Among the separatist community at Qumran – those who kept the Dead Sea Scrolls, later discovered in the 20th Century – there was a “Manual of Discipline” (known as 1QS by scholars). Some people think Matthew 18 is an early church version of a “Manual of Disciple.” Yet there is a great difference between Matthew 18 and what the Essenes of Qumran had. Their Manual of Disciple dealt with many specific rules; here Jesus deals with principles and attitudes that should mark His people as they get along with each other.
A. The heart of a child and care for God’s little ones.
1. (1) The disciples ask a question.
At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
a. Who then is greatest: The disciples were often concerned about the question of greatness. They seem to ask this question thinking that Jesus has already chosen one of them as greatest, or as if they wanted Jesus to decide among them.
i. We can imagine the disciples arguing among themselves about which one was the greatest (as they did in Luke 22:46 and other places), and then saying, “Let’s let Jesus settle this.”
ii. “He spoke of his abasement, they thought of their own advancement; and that ‘at the same time’.” (Spurgeon)
b. Is greatest in the kingdom of heaven: The disciples wanted to know who would hold the highest position in the administration Jesus would soon establish.
i. “They doubtless fancied a temporal kingdom of the Messiah, in which places would be bestowed.” (Poole) “They dreamt of a distribution of honours and offices, a worldly monarchy, like the kingdoms of the earth.” (Trapp)
2. (2-4) Jesus sets a child as an example of humility.
Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
a. Jesus called a little child to Him: Jesus might have answered the question, “who is the greatest?” by pointing to Himself. Instead, Jesus drew their attention to His nature by having them look at a child as an example.
i. The fact that the child came when Jesus called says something about Jesus. He was the sort of man that children would come to willingly. “Surely there was a smile on his face when he bade the little one come unto him; and there must have been a charming gentleness in the manner in which he placed the child in the center of the twelve, as his little model.” (Spurgeon)
ii. It also tells us something about Peter. If Peter really was to be regarded as the first pope in the way Popes are regarded by Roman Catholic theology and history, Jesus should have declared that Peter was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
iii. “There is a tradition that the child grew to be Ignatius of Antioch, who in later days became a great servant of the Church, a great writer, and finally a martyr for Christ.” (Barclay) Clarke indicates that this tradition comes from the Christian writer Nicephorus, who says that Ignatius was killed by Trajan in ad 107. Yet Clarke also writes of Nicephorus, that he “is not much to be depended on, being both weak and credulous.”
b. Unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven: This was probably a great disappointment to the disciples. They knew that in that day, children were regarded more as property than individuals. It was understood that they were to be seen and not heard. Jesus said we have to take this kind of humble place to enter the kingdom, much less be the greatest in the kingdom.
i. “A child was a person of no importance in Jewish society, subject to the authority of his elders, not taken seriously except as a responsibility, one to be looked after, not one to be looked up to.” (France)
ii. Children are not threatening; we aren’t afraid of meeting a five-year old in a dark alley. When we have a tough, intimidating presence, we aren’t like Jesus.
iii. Children are not good at deceiving; they are pretty miserable failures at fooling their parents. When we are good at hiding ourselves and deceiving others, we aren’t like Jesus.
iv. “The child is held up as an ideal, not of innocence, purity, or faith, but of humility and unconcern for social status.” (Carson)
v. Jesus knew that we must be converted to be like little children. It isn’t in our nature to take the low place and to humble ourselves.
c. Whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom: Jesus then addressed the issue of greatness. When we most fulfill the humble place a child had in that culture, we are then on our way to greatness in His kingdom.
i. “Humbles himself does not refer to arbitrary asceticism or a phoney false modesty . . . but the acceptance of an inferior position (as Jesus did, Philippians 2:8, where the same phrase is used).” (France)
ii. “Children do not try to be humble, but they are so; and the same is the case with really gracious persons. The imitation of humility is sickening; the reality is attractive.” (Spurgeon)
iii. We know that one Man was actually the greatest in the kingdom: Jesus Christ. This means that Jesus Himself was humble like a little child. He wasn’t concerned about his own status. He didn’t have to be the center of attention. He could not deceive, and He didn’t have an intimidating presence.
