Gracefully Truthful

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Discover the original intent of Scripture. Make good application to our everyday lives.
Become equipped to correctly handle the Word of Truth!

Read His Words Before Ours!

Matthew 18:21-35

21 Then Peter approached him and asked, “Lord, how many times must I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? As many as seven times?”

22 “I tell you, not as many as seven,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven.

23 “For this reason, the kingdom of heaven can be compared to a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle accounts, one who owed ten thousand talents was brought before him. 25 Since he did not have the money to pay it back, his master commanded that he, his wife, his children, and everything he had be sold to pay the debt.

26 “At this, the servant fell facedown before him and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 Then the master of that servant had compassion, released him, and forgave him the loan.

28 “That servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him, started choking him, and said, ‘Pay what you owe!’

29 “At this, his fellow servant fell down and began begging him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ 30 But he wasn’t willing. Instead, he went and threw him into prison until he could pay what was owed. 31 When the other servants saw what had taken place, they were deeply distressed and went and reported to their master everything that had happened. 32 Then, after he had summoned him, his master said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. 33 Shouldn’t you also have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And because he was angry, his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured until he could pay everything that was owed. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to you unless every one of you forgives his brother or sister from your heart.”

The Original Intent

1) Who is considered a “brother” in this passage? Is it referring to Christians, the person next to you, or a biological brother? (verse 21)

The Book of Matthew, and the other Gospel books of MarkLuke, and John, closely follow Jesus’ active ministry years from beginning to end. Jesus expends a lot of energy throughout His ministry emphasizing the importance of repentance and recognition of Him as Lord and Savior in order to be reconciled to God.

Jesus describes one of the marks of a genuine, reconciled relationship with God as being how lovingly we engage in relationships with others. Though Scripture has much to say about loving and reaching out to those who don’t know God, these verses in Matthew 18 reference those already in Christ’s kingdom (Christians).

Chapter 18 begins with Jesus’ disciples asking, “[W]ho is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”. (verse 1) This information provides us the contextual setting for Christ’s words in verses 21-35 which describe another aspect of what it looks like to be “greatest” in His kingdom. In fact, the whole of chapter 18 paints a picture of who is “greatest” according to God.

As Jesus addressed the heart-posture of His followers, He spoke of attributes like childlike humility and tender care for individuals within Jesus’ flock, the Church. These characteristics reflect God’s unending forgiveness toward other believers as God has covered the believer’s sins with the blood of Jesus. It is this combination of forgiveness and patient endurance Jesus calls Christians to live out among each other in order to remain reconciled to one another.

This love distinguishes His disciples from the world (John 13:35) and demonstrates to the world God’s offering of forgiveness for those who repent and follow Him.

The Everyday Application

1) Who is considered a “brother” in this passage? Is it referring to Christians, the person next to you, or a biological brother? (verse 21)

Undoubtedly, we’ve all experienced hurt from others in life. Some hurts are small while others are so painful we would be well-served to navigate them with Christian counseling. When preparing to live overseas as missionaries, it’s often said the hardest people to love are those within God’s church. Hmmm, say that again?! The church is supposed to be the safest, easiest place to love others!

In the context of self-sacrificing, generous, forgiving love, everyone will experience God’s love in action, which overflows into living peaceably. God teaches us how to love one another in His Word. God promises His Spirit is actively working in us to complete His work in us. (Philippians 1:6) God promises to use our perseverance in trial to lead us into deeper maturity as His sons and daughters. (James 1:4)

When a Christian repents of sinning against God and is reconciled to Him through forgiveness and the blood of Christ, that person is not immediately made perfect and neither am I.

Some of my own past thoughts and habits are not yet realized as to sin to me; I have more growing to finish. Or, if they are, self-control of them has not yet been worked out to the point of eliminating that sin.

What has God most used to convict and free me from my sin over the years? The perseverance and patience of my Christian brothers and sisters. Their grace towards me and readiness to forgive me has played a crucial role. Authentic, loving believers who listen well and exhibit gentleness when I confess my sin spurs me on to follow Jesus more closely. While God’s church may, at times, be quite unbecoming, God is at work bringing us to completion through continued repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. May this love call the lost to Jesus!

The Original Intent

2) Are believers ever permitted to stop forgiving someone or put them in their place? (verse 22)

The Enduring Word commentary notes the traditional “holy” response from Jewish Pharisees was to forgive an offender three times. Knowing Jesus is gracious and compassionate, Peter extended that number to an extraordinary “seven times”. Jesus’ response, however, revealed His endless heart of divine love as He instructed Peter to forgive an offender more times than he could count by saying “seventy times seven”. (verse 22)

Prior to this conversation, Jesus outlined explicit teaching for His gentle, loving approach to correcting and restoring a brother or sister who has sinned against another believer. Of greater importance even than the crucially important loving correction within the Church, Jesus focused on the vast forgiveness of God that ought to be reflected by His people.

