So, this week, I had on my heart to piggyback on what I talked about last week as we dealt with the steps we are to take when our brother sins against us. In that teaching, I spoke a little about forgiveness, but I felt led to spend a little more time on this subject today—namely, how to forgive others who have hurt and offended us.
You see, a lot of times we hear sermons telling us what to do, but not necessarily how to do it. It is certainly that way with the subject of forgiveness too. Sure, we hear how important it is to forgive, but we rarely hear practical ways in which to do it.
However, let me first say that even though we do have some practical instructions in the Bible on how to forgive, they are not laid out like “3 Steps to Forgiveness” or “7 Keys to Forgiving Others.” No, for the most part, forgiveness is simply an instruction given to us without a lot of explanation behind it. And the reason I believe this is the case is because forgiveness is not a complicated thing; it is a commanded thing. Let’s look at some Scriptures that teach us this …
ORDERS FROM HEADQUARTERS
A few years ago, we spent a lot of time looking at John 13:34, but I want us to look again at what this oh so important Bible verse says: Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”
Now I want you to notice that this is not the new suggestion or the new ideal. No, this is the new commandment of the New Covenant!
So, I believe the fact that Jesus called love (which is certainly to involve forgiveness) a “commandment” is a great place to start in discovering how to forgive one another. Why? It is because a commandment does not necessarily involve emotions or feelings. In other words, a command is something we do whether we feel like it or not.
You see, a “command” is most commonly defined as “to give someone an order.” A common usage of this is with a commanding officer in say, a military leader, giving orders to those under himself.
Now those of you who have served in the military would agree to this point, but more times than not, when you were given orders to do something, you didn’t feel like doing what they told you to do. Particularly, when you were in basic training and those drill sergeants gave you orders like “drop and give me twenty” or “go run 5 miles!”, nothing in your flesh or your soul wanted to do it. But guess what? You did it anyways! And why? Because you were given orders by your authorities.
One very important lesson I have learned in this regard is that when it comes to submitting to your authorities, you are not submitting when your authority figures tell you to do something that you like or agree with and then you do it. No, you only truly submit to your authorities when they tell you to do something, and you don’t agree with it or you dislike what they are telling you to do, and you do it anyways. This is when true submission to authority occurs.
So, when it comes to this new “commandment” of loving and forgiving one another, it has nothing to do with what we feel, what we think or what we want; it all has to do with simply following orders. Love is the orders from headquarters!
LOVE IS SPIRITUAL
You know, as a general rule, the world believes that love is a feeling. They’ll use terminology like “I just fell in love with them” or “I just fell out of love”—indicating that love is a feeling and not a decision. But this is wrong!
What do they say when they “fall out of love”? “I just don’t feel for you the way I used to feel about you.” This, again, indicates that love is a feeling or an emotion. No! When someone says they have fallen out of love with someone, really what they are saying is that they have “fallen out of feelings.”
It is actually impossible to “fall out of” true love. Why? Because love is an act of your will! It is not a feeling! No, real love never ENDS (First Corinthians 13:8)! It changes not! Yes, agape is a spiritual thing! Therefore, it is eternal and unchanging!
Aren’t we taught that God is Spirit (John 4:24)? And we are also taught that God is love, right (First John 4:8)? So, this means that Love is a spiritual thing! You know, we are a spirit too. We are a spirit, we have a soul and we live in a body, and it is vital that we understand what the Lord accomplished in us through the new birth.
You see, Galatians 5:22-23 teaches us that the fruit of the Spirit begins with love and includes joy, peace etc.
Now the word “Spirit” here is given a capital “S” because the translators believe that the Holy Spirit is who is being referred to here. I differ on the other hand—because the context suggests the flesh of man versus the spirit of man. Therefore, I believe the fruit of the Spirit (while certainly is the nature of the Holy Spirit and are produced by Him in the life of those who are led by Him) is the fruit of our new, recreated spirit that we were born again with.
But whether or not you believe that these fruit are the fruit of our reborn spirit or the fruit of the Holy Spirit, either way, this means we already have this fruit within us. Amen?
Yes, I already have love in my heart for in Romans 5:5, the Apostle Paul says that the love of God has already been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Amen! So, my point is that love is already in there! We are not trying to get more love from the outside in; we are simply working out our salvation to get more love from the inside out! Amen!
But so many have a hard time believing this because they feel that they do not have love because they don’t “feel” love. In other words, because they don’t have the emotions of love and there is selfishness, anger, etc. in there, they believe that they are void of love. But this is when we must believe what the Word says more than what our feelings and our heads are telling us. Amen!
And, as it is with everything spiritual in nature such as love, we are not led by our feelings.