3. (5-6) Woe to the one who causes one of these to stumble!
“Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me. But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”
a. Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me: Since the nature of Jesus is like one of these little children, how we treat those who are humble like children shows what we think of the nature of Jesus.
i. “They are not welcomed because they are great, wise, or mighty, but because they come in Jesus’ name – i.e., they belong to him.” (Carson) “The essential fact in the transformation Christ works is that He changes the great ones into little children.” (Morgan)
ii. It is easy to actually despise humble people. They are the losers; the kind who will never make it in our competitive and aggressive and get-ahead world. Yet when we despise humble people, we are actually despising Jesus.
b. Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin: Jesus takes it seriously when one of His little ones is led into sin. “Little ones” does not only mean children, but those who humble themselves as children in the manner Jesus described.
i. It is a wicked thing to sin, and it is a far greater evil to lead others into sin. But leading one of Jesus’ little ones into sin is far worse, because you then initiate someone into an instance or a pattern of sin that corrupts whatever innocence they had.
c. It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea: A severe punishment is described here. It would be better for the offending one to receive this punishment of the millstone.
i. The stone, and anyone attached to it, was sure to sink and never come up again. And, this was a big millstone. “Most millstones were hand tools for domestic use . . . here it is the heavy stone pulled around by a donkey.” (Carson)
ii. “In the deep part of the sea.” (Bruce) “Moreover, the very picture of drowning had its terror for the Jew. Drowning was sometimes a Roman punishment, but never Jewish.” (Barclay)
iii. “Cast not the least contempt upon Christ’s little ones. As little as they are, they have a great Champion, Isaiah 37:22-23, and so many angels to right them and fight for them, that a man had better anger all the witches in the world than one of these little ones.” (Trapp)
4. (7) Offenses are inevitable, but we are to have no part in offending.
“Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes!”
a. Woe to the world because of offenses! The first woe is a cry of pity for a world in danger of offenses. The second woe is a warning to the one who brings or introduces evil to others.
i. “God hath so ordered it in the wisdom of his providence, that he will not restrain the lusts of all men’s hearts, but suffer some to walk in their own ways.” (Poole)
b. Woe to that man by whom the offense comes: We live in a fallen world, and it is inevitable that sin and hurt and offenses come. Yet the person who brings the offense is guilty before God, and has no excuse.
i. We can imagine Joseph’s brothers saying, “Look at how wonderfully God used it when we sold our brother Joseph into slavery. God used it to send him ahead of us into Egypt and save the whole family. Because God used it for good, it must not have been sin for us.” Jesus would answer, “Not at all. Offenses must come, that is for certain. And God will use the offenses of others in our life. But you are still responsible as the one by whom the offense comes.”
ii. This teaches us that we can let go of the anger and the bitterness for what people have done against us. God promised to deal with those by whom the offense comes.
iii. If God promises to deal with those who offend His own, it shows that He defends and protects His own. This teaches us that in Jesus Christ, no other person can wreck our life. If they bring offense in our life, God will deal with them, but not forsake us in time or eternity.
5. (8-9) In light of the judgment awaiting those who cause others to sin, It is worth it to sacrifice in the battle against sin.
“If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life lame or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the everlasting fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire.”
a. If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you: Some people only keep from sin if it is easy or convenient to do it. Jesus warns us that we must be willing to sacrifice in fighting against sin, that nothing is worse than facing the wrath of a righteous God. It really is better to sacrifice in the battle against sin now than to face the punishment of eternity later.
i. “Jesus’ disciples must deal as radically with pride as they were earlier commanded to deal with lust (Matthew 5:29-30).” (Carson)
b. If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you: There are significant problems in taking these words as literal instruction instead of conveying an attitude. The problem is not only from the obvious physical harm that one might bring upon themselves, but more so in the problem that bodily mutilation does not go far enough in controlling sin. We need to be transformed from the inside out.
i. If I cut off my right hand, I can still sin with my left. If my left eye is gouged out, my right eye can still sin - and if all such members are gone, I can still sin in my heart and mind. God calls us to a far more radical transformation than any sort of bodily mutilation can address.
6. (10) Another reference to our responsibility to guard God’s little ones.
“Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven.”
a. Do not despise one of these little ones: Because God’s mind and eye is always on His little ones, we do well to treat them with love and respect. God protects the humble.
b. Their angels: This is often taken as a reference to “guardian angels.” We certainly do have angels watching over us and ministering to us (Hebrews 1:14), but there is no need to limit it to only one specific “guardian angel.”
7. (11-14) Disciples must share Jesus’ heart and care for individuals.
“For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost. What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.”
a. Does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? This story demonstrates the value God places on individuals. Jesus exhorts us to reflect the same care.
i. This parable is similar, yet different to the parable of the Lost Sheep recorded in Luke 15:3-7. “The evidence suggests that these are two similar parables, both taught by Jesus, but with very different aims.” (Carson)
ii. Here, Jesus emphasized the love and care we should have for all in the Christian community. “The first temptation is to despise one, because only one; the next is to despise one, because that one is so little; the next, and perhaps the most dangerous, form of the temptation, is to despise one, because that one has gone astray.” (Spurgeon)
iii. The one that is straying: “Oh, how we ought to love sinners, since Jesus loved us, and died for us while we were yet sinners! We must care for drunkards while they still pass round the cup; swearers even while we hear them swear; and profligates while we mourn to see them polluting our midnight streets. We must not wait till we see some better thing in them, but feel an intense interest for them as what they are – straying and lost.” (Spurgeon)
b. If he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep: The shepherd was happy when he found the sheep. He wasn’t angry or bitter over his hard work or lost time. His joy was overflowing.
i. Barclay points out that this parable shows us the character of God’s love, being like the care a shepherd gives for a lost sheep.
Š It is individual love.
Š It is patient love.
Š It is seeking love.
Š It is rejoicing love.
Š It is protecting love.
c. Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish: Some take this as an assurance that before the age of accountability, children are saved. But this is absolutely certain only of the children of believers (1 Corinthians 7:14). For the rest, we must trust in God’s mercy and the knowledge that the judge of all the earth will do right (Genesis 18:25).
B. Dealing with sin in the Kingdom Community.
1. (15) If you are sinned against, go and confront the guilty party directly.
“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.”
a. Go and tell him his fault between you and him alone: It is essential that we go to the offending brother first - not griping and gossiping to others, especially under the guise of sharing a prayer request or seeking counsel. Instead, speak to the party directly.
i. It would be wrong for anyone to take Jesus’ word here as a command to confront your brother with every sin they commit against you. The Bible says we should bear with one another and be longsuffering towards each other. Yet clearly, there are some things that we cannot suffer long with and must address.
ii. We can say that Jesus gives us two options when your brother sins against you. You can go to him directly and deal with it; or you can drop the matter under Christian longsuffering and bearing with one another. Other options – holding onto bitterness, retaliation, gossiping to others about the problem – are not allowed.
iii. “We must not let trespass rankle in our bosom, by maintaining a sullen silence, nor may we go and publish the matter abroad. We must seek out the offender, and tell him his fault as if he were not aware of it; as perhaps he may not be.” (Spurgeon)
b. If he hears you, you have gained your brother: You have gained him in two ways. First, the problem has been cleared up. Perhaps you realized that he was right in some ways and he realized you were right in some ways, but the problem is resolved. Second, you have gained him because you have not wronged your brother by going to others with gossip and half the side of a dispute.
i. Importantly, Jesus did not say that your brother must agree with you or immediately repent before you. At first, it is enough if he hears you.
2. (16-18) If one among the church is adamantly unrepentant, they are to be removed from fellowship.
“But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ 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. Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
a. If he will not hear, take with you one or two more: The circle of people in the situation only becomes wider as the offending party refuses to listen. If the stubborn, unrepentant attitude remains they are to be refused fellowship (let him be to you like a heathen).
i. It is also true that the one or two more, after hearing both sides of the story, may resolve the issue by assigning responsibility differently than the first offended person had thought. The first one to plead his cause seems right, until his neighbor comes and examines him. (Proverbs 18:17) The goal must be the restoration of relationship more than proving one’s self right.
