Week 12: Forgiveness
15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed[f]in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
We often spend time at church talking about what we should do when we sin, but we don’t spend a ton of time talking about what to do when we are sinned against. Now we know that we are commanded to forgive one another (Colossians 3:13), but how exactly does that work?
If Jesus and I are okay isn’t that enough? Jesus would say “NO.” Unforgiveness between one another could be the number one hindrance to continue in deepening your relationship with Jesus. The good news is that Jesus is very clear on how to forgive someone that has sinned against you. In the text we read, Jesus lays out a step by step process that we as Christ followers should take in seeking reconciliation. First step…talk to people, not about them. Honestly, if we just did this one thing so many of our relational problems would be solved. Jesus says if you have an issue with someone go straight to that person, one on one. Until you have done that, keep your mouth shut. Maybe that’s all that needed to happen. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve built up such a wall against someone in my mind and in one conversation that wall came tumbling down because I could look in their face and see that I did not have all the information.
So what do you do if that meeting goes nowhere? You go back with one or two people. Now, the idea here is not to ambush or to gang up on the person, but to bring along a wise and objective third party that can help each of you see what part of the brokenness each person needs to own. And if that doesn’t work? Then you tell it to “the church.” Now, that doesn’t mean that you announce this person’s sin to the church gathering on the weekend. It means that you seek the help of the leadership of the church, the pastors or elders or ministers or deacons. And if that still doesn’t work you “treat them as a gentile or a tax collector.”
Now, pop quiz: How did Jesus treat the outsider? He laid down His life for them. So that’s how we treat them even if the relationship is not reconciled. Seems pretty clear doesn’t it? Well, one of the disciples isn’t quite getting it so he asks a clarifying question. And you know it’s gonna be Peter that speaks up. And Peter asks how many times must we forgive? Is seven times enough? And honestly, Peter is feeling pretty good about his number seven. And then Jesus raises the bar and says 70 times seven. That’s the new testament way of saying infinity. Seven, the number of completion, times seven with a zero in it. It's like saying a “bazillion” to your kids. It’s not a necessarily a real number, it just means more than you can count.
Then Jesus tells a parable to illustrate how the Christian should see forgiveness. He says that a man owed literally trillions of dollars to his master. A debt so large that he could never pay it back in his lifetime. And the debtor went to his master to settle accounts and beg for mercy. The master cancelled the man’s incredible debt. Then that man, with the newly canceled debt bumps into one of his workers who owes him about a month’s wage and he asks his boss for mercy. And the man that had just received forgiveness of his enormous debt refuses to cancel the small debt of this man that owes him. Word gets back to the master and he brings the unmerciful servant back in. And the master cannot understand how this man could receive such mercy and forgiveness and yet not be willing to offer a fraction of that mercy and forgiveness to one of his workers. So the master throws the unmerciful servant into jail forever. And Jesus ends the story with these words, “35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
I think Jesus wants us to see forgiveness as a canceled debt. You see, when someone sins against you they have created a debt debtor relationship. They have taken something from you. They owe you. In fact, we use this kind of language when we think about people that have hurt us. We’ll say, “you owe me an apology.” Jesus says that we are to settle accounts. In other words, you should be very clear about what this person owes you or has taken from you. This is not a short exercise. If someone has sinned against you then you should spend some time writing down what they took from you. Maybe they took money, or slandered your name, or let you down, or lied, or cheated, or… the list goes on. And in my opinion, this is one of the most important aspects of forgiveness that too many people skip over because it can be painful and difficult.
I would encourage to write down what was taken from you and write down the emotions that you felt as a result. Now, when you are done you will literally have a debt ledger. Now, you have a decision to make. One of the reasons that you have not been able to forgive someone is because you thought forgiveness was a feeling. It’s not. Forgiveness is a decision. Forgiveness is the decision to cancel someone’s debt against you. They don’t owe you anymore. Now, you can also decide to withhold forgiveness. The problem is that unforgiveness will turn to bitterness and only end up harming you. But it’s your decision.
Now, why should you forgive this person? There is really only one reason that will sustain you. You should forgive this person of their sin against you because at the cross Jesus forgave you of ALL OF YOUR SIN against Him. When you decide to cancel that debt, I would encourage to burn or bury that debt ledger so that every time the enemy tries to bring up those feelings you can remind him that you have canceled that debt.
So, who do you need to forgive? What do they owe you? Write it down and create that debt ledger. If you have experienced the mercy and forgiveness of Jesus for all of your sin then offer that mercy and forgiveness to the one who has sinned against you.
You’ll never be more like Jesus than when you forgive. And being like Jesus will always deepen your relationship with Him.