Kingdom Community: Forgiveness
How long must we forgive?
We started chapter 18 with a question:
Matthew 18:1 CSB
1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “So who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
This idea of greatness is one that is certainly influenced by the Roman society they were living in. However, in response, Jesus launched into a series of teachings on what it means to live in the kingdom of God. It is upside down from the world. It is connected to and reflective of the heart of God. It lives out the two great commandments in very real and practical ways as a family - as a community.
Matthew II. Commentary: The King Explains Christian Personal Relationships
When we read this chapter carefully, we realize that the “little children” (18:1–6, 10), the “lost sheep” (vv. 12–14), the “sinning brother” (vv. 15–20), and the “indebted servant” (vv. 21–35) are different ways of referring to fellow believers in the church. In fact, each of us, at some time in our lives, has probably been aptly described by each of these pictures. Such a person is always a beloved child of God. He is to be treated as such by the other children, until that person proves that he really does not want to live by the family principles (18:17).
Do not overlook, neglect or turn away those that society sees as less significant.
Make sure you are not the one who is pushing people away from God.
If you see your brother or sister sinning, go to them to restore them. If they refuse, take one or two others with you. If they still continue to be unrepentant, unchanging, involve the entire assembly. If they still do not see their sin as wrong, remove them from the church body.
As we continue in our lessons on being a kingdom community, you will notice that the community is made up of individuals that must act in unity. We all must accept one another. We all must confront one another (the passage David read least week said that YOU (singular) go to the person first; then others and even the collective are involved.
But there is still more to learn! Luke summarizes and introduces this last topic in a very brief format:
Luke 17:1–4 CSB
1 He said to his disciples, “Offenses will certainly come, but woe to the one through whom they come! 2 It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to stumble. 3 Be on your guard. If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. 4 And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and comes back to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”
While we have broken the chapter down into 3 teaching buckets, there is this single theme of how we treat each other. There is an interesting phrase in this chapter we should look at for a moment together:
Matthew 18:15 CSB
15 “If your brother sins against you, go tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won your brother.
Sins Against You
Some translations just say “sins” others say “sins against you”. It is a bit ambiguous, but it does not alter the teaching or the expected response.
From OUR perspective it makes a difference - let me show you:
“If a brother sins....”
“If a sister sins against you...”
The object of the first is most likely assumed to be God. You sin against God by disobeying, smearing his reputation, loving this creation more than him.
The object of the second is me - personally. How might someone “sin” against me? They can NOT love me (reject me - like those little children), smear my reputation, gossip about me, call me names, steal from me, the list goes on and on.
However, from a Biblical worldview is makes no difference. To sin is to sin against the body, the church. It hurts either way.
We found out from verses 15-20 how we are to treat a bother of sister who is sinning and is confronted and does NOT repent (Turn away from doing evil).
So what happens if someone IS repentant? What happens if someone sins or even sins against you, and then says they were wrong and seeks forgiveness?
Luke 17:3–4 CSB
3 Be on your guard. If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. 4 And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and comes back to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”
Notice Luke’s twist on this teaching -> first, he is connecting the dot that the goal of confronting someone in sin is to restore them back to a right place with God and others. IF they actually do repent, you forgive. THEN he says, if he sins against you 7 times in one day and repents 7 times, you MUST forgive him.
This is really the heart of the question that Peter asked in the passage we will examine today.
IF they DO repent I must forgive them, but how many times? While that may sound petty, Peter’s question is quite generous for the teaching of his day.
Matthew 18:21 CSB
21 Then Peter approached him and asked, “Lord, how many times must I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? As many as seven times?”
I can also imagine that though we might not verbalize it, we have all had a similar question at times, or with a specific person in mind. Right? We might even try to justify it or by qualifying it a bit more, “How many times do I have to forgive someone for the SAME thing?”
I remember even saying something stupid like that to Laura not long after we got married. She did something that hurt me and I forgave her. Not long after that she did it again and ask for forgiveness and I some something really stupid, unbiblical, selfish and wrong . I said something like, “If you were really sorry the first time you wouldn’t have done it again”. (did I mention stupid?)
Well, Rabbinic teaching would have sided with Laura. It was common teaching, found in the Talmud, that the extent of forgiveness is 3 times.