ii. “Although it is a very unwise thing to interfere in quarrels, yet from this text it is clear that we should be willing to be one of the two or three who are to assist in settling a difference.” (Spurgeon)
b. Like a heathen and a tax collector: Even so, the unrepentant one must be treated just as we should treat a heathen and a tax collector - with great love, with the goal of bringing about a full repentance and reconciliation.
i. So if the matter cannot be resolved, then one is to be regarded like a heathen and a tax collector. This sense of being refused full standing and participation in the body of Christ is what Paul meant when he said to deliver such a one to Satan (1 Corinthians 5:1-8). There is a sense in which the unrepentant one is chastened by their being placed outside of the blessing and protection of fellowship.
ii. “There is, of course, no indication in this verse of how, or by what agency, this authority of the congregation is to be exercised; no church leaders or elders are mentioned.” (France)
c. Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven: If this process is done humbly and according to the Word, this is quite binding in the eyes of God, even if the unrepentant ones just go to another church.
i. “The binding and loosing generically = exercising judgment on conduct; here specifically = treating sin as pardonable or the reverse.” (Bruce)
ii. “Each church has the keys of its own door. When those keys are rightly turned by the assembly below, the act is ratified above.” (Spurgeon)
3. (19-20) The power and blessing in fellowship that is denied the unrepentant.
“Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”
a. If two of you agree on earth: There is real power in agreement in prayer and in the presence of Jesus. This is exactly what the unrepentant ones miss out on.
i. In the ancient Greek, agree is literally “to symphonize.” Jesus wants us to complement each other like a great orchestra. “It is a metaphor taken from a number of musical instruments set to the same key, and playing the same tune: here, it means a perfect agreement of the hearts, desires, wishes, and voices, of two or more persons praying to God.” (Clarke)
ii. “Note the power of combined prayer. There is no excuse for giving up prayer meetings while there are two praying people in the place; for two can prevail with God. Of course, more is needed than a cold agreement certain things are desirable; there must be importunity and faith.” (Spurgeon)
iii. “There is an accumulated power in united supplication: two do not only double the force, but multiply it tenfold. How soon the gate of mercy opens when two are knocking!” (Spurgeon)
b. It will be done for them by My Father in heaven: We must take advantage of the power of agreement, which works on the principle related in Deuteronomy 32:30, where one sets a thousand enemies to flight but two set ten thousand enemies to flight. There is real power in the prayer of agreement.
i. “Perhaps the exact petition which they offer may not apparently be answered. Remember that God often hears the prayer of our prayers, and answers that rather than our prayers themselves; by which I mean, that there is an inner soul within true prayer which is the quickening life of true supplication.” (Spurgeon)
c. Where two or three are gathered: Jesus here indicated that meetings of His people – indeed, meetings full of power and authority connected to heaven – do not need to be large gatherings. They can be of two or three of His followers at a time.
i. “Jesus is just as much present in the little congregation as in the great mass meeting . . . He is not the slave of numbers. He is there wherever faithful hearts meet, however few they may be, for he gives all of himself to each individual person.” (Barclay)
ii. A meeting of two or three is easy to gather. Someone is always close at hand, and it isn’t hard to find a place to meet.
iii. “Two or three are mentioned, not to encourage absence, but to cheer the faithful few who do not forget the assembling of themselves together, as the manner of some is.” (Spurgeon)
Š This shows us that large numbers are not essential
Š This shows us that the rank of the people is not essential
Š This shows us that the particular place is not essential
Š This shows us that the particular time is not essential
Š This shows us that the particular form the meeting should take is not essential
d. Are gathered together in My name: This shows us that meeting in Jesus’ name is most essential.
Š Gathering together in His name means that we are known by Him and by His name
Š Gathering together in His name means that He is our point of gathering; we gather around Jesus
Š Gathering together in His name means gathering according to the character and nature of Jesus
Š Gathering together in His name means gathering in a manner that Jesus would endorse
e. I am there in the midst of them: This means that Jesus isn’t up front, closer to the minister or the leaders. He is in the midst, there to be close to all. It means that he should be proclaimed and revealed to all. Some people leave a church saying, “They have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they have laid Him.”
i. “Our meeting is in the name of Jesus, and therefore there he is; near, not only to the leader, or to the minister, but in the midst, and therefore near to each worshipper.” (Spurgeon)
Š He is in our midst because He is in us.
