In our last lesson, we were looking at the events in Matthew 18, Luke 9 and Mark 9. Jesus taught His disciples a great lesson on being humble. If you will remember, they were arguing over who would be the greatest in the kingdom, yet Jesus called a young child to Him and told them unless they became like this young child, they would not even be allowed into the kingdom. He goes on to stress the importance of our influence and how we are to treat others, and He gives a strong warning against those who use their influence to cause others stumble and fall away from God. He also stresses the importance of seeking out those who have stumbled and to receive them back with open arms because every child of God is important to God, and they should be important to us a well.


I wished we would have had time in our last lesson to continue looking at Matthew 18 in our last lesson because He continues on with the same theme about helping those who are in the wrong to be right and to be willing to forgive them when they repent. The last thing we looked at in our lesson was the parable of the lost sheep, which talks about one who was with God, but got distracted by the world and found himself lost. As Christians, it is part of our duty to find these lost sheep and do what we can to rescue them.


Next, Jesus is going to teach about another kind of sinner, and the responsibility we have in this situation as well.


Matthew 18:15  " Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother.  16 "But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that 'by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.'  17 "And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.


Jesus is specifically talking about those who sin against you and not about those who sin publicly.  Some try and force this text on all sin, and would say that if someone is teaching something false publicly then you should go to them privately, but this is not what the Scriptures teach. I will give you two examples.


First, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees and Sadducees publicly on a number of occasions for their sinful ways without doing so in private.

Second, Paul rebuked Peter publicly for his sin of withdrawing from the Gentiles (Gal. 2:14).


More examples and Scripture could be used, but I think this is sufficient to show that the procedure Jesus is giving has nothing to do with public sin such as false teaching.


Now let’s look at the three steps Jesus gives.


1. If your brother sins against you, you have a responsibility to go tell him what he has done to you, so that he can see that he has sinned against you. Please understand this is not talking about something petty that hurt your feelings or anything based on opinion, we are talking about actually sinning against you. Besides Scripture telling us to do so, there is a great reason you should go to your brother when he sins against you instead of having the attitude that he must come to me.


First, the person who sinned against may not know that he sinned against you. He could have made an honest mistake. Now, this does not mean that he free and clear just because he did not know he sinned because we are accountable to all sin.


Second, while the person may realize he sinned against you, he may not know that you know that he sinned against you. While he should be honest and own up to his sin, he may not. So, when you go to him, kind of like Nathan went to David, you force him into a position to deal with his sin by either repenting or denying it further.


Third, while we may think a brother has sinned against, he may not have. When we go to that brother and talk to them, we might discover that we misunderstood him or that maybe someone else gave false information about what he did or said.


If a person has sinned against you, and  you go to him and he repents, then you have gained your brother back, and you have turned him from his sin.


James 5:19 Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, 20 let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.


While James is talking about something much broader than a brother sinning against you, the principle is the same, because you are helping turn a sinner away from the error he has committed. 


It would be great if step 1 always resolved the issue, but it does not always work. Maybe it is because the offender is too prideful to admit his fault or maybe he honestly thinks he has done nothing wrong, which brings us to step two.


2. 16 "But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that 'by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.'


Having 1or 2 witnesses is an important part of figuring out if a sin has actually taken place. This method has been used throughout the Bible (Num. 35:30; Deut. 17:6; 19:15; 2 Cor. 13:1). When you think about it, it makes perfect sense because now you are going to have one or two people who can listen to every word from both sides will make it much easier for the facts to be determined.


While the Bible does not forbid any person from being a witness in this situation, I personally think we should chose 1 or 2 people who we know will be unbiased because if we take our spouse, a family member, or a close friend, they might not see things through filtered glasses. Not to mention the fact, the person being accused of sin would probably view this is as you attacking them with witnesses who will only see things your way. I want to make it clear that the Bible does not forbid you using family members or friends at witness, I am just offering my advice on this from a practical standpoint.


The whole point is to have one or two people to confirm everything that is being said. An outside person, especially an unbiased one, can usually see the problem better than the two disagreeing. So, after both sides have laid out their arguments, those witnesses can tell you if they think you have sinned against that person or not. Hopefully, if they conclude that you have sinned, based on Scripture, then you should be willing to repent.


While some people will allow their eyes to be opened to their sins when others say they have sinned, there are still some who are still so prideful or who simply do not care anymore, who will reject the witnesses and still refuse to repent.


Next, Jesus gives the final step.


3. 17 "And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.


The third and final step is to bring this to the church. It is interesting that Jesus would say church since it was not in existence at this time, but we need to remember that much of what Jesus taught His disciples was things they were to teach once the church was in place.


Just because the person who has sinned may have rejected the first two steps and the people involved, when you have the entire church saying that you need to repent, that should make you seriously consider your position. Some people will come to their senses after this, but some will not. For those who will not hear the church, they are to be like a heathen and a tax collector.


Jesus used the heathen and the tax collector to make the point that the church is not to have any fellowship with this sinner who has chosen to not repent of his sin against another brother. I want to share with you some more verses that tell us what this includes. The verse I am going to read cover a broader range than a brother who has sinned against another, but the principle taught in the verses would certainly include those who will not hear the church in this matter.


2 Thessalonians 3:6 But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us.


Romans 16:17 Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them.


1 Corinthians 5:11 But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner -- not even to eat with such a person.


2 Thessalonians 3:14  And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed.


Paul did this with Hymenaeus and Alexander in hopes that they would come to their senses and repent for their wrong doings (1 Tim.  1:20). This procedure is not done out of anger or out of hate.  Instead, it is done out of love.  Sometimes people have to experience what they are missing so they might come to their senses and realize they are living in sin.  2 Thessalonians  3:15 tells us not to count them as an enemy, but to admonish or warn them as a brother.  So, don’t give up hope for them and be sure to encourage them to repent. 


Next, Jesus says:


Matthew 18:18 "Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.  19 "Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven.  20 "For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them."


You might remember that Jesus said this same thing to Peter in Mt. 16, but here is telling this to the rest of the apostles and it also applies to the church itself. What this means is that when the judgment is passed down to withdraw from this man or woman who will not repent, the decision has already been made in heaven itself, because the truth comes from God. The binding and losing is not something that the apostles or the church can do on its own, because it can only bind and loose those things that were already determined in heaven, which is revealed to us in Scripture.


When Jesus says that if two agree on earth about anything that it will be done for them is not speaking in general sense, but I believe it is referring to this immediate context. Think about it, if this was referring to prayer in general, there are all kinds of crazy things two people could pray for. Even if you applied this verse to prayer in general, no matter how many people pray the same thing, it is not going to happen if it is not in accordance to God’s will.


Also, verse 20 misapplied by many. It says:


20 "For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them."


I am sure we have all heard people say where 2 or 3 are gathered we can worship the Lord. While it is certainly true that 2 or 3 could come together to worship the Lord, this is not what the text is teaching. In context, this is referring back to the witness of this situation. While they are certainly gathered together is not for worship, but to make a judgment call about about whether this person sinned or not. If they judged that he has, the Jesus is right there in the midst in agreement with their decision.


While all of this was fresh on Peter’s mind, he asks the following question.


Matthew 18:21 Then Peter came to Him and said, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?"  22 Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.


Jewish tradition teaches that the rabbis back then taught that a person was obligated to forgive a person three times. Peter went a little further and used the number seven. He probably thought he was being generous. But Jesus said, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” When Jesus said this, He had in mind an infinite amount of times. This verse alone should be encouraging to us as Christians because God will not ask us to do something He is unwilling to do (Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:13).


Not only are we to forgive our brothers and sisters without limit, this means our heavenly Father will forgive us of our sins without limit when we repent. However, God does not expect us to forgive those who do not repent because He does not forgive us unless we repent. As part of God’s plan of salvation, we all had to repent before we were baptized for the forgiveness of our sins (Acts 2:38). Repentance is not a one-time event because, we must continue to repent and change our ways to conform to God’s Word (Lk. 13:3; 1 Jn. 1:7). For example, the church at Ephesus and Thyatira were told to repent or they would suffer the consequences (Rev. 2:5, 21-22).


If God forgave people without any action on their part, we could live in sin daily without any concern. If God forgives us unconditionally without repentance it would make Paul’s statements that we can fall from Grace (Gal. 5:4) and that we should take heed lest we fall (1 Cor. 10:12) false statements. However, the Scriptures clearly state that we have a responsibility when it comes to obtaining forgiveness and giving forgiveness to those that repent.


When we forgive someone it means we are supposed to do our best treat that sin as if it has been forgotten, and it means that we are in fellowship with the offender. While it can be challenging to do this, we are taught to offer our forgiveness without limit when someone repents.


However, if a person sins against us and he does not repent, we are not obligated to forgive that person because God would not. If we continue to forgive a person who does not repent, we are doing that person a great injustice because it will encourage him to continue to sin since he never sees any consequences to his actions. When we forgive without repentance, we neglect our responsibilities as Christians. Again, Jesus says in:


Luke 17:3 "Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.  4 "And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, 'I repent,' you shall forgive him."  


Sometimes we find it easier to overlook a sin than to tell our brother or sister what they did, but as Jesus said, we are to rebuke them. Every Christian should be thankful when our sin is pointed out because the last thing we should want is sin in our lives. Whether a Christian thanks us not for pointing out his sin, it is our responsibility to do so. As Jesus said, “if he repents, forgive him.”


One thing that is difficult for  some to understand is the difference between not forgiving someone and holding a grudge. We should always have a forgiving spirit and be ready to forgive anyone who repents, but we should not hold a grudge against anyone even when they have not been granted forgiveness because holding grudge will do more harm to you than the person you are holding a grudge against. So, not forgiving people until they repent is not the same thing as holding a grudge.


Jesus goes on to teach a great lesson about forgiveness and how to handle it in the parable about the unforgiving servant. 


Matthew 18:23 "Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.  24 "And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.  25 "But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made.  26 "The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, 'Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.'  27 "Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt.

In this parable, the king represents God and the servant represents us. The parable is historically accurate because during that time, a person who did not pay his debt would be thrown into jail. If he could not pay his debt, they would sell his belongings and even his family to try to get their money back. The logic behind this law was that a person would take his debt seriously and would do whatever it took to pay his debt. Imagine how many people would be in jail in our society if that law was in place today. Most Americans do not give a second thought about their huge debt because many think they can just file bankruptcy if things get out of hand. Our government is certainly not a good role model in this area.

We learn that the king is ready to collect his money from this servant who owes him 10,000 talents. Whether these talents were silver or gold, it is an enormous amount of money. Of course, the servant had no way of paying this debt and was at the mercy of the king. He knew the law, and he knew the king would throw him into prison and sell his family and his belongings to recover part of his money. We must remember the standard pay back then was one denarius a day. If all he made was a denarius a day, it would take this man over 175,000 years just pay back 10,000 talents of silver, which mean this man was doomed.

In a similar way, we can see how this servant relates to us because on the Day of Judgment we will have to stand before Jesus and give an account of our lives (2 Cor. 5:10). Our sins are a debt that we cannot pay. Like the servant, we are helpless on our own as we stand before God (Mk. 10:26-27).

I wonder if this servant kept telling himself that he would take care of his debt to the king later, but later never came. There are many Christians and nonChristians who have the attitude that they can live in sin now and obtain forgiveness later. However, just like the servant, later may be too late because we do not have any guarantees of another day.  Many people have died instantly in car wrecks and in natural disasters who had no idea that their life would end that day. Unfortunately, many of them died in their sins and it is too late for them because they put off obtaining the forgiveness of their sins. There will not be any second chances because once we die, we cannot escape our fate if we chose to neglect our salvation. However, while we are still breathing, we have the opportunity to receive the forgiveness of sins.

In verse 26, out of desperation, the servant falls down before his king and pleads and begs him to have mercy on him and to allow him to have more time to pay his debt. Again, this teaches us that we are at the mercy of God, and without Him, we are hopelessly lost.

In verse 27, we learn that the king was “moved with compassion.” This is a strong expression that shows the king felt a deep pain for the suffering of his servant. Not only did the king exercise great patience with his servant, he forgave him his whole debt. This represents the great love and mercy God has for us and how He has provided us a way to have our debt of sin forgiven by the blood of Jesus (1 Jn. 4:8-10).

Peter also expresses how patient God is in:

2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

It should encourage us to know that our Father understands that we struggle with sin and will have mercy on us when He sees us suffering with our sin. When He sees us repent from the heart, He will forgive and forget our debt of sin just as the king forgave the debt of his servant. Since God has forgiven us when we repent, we should show the same forgiveness to others when they repent. But, notice what our servant does:

Matthew 18: 28 "But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, 'Pay me what you owe!'  29 "So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.'  30 "And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt.  


Sometimes we lose sight of the forgiveness we received from God and we do not extend that forgiveness to others. When Jesus sent out His disciples on a limited commission, He told them, “freely you have received, freely give” (Mt. 10:8). Unfortunately, this servant did not do this, instead we find out he had a servant that owed him 100 denarii. He grabbed him by the throat and demanded that he pay. But the servant did not have the money, and in the same manner, he fell on the ground before him and begged for mercy. It should have been easy for this servant to have forgiven this man of his small debt after having been forgiven his enormous debt, but he did not forgive him. Instead, he had the man put in jail. People love to receive the mercy and forgiveness of others, but sometimes they do not want to return the favor. This servant’s behavior did not go unnoticed:


Matthew 18:31 "So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done.  32 "Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, 'You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me.  33 'Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?'  34 "And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him.  35 "So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses."


These other servants understood that this man should have forgiven his fellow servant. So, they brought the matter before the king and the king was furious and had the man brought before him. Since he did not show compassion for his fellow servant when he begged for mercy as the king gave him, the king sent him to the torturers until his debt was paid. The tortures represent hell. Since this servant was unwilling to forgive as he was forgiven, he would be in the horrible place for eternity because there was no way for Him to ever pay his debt.


Jesus’ point is that if we are not willing to forgive others when they repent, then God will not forgive us either. As Christians, we must learn to forgive people or it can cost us our souls. I hope this lesson and the one before teaches us how important it is for us to be humble like a little child, how we should treat others like a little child does, and how we should be forgiving like little children. Jesus has taught His disciples and us a great lesson on humility, on how treat others, and on forgiveness. I just hope we take His lesson to heart.