We wouldn’t say “Well, I don’t feel like reading my Bible anymore” and then just cater to that, would we? No, we have enough sense to know that is wrong. Nor would we believe that because we don’t feel like praising God that we evidently do not need to press through those feelings that cater to our flesh.
Saints, what I am saying is—do not wait until you feel like operating in these spiritual things before you practice them. Know that they are fruits of the spirit and spiritual things are not based on feelings.
Now the reason I bring this out is because I have been around long enough to see that most believers that even desire to forgive others are waiting for the feelings and emotions to come all over them. In other words, they are waiting to feel like forgiving before they actually act on this commandment to forgive.
Saints, I’m here to tell you that if you are waiting for all of these “lovey dovey” emotions to come all over you and overtake you, you are going to be waiting a long time! As you have heard me say before, I believe you are walking in love the most when you feel like strangling somebody, but as an act of your will, you decide to bless them instead. In other words, love is being exercised the most when our feelings are completely contrary, but we act on the decision to love. Amen!
As we have seen, love is a fruit of the Spirit—meaning, it is spiritual in nature. It’s not something that is tied into our flesh or our soul. Therefore, it doesn’t involve our feelings (a product of the flesh) or our emotions (a product of the soul). Love is spiritual thing—meaning, it is an action that comes as a result of our will.
Church, if we are going to be a “spiritual” man or woman, we are going to have to learn to live out of the part of us that is willing by faith (i.e. the spirit) and not yield to the part of us that is weak by feelings (i.e. the flesh). Amen!
Being spiritual is a decision! It's an action—an act of our will (for the spirit is willing). To act on our feelings and emotions is carnal; to act on what we know is true and, by faith, will to do those things, is spiritual.
Let me give you a good Scriptural example of this:
In Titus 2:3-4, the Apostle Paul told Pastor Titus that the older women were to, among other things, admonish the young women to love their husbands and to love their children.
So, were these older women to admonish the younger women to “feel” more like loving their husbands and their children? No! You do not admonish someone to have certain emotions and feelings. What these older women were being admonished to do was to teach the younger women how to love their husbands and children—which, of course, would be actions and deeds of love. Amen!
You see, love and forgiveness are more of an action than they are an emotion. And if we can be taught how to love, then we should know that it is an act of our own volition. If it were an emotion, then it would be out of our control because we are always going to have ups and downs in our emotions. But since love is a commandment, we know that it is in our control because the Lord would not have told us to do something that it wasn’t in our control to do. Amen!
So, let’s begin talking specifically about that aspect of love the Lord wanted to look at today—forgiveness—by going over to Colossians chapter 3.
In Colossians 3:13, the Apostle Paul, in the midst of His exhortations to put on all of these virtues related to love, says, “bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.”
Now I looked these words “forgiving and forgave” up and noticed something very significant about forgiveness: The word “forgive” comes from the Greek word charis which is commonly translated “grace.” Now the word “grace” means to give something freely, with no strings attached. If you are giving someone “grace,” you are giving them something they don’t necessarily deserve, nor have they done anything to earn it. Therefore, a common definition for “forgiveness” when considering the word “grace” is to freely forgive.
Now let me include this important point in here: Since we see the word “forgiveness” is so closely associated with grace, then our ability to forgive is tied together with us receiving the grace of God ourselves. And I believe that those who truly have come to embrace God’s grace for them will themselves be gracious—which will result in them being more apt to forgive.
You see, this is one of the reasons we emphasize the grace of God at our church; it is because it empowers one to be more gracious and loving. Amen!
But I make this point of the word “forgive” coming from the word charis because oftentimes the mentality that people have, which causes them to have a harder time forgiving people, is that the person that offended them doesn’t deserve to be forgiven—maybe they haven’t even been repentant and asked for forgiveness.
Now I would venture to say that most of us, if the person that hurt us came to us and said something to the effect of— “You know, I was wrong. I am so sorry. Please forgive me” that we would forgive them. But what makes forgiveness a little more difficult is when the person who hurt us doesn’t show any signs of being repentant and no remorse for what they did—which is, unfortunately, what happens most of the time.
But that is when this true meaning of forgiveness becomes so important because now I know I am called to forgive freely whether I feel they deserve it or not. I am “for-giving”—that is, I am giving them grace in advance of them deserving it or asking for it.
Then notice what Paul goes on to say in the rest of verse 13 that “if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.”
You realize that if everything you and I did to sin against the Lord and everything we did to put Jesus on that Cross could be weighed, there would not a be enough scales on the planet that could measure the greatness of that sin? We have truly been forgiven much! And you also realize that with the vast majority of these sins that Christ forgave us of, we are unaware of them and have not confessed them to Him? Absolutely!
