FORGIVE YOUR BROTHER OR SISTER FROM YOUR HEART
Matthew 18:15-35, key verse: 18:35
“‘This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.’”
Thank God for abundantly blessing our joint Easter Bible Conference with Triton UBF last week. It was such a blessed conference that no one wanted to leave and everyone looked forward to the next occasion. Now we come back to our Matthew’s gospel study. Today’s passage will help us to be reminded of the gospel once more and its essence is forgiveness. We tend to forget the good things other people did for us but resolve not to forget the bad things they did to us. That is our human nature. Then, our Lord Jesus teaches us what grace we have received from the Father God and what we need to do in return as a forgiven sinner. May the Holy Spirit move our heart and enlighten us to have strength to forgive others and experience heavenly blessing.
1. Dealing with Sin in the Church (18:15-20)
Before our Lord Jesus talks about forgiveness, he first mentions about how to deal with sin. In our GBS group at the Easter Conference, someone insightfully said that we ourselves are the church. That is true! But this church is not immune to sin. We can be hurt by others or hurt others because of sin. Verse 15aa reads. “If your brother or sister sins … .” Here, sinning means sinning against us. Our brother or sister is very precious because they have been redeemed through the blood of our Lord. But they are sinning against us possibly with bad-mouthing or neglecting their job. What can we do? Verse 15ab reads. “… go and point out their fault, just between the two of you.” In the previous chapter, our Lord Jesus mentioned about removing the speck of our brother’s eye. At that time, Jesus did not say against removing the speck. He asked us to take the plank from our eyes first and do it. Perhaps, pointing out their fault is a similar to an eye surgery that requires extra care and gentleness.
How difficult that would be! No one likes to be pointed out their fault. It may make things worse or backfire. Yet our Lord wants us to take care of their sin problem by pointing it out. Perhaps, it is possible that they may not know what they are doing is wrong. And if we carefully and humbly talk to them about the problem with gentle and loving heart, they may listen to us and understand its seriousness. In that way, we may win them over. Once Prophet Nathan won over King David in a private talk.
Here, our aim and goal is winning them over. Surely, we hope that this private help would resolve all the issues with our good intention. However, what if it does not work? Verse 16 tells us the next step. “‘But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that “every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.”’” This step is actually from the Old Testament regarding the legal process in the ancient Israel (Dt 19:15). This process would ensure fairness and truthfulness in dealing with sin in the church in case the problem requires more attention and all the parties involved should be protected. This also implies that we are new Israel whose structure is based on God’s original design.
The final step will be with the church. If none of the measure would work, the church will intervene and if this final measure would not work, then they would be cut off from the church fellowship. They would be treated as a pagan or a tax collector. What are the characteristics of a pagan or a tax collector? Their prayer would not be heard and running after only earthly things (Mt 6:7). So it would mean being separated from the presence of the Holy God. It would be the ultimate punishment. However, we still believe that there is a hope for them to be restored. Apostle Paul sternly asked the church to stay away from those who needed disciplining (1Co 5:13; Ro 16:17; 2Th 3:14). Yet when the believer repented Apostle Paul asked the church to forgive and comfort him so that he would not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow (2Co 2:7).
Verse 18 supports the authority of the church. “‘Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’” Here, binding and loosening can mean the most essential function of the church. What would that be? According to MSG, which says, “A yes on earth is yes in heaven; a no on earth is no in heaven,” that would be like we becoming the representation of the Heavenly kingdom. In other words, when a person is accepted in the church it is as if he were accepted in the heaven. We function like a key or a gateway to the Heavenly Kingdom.
Look at verses 19, 20. These verses give us the meaning of the gathering of the believers and the power of our prayer. When we earnestly pray for a soul, even with disciplining involved, our Lord goes into action accordingly. More importantly, the presence of our Lord will be with us. In all this, our unity should be there.
2. The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant (18:21-35)
Look at verse 21. Jesus’ teaching about dealing with sin somehow prompted Peter to come forward. What if they would keep sinning against us? How many times should we deal with such a repeated sin? In those days, rabbis would recommend to their fellow Jews that a person might be forgiven a repeated sin up to three times. Peter, thinking himself as big-hearted and very generous, claimed that he would forgive “seven times.” That would be remarkable.
Peter probably expected some complements from Jesus. Yet our Lord’s answer was different. “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Where does the expression “seventy-seven times” come from? Maybe our Lord had in mind how the depravity of humanity spiraled out of control at the time of Cain and his descendants. So, Lamech boasted his violence and mocked God’s promised of protection with “seventy-seven times,” and our Lord Jesus wanted to undo the wrong. Also it means there should be “no limit” on forgiveness. Then Jesus introduced a parable where we can see how easily we forget God’s grace and how unwilling we are in terms of forgiveness.
