Sermon title:  GOD’S FORGIVENESS TEACHES US TO FORGIVE

Matthew 18: 15-23   

            

                Immanuel Baptist Church – Sunday, September 23, 2018

 

 

 

As we continue to go through the Gospels

looking at everything Jesus said and did

during his ministry on earth,

today we’re looking at the 2nd half of Matthew Chapter 18.

 

And in this portion of Scripture,

our Lord taught his disciples

lessons on forgiveness,

as well as lessons

on how to handle offenses within the Church body.

 

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But, before we say much about forgiveness

we should make clear

that there is a difference between forgiving someone

and excusing them.

 

Excusing someone would be saying

they couldn’t help it

or didn’t mean it

or weren’t really to blame.

 

And that often is not the case.

 

Often they could have helped it,

and could have chosen not to do what they did to you.

But they did it anyway.      Shame on them!

 

And sometimes they did mean to do it. 

 

And perhaps they really were to blame. 

 

So, you’re not saying what they did was OK.

It wasn’t!

 

I’m thinking of Corrie Ten Boom

whose family secretly hid Jews to save their lives

during the Holocaust.

 

After they were discovered

the Nazis put the family into concentration camps,

and Corrie Ten Boom’s sister Betsy

died from the abuse at Ravensbruck.

 

After the war Corrie was speaking to a church group in Munich

and when she finished

people were filing out of the room,

shaking Corrie’s hand.

 

She saw a man approaching

who she recognized as one of the Ravensbruck guards.

 

This man’s abuse had contributed to her sister Betsy’s death.

 

He asked Corrie’s forgiveness

and put out his hand.

 

She silently asked Jesus to help her forgive this man

and shake his hand.

 

Corrie explained later in her writing

that forgiveness is not a feeling,

but rather an act of will—

something that you have to choose to do.

 

When you forgive,

you’re not excusing what the offender did.

But you are forgiving them anyway.

 

And, sometimes you need to forgive

even when the other person has not apologized.

 

You may have been abused

physically, sexually, verbally or emotionally

by a parent who is now dead.

 

If they are still alive,

you may need to avoid seeing them

to keep them from continuing to hurt you.

 

But, you need to forgive them,

to let go of that gnawing hostility that keeps

burning inside you.

 

But you are not saying that what they did was OK.

 

It was definitely not OK.   It was inexcusable!

 

But you can forgive them.

 

You can release that feeling of resentment.

 

You can release that desire for vengeance.

 

You can release that bitterness.

 

Someone once said not forgiving

is like drinking poison

and expecting the other person to die.

 

And you can forgive them even if they don’t deserve forgiveness.

 

Forgiveness is closely related to AGAPE love.

 

The Greek word AGAPE that is translated “love”

in our New Testament

is an undeserved love.

 

God loves us, even though we don’t deserve it.

 

And we can extend forgiveness

to those who hurt us,

even when they don’t deserve it.

 

It liberates you,

and it pleases God.

 

So, you can forgive for your own sake,

and for the sake of your relationship with God.

 

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Now, let’s look at what Jesus said about

offenses within the congregation.

 

Jesus was talking here about offenses

that you can’t simply forgive or overlook.

 

They are things that need to be corrected.

 

For example, if another church member

publicly attacked your character with false statements.

 

Or, if another church member

stole property from you.

 

Or similar offenses

that need to be dealt with,

one way or another.

 

Jesus tells us the right way to do it—

the way he wants us to do it.

 

If these are things that can’t be simply forgiven or overlooked,

Jesus says there are steps we should follow

to deal with the matter.

 

He outlines those steps in Matt. 18, beginning with Verse 15.

 

And he is very specific

on what steps we should take,

and in what order or sequence.

 

15 “If your brother sins against you,

go and tell him his fault,

between you and him alone.

 

If he listens to you,

you have gained your brother.

 

16 But if he does not listen,

take one or two others along with you,

that every charge may be established

by the evidence of two or three witnesses.

 

17 If he refuses to listen to them,

tell it to the church.

 

And if he refuses to listen even to the church,

let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

 

So, we notice Jesus is talking about serious matters here—

not petty offenses, but serious sins—

matters so serious

that they could result in church discipline,

and in someone being put out of the fellowship.