Let me ask you this question: Do you think the Lord forgives us of the things we do wrong and are unaware of? In other words, does God give us mercy even for the things we do not confess to Him? You better hope so!
I know there are people in the church out there who believe that we have to specifically confess our sins in order to be forgiven of them, but that is not what First John 1:9 was teaching. Do you realize if that were true, then we are all in trouble because there is no way that we can specifically confess every single sin we’ve ever committed?
So, it is apparent that Christ has freely forgiven us of things we never sought forgiveness from— and aren’t you glad for that?
Well, when Paul said, “even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do” the words “even as” literally mean “to the degree that.” So, we are told to forgive one another to the degree that Christ has forgiven us.
So, this tells me that if Jesus forgave me of this magnitude of sin that I committed that put Him on the Cross, then I am expected to forgive others to the same degree. This is why Paul said at the end of Colossians 3:13 “so you also must do.”
So, forgiveness is a commandment, and it is expected of us! It is our duty!
FORGIVE BY FAITH
There is a Scripture that reiterates this point and it is found in Luke 17:1-10:
In the beginning of Luke chapter 17, Jesus begins to talk to His disciples about offenses and how we must do whatever is in our power not to cause others to stumble (verses 1-2). Then He tells His disciples to take heed to themselves that they live a life of forgiveness no matter how many times someone sins against them (verses 3-4).
Well, it is interesting to note the reaction that this call to forgiveness generated in His disciples: In verse 5 we are told: “And the apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith.’”
Now what does “increasing our faith” have to do with forgiveness? In other words, why would they ask the Lord to increase their faith immediately after He tells them to keep forgiving that sinning brother who keeps sinning against them?
Apparently, it is because we forgive by faith. In other words, if we are called to raise our standard of forgiving one another, then we also need an increase of faith to forgive them by.
You see, saints, we don’t forgive because we feel like forgiving or even because we feel like we have been forgiven; we forgive because of our faith in God and through our faith in God.
You know, I’ve dealt with people who think they have not forgiven because they have all of the feelings and emotions that scream on the inside of them telling them that they hate that person. But those thoughts and emotions are not necessarily proof that you haven’t forgiven them.
You see, people just want to feel like they’ve forgiven, but that it is not what a spiritual person does. A person who has decided to walk in the spirit does not go by how they feel; they are only moved by their faith. And because they have made the choice to forgive by faith, that is all they need. As it is with receiving anything from God, they don’t need the feelings to confirm it.
This call to forgive by faith is reiterated by the Lord in verses 7-10:
In this lesson, Jesus gives us the example of a servant who, when he comes in from his day’s work, is not afforded the opportunity to sit down and eat, but first must serve his master and then he can serve himself. Jesus then gives the point of this story that this servant is not rewarded nor even thanked for serving his master because he simply did what was his duty to do.
The point that Jesus was making by giving this example in context is that we don’t forgive our brothers and sisters in Christ because we feel like it or because of any benefit that we get out of it. No, our primary motivation for forgiving (next to loving God and loving the person) is because it is simply our duty as Christians! We do it because it is the right thing to do! Amen!
HOW TO FORGIVE
So, this is the first step to forgiveness—understanding that we are expected to forgive, that it is a command, and it is our duty to do so.
But I understand and the Lord understands that this is not easy to do. I’ve had people who have been hurt that, while they honestly want to obey the Lord, do not know how to forgive because the offense was so great.
Well, as Jesus’ disciples obviously understood, we will need faith to forgive sometimes. It might be too much for us to handle—releasing someone from the pain that they caused us. This is when our faith in God becomes key.
The Lord recently showed me that one of the ways that we forgive by faith is through our prayer life. What do I mean by that?
Have you ever noticed that in some of our greatest exhortations to forgive others that the forgiving is being done while in prayer?
For example, in Mark 11:22-26, where Jesus was teaching on how God’s faith works (i.e. speaking to the mountain, believing that the things we say will be done, believing we receive when we pray, etc.), He continues in verse 25 by saying, “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him…”
So here, Jesus was talking about making sure that we forgive while we stand praying. In other words, forgiveness is something we do in our prayer time. It is not just something we do on our own all of the time. In many of these cases, we need to involve the Lord’s help through prayer to remove the residue of unforgiveness.
But in this passage of Scripture in Mark chapter 11 I want you to notice again that praying in faith (speaking to the mountain, believing we receive when we pray, etc.) is joined to together with forgiveness. Do you think the Lord had a lapse in memory here and forgot what He was talking about in verses 23-24? I think not! Obviously, the Lord wants us to understand the association between the prayer of faith and the prayer of forgiveness because they are similar in nature.
