Matthew 18:21-27; 32-33
Wayne Woods, pastor
First Baptist Church, Moultrie
“The one who refuses to forgive burns the bridge over which he will one day have to cross himself.”
That quote, which has been attributed to several different historical figures, states a truth we can all easily comprehend: If you refuse to forgive don’t be surprised when the same thing happens to you! That’s good advice, but it is still too self-centered to even come close to the heart of the truth we find in the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 18.
Matthew 18 begins the fourth major teaching section of this Gospel and in its application to building deep relationships, particularly among His redeemed people, there is none more important for us to not only understand, but to live out every day.
Jesus begins (v. 1-4) by using the analogy of a little child to illustrate what it means to be a Christian. We must come to Him with the same kind of humble child-like dependence of a little child. The rest of the chapter then unpacks how we as Christians should relate to one another in His church.
He makes it clear that the marks of His children should be humility, love, genuine concern for and commitment to each other’s spiritual health, and a divine willingness to grant extravagant forgiveness to one another.
Relationships that endear and endure
Forgiveness is a prerequisite for all endearing and enduring relationships. Why? Because every human being, all of us fallen sinners, are naturally selfish and will inevitably hurt those we are in relationship with by our selfish choices.
We know “no man is an island” yet we live like we need no one else. When God by His marvelous grace opens our eyes to see and our minds to comprehend, sin really does look foolish, doesn’t it?
The kind of forgiveness that is essential to building deep relationships is not natural to us. That’s why it’s so difficult. Yet, nothing so characterizes the redeemed nature of a Christian as forgiveness, because nothing so clearly emulates the character of our Lord Jesus.
An unforgiving Christian is a living contradiction of the truth, “Christ in me.” What the world today desperately needs to see is “Christ in you” and “Christ in me,” and that can be most clearly seen when we forgive others as our Lord has forgiven us (Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:13).
Tradition tells us that the rabbis taught that forgiveness should be extended only up to three times, so I am sure Peter thought he would be celebrated with his question of Jesus that more than doubled what tradition said. What a shock Jesus’ answer must have been to his proud conscience! Peter was thinking in the measurable and limited terms of the law, not the immeasurable and unlimited terms of grace.
Jesus set the bar higher than Peter (or any of the other disciples at that time) could even comprehend. Jesus made it clear that when His forgiveness has found root deep in our hearts, we no longer keep count at all! Forgiveness is just something we do, as often as others need us to, because that’s what Jesus did and does for us.
A truth difficult to understand
He then told a story in terms they could understand to clearly display just how magnificent His forgiveness for us really is. The Kingdom of Heaven operates on grace, a truth that is very hard for unrepentant man to understand.
The first slave owed a debt that was absolutely impossible for him to repay, yet when called to account, he still asked for patience and time to pay it back. That reminds me so very much of the responses I have received on many occasions when sharing the Gospel. Even if someone will admit they are a “sinner” they still can’t grasp the fact that they will never be able to pay back the debt they owe and earn His forgiveness.
No, only by acknowledging our complete spiritual bankruptcy can we then receive the forgiveness for our sins that only the grace of God in and through Christ can provide!
The other key truth here is made crystal clear by the response of the slave forgiven of the unpayable debt to another slave who owed him such a comparatively tiny amount. It was as if he had completely forgotten the grace that had recently given him back his life and he refused to show any compassion at all to his fellow slave. Other slaves (other children of God’s Kingdom) were deeply distressed by his behavior, as well they should have been, and reported his actions to the king, who then called the unmerciful slave to account.
For the child of God, we must understand that the kind of forgiveness necessary to build and maintain strong, deep relationships is not natural, it is supernatural.
For us to demonstrate His supernatural unlimited forgiveness to others, we must stay close in our relationship with our Lord. Only they will His forgiveness be enabled to flow out of us to others.
We must never forget just how undeserving we are of His extravagant grace so that we will be always ready to extend that same extravagant grace to others.
Is there someone in your life today who needs your forgiveness? Has it been hard for you to extend because you have forgotten just how much you have been forgiven? Quit keeping score and “forgive your brother from your heart.”
He needs it. You need it. And the church needs it. All for the glory of the King!