Today we’re reading Matthew 18.
The longer you live, the more you witness broken relationships. Some relationships are broken due to misunderstandings and some due to unmet expectations. Many relationships are broken by sin. People seldom consider the affect their sins may have on others. The power of temptation lures us to act based on the instinctive desires of our sinful nature. Like a fish biting a lure without ever considering the hook, most of our sins are committed with little thought about the consequences--to ourselves or others.
But often there are consequences for other people--financial damage, hurt feelings, and distrust are just a few of these. We are tempted to ignore the damage our sin has on others; if we can’t ignore it, we may try to downplay the impact it has on others or make excuses for ourselves. Sometimes we simply deny committing the sin, taking no responsibility, then, for the consequences.
Jesus knew that this is how we treat our own sins and he knew that unresolved situations would destroy the church. So here in Matthew 18 he gave us the prescription for dealing with sin in the lives of others. The first step is to confront the sin yourself (v. 15), but note the intention behind the confrontation: “If they listen to you, you have won them over” (v. 15c). Confrontation among believers is never designed to hurt someone’s feelings or to give the injured party a chance for vengeance or to vent. Jesus’ will was for loving confrontation to cause genuine repentance. Genuine repentance can clear the air and bring reconciliation to the situation. If the person who has sinned refuses to repent, Jesus told us to escalate the pressure--not by physical force or psychological manipulation but by widening the circle of people who are calling for repentance. First, this is one or two others then the entire church if necessary. Since Jesus assumed that a believer would eventually repent, if someone refused to repent after the entire church is involved, he commanded us to “treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector” (v. 17c).
Verses 18-19 are fairly well-known among Christians, but often referred to out of context. Both of these verses affirm the spiritual power of the church in the life of an unrepentant person. Telling the church is not a mechanism for embarrassing someone. If that were the case, people would get over the embarrassment. Jesus said that those who are “bound” on earth are “bound” in heaven. This means that church’s judgment on a sinning person to remove them from the fellowship of the church is more than a human act. It is a spiritual act that God himself honors. Verses 19-20 emphasize that fact. When a group of people who belong to Christ agree that a person should repent, they do so under God’s divine guidance.
Just as there are sinners who name Christ but refuse to repent, there are also Christians who refuse to forgive others who have repented. Verses 21-35 gave us a parable about the unforgiving. As Christians, Jesus has forgiven us “bigly” as The Donald is erroneously accused of saying (vv. 24--“ten thousand bags of gold”!). Any debts that others incur against us maybe costly and painful to us, but they are far below what our sin cost God (“a hundred silver coins”). Given that, note what Jesus said in verses 34-35: “In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” Wow! God will “torture” the unforgiving? What does this mean? Simply that those who claim to know Christ but refuse to forgive are not Christians at all. They are still under the wrath of God. When Christ truly comes into a person’s life, that person receives the new nature which is like God’s nature. A Christian also has the Holy Spirit who convicts us of what is right and empowers us to act like God. So, if God found it in his heart to forgive us, his forgiveness also empowers us and calls us to forgive others. An unforgiving Christian is not a Christian at all.
These are serious words but they remind us of how seriously God views our sin and how seriously he wants us to deal with it. If you have sinned, repent and seek the restoration of your relationship. If you have been sinned against, do everything you can to call the one who sinned against you to repentance in order to have the relationship restored. If someone asks for your forgiveness, deploy God’s grace to “forgive your brother or sister from your heart” (v. 35).