A Forgiving Community

October 02, 2022 | Jess Rainer

Passage: Matthew 18:15-35

Jesus is making His way to Jerusalem, specifically making His way to the cross.  Jesus has spent His most recent time with teaching the disciples about faith and what it means to believe in Him.  Now, in Chapter 18, Jesus moves back to the Kingdom of God, specially the community of God.  Last week, we saw that the community of God is unlike any other community.  Today, we look at one specific aspect of God’s community that is unlike the world: FORGIVENESS.  The community of God is a forgiving community.  If that statement is true, then it means something for you.  Today is very a practical sermon.  Jesus understands what conflict can do and He makes sure we all know how to handle hurt and sin appropriately.  It means something to those who follow Jesus.  Let’s unpack what it means in Matthew 18.  This passage is a tough one.  We can’t possibly cover every nuance.  And it can be hard to live out.  Here’s what it means to be in a forgiving community: Restoration is wanted.

1) Restoration is wanted. (vs. 15-20)  In these first few verses, Jesus outlines how the church should respond when one Christian sins against another Christian.  I want to clarify something at the onset here: What does it mean when someone “sins against you?”  When someone sins against you, there is an element of suffering that takes place on your part.  Being sinned against entails something that is morally evil, evokes injury, betrayal, disloyalty, lying, insulted.  Let me tell you what being sinned against is not: when someone walks past you in the lobby at church without saying hello.  We can’t let every little annoyance take on more of a status than it should.  There are just some we must let go.  Let the petty things go.  My rule (not the Bible): If you can’t name EVERYTHING that has happened to that person in the last 24 hours, you do not get to be offended.  I start with grace and know that sometimes people just have bad days and I choose to let it go.  Now that we’ve established some kind of baseline, it adds a better framework to verse 15.

Look at what Jesus says in verse 15:  15 “If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back.   There are three things I want to point out in verse 15:  1) What is the goal when you are sinned against?  To win that person back!  Restoration is wanted. Restoration is the goal.  As followers of Christ, our goal should be to not allow sin to destroy relationships.  Now, I get there are situations where an offense can be so great that boundaries need to be set up where the relationship will never fully flourish. We’ll take more about that in a minute.  But that doesn’t take away the goal: to win your brother or sister in Christ back.  Satan loves to destroy the bond that exists between two Christ-followers.  We win against Satan when we choose to restore instead of destroy.  Here’s the second thing in verse 15: 2) Don’t make the first step the last step.  I’ll say this clearly: when you have a conflict, go to the person first.  The first that should know you are in conflict is the person you are in conflict with.  And no one else needs to know!  3) What does it look like to approach someone who has done something unbiblical against you?  Point out facts, not feelings.  It can go something like this: “Billy, I care for you and I genuinely want the best for you. Last week, when you called me that name, it hurt. I believe that action does not align with Scripture. Would you be willing to engage in a biblical conversation about it?”  That means you have to process your emotions first.  Seeking restoration is not a time for angry venting.  If the goal is restoration, then the encounter must not be devastation.  Maybe I’m being naïve, but I believe that 99% of the time, two Christ-followers talking privately should be able to work out any wrongdoing. 

For those times where a productive conversation can’t happen, Jesus gives us the follow up process.  If the conversation is unsuccessful, you bring a mutual friend or two with you into the conversation.  16 But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses.   If that still doesn’t bring restoration, THEN you come to the church leaders.  17 If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won’t accept the church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector.  There is a process that we have as a church to protect the church and bring restoration to a brother and sister in Christ.  You will have conflict with other Christians.  Decide now, that when it happens, you will make restoration the goal.  That you will not let Satan gain an inch in any relationship that you have.  18 “I tell you the truth, whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.  19 “I also tell you this: If two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you.  20 For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.”  Choosing restoration is hard. But there’s something that I believe is even harder: forgiveness.  Forgiveness is costly.  

