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Forgiveness

(This article was written by Bro. Aaron Reisinger. You may listen to the message here.)

Matthew 18:15-35
 
The first few verses in this particular passage are often used as a basis of church discipline.  While that pattern is clearly established here, the larger context refers to God's plan in the area  of forgiveness.  This is evidenced by Peter's question in verse 21 where he ask the Lord how often should forgiveness be granted to a brother that sins against him, "till seven times?".  Unfortunately we all know of cases where individuals have withheld forgiveness and their lives, their families, and often their churches have been destroyed, or so affected that they have never been the same.  There are some key things that Christ teaches here that we must learn in the realm of forgiveness.  First, we see in verse 15, is the problem.  There has been an individual that has trespassed against us.  The word trespass simply means to sin against, to err, or to offend.  If we have lived very long at all, we have all been done wrong by someone, possibly even someone very close to us.  This creates our problem that we must deal with.  Next, the Lord gives us the plan for such an occurrence.  He states in the same verse, "go and tell him his fault".  This is not the verbal bashing that we so often tend to react with, but rather an admonishing, reproving, or a rebuke that brings conviction to the heart of the individual.  The Bible is clear that, "A soft answer turneth away wrath:  but grievous words stir up anger"  Proverbs 15:1.  The right kind of action on our part is still required, even though our flesh might desire to do otherwise.  The next, and crucial thing we see here is the purpose of forgiveness.  As verse fifteen concludes, Christ states, "Thou hast gained thy brother".  The purpose in the heart of God is for there to be restoration.  The apostle Paul also teaches this principle in Galatians 6:1 and in II Corinthians 2:5-11 where confrontation of a wrong in someone's life always has the purpose of lovingly restoring them to fellowship.  If we feel we can't love and fellowship with someone who has offended us, then we have not truly forgiven.  WE must also note the passage does show the reality that the individual might not be willing to admit their wrong or seek forgiveness, but our responsibility to forgive does not change.

Consider these thoughts about forgiveness in our lives:

  1. Many times we must take the initiative in forgiveness even when we are the ones who have been done wrong.  In verse 15 Christ tells us to go to them.  Too often we sit around upset and waiting to get the apology that feel we deserve.  If we, in our heart, feel we have been offended, then go to the individual yourself.  Again, we must pray about the situation and go in the right spirit (attitude).  I have always heard, "You can get more with a spoonful of sugar, than you can with a spoonful of vinegar".
  2. Forgiveness will be easier if it is kept a personal matter.  In the heart of verse 15 it says, "between thee and him alone".  If we blab and gossip about the one who has hurt us, we spread the poison through out the church, family, workplace, etc.  Many times the two individuals find it in their heart to move on, but the image of that individual has been damaged by our words.  Keep it to yourself if at all possible.  This does not mean we can't seek counsel or have others praying about the situation, but the details should be kept discreet.
  3. Occasionally it may be necessary to get others involved.  We see this in verse 16 and 17.  Christ makes it clear these individual are not "on our side", but rather are there to be witnesses about the problem between the individuals.  Often times it helps to have a discerning individual or individuals there to help with two upset, emotional people.
  4. Our forgiveness should mirror the mercy of God.  Peter's suggestion of seven times probably sounded good and pious to him and the other disciples until Christ gave His answer - Not seven, but seventy times seven! (verses 21-22)  Truly God's mercy should always amaze us, but it should also inspire us.  In Luke 17:3 & 4 Christ teaches us to forgive even if that brother trespasses against us seven times in one day.  God cast our sins against Him away and never brings them up before us again.  We too should try to have the same spirit of forgetful forgiveness.
  5. Compared with our trespass against God, no one has really wronged us.  In verses 23-30 Christ gives the story of the king who had a servant which owed him an extreme amount of money.  When judgment was about to be made the good king forgave the debt instead of giving him his deserved punishment.  This servant however had one indebted to him.  Even though it was a trivial sum compared to the amount of  his forgiven debt, the servant would not return the forgiveness, but rather demanded judgment on his fellow servant.  Psalm 40:11-13 gives us a plea of David for forgiveness as he takes responsibility for a great multitude of evils and iniquities.  We tend to withhold forgiveness because we feel we deserve better from the individual.  Does not the God that created us and planned our redemption through the death of His Son deserve much better from us, yet He is always loving and forgiving to the repentant soul.  Years ago there was a fad that went around.  It was definitely a fad because it passed just like it came without really changing lives.  That fad was WWJD, or "What would Jesus do?"  If we are in a situation of being unforgiving,  perhaps it would help us to sincerely ask,"What would Jesus do?".  He would forgive.  That is simply the good God we serve.
  6. Forgiveness is not based on the worthiness of the offender, but on the goodness of the offended.  As Christ teaches in verse 27, it was due to the kings compassion not on any attribute of the servant. Forgiveness out of a compassionate heart does as much for the forgiver as is does for the forgiven. 
  7. Bitterness will not help the situation.  It will actually destroy our relationship with God and others.  In verses 33-35 we see the lord’s response to the servant who would not forgive his fellow man and Christ plainly states that if we withhold forgiveness, then our heavenly father will too.  This reinforces the same teaching that we find in Matthew 6:14 & 15.   Hebrew 12:14 & 15 make a powerful statement about how  bitterness can spring up and affect both us and others.
  8. Lack of forgiveness  in a Christians life will be detrimental to the whole church.  I John 1:9 shows us that a repentant individual will be forgiven and cleansed by the Lord.  This forgiveness and cleansing is essential to the life of an individual and to the church.  If we hold on to unforgiveness it will be an unclean mark on our soul that breaks fellowship with a Holy God and that in turn removes His hand of blessing on our lives.
  9. Lack of forgiveness is really a lack of faith in God to handle the situation.  Romans 12:17-21 makes it clear that God is the avenger.  It is His responsibility to determine the judgment that is appropriate for wrong doers.  It also admonishes us to overcome evil with good.  That is exactly what we do when we return compassionate forgiveness to one who has done us evil.
  10. Being unforgiving places us in the Position of God.  In the last chapter of Genesis we find Joseph’s brothers trembling in fear before him.  Their father has died and now they fear he will take vengeance upon them for the evil they had done unto him.  In verse 19 Joseph responds to them with a question, “Am I in the place of God?”.   Whether one is worthy or not is God’s responsibility, not ours.  Our responsibity is to be obedient, and the Bible says forgive.
  11. Forgiveness allows us to see the bigger purpose in the situation.  It is not really about “us” and “them”, it is about what is God doing in this situation.  Joseph realized that in verse 20 when he said, ”Ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good”.  May we seek the higher ground in conflicts and realize that Satan is always trying to spoil, tear down and destroy those things which God holds dear such as people, families and churches.  While God does not ordain or delight in wrong doing, He still may use situations and circumstances in our lives to strengthen us and enable us to be a blessing to others.  May we show a love like Joseph and of Christ to those who do us wrong and allow God to paint us His beautiful picture of  purpose in the difficult times.

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