Rabbi Yosei bar Ḥanina said: Anyone who asks forgiveness of his friend should not ask more than three times, as it is stated: “Please, please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, for they did evil to you. And now, please forgive” (Genesis 50:17) https://www.sefaria.org/topics/forgiveness?tab=sources
The Talmud develops this requirement for human forgiveness into a full-fledged legal institution. First, the request for forgiveness must be public: “R. Chisda said that he must placate his fellow before three lines of three people.” This is, again, tied to the creative reading of a biblical verse, but the clear intent is to make the request for forgiveness a social fact. A single, casual encounter involving only the injurer and the injured will not suffice. The next talmudic statement ensures that, on the other hand, the injurer does not become a permanent hostage to the injured party: “R. Yosi bar Chanina said, ‘whoever seeks forgiveness from his friend should not seek it more than three times.'” (https://jewishreviewofbooks.com/articles/74/at-the-threshold-of-forgiveness-a-study-of-law-and-narrative-in-the-talmud/#)
And according to Luke, I have no ground to stand on either!
So, when Peter comes to Jesus with his suggestion of seven times was exceptional! Perhaps Peter was playing off the number of completeness - FULL forgiveness would be after 7 times?
Jesus does not say, “Come on, Pete, really?” lol He actually takes what Peter says and builds on it. No, Peter, of course not! (I can see Peter being relieved) Then the reply, seventy-seven times!
ask: how many of you have “seventy seven” in your Bibles? How many have “seventy times seven”?
70 x 7 = CJB, NLT, CSB, LEB, NKJV, NASB 95
77 = NASB 2020, NIV, ESV
As you can see, scholars are split in the number to use here! I do not think it matters as both numbers are really not reachable. However, the use of 77 has some great hyperlinks to a guy in Genesis.
Cain killed Able. Deserved death. God spared him and exiled him - showing him mercy. And then showed him even more mercy by promising to protect him.
Genesis 4:13–15 CSB
13 But Cain answered the Lord, “My punishment is too great to bear! 14 Since you are banishing me today from the face of the earth, and I must hide from your presence and become a restless wanderer on the earth, whoever finds me will kill me.”. 15 Then the Lord replied to him, “In that case, whoever kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” And he placed a mark on Cain so that whoever found him would not kill him.
We later read the lineage of Cain and 5 generations later we come to a scoundrel: Lamech. He violated God’s plan by taking 2 wives. He violated God’s creation by killing people. And he sings an arrogant song to his wives:
Genesis 4:23–24 CSB
23 Lamech said to his wives:
Adah and Zillah, hear my voice;
wives of Lamech, pay attention to my words.
For I killed a man for wounding me,
a young man for striking me.
24 If Cain is to be avenged seven times over,
then for Lamech it will be seventy-seven times!
Lamech is boasting about how important he is, how GREAT HE IS. He has taken the mercy of God and made it a banner to justify his violence and says that is someone wrongs him they are to be avenged seventy-seven times.
The disciples wanted to know who was the greatest, and Jesus said if someone wrongs you, you re to forgive them seventy-seven times.
Do you see why Jesus might have picked this seemingly arbitrary number? There is a hyperlink that his listeners would have gotten and it demonstrates what is NOT greatness in the Kingdom.
When we define greatness by our standards, we are not great. If you have to announce to everyone that you are great, you probably aren’t.
Greatness comes from being the image bearers of God - being reflections of him on this earth. We are to show the mercy that God showed Cain - not giving what is deserved but giving life.
Then Jesus launches into a parable meant to drive the point home:
Matthew 18:23–35 CSB
23 “For this reason, the kingdom of heaven can be compared to a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle accounts, one who owed ten thousand talents was brought before him. 25 Since he did not have the money to pay it back, his master commanded that he, his wife, his children, and everything he had be sold to pay the debt.
26 “At this, the servant fell facedown before him and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 Then the master of that servant had compassion, released him, and forgave him the loan.
28 “That servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him, started choking him, and said, ‘Pay what you owe!’
