Imagine how wonderful it would be if a kind benefactor to whom you owed a substantial amount of money forgave the debt you owed. That’s what God has done for us through Jesus. He has forgiven the eternally weighty debt of sin that we owed. Now, as one who has been forgiven so much, God calls us to forgive the debt of sin that others owe us.
“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?’” (Matthew 18:21, ESV)
Through the glorious work of Jesus on the cross, there is forgiveness available to all who receive Him and believe on His name. Now, He teaches us how that His humility and forgiveness calls us to forgive others.
1. Sin is a debt that is owed.
When someone sins against us, there is a debt that is owed. Jesus tells us to approach them in private, so that the relationship has a chance at reconciliation. If there is no restoration from the private meeting, then we should go with two witnesses to arbitrate the dispute. If there is still no restoration, then the church body should be involved. If the individual remains recalcitrant, then the church should consider this individual unredeemed.
There are a couple of important thoughts here. First, this isn’t a spiritual permission slip to punish someone who has hurt us. The goal is to reconcile, not to punish.
Second, this isn’t a spiritual permission slip to take all our personal hurt feelings and lay them at the feet of those who have hurt our feelings. If it doesn’t rise to the level of “sin against us,” then our response is simply to forgive them.
“If you have anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.” (Mark 11:25, NKJV)
If we need to talk to them to get to the place of reconciliation, then certainly do so, but Matthew 18:15 applies to sin against us, not hurt feelings.
2. Forgive the debt owed.
When Peter heard the teaching about forgiveness, he asks Jesus how often he should forgive someone who wrongs him. It is a clear question that many of us have asked. In response, Jesus told the story of a master who was owed a large debt by an individual. When the debtor begged for mercy, the master forgave him the debt. The response of the forgiven debtor, however, was somewhat surprising. He went to a man who owed him money and demanded payment. The forgiven debtor would not forgive. When the master heard the news, he was incensed.
“So also My heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:35, ESV)
The picture of forgiveness (aphiēmi) in this passage is to release someone from the debt that is owed. As those who have been forgiven the debt of our sin, God demands that we forgive the debt that others owe us. God has forgiven the greatest of debts, and we should follow His pattern of forgiveness when others have offended us.
We need a life marked by grace toward others. We aren’t supposed to be fault-finders, but we are grace-givers to others. It is this mark of grace in our forgiving others that shines God’s glory in our relationships.
Stop. Take a breath. And pray:
“God, as I submit to Your Spirit, awaken my heart to forgive those who have sinned against me?”