional witnesses is two-fold:

  • By two or more witnesses shall all charges be established
  • Additional people bring weight to what you are saying:
    • They may be upset with you and unable to hear what you are saying, but they might listen to someone else
    • In the event that a confrontation went bad when you were alone, the other person will be much more hesitant to do something with others around

If a second (and possibly third) person sees what you see and agrees that there is an issue, have them accompany you when you go to confront the person again. They will be able to help confirm what you are seeing, or, perhaps they will not see it; perhaps YOU are in error!  Either way, having a fresh set of eyes look at something will help confirm the issue or to eliminate personal bias and show why it is not an issue.

You should carefully choose whom you tell about this issue – anyone that you confide in should be spiritually mature.  If possible, choose Elders in the church that THEY attend for witnesses.  The Elders (hopefully!) have been selected, among other reasons, because they are full of the Spirit of God and spiritually mature.  It is important that when addressing sin within the body that it be done in such a way that it does not appear to be someone gossiping or being petty.  Elders can help with confidentiality as well as guide you in the best manner to approach them again, even and especially if you approached the person prayerfully and with great humility.

The sad part is, some people just won’t listen.  A root of bitterness may have become deeply embedded in their heart.  It could also be a pride issue.  Whatever the reason, the person hasn’t responded to you and the one or two witnesses who came with you to talk to him/her after praying (and I recommend fasting).  When this happens, it is time to take it to the next level.

Church Chastening

Tell it to the Church (the local body of believers where THEY are worshiping).  The purpose of telling the Church is so that they can approach the person with humility, tell them that they are praying for them, and exhort them to do what it right in God’s eyes.  The whole purpose of this exercise is to reconcile people.  The Church isn’t to condemn the person, but to lovingly bring them back from the precipice of sin.

And if after telling the Church the person refuses to repent, it is now time to take it to the next level.

Sorrowful Separation

The local body of believers are now to expel the immoral believer.  Even corporately, they were unable to convince this person to repent.  They should now ask them to leave the body, and refuse them worship and communion.  They shouldn’t even associate with them:

  • Don’t talk to them
  • Don’t eat with them
  • Don’t worship with them
  • And in the power of the Holy Spirit, turn them over to Satan

The purpose of this is to show them that they are in error.  When Satan has his way with them, and God doesn’t help them, they will be miserable and greatly desire fellowship with the Church and God again.

Paul had this to say about separating yourself from unrepentant sinners in the Church (this concerns the sin of sexual immorality, but applies to all unrepentant sin):

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.

12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.”

(Just a quick note – the verb translated “Expel” [exareite in the Greek] is an imperative command, not a suggestion!)

And after a period of painful separation, with the Holy Spirit working on their hearts, they will hopefully turn again to the God who saved them, provides for them, has forgiven them, and joins them to Himself.

Reconciliation is Required

Once they repent, let them come back into the Church.  Monitor them carefully, and when they have proven themselves repentant and following God, restore them.  Again, this entire process is about reconciliation, not shunning or judging.  We are told to judge those within the body.  But also remember – we need to give grace to those who are young in the faith.  For God doesn’t want us to injure those whose faith is young and fragile.

A Qualifying Question

So, let’s ask ourselves a question:  Are we corporately following scripture with regard to keeping the leaven out of the Church, and restoring the repentant believers?

A short prayer of preparation:

Father in Heaven, Thank You for giving us a way to address issues between brothers and sisters in Christ.  We pray that anytime we need to be reconciled, that we would have a right heart attitude, and that the other person would have a heart of humility and repentance as well.  Help me to make sure that I am in the right attitude when I approach any brother or sister in Christ with such an issue.  Give me the words to say, and guide my actions and thoughts as I approach them.  Father, instill in us a greater sense of Your Holiness, that we would desire that the body of Christ would worship You in Truth and Spirit.  Let us not, for the sake of “peace”, ignore sin in the body, and so make it a haven for leaven.  Search our hearts, O God, and see if there is any wrongdoing within us.  Help us to rid ourselves of sin and walk in righteousness before You.  And when politics in the church cause people to be unfairly treated, I pray Lord God Almighty that You would deal with the hearts of those causing the issue, and show them the truth.  And if they don’t respond after repeated attempts, Lord God, remove them from their position of authority or influence, for their hearts are no longer in the right place to righteously lead or counsel Your people.  This I ask and pray in Jesus’ Holy Name, Amen.

Want more?  Why not try A. B. Simpson or A. W. Tozer?

Forgiven by God – Ephesians 4:32

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

It is a blessing to be forgiven. What a relief!  It is also expected that we will forgive as we have been forgiven.  So why is it so hard to forgive when we have been forgiven so much?  We suffer three injuries every time we forgive:

  • The Initial Offense – We suffer from the harm that happened because of the event
  • The Pain of Reconciliation – We must come to terms with the pain of offense and let that pain go, since we consider it as though it never happened
  • The Absence of Justice – We suffer knowing that since we have chosen to forgive, justice will not occur for the offense

Yet, we are called to forgive as we have been forgiven.  But why does it seem that every day people are getting more evil than ever?  Perhaps this is why (Matthew 24:12-13):

Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.

Besides, everything has already been paid in full already.  Just as some physical injuries take longer to heal than others, the pain of sin and forgiveness can take longer for certain events.  Either way, we are called to be perfect like God.  So, like everything else in life, practice makes perfect – make forgiveness the first state of mind when someone wrongs you.  And let God take care of the rest.  Lean on Him for strength and healing.  For:

Isaiah 61:1-3

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.

Be an oak of righteousness; forgive as God has forgiven you.  And let God give you the oil of joy and a garment of praise.

A short prayer of preparation:

Father in Heaven, You have forgiven us more that we can even comprehend.  From the worst of sinners as Paul described himself to the ones who led good lives, we have all sinned and fallen short of Your glory.  Forgive us this day our trespasses, and help us to forgive the trespasses of others.  Strengthen us as we deal with the consequences of not only our own sin, but the sin of others.  Help us to remember what it cost You to forgive our sins, that we might put everything into perspective.  Touch our hearts and comfort us as we draw close to you.  This we ask in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Want more?  Why not try A. B. Simpson or A. W. Tozer?