29 “At this, his fellow servant fell down and began begging him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ 30 But he wasn’t willing. Instead, he went and threw him into prison until he could pay what was owed. 31 When the other servants saw what had taken place, they were deeply distressed and went and reported to their master everything that had happened. 32 Then, after he had summoned him, his master said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. 33 Shouldn’t you also have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And because he was angry, his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured until he could pay everything that was owed. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to you unless every one of you forgives his brother or sister from your heart.”
How many of you have heard this parable before?
It’s pretty graphic, isn’t it? It is also an amazing lesson not only on forgiveness but the incredible mercy of our God.
The king is settling accounts and wants people who owe him money to pay up. The first servant owes the king 10,000 talents.
does that sound like a lot to you?
We don’t conduct business using “talents”, so this seems ambiguous. So, what is a talent?
Matthew (Explanation of the Text)
A “talent” was the highest monetary standard, and a “myriad” was the highest number that could be stated. Since a “talent” was the amount of weight a soldier could carry on his back, it referred to 75 to 100 pounds of gold or silver, depending on which standard was used (= 6,000 denarii, with a denarius the pay for a day’s work by the average laborer, thus 20 years of work).
It still doesn’t necessarily connect with us. So let’s math, shall we? ⚡
1 oz. Gold [1/18/2023] = $1,932 (https://www.monex.com/gold-prices/)
16 oz. in a pound = $30,912 /lb
Talent approx. 75#
1 talent = $2,318,400 gold ($28,368 silver)
10,000 Talents = $23,184,000,000 gold ($283,680,000 silver)
The first servant owed the king what would be the equivalent of a LOT of money! An astronomical amount of money!
That one way to compute it. Here is another. ⚡A denarius was equal to a days wages.
NOTE: 1 Talent equals about 6000 denarii
The first servant owed 60,000,000 days of wages. It would take over 164,383 YEARS of work to pay it back!
When the king demands payment, what does the servant reply?
Matthew 18:26 CSB
26 “At this, the servant fell facedown before him and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you everything.’
It is not possible! There is no way to pay back 32,051 years of wages! But the plea of the servant is that he would pay all of it back. Everything.
Let me contextualize it a little more:
Jeff Bezos (one of the, if the THE, richest people in the world) makes $6.7 million a DAY. If he had this debt, and he earned that amount 7 days a week, it would take him 9.5 years of earnings to pay it back - if he didn’t spend a time of it on anything else!
According to Payscale, A software engineer for Amazon would average $120,000/year. This would be a higher end position for sure. But even at those wages, if someone used his or her wages JUST to pay back this debt and used NONE of it for living expenses, it would take 193,200 YEARS to pay it back (gold) or 2,364 YEARS (silver).
In other words… there is no paying it back! There was ABSOLUTELY no way that the servant could pay back the debt in his lifetime. None. The crowd wold get that. The words of the servant were worthless, meaningless grovel. The crowd knew it and the master knew it.
YET - what was the response of the master?
Matthew 18:27 CSB
27 Then the master of that servant had compassion, released him, and forgave him the loan.
That is an amazing debt forgiven! It is an incredible act of mercy.
So what does the servant do? He finds someone that owes him 100 days wages, nearly strangles him and demands the money. What a violent picture?
WHAT drives someone to act this way? Greed? A chance to get ahead?
The response of servant 2 is this:
Matthew 18:29 CSB
29 “At this, his fellow servant fell down and began begging him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’
Does that sound familiar? Almost verbatim what servant 1 said to his master. But, unlike his master, servant 1 was not willing to let go of the debt. Instead he threw the man into prison. This basically make his family and friends work hard to come up with the money sooner to get him out of prison.
It would be like the US government having its 31 Trillions dollars of debt cancelled (https://www.usdebtclock.org/) and then putting a citizen in jail for owing $10,000 is back taxes.
Seems absurd, right?
Matthew 18:31 CSB
31 When the other servants saw what had taken place, they were deeply distressed and went and reported to their master everything that had happened.
Notice the community context. The community of other servants went to the master and the master took action. Again, this goes in with the unrepentant brother message as well as the kingdom community theme.
Then there is the reckoning:
Matthew 18:32–34 CSB
32 Then, after he had summoned him, his master said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. 33 Shouldn’t you also have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And because he was angry, his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured until he could pay everything that was owed.