In verses 23-27, Jesus described a servant who owed the king ten-thousand talents. A commentary from the Working Preacher explains this would equal about 150 years’ worth of income. A nearly incomprehensible amount! The first servant had incurred a debt that was impossible to repay. Lavishly, the king did not provide any ultimatums to earn forgiveness, rather, the king was compassionately moved by the servant’s imploring and freely cancelled the debt. The king took the financial hit himself, wiping clean the record of debt just as Christ does for us as the substitutionary atonement offered between us and the King of the World.

Christ took the hit of death and separation from the Father for our sin. Then, He made the offer of a cleanly wiped slate to all who trust Him as their personal Lord and Savior. Tragically, the servant left the king’s presence and demonstrated a total lack of mercy toward another servant who had incurred a lesser debt. His selfish greed reflected his lack of genuine sorrow or understanding of the grand forgiveness bestowed on him.

The Everyday Application

2) Are believers ever permitted to stop forgiving someone or put them in their place? (verse 22)

My oldest child persistently uses unkind words toward his siblings and parents for attention. This child also happens to have a processing disability, including complex emotions. We take hours of time to converse again and again about how words hurt people. On occasion, he connects that if he wants something (a toy or reconnection) he can hug me with an apology of mumbled and jumbled words. At times, the apology is forced through a rehearsal. Frequently, perhaps within the hour, he will use hurtful words again.

Does he actually understand and mean his apology? Do I continue forgiving him and encourage my other children to do so as well? How weary we feel at bedtime!

This example might seem simple to forgive as you consider he was born with a disability, but are we really much different in our own deficits of understanding the ways of the Lord? Doesn’t a Christian spend their lives learning the depths of what Christ means for us to live out His joypeacepatiencekindnessgentleness and self-control? (Galatians 5:22-26)

We often respond based on a level of understanding that makes sense to us. Jesus prods us ever further to love like Him. R.C. Sproul wrote a helpful article noting that Scripture never commands us to forgive one who is unrepentant, but we do have the freedom to still offer forgiveness just as Jesus asked God to forgive those who nailed him on the cross. Scripture DOES command us to rebuke one another with the readiness to forgive and reconcile for even the same repeated offense. (Luke 17:3-4)

We lack the ability to fix a fellow sinner who is, perhaps, wearing us down with their offenses, but we also have the never-ending call to be ready with reconciliation in the strength of the Lord.

The Original Intent

3) Must believers forgive from the heart if the other person is not repentant? (verse 35)

As previously noted, the verses prior to this passage discuss a plan of correction when one believer has sinned against another. This discussion prompts Peter to ask his question of forgiveness. As we read the dialogue, Jesus’ response centers around His disciples loving one another. He is not explicit in this parable on the part of whether each servant was truly repentant. Instead, He focuses on the one in position to forgive or withhold forgiveness.

Earlier in Matthew, Jesus taught His disciples how to pray by modeling what has now become well-known as the Lord’s prayer. (Matthew 6:9-14) When stepping back to scan the whole text, it is interesting that Christ pauses to reiterate forgiveness before shifting to the topic of fasting. The Lord’s prayer ties our request for personal forgiveness to our willingness to forgive others. (Matthew 6:12)

Christ re-emphasizes forgiveness again in the verses following His model prayer. (Matthew 6:14-15) When studying an overview of Bible verses on forgiveness, I do not find direction or allowance to withhold forgiveness from one another until someone repents, but I do see plenty of calls for repentance before the LORD GOD Himself and for Christians to live peaceably with one another as far as they are able. (Romans 12:18) 

As I chew through these hard teachings of God’s love displayed through forgiveness, I see hope for the struggling and pained in this parable. In the end, the King returns to settle grievances and dole out justice. May we not find joy in another’s suffering of judgment, but comfort in the Lord’s righteousness and coming justice! (Romans 12:19)

The Everyday Application

3) Must believers forgive from the heart if the other person is not repentant? (verse 35)

Several years ago a devastating story was reported of a pastor who went to the gym and returned to find his home a crime scene and his wife murdered. Days later, the pastor publicly claimed he’d forgiven the murderer. This response perplexed me. Why and how could he say these things?

Surely the Bible doesn’t call him to forgive these strangers who had shown no sign of repentance. The Enduring Word Bible Commentary provides helpful insights.

First, there is a distinction between forgiveness, which is one-sided, and reconciliation, which requires two parties to participate in both repentance and forgiveness.

Secondly, we are one sinner striving in relation with another sinner. As such, true forgiveness is only possible as an overflow from our relationship with the Lord. Only He, the divine God who perfectly loves and forgives, is capable of cultivating His forgiveness in us. (Luke 7:47)

This is a different relationship than a sinner being fully forgiven by a holy God. We are not in a position of righteousness, but rather one who also needs the covering of Jesus’ forgiveness through His sacrificial blood. God is holy; He is the One most grieved by evil, even our smallest sins. Graciously, the LORD is also the most ready to forgive when a broken heart is burdened by their offense against the righteous LORD and harmed others. The LORD is also just; He will one day carry out complete justice.

This pastor, in his deep grief, knew that in order to live without bitterness, his heart must be always ready to forgive. (Ephesians 4:31-32) He had long leaned into the Spirit of God who had faithfully taught him to forgive. This man took his own sin seriously and he confidently trusted that His King would one day make all things right. (Psalm 94)

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