Matt. 18:1-The disciples ask Jesus who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. He responds with four examples where greatness is seen (cont’d):
Matt. 18:15-35-Greatness in the Kingdom is seen in having the forgiveness of the King
Matt. 18:15-20-Jesus then speaks of a believer who sins (this particular word for “sin” means “to miss the mark, to wander from the correct path”) and that fellow believers should go after him…to keep him from continuing in sin and to save him from its consequences. If the person refuses to repent (after the process given in vv. 15-16…going individually, then going with two or more, and finally action by the entire church) then treat him as someone who is not part of the church. The intent here is to impress on the person how serious sin is. The church will not just turn a blind eye and pretend that nothing is going on. For the good of the person (separation from other believers is a demonstration that sin causes separation from God), and for the good of the church (if sin is tolerated in the church it will spread and become even more destructive)…there must be an act of discipline. Verses 18-20 are in reference to the decision of the church to "bind" (to hold someone accountable for their sin that they have not repented of), or "loose" (to forgive someone when they repent) someone as a result of the attempt to lead them to repent of their sin. Whatever decision the church makes is in keeping with what has already been done in Heaven...it is not something which the church initiates, but something which God has done and the church follows in suit. This is the only mention of the “local” church (18:17) in the Gospels. In 16:18 it is referring to the “universal” church, all the followers of Christ.
Matt. 18:21-35-The conversation about a brother who sins (18:15) continues with a question from Peter. What exactly was Peter’s purpose in asking the question? On one hand, it's as if he is asking, "How far do I have to let this go? How many times do I have to forgive him?" On the other hand, it could be that he is trying to look pious in front of his friends by suggesting that he would forgive as many as seven times...because the Rabbis had said three times (Ryrie). Jesus basically responds that there is no limitation to be put on forgiveness.
18:22-35-Jesus tells a parable that illustrates the true nature of forgiveness. Forgiveness is characterized by a person who has been forgiven…being willing to forgive those that sin against him. In other words, forgiveness is not based on a number of times that I am willing to forgive someone. But rather, on the realization of the extent of the forgiveness that I myself have received. A person who is unwilling to extend unlimited forgiveness has a limited understanding of the extent of the forgiveness he has received. And consequently, probably does not realize the extent of his own sin. The amount of money that the man owed was huge...as compared to the small amount that was owed to him. He was forgiven his huge debt...but required that the small debt to him be paid. The king withdrew his offer of forgiveness when he discovered what the man had done.
18:35-Jesus says that the realization, the experience of peace that accompanies forgiveness is dependent on the way that we forgive others (18:33). While we are forgiven in Heaven, in a legal sense (the reality that the debt for our sin has been paid) when we ask God for forgiveness…if we are unwilling to forgive others, then our own forgiveness by God will not be translated into the peace, or contentment that it should produce in our own life. As someone has said, “Unforgiveness tends to corrode the container in which it is carried.” Notice that Jesus said the man was “handed over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him”. The parable did not just end with the man being put into prison. But, he was tortured so that he would pay what was owed. Could it be that when we are unwilling to forgive…that God allows us to encounter circumstances (on our own and without His preventive and protective provisions) that would “torture” us until we learn and apply the lesson of forgiveness?
How much easier it would be if we were just be obedient from the beginning!
Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for Your forgiveness of my debt. I know that it is not possible for me to actually realize the extent of my sin...because my fallen nature cannot truly fathom what perfection and absolute righteousness really are...and so, my sin seems only sinful in light of my own estimation. However, when I think about the price that You had to pay...it helps me to understand a little more the size of the debt that I had incurred. Please, Lord, help me to extend forgiveness to others based on what I myself have received...and keep me ever aware of the amount of that forgiveness.