Š He is in our midst because His Word is opened and honored
Š He is in our midst and we remember what He did at the cross
Š He is in our midst by the presence of His Spirit
Š He is in our midst, and that means blessing for His people
ii. I am there in the midst of them: “None but God could say these words, to say them with truth, because God alone is every where present, and these words refer to his omnipresence . . . Let it be observed, that Jesus is not among them to spy out their sins; or to mark down the imperfections of their worship; but to enlighten, strengthen, comfort, and save them.” (Clarke)
C. Forgiveness in the Kingdom Community: The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant
1. (21-22) Peter’s question about forgiveness and Jesus’ answer.
Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”
a. Up to seven times? Peter, in light of what Jesus said about agreement and unity, hoped to sound extremely loving by suggesting forgiving a repentant brother up to seven times when three times was the accepted limit taught by many Jewish rabbis of that time.
i. “The Rabbis discussed this question, and recommended not more than three times . . . Peter’s seven times is therefore generous, but Jesus’ reply does away with all limits and calculations.” (France)
b. Up to seventy times seven: Jesus answered unexpectedly, saying we are to forgive the repentant an unlimited number of times. “Unlimited” is surely the idea behind up to seventy times seven; it would be strange if Jesus expected us to count offenses against us up to 490, and at the 491st offense, to deny forgiveness.
i. “His allusion to Genesis 4:24 neatly contrasts Lamech’s unlimited vindictiveness with the unlimited forgiveness of the disciple.” (France)
2. (23-24) The debt of the first servant.
“Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.”
a. Who wanted to settle accounts with his servants: The king in this parable expected his servants to be faithful and honorable in the way they conducted his business. Therefore, one day he examined their work and would settle accounts with them.
b. Who owed him ten thousand talents: Commentators list the modern value of 10,000 talents as anywhere between $12 million and $1 billion. The figure clearly represents an unpayable debt.
3. (25-27) The master forgives the debt.
“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 servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt.”
a. His master commanded that he be sold: Of course, the man was not able to pay. Therefore the master commanded to sell the debtor, his family, and all he had. This would not satisfy the debt; slaves at their top price were sold at a talent each (and usually sold for much less). Yet it would bring some measure of justice.
i. “Top price for a slave fetched about one talent, and one-tenth that amount or less as more common.” (Carson)
b. Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all: The promise of the servant made no sense. He spoke as if all he needed were patience; that if he were given enough time he could actually pay this massive debt. The disciples listening to Jesus would think this was humorous.
i. “Many a poor sinner is very rich in resolutions. This servant-debtor though he only need patience; but indeed he needed forgiveness!” (Spurgeon)
c. The master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt: The master showed mercy prompted by compassion, forgiving a debt that obviously could never be repaid – despite whatever promises the servant made.
4. (28-30) The forgiven servant refuses to forgive.
“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!’ So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt.”
a. One of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii: The servant who had just been forgiven an unpayable debt went out and found the one who owed him money. Upon meeting him, he immediately assaulted him (took him by throat) and demanded payment.
i. The debt was real. 100 denarii was roughly equal to 100 days wages. This was not an insignificant amount, but it was almost nothing compared to the debt forgiven by his master. It was actually 1/600,000 of the debt owed to the master by the first servant.
ii. He took him by the throat. “There is no word I am acquainted with, which so fully expresses the meaning of the original . . . as the Anglo-saxon term throttle: it signified (like the Greek) to half choke a person, by seizing his throat.” (Clarke)
iii. “The debt was very, very small, but the claim was urged with intense ferocity. Our little claims against our fellow men are too apt to be pressed upon them with unsparing severity.” (Spurgeon)
iv. “Revenge is natural to man, i.e. man is naturally a vindictive being, and, in consequence, nothing is more difficult to him than forgiveness of injuries.” (Clarke)
b. Have patience with me, and I will pay you all: The man who owed the smaller debt used the exact same plea and promise that brought mercy to the man who had the greater debt. But it gained nothing, and the forgiven servant put the man into a debtor’s prison.
5. (31-34) The judgment of the unforgiving servant.
