Last time we considered the Procedure of Forgiveness. In Matthew 18, Jesus gave us a clear procedure that must be followed in order to deal with sin and offense in the church. When followed faithfully, this procedure will either lead to forgiveness, or to judgment. Forgiveness when the offending brother acknowledges his sin and repents of it, or judgment when he refuses to acknowledge his fault and rejects the church’s intervention.
Upon hearing this procedure for forgiveness, Peter came to Jesus and asked, “How oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?”. Peter’s question reveals to us that although he understood the procedure which Jesus outlined, he had missed the principle on which it was based. Jesus then begins explaining the Principle of Forgiveness by answering Peter:
Matthew 18:22 Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.”
Jesus was not indicating that we are to forgive our brother 490 times, but that we are to continually forgive and to deny our own pride or desire for retribution. In order to make this hard saying easier to understand, Jesus began to teach a parable, in this parable he would set forth the powerful principle that underlies the procedure.
1. The Principle of Forgiveness Matthew 18:23-34
a. The Kingdom Principle
The principle for forgiveness could easily be called The Kingdom Principle. Jesus, in this parable, begins to compare a fictional king and his servants to the Kingdom of God. It is important here to understand exactly what the Kingdom of God is.
There is coming a day when Christ will literally rule and reign on earth, both in a temporal kingdom for one thousand years (Rev 20), and in his eternal kingdom (Luke 1:30-33). These aspects of the Kingdom of God are entirely future in nature and are not what Jesus is referring to in Matthew 18.
Here in Matthew 18, Jesus is dealing with another aspect of the Kingdom – the present kingdom. In a certain sense, many of the features of the future kingdom are already here. For all those who are saved, Christ is already ruling and reigning in their hearts (Luke 17:21). These men and women already confess Christ as Lord (Rom 10:9) and seek to obey Him. He already has sovereign authority over the lives of all believers. It is this aspect of the Kingdom that Jesus is referring to when in his parable he begins, “Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto..”.
Matthew 18:23 Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. 24 And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. 25 But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made.2 6 The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. 27 Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt. 28 But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. 29 And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. 30 And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt. 31 So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. 32 Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: 33 Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? 34 And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. 35 So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.
It would be useful here to understand the parallel’s that Jesus is making in this parable. Firstly the King represents God himself, the servant represents the believer, and the fellow servants represent his fellow believers (Matt 18:35). Now we can draw some lessons from the parable.
First of all, we see that In the Kingdom we are all Debtors (Matthew 18:24-27).
Like this indebted servant, we all owe a price which we are unable to pay (Rom 6:23, Rom 5:6). Our sin has rendered us absolutely bankrupt before God (Isaiah 64:6-8, Rom 7:18-21). The man or woman who comes to God for salvation is like this servant who has cast himself at his Lord’s feet begging for mercy (Luke 18:13-14).
The fact that we are all equally debtors in the kingdom of God should lead us to readily forgive one another. Who are we to judge others while we also owe such a debt?
Romans 14:4 Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.
Jesus uses the negative example of the unthankful servant to teach us this very lesson. He was forgiven an insurmountable debt of ten thousand talents, yet he failed to show enough mercy and forgiveness toward his fellow servant who owed only one hundred pence.
Matthew 18:32 Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me:
33 Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?
The Kingdom Principle teaches us that we are all debtors in the Kingdom. Because God has forgiven us so much, we also should forgive those who have sinned against us (Eph 4:32).
Next we see that In the Kingdom we are all Unified (John 17:11). When we choose not to forgive, we threaten this unity and cause sorrow among our fellow believers.
Matthew 18:31 So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done.
If keeping the unity of the church is our priority, than forgiveness will be our practice!
Jesus taught us to forgive continually and he gave us a procedure for that forgiveness in Matthew 18. Following this procedure becomes easier and even joyous when we first understand the principles on which it is based. We forgive because we are all forgiven (Eph 4:32), we forgive because we do not desire to cause division (Eph 4:2-3) and we forgive because God is the only just Judge (Rom 14:4).
Lastly we see a tremendous Promise of Forgiveness. Following Christ’s commands concerning forgiveness are an act of obedience, and so much more! He has attached a promise to following this proper procedure for forgiveness.
2. The Promise of Forgiveness Matthew 18:35
a. The promise of Christ is that he will forgive us when we sincerely forgive our brother.
Matthew 18:35 So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.
Jesus first gave us this promise in his model prayer in Matthew 6:
Matthew 6:12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
Matthew 6:14 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:c15 But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Again we see it repeated in Luke 6
Luke 6:37 Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven:
The promise is clear. If we forgive those who have trespassed or sinned against us, we can be assured that God will also forgive us. This promise also has a negative aspect. If we do not forgive our brother, God will also not forgive us. When we fail to forgive, we have committed sin, this sin separates us from God and hinders our fellowship with him. As believers, this fellowship can be restored at anytime by confession and obedience (1 John 1:9).
Ephesians 4:32 And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.