 

But that is the last resort.

 

Jesus wants us to follow the steps he outlined

in the order that he gave them.

 

And the first step is to go alone

to the person who offended you.

 

15 “If your brother sins against you,

go and tell him his fault,

between you and him alone.

 

If he listens to you,

you have gained your brother.

 

It may be that your Christian brother or sister

didn’t even realize

that they had committed this offense against you.

 

When you go to him alone,

he may say,

“Oh, I’m so sorry.  Please forgive me.

I didn’t mean to do that.

I’ll correct it right away.”

 

“I didn’t realize that my dogs were killing your chickens.

I’ll restrain them,

and I’ll reimburse you for the loss you suffered.”

 

“I didn’t know that my new stone wall

was causing your basement to flood.

I’ll take the wall down,

and I’ll pay to have your basement restored.”

 

And, if that’s how he responds,

when you go to him alone,

there’s no need to follow the next two steps.

 

Jesus said,

 

If he listens to you,

you have gained your brother.

 

The matter is settled.

 

Your brother has apologized,

and corrected any wrong he may have done,

and you have forgiven him.

 

You can put it behind you.

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Now, forgiveness doesn’t always mean

that everything is exactly as it was before.

 

If you’ve discovered that your brother

has a tendency to commit the sort of offense

you’ve forgiven him for,

you may still need to be on your guard in the future.

 

There’s an old saying that has some truth to it:

“Do it to me once, shame on you!

  Do it to me twice, shame on me!”

 

We all have weaknesses in different areas.

 

If you know that someone has a problem handling money,

you don’t need to get involved with him again

in a financial arrangement or partnership.

 

After he sinned against you financially,

and you went to him alone and discussed the matter,

he admitted his wrong,

and made things right with you.

 

You have gained your brother”

and have forgiven him,

but that doesn’t mean

you need to entrust him with your money again.

 

You’re no longer holding against him what he did.

 

He’s your Christian brother, and you love him,

but you have also learned something

about his weaknesses.

 

And you live in the real world.

 

It’s biblical, too, to be aware of people’s weaknesses.

 

For example, after Mark deserted Paul during a missionary journey,

Paul refused to take Mark with him

on his next journey.

 

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Now, what if

 

“your brother sins against you,

[and you] go and tell him his fault,

between you and him alone,”

and he doesn’t listen to you?

 

“If he listens to you,

you have gained your brother,”

but, what if he doesn’t listen to you?

 

What if he refuses to acknowledge

that he caused you injury?

 

Jesus says,

“But if he does not listen,

take one or two others along with you,

that every charge may be established

by the evidence of two or three witnesses.”

 

This is a requirement

that the Lord had given centuries earlier

to the nation of Israel.

 

As part of the Law of Moses,

God had told the Jewish nation at Deuteronomy 19:15,

 

“One witness is not enough

to convict a man accused of any crime

or offense he may have committed.

 

A matter must be established

by the testimony of two or three witnesses.”

 

That principle became part of the Law of the nation of Israel.

 

And now Jesus uses that same principle

and says,

 

“But if he does not listen,

take one or two others along with you,

that every charge may be established

by the evidence of two or three witnesses.”

 

These would be one or two others in the church

who witnessed the original offense,

or have firsthand knowledge

about the original offense.

 

They can add their testimony

and add their words of wisdom,

to help bring about

a satisfactory resolution.

 

Perhaps the offender

who would not listen to you alone

will listen, now that these additional voices

have added their testimony.

 

Jesus says,

17 If he refuses to listen to them,

tell it to the church.

 

That would mean taking it to the pastor and deacons.

They may be able to call the offending brother to repentance.

 

But Jesus continues,

And if he refuses to listen even to the church,

let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

 

Church discipline like that

is seldom practiced today.

 

But occasionally a serious sin,

where the offender refuses to repent

requires expelling a member from the fellowship.

 

Now, remember,

Jesus said this step

can take place

only if the first two steps have been tried first.

 

And the second step—taking along one or two witnesses—

can take place

only if the first step has been tried:

go and tell him his fault,

between you and him alone.”

 

We might be tempted to jump the gun,

but we should trust the Lord,

that things will work out best

if we follow the steps he outlined

in the order that he said to follow.

 

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Remember, though,

that these steps apply

only in situations

where the offense can’t or shouldn’t be forgiven.

 

In most cases,

the best way forward is simply to forgive.

 

It’s best for the offender.

 

It’s best for the church.

 

And it’s best for you,

even if you are the one who was offended.

 

We are better off emotionally

when we’re not nursing a grudge.

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To what extent should we be forgiving?

 

Well, the Apostle Peter wondered about that.

 

Further on in our Responsive Reading, Matthew 18:21 says,

 

21 Then Peter came up and said to him,

“Lord, how often will my brother sin against me,

and I forgive him?

As many as seven times?”

 

22 Jesus said to him,

“I do not say to you seven times,

but seventy-seven times.”

 

The Jews had a custom

where they were expected to forgive 3 times,

and could refuse forgiveness the 4th time.

 

So, Peter must have felt he was being generous,

when he suggested forgiving his brother

As many as seven times.

 

But,

Jesus said to him,

“I do not say to you seven times,

but seventy-seven times.

 

Some translations render that “seventy times seven,”

which would be 490 times.

 

Either way, it really represented

a virtually unlimit number of times.

 

Regardless of whether Jesus actually said 77 or 490,

who could keep count?

 

Jesus did not mean to keep a tally sheet,

until the offenses reached that number.

===================

 

Besides, how many times has our heavenly Father forgiven us?

 

And that’s the point of Jesus’ next words

where our Lord gives us a parable.

 

The parable illustrates the huge debt of sin

that we owe God,

and that he forgave us through Christ on the cross—

compared with the small sins

that our brothers and sisters commit against us.

 

Jesus says,

 

23 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared

to a king who wished to settle accounts

with his servants.

 

24 When he began to settle,

one was brought to him

who owed him ten thousand talents.

 

A talent was a huge silver ingot—

a huge bar of silver—

weighing 114 pounds.

 

This slave owed his master 10,000 talents,

so his debt amounted to many millions of dollars.

 

25 And since he could not pay,

his master ordered him to be sold,

with his wife and children and all that he had,

and payment to be made.

 

26 So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me,

and I will pay you everything.’

 

27 And out of pity for him,

the master of that servant released him

and forgave him the debt.

 

28 But when that same servant went out,

he found one of his fellow servants

who owed him a hundred denarii,

and seizing him, he began to choke him,

saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’

 

We know from another parable Jesus gave

that a denarius was a day’s pay for a farm worker.

 

So, this debt amounted to, perhaps $5,000.00.

 

It was a relatively small debt,

compared to the millions of dollars the first servant

had owed to his master.

 

29 So his fellow servant fell down

and pleaded with him,

‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’

 

30 He refused and went and put him in prison

until he should pay the debt.

 

31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed,

and they went and reported to their master

all that had taken place.

 

32 Then his master summoned him and said to him,

‘You wicked servant!

I forgave you all that debt

because you pleaded with me.

 

33 And should not you have had mercy

on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’

 

34 And in anger

his master delivered him to the jailers,

until he should pay all his debt.

35 So also my heavenly Father will do

to every one of you,

if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

 

So, the message is a simple one:

 

The sin debt that we owe to God is huge.

 

And the sins that our brothers and sisters may commit against us

are very small in comparison.

 

So, if God could freely forgive us our huge sin debt,

we should freely forgive our brothers and sisters

the offenses they may commit against us.

 

That sin debt that we owed to God

was so great

that he had to send his only-begotten Son

to die a horrible death on the cross of Calvary

to pay our debt.

 

We can’t imagine what that cost God.

 

Our sin debt was like that first servant’s multi-million-$ debt

that his master forgave.

 

But, if we in turn refuse to forgive a brother or sister

for their offenses against us,

we become like that evil servant

who refused to forgive

the small debt the other servant owed him.

 

So, that’s why Jesus answered Peter’s question

about forgiving up to 7 times

by saying we should forgive 77 times or 490 times.

 

We should have mercy on our fellow believers

as God has had mercy on us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s pray               Hymn # 516  Count Your Blessings