“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. Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him.”
a. When his fellow servants saw what had been done: There is no mention in the parable of the first servant’s conscience bothering him about his conduct. It was his fellow servants that recognized the wrong that was done.
i. “Others could see the evil of his conduct if he could not.” (Spurgeon) Sometimes we are painfully – and to our embarrassment – blind to our own sinful, fleshly conduct.
b. You wicked servant . . . delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him: When the master heard of this he was understandably angry. It was just wrong for a man who has been forgiven so much to then be so unforgiving. He then gave the first servant what he deserved - justice instead of mercy.
6. (35) Genuine forgiveness, from the heart, is required of all who have been forgiven.
“So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”
a. So My heavenly Father also will do to you: The principle is clear. God has forgiven such a great debt, that any debt owed to us is absolutely insignificant in comparison. No man can possibly offend me to the extent that my sins have offended God. This principle must be applied in the little things done to us, but also to the great things done unto us.
i. “We incur greater wrath by refusing to forgive than by al the rest of our indebtedness.” (Spurgeon)
b. If each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses: With this, Jesus taught an important and often neglected principle regarding forgiveness. There are many sincere Christians who withhold forgiveness from others for mistaken reasons – and they feel entirely justified in doing so.
i. Their reasoning works like this: We should not forgive another person who sins against us until they are properly repentant. This is because repentance is mentioned in the context of our commands to forgive (such as in Luke 17:4), and because our forgiveness to others is to be modeled after God’s forgiveness of us. Since God does not forgive us apart from repentance, so we should not forgive others unless they properly repent to us. We even have the duty to withhold such forgiveness and to judge their repentance, because it is ultimately in their best interest to do so.
ii. This thinking – even if it means well – is incorrect and ultimately dangerous. This parable shows us why it is incorrect for us to think, “God doesn’t forgive me without my repentance; therefore I must withhold forgiveness form others who sin against me until they properly repent.” That thinking is wrong, because I do not stand in the same place as God in the equation, and I never can. God stands as one who has never been forgiven and never needed forgiveness; I stand as one who has been forgiven and needs continual forgiveness.
iii. Therefore – if it were possible – we should be far quicker to forgive than God is, without precondition of repentance, because we stand as forgiven sinners who must also forgive. We have an even greater obligation to forgive than God does.
iv. Since we have been forgiven so much, we have no right to withhold forgiveness from others. We are the debtor forgiven almost an infinite debt; will we hold on to the small debits others owe to us? If anyone had the right to withhold forgiveness it is God - and He forgives more freely and more completely than anyone we know. What possible right do we have to hold on to our unforgiveness?
v. It is also important to understand that a distinction can and should be made between forgiveness and reconciliation. True reconciliation of relationship can only happen when both parties are agreeable to it, and this may require repentance on one or both of the parties in the conflict. Yet forgiveness can be one-sided.
vi. Furthermore, forgiveness does not necessarily shield someone from the civil or practical consequences of their sin. For example, a homeowner may personally forgive the man who robbed his house, yet it is still appropriate for the robber to be arrested and put in jail. On a personal level, forgiveness is required. On a civil and societal level, the man should be punished by the magistrates (Romans 13).
vii. Nevertheless, the principle clearly stands. In context, this parable was given to make us more forgiving,, not less forgiving. No one could reasonable read this parable and think that Jesus was trying to restrict the forgiveness of His disciples.
viii. People who read this, “Therefore be somewhat stingy with forgiveness as your Father in heaven is somewhat stingy with forgiveness” miss the whole point of the parable. Instead, Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful (Luke 6:36).
ix. From his heart: This makes the command all the stronger. “If we forgive in words only, but not from our hearts, we remain under the same condemnation.” (Spurgeon)
c. So My heavenly Father also will do to you: It would be wrong make this into the idea that unforgiveness itself is the unforgivable sin. It is better to say that forgiveness is evidence of truly being forgiven, and that habitual unforgiveness may show that a person’s heart has never really been touched by the love of Jesus.
i. “Those who will not forgive cannot expect to be forgiven.” (France) As James later wrote, judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. (James 2:13)
ii. Additionally, we remember the punishment of the unforgiving man in the parable of Jesus: the master delivered him to the torturers. There are many poor souls who are tortured by their own unforgiveness towards others.
© 2009 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission