The Simplicity of Forgiveness
Introduction: When I prayed for Annabelle yesterday, I asked that the Lord protect her from the sinfulness of this world. I think it a good prayer, but no one lives in this world without being mistreated. I guess I should add to my prayer that she learn how to respond to this mistreatment. This is the real key to the productive Christian life.
Extending forgiveness is the first thought of a Christian who as been mistreated. When someone does us wrong, we need to pardon the offense and let go of anger and bitterness that is often directed toward the offender. The Scripture teaches that the foundation of this forgiveness is found in God’s approach to us. Is there a sin or a wrong that God has not forgiven in our lives? Is He always willing to restore close fellowship with Him?
Most of us recognize that anger at someone without due cause is just flat out wrong. A few days ago, Roger Stephens let his anger get the best of him. The 61-year old Atlanta area man slapped a crying 2 year-old at a Stone Mountain, GA Wal-Mart. He warned the little girl’s mother, “If you don’t shut that baby up, I will shut her up for you.” The baby continued to cry, and Stephens slapped the girl four or five times. He then told the mother, “See, I told you I would shut her up!” He is now charged with felony cruelty to children. That kind of anger is uncalled for and must be handled by authorities.
However, some people believe that they are justified in their anger. They hold grudges for entire lifetimes for clear and real wrongs committed against them. Some children are abused, grow up to be adults, and seethe over what has happened to them. They want in the worse way to see their abuser get what’s coming to him.
As Christians, we must cultivate a spirit of forgiveness. It is a spirit that responds from the foundational truth of God’s forgiveness for us. How has God treated us? How shall we treat others? It really is this simple. While unbelievers do not have the spiritual inclination to forgive (they don’t understand what Christ has done for them) nor the spiritual strength (grace) to forgive, we have both. Christ addressed the issue of forgiving others while teaching His disciples about half way through His earthly ministry.
Transition: Matthew 18 teaches us the process of forgiving those who offend us, the responsibility of the church to undergird this process, and a warning to those who fail to carry the process out…
The Process of Forgiving Others (Matthew 18.15-17)
How do we deal with believers who sin against us? This is the basic question that we answer from this passage. Since the inclination and strength to forgive only belong to believers, how do we handle offenses that will surely come? We have four steps in the text. We carry out each of the steps with the hope that we will see restoration and unity within the church not just discipline and justice. This is very important. Many people never do resolve matters. They would much rather cover them over than seek true restoration. Others leave and never give you the opportunity for restoration. We must look at our church body as a family. Covering up hurts and running away are not options in families (at least they shouldn’t be). They shouldn’t be options here.
Let’s examine these four steps…
1. “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone” (18.15).
2. “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” (18.16).
3. “If he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church” (18.17a).
4. “If he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector (18.17b).
A Private Confrontation
The confrontation begins with two people: the offended and the offender. Keeping it between you both promotes an openness and sincerity that is missing in our world. Of course, we can sometimes have a private confrontation filled with abrasive attitudes and hearts quick to condemn. This causes further division. Sometimes, I’ve talked with two people who are struggling to forgive, and I get the idea that the person who had been offended doesn’t really want to forgive and restore; but rather, they want to vent and justify feelings of hatred.
If you’ve been offended, you should clearly state what it is that offended you. What was done wrong? What Bible principle was violated? The offender should admit they sinned with a humble and contrite heart. There should be a quick willingness to make restitution. You shouldn’t come up with justifications for sinning the way you did. If you refuse to forgive, then it’s on to step two…
A Reasonable Confrontation
The second step brings one or maybe two witnesses into the situation. The witnesses hear both sides in order to substantiate the claims of the person who was sinned against. The private confrontation becomes a strong confrontation by two or three people. These people all seek the restoration, health, and unity of the body of Christ.
These witnesses may conclude that the offended brother has no ground for his case against his brother. It is at this meeting that the matter will more than likely be resolved. On the other hand, they may find that there is a problem that must be addressed, then pressure is placed upon the offender.
If the offender still refuses to forgive, then step three is in order…
A Public Confrontation
Step three involves the entire congregation of the church. I’d have to say that we don’t often get to step three for three primary reasons…
· It is quickly and hopefully settled in step two.
· It is never handled and offended people stay in the church, seethe, and refuse to deal with it. This kills a church from the inside-out.
· It is never handled because the offended people leave the church and everyone it. They offer no hope of restoration and often no reasons for their actions.
The public confrontation includes the membership of the church. Presumably, it is the church that both the offended and the offender attend. If you fear God, you won’t want it to go this far. If you don’t fear God, you may press on to step four…
A Grievous Confrontation
The final step in the process assumes that the offender will not do right and must be refused fellowship with the church. Further, the offender is viewed as an unsaved person. It causes grief because it is severe. It is severe because the offender’s attitude toward sin is poor. He will not treat the situation with the gravity it deserves.
