Reflections from Matthew 18:15-35
I’ve read the accounts of Jesus’ life in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John numerous times. Yet each time I read Jesus’ words afresh, I’m shaken by the serious consequences Jesus places on things we treat as “minor issues” in church today.
Here is an example from my reading today which shook me to the core and caused me to re-consider my heart towards those who’ve wronged me:
In Matthew 18:15-20, Jesus lays out the method a Christian should use to make peace with someone who has done wrong against them (Note: Please read these verses. Christians must resolve to make this method their regular practice when dealing with relational conflict.)
After Jesus’ seminar on the practicalities of forgiving people, Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples, begins the question and answer session:
He asks Jesus how often he has to forgive people. Peter is thinking of a scenario where somebody persistently offends him. I cannot help but imagine that Peter has a particular “difficult person” in mind and he’s wondering if there is a loophole where he can get away without doing the whole “forgiveness” thing…..
How many chances do they get before Peter can be justified in withholding forgiveness from them? That’s what he’s asking! Jesus tells Peter that he should keep forgiving them, over and over and over again. According to Jesus, we Christians are to be serial forgivers!
Then Jesus explains why: He tells a story where a servant was forgiven from a heap of debt they’d built up. The servant had done wrong and deserved to be punished, but because he begged for forgiveness, the King forgave him. However, when somebody else wronged that same servant, instead of exercising the same forgiveness he’d received from the King, the servant withheld forgiveness, punishing the one in his debt.
Jesus explained that when the King found out about the servants’ refusal to forgive those who’d wronged him, he called the servant “wicked”. He was wicked because in spite of receiving much forgiveness himself (he’d been forgiven from owing a years wages in money and not paying it), he refused to forgive the one who’d wronged him (the man who wronged him owed him only a day’s wages in money.)
The story ends with the King, who’d previously offered him forgiveness, sending him to jail until he was able to pay all his debt. In reality, this servant would never be able to pay off the debt he owed, it was far too big. His destiny was incarceration forever!
Then Jesus gives the punchline: “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
Here is the application for you and me:
Is it worth forfeiting eternity with God, in order that we can walk in offence and bitterness against those who’ve hurt us? Unforgiveness is a lose, lose. You lose your joy and peace today and you lose eternal life with God.
Many Christian’s are willing to accept they may lose some temporal peace by withholding forgiveness from a brother or sister, but they wrongly believe they can withhold forgiveness and still make it to heaven by God’s grace.
The lie they’ve believed is that they can have faith in the Lord Jesus who died to forgive their sin, and walk in unforgiveness towards others at the same time.
It’s true that Christian’s are saved by faith, but it’s not true that saving faith is compatible with unforgiveness.
To put it another way, if a person truly has faith in the God who has come to earth and died on the cross to make all their many wrongs right, they will, by the Spirit of Jesus, exercise forgiveness to others who have wronged them.
Let’s not minimise Jesus’ words or downplay his warnings. By withholding forgiveness from others, we are forgoing eternity with God.
This is a call to consider Jesus’ warnings, meditate on the magnitude and magnificence of God’s merciful forgiveness towards us, and urgently, without delay, follow Jesus’ instructions in verses 15-20 and seek to make peace with those who’ve sinned against us.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” – Matthew 5:9