Now, instead of being sold, he is thrown in prison and tortured until when? He could pay back everything… so life or 32,051 years, whichever comes first. 😉
The Jesus ends the parable and the lesson on Kingdom community with this very stern warning:
Matthew 18:35 CSB
35 So also my heavenly Father will do to you unless every one of you forgives his brother or sister from your heart.”
That is harsh. Church, family, we have a calling to be a forgiving people! There is no place for harboring bitterness in the church. It is never appropriate to lack mercy with our brothers, sisters, even spouses.
NOTE: this is not a shallow, surface level, “I forgive you”. This, like most every other kingdom teaching in Matthew, is a matter of the heart.
Speaking of which, we have visited this concept already in Matthew:
Matthew 6:14–15 CSB
14 “For if you forgive others their offenses, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well. 15 But if you don’t forgive others, your Father will not forgive your offenses.
It event showed up in the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples:
Luke 11:2–4 CSB
2 He said to them, “Whenever you pray, say,
your name be honored as holy.
Your kingdom come.
3 Give us each day our daily bread.
4 And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves also forgive everyone
in debt to us.
And do not bring us into temptation.”
So the king is our Father in heaven. That means that you and I are the servant who has been forgiven a debt we could never repay. This is what Jesus did for us. There is NO WAY we could pay the debt for our sins. God wiped it out because of Christ.
Because of that grace we have received, we are to imitate Yahweh by showing grace a forgiveness like He does.
How does God forgive?
Psalm 103:11–12 CSB
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his faithful love
toward those who fear him.
12 As far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed
our transgressions from us.
He removes our sins from us. It is almost like the slate is wiped clean, so we could never possibly reach 77 or 70x7 times that Jesus reported back to Peter in the beginning of our passage.
He actually forgives and forgets:
Isaiah 43:25 CSB
25 “I am the one, I sweep away your transgressions
for my own sake
and remember your sins no more.
How many of you have heard that we need to forgive and forget?
It is not really possible - at least not the way we think of forgetting. Do you believe that God forgets our sins? The God who knows everything all of the sudden has amnesia? No, he knows them, but he does not count them against us any longer.
BANK NOTE: when you complete a loan you get a certificate that your debt is cleared. The bank does not forget that it gave you the loan, it keeps a record, but they have no power to come back and collect money for that any longer.
When cannot just flip a switch and no longer remember when someone hurts us. But to forgive like our Father is to cancel the debt and not longer collect on it.
There is a difference between:
forgiveness and forgetting. We can forgive even if we struggle forgetting.
forgiveness and consequences. We can be forgiven but still face consequences for the wrong we have done.
Forgetting is virtually impossible, though God can accomplish that. Consequences are inevitable, even if we are forgiven. In any case, we are commanded, not encouraged, to forgive, and forgive again, and then again and again and again.
Matthew 2. Forgiveness Reciprocated
Clearly those who are bitter and refuse to forgive a wrong they have experienced are under indictment from God and will be punished. Yet it must also be admitted that forgiveness is not an easy thing to do, especially when one has undergone serious wrongs like physical or sexual abuse. Christ is not saying that forgiveness must be instantaneous. It is a process often demanding a great deal of time and counseling. Still, mercy and forgiveness should at all times be the goal for which we strive. Moreover, this is a community and not just an individual responsibility; reconciliation must be the goal of all, and when we are deeply hurt, we need the counsel and help of our brothers and sisters in the church family.
SIDE NOTE: lack of forgiveness puts a choke-hold on the person we refuse to forgive and imprisons the one who fails to offer forgiveness.
Going back to our idea of kingdom living, to forgive is to value the person as God does. If God values you enough to forgive your wrongs so you can be free, when we forgive we demonstrate that we value the other person the way God does.
ASK: is there someone you have been strangling with unforgiveness? Are you, or someone you know, imprisoned by the inability/unwillingness to forgive?
Freedom is available if you will choose to value that person the way God does and treat them the way your Father in heaven has treated you - with mercy that cannot even be fathomed. IT IS CERTAINLY NOT EASY. But is it necessary.
TRY: praying for the person you struggle forgiving.
Matthew 7:12 CSB
12 Therefore, whatever you want others to do for you, do also the same for them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.