People who act like unsaved people should be viewed as unsaved people. How do we view unsaved people? Hopefully, we do so with compassion. Hopefully, we pray that they will be saved. We don’t carry feelings of bitterness toward them; we seek restoration and forgiveness. We seek what Christ seeks.
Clear offenses demand quick confrontation. We are not talking about personal preferences or tastes. If something is questionable, it will be handled by reasonable people in the first step. All of us are accountable for our actions and attitudes before God. These four steps are used only when the offender is clearly sinning by violating the Scripture.
Transition: The Lord Jesus has given authority to the church to keep unity and accountability among its members. This is done by fortifying the process of forgiveness through the church…
Fortifying the Process through the Church (Matthew 18.18-20)
The apostles would proclaim the gospel through the power of the Spirit. Churches would be established. Jesus taught that whatever the church binds on earth will be bound in heaven; whatever is loosed on earth is loosed in heaven (18). The church binds through godly discernment and the God-given authority to judge offenders. The church looses through godly discernment and the God-given authority to restore offenders when they confess their wrong.
The binding and loosing are not carried out by one man carrying a big stick in the church. Verse 19 states that if two agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by the Father in heaven. Why? Because where two or three are gathered together in Jesus’ name, Jesus is in the midst of them. The church reaches consensus together on these matters of confrontation.
The presence of Christ brings great comfort in the midst of confrontation. Verse 20 is the promise of His presence. He is in the midst of His children - those who want to do right. If our church is trying to faithfully carry out its responsibility to maintain the glory and unity of ministry, the Lord is with us. By the way, the Lord’s presence is more important than the presence of a Christian who will not admit to his sin and get right with his brother or sister in Christ …to get right with His God! A small church of two or three with the presence of Christ is better than a multitude of people without Him!
Transition: The four-step process of forgiving others is undergirded by the authority Christ gives to the church. Finally, this evening, what happens when there is a failure to implement the process?
Failing to Implement the Process (Matthew 18.21-35)
“Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” (v. 21) Jewish rabbis at the time of Christ taught that it was necessary to forgive a person only three times.
Thus says the Lord: “For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment, because they sell the righteous for silver, and the poor for a pair of sandals.
The Babylonian Talmud: “When a man sins the first time, he is pardoned; the second time, he is pardoned; the third time, he is pardoned; the fourth time he is not pardoned.” Peter thought seven was generous. Jesus said it ought to be 70 times 7; in other words, there should be no limitations placed on the extension of forgiveness.
Jesus is teaching that it is totally unreasonable to think of a situation where His children would not forgive those who wrong them. Hence, the parable found in verses 23-35. Knowing how to forgive and the church’s fortification of that process don’t mean a whole lot if no one is willing to forgive in the first place. There is a better way! It’s the simplicity of forgiveness.
The wicked servant in this parable owed his master ten thousand talents - worth millions of dollars in today’s money. One talent was equal to about 20 years of pay extended to the average worker at the time. One talent = 20 years of labor. But the man owed 10,000. It’s a debt that could not be paid even though he insisted he could pay it.
The king commanded that the man, his wife, his children, and his possessions be sold to pay the debt. The man pleaded for mercy and received it. The king forgave the entire debt!
Now, this forgiven servant found another servant not long after. This servant owed the forgiven servant about 3 months worth of pay. The servant pled for mercy just as the forgiven servant did, but he found none. The forgiven servant made sure the man was thrown into debtor’s prison until he could pay. Hopefully, we can see how unreasonable the forgiven servant is being. Look how glaring a contrast Christ presents!
Are you holding a grudge or looking for ways to get even? We spend so much time despising those who wrong us. We seek to slander those who have offended us because we think it makes things feel better. We cannot tolerate this kind of attitude in our church.
It’s much better to be quick to forgive rather than quick to protest if great leniency is not extended to us. The excesses and abuses within relationships are resolved when viewed through the simplicity of forgiveness.
The king heard of the wicked servant’s actions and responded in kind. Verse 35 is the foundational element that should reverberate through our hearts tonight: “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespass.” You can choose not to forgive others, but it means that the Father will not forgive you.
Conclusion: It is unreasonable for us receive eternal life, redemption, the forgiveness of all our sins and then turn around and fail to extend that forgiveness to others. The simplicity of forgiveness is built upon the foundation of the cross of Christ. He shares with us the process, it’s fortifying authority in the church, and the sober warning for those who fail to implement it.
Hymn 316: O To Be Like Thee!