2) Forgiveness is costly. (vs. 21-22)  Restoration is the goal. In order to achieve the goal, forgiveness must take place.  Restoration is the mending of a hurt or broken relationship.  What is forgiveness then?  Forgiveness is the gracious decision to pardon an offender.  It’s the willingness to not hold their wrongdoing against them.  Forgiveness doesn’t mean that there aren’t consequences, but it does mean that you let go of your right to be offended.  And forgiveness – true forgiveness – isn’t easy.  Peter jumps into the restoration and forgiveness conversation with Jesus in verse 21.  21 Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”  In this conversation, Peter’s heart is in the right place.  You can see that the lessons Jesus had been teaching are starting to take root.  In biblical times, it was common for rabbis to instruct people to forgive someone up three times.  After 3 times, you no longer had to forgive them.  Peter knows this, so when he comes to Jesus and offers to forgive someone 7 times, in his mind, he is extended a lot of grace.  Peter thinks he has a big heart, but Jesus has another lesson to teach.  Look at how Jesus responds in verse 22:  22 “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!   Your translation may read “77 times” or “70 times 7”.  I can imagine Peter pausing for a moment and doing the math in his head.  And then realizes that Jesus told him to forgive someone 490 times!  In Peter’s mind, he must have been thinking, “There’s no way! How can I even keep track of that?”  And that was Jesus’ point.   Where culture tells us to limit our forgiveness, Jesus tells us our forgiveness has no limits.  

Now, there’s a looming question in most of your minds right now.  “Do I just let the same person continue to do wrong time and time again?”  Now to be clear, you are never to be in a place of abuse.  Remember the definition about being sinned against.  We’re talking about things like lying, betrayal.  Do not stay in a situation where you might be harmed.  So, what does it look like to forgive, but still set up boundaries?  When we offer forgiveness, we can also ask for reasonable change.  Forgiveness doesn’t mean you make it easy for the person to hurt you again.  Forgiveness doesn’t make you a doormat.  In asking for reasonable change, we also giving the offender the opportunity to see their change is real.  What does it take to forgive someone over and over again?  It’s the conscious decision to give up contempt.  In our hurt, our only weapon is our contempt.  For the sake of the other person, we become vulnerable and weaponless.  Quote: “Forgiveness is a brutal mathematical transaction done with fully engaged faculties. It’s my pain instead of yours. I eat the debt. I absorb the misery I wanted to dish out on you, and you go scot-free.” -- Andrée Seu/  It’s the conscious decision to eat your pain and hurt.  Forgiveness doesn’t come cheap.  Forgiveness is costly. It’s hard.  But Jesus goes one more step.  Forgiveness is required.

3) Forgiveness is required. (vs. 23-35)  Jesus is about to add a weight to the process of forgiveness that is undeniable.  He does so by telling an extreme parable.  Let me recap the parable Jesus told:  A king seeks out to collect his debts.  23 “Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him.   One of his servants owe him a ton of money: millions of dollars in our day.  24 In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars.  Because the servant couldn’t pay his enormous debt, the king would sell him into slavery.  And it was common for this practice in the ancient world.  25 He couldn’t pay, so his master ordered that he be sold—along with his wife, his children, and everything he owned—to pay the debt.  The man begged the king not to do it (vs. 26), the king was filled with pity (vs. 27) and forgave his debt.  26 “But the man fell down before his master and begged him, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.’   27 Then his master was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt.  How does the rest of the story go?  This man, newly forgiven of a debt he could never pay, went to a fellow servant, and demanded money owed him.  The fellow servant couldn’t pay, and the man had him put in prison.  The king found out about the situation and made sure justice took place.  Let me ask you one question: who are you in that story?  For those who you who are followers of Christ, you are the man who owed millions.  The debt Christ paid for us is incalculable.  We could never pay off the spiritual debt we owe.  Because we received amazing grace, we must extend amazing grace.  

When you experience God’s grace, you can’t help but forgive.  Forgiven people forgive.  Quote: The Bible is not saying that it’s easy to forgive or that it’s natural to forgive; however, it’s Christian to forgive. In fact, the Christian has no other option. We forgive not because we have to, but because in love we are compelled to.” – David Platt.   I understand this may be hitting hard for some of you right now because the idea of forgiveness just seems far off.  I want to ask one question to close us…What has God laid on your heart in the past 30 minutes about forgiveness?  

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Series Information

This sermon series will a year long journey through the book of Matthew in 2022.  These messages will examine the broader themes in Matthew like God’s character, Jesus as the fulfillment of the Old Testament’s promises for a Messiah,  and the importance of internal integrity over external behavior. It lays out practical application points like the need for salvation, baptism, and repentance.  It also provides answers to the question “Who is Jesus?”.  It invites you to recognize Jesus as God’s Son and to receive him as Lord of your lives.  This sermon series provides the groundwork for a clear explanation of the Gospel.  

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