Verses 23, 24 read. “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him.” Ten thousand bags of gold or talents would be about several million dollars in today’s monetary system. We do not know how he got this much debt but one thing is clear: he cannot pay back. The master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. One man of God in UBF actually accumulated this amount of debt (like a million dollars) in a matter of months with a fraud investment scheme. He wanted to retire early and focus on the gospel work, so he blindly kept investing the person who promised the high return with even loans until he realized something was wrong and it was too late.
At this, the servant fell on knees before the master. He became desperate when he realized not just him alone but his family would suffer as well. He begged for his mercy and patience and promised that he would pay back everything. The master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. He knew that it would be impossible for him to keep his promise.
Now what this servant did to his fellow servant is astounding. In verse 28, we see that this forgiven servant found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred coins (or denarii). He grabbed the second servant and demanded the immediate repayment. Compared with the amount of debt he received cancellation, this debt is at most a hundred dollars. Unlike the debt the first servant was forgiven, this hundred-dollar debt was repayable with some reasonable time period.
Another remarkable point was that the second servant begged him with the same request that he did to the king. Nevertheless, the forgiven but unmerciful servant refused to be patient with his fellow servant. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. He forgot about all the cancelled debt and only focused on the debt he owed to him.
Still another remarkable thing was that other fellow servants had compassion and reasonable perspective. They didn’t have to be involved. But they could tell what was right and what was wrong and reacted according to their conscience. So they told their master everything that had happened.
In response to the first servant’s hardness and ingratitude for the mercy shown him, what did the king do? He called the servant and confronted him. Verses 32b, 33 read. “‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’” Then he had him imprisoned for the rest of his life.
What can we learn from this? Unforgiving spirits come to us when we forget what kind of grace and forgiveness we have received from the King. We are all debtors who owe the King of heaven and earth more than ten thousand bags of gold. Our debt was so great that there was no way for us to pay him back even with our own life or someone else’s. This debt is our sin committed against the King. Hence, our King cancelled all the debt we owed him so that we might live a new life. It cost the King a lot, though. His one and only son had to pay the price. He gave up all the privilege, honor and glory and died instead of us. Through this, God the heavenly King has shown us the infinite amount of grace and forgiveness. And He wants us to be patient and forgiving toward others just as He has shown to us.
Often times, however, we are not as patient and forgiving as we should be. We refuse to do so because we feel compelled to have that kind of unforgiving spirit, impatience and “no mercy.” How can we then practice forgiveness and patience? By remembering Jesus’ forgiveness and grace, we can forgive others. In our GBS of Friday, some members pointed out that when we forgive we are more blessed than those who receive the forgiveness. In fact, when we do not forgive others, we are the ones who would suffer more. Msn. Gideon shared a story saying that when he did not forgive the sergeant but hated him for cutting his hair, he suffered more from indigestion and other issues while the sergeant was okay. But when he forgave the sergeant and other military members who gave him a hard time, he received comfort and understanding of the grace of God.
I had a similar experience as Msn. Gideon’s. Right before the establishment of the house church with Msn. Mary, I was going through one crisis after another. I graduated with Electrical Engineering degree but decided to be fully committed to the work of God without having any regular employment. That itself caused many people to worry about me. In addition, the more I put my efforts on the work of God, the worse I would see the results. Not many Bible students remained after countless hours of fishing and 1:1 Bible study. I was busy all day long and all year long. In addition, one member in the church did not like me and publicly shared the sentiment of dislike with everyone else. That troubled me so much and I had a thought of taking my own life. Then, one day, in my car, the grace of God combined with his word of comfort suddenly came to me. Ro 8:24,25 were the breakthrough. “For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” From that time on, I suffered no more from being disliked or worrying about the future job security. “Waiting” and “Patience” became my moniker. Perhaps, that is why we could wait patiently for two and half years for John’s coming back from Korea or for ten years for me to finish my PhD or for fifteen years for us to receive the green card. Surely, after fifteen years with the green cards in our hand, I went back to Korea and found out that there was no more ill-fated relationship between the member and me. It was somehow God’s divine tool to make me more patient, understanding and forgiving.
Let us read verse 35. “‘This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.’”
We have learned how precious we are and how we ourselves are the church. This church is not immune to sin but it should be protected from sin. There can be progressive ways to deal with sin but our main goal should be winning them over. And when we remember what grace and forgiveness we have received from the Heavenly King, we will have strength to forgive others and we will be more blessed.