You see, when you stand praying and you need to forgive someone, you treat that unforgiveness like you would that mountain. You speak to it! You use your authority to tell it that it has no right to stay in your life, and you take the mountain of offense and get rid of it! Then, when you’ve spoken to the mountain, you believe you receive when you pray. You don’t wait until you feel like its gone. You don’t base the effectiveness of your prayer on whether the unforgiveness seems like it has been removed. No, you believe it because you spoke to it.
We see our Lord Jesus Christ praying to His Father when He needed to forgive, when hanging on the Cross, said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”
Amid His agony and pain (things far outweighing the hurt that we feel), Jesus addresses His Heavenly Father and asks Him to forgive those who had put Him on that Cross due to their ignorance. So, the Master practiced what He preached by including forgiveness in His own prayer life.
So, what I am seeing here is that there is apparently a connection between the process of forgiveness and our own personal prayer lives. But I believe the point of understanding this is that we obviously need the Lord’s help in forgiving. It is hard to do this on our own—particularly when the offenses are so great. Yes, some of it is us simply choosing to forgive and following the orders from our Heavenly headquarters. But others, where our soul has been torn to shreds, will require faith to forgive them. And this is why the Lord taught us to forgive while we stand praying and by faith because this is where we get the help to legitimately release people in our hearts.
You see, in order to get the grace that we need to love the way we are called to, we need to walk in truth. And a part of walking in truth is not hiding our feelings. We need to be real with God and put everything on the table.
So, by first understanding that we forgive because it is our duty to forgive, we are to take those things before the Lord and say, “Lord, I choose to forgive them for the thing they did to me. I have no rights anymore and you have called me to forgive. So, I forgive them and ask you to forgive them as well. I ask for your richest blessings upon them and that you would pour out your goodness upon them.”
This should not surprise us because how did the Lord teach us to respond to the pains and offenses of our enemies? He said, in Luke 6:27-28 to love them. How? By doing good to those who hate us, blessing those who curse us, and by praying for those who spitefully use us.
It is no surprise then that so many people have a hard time releasing people in their hearts. Why? Because they are not doing it God’s way; they are doing it their own way—trying their best to forgive but failing to truly release that person in their hearts.
When we do it God’s way—which is, by faith taking it before the Lord when we stand, praying and confessing before Him our willingness to release them for the hurt they caused us, and sincerely praying for them—we are given the grace to truly forgive and release them.
This is where God’s supernatural ability to forgive gets activated in our life! It is where we are truly able to release them and the anointing to forgive is released in our lives! Hallelujah!
So, in conclusion, forgiveness is a commandment and we are called to forgive others to the degree that we ourselves have been forgiven. It is us giving the grace to others that we have received ourselves. But it will require faith to do so—our faith in God and our faith through God. In other words, we need to put the same principles of faith that move any mountain in our lives to work in removing the mountain of offense, bitterness, and unforgiveness from our lives.
Church, I wholeheartedly believe that if we put these things into practice, we can forgive anybody of anything. So, let’s do it! Amen!
Now I felt led to share a very practical message with you this week and one that is very important to be reminded of in the Christian walk because we all face this on a regular basis. So, let’s hop right into it …
As I briefly mentioned last week, receiving the Judas kiss is something that every believer can expect at some point in their lives—particularly those who are seeking first the kingdom of God and are pressing into the things of God. And if you have been a part of the body of Christ for any length of time, I am sure that you have experienced hurt, offense, and disappointment because of the words or actions of a fellow believer. This is inevitable for two reasons: Number one, each member of the body of Christ is human, lives in a fleshly body, and makes mistakes. Therefore, we all are likely to disappoint one another by saying or doing the wrong thing because we are all imperfect. Number two, we can be sure that the enemy is going to do his very best to cause division in the body of Christ. He will do this by inspiring one believer to do or say something hurtful and then he will tempt the other believer, who the word or action was aimed towards, to get offended and bitter towards the offending Christian.
So, in light of these two reasons, think it not strange concerning the temptations that have or that will come your way to be unloving, unmerciful, and unforgiving towards our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
But did you know that the Bible gives you and I some practical steps of what to do when a fellow believer sins against us? It sure does! In Matthew chapter 18, Jesus gave His disciples the steps to reconciliation when one of His sheep offends another. So, let’s take a look at what the Holy Scriptures have to say so that we can learn how to properly handle these times of being hurt and disappointed by our brothers and sisters in Christ.
In Matthew 18:15-20 Jesus said, “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. 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.’ 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. 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. 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. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”
First of all, notice that Jesus began in verse 15 by saying, “Moreover.” The reason Jesus started off with this word was because He had just taught the Parable of the Lost Sheep which emphasized the importance of restoring someone who had left the sheepfold, seeking to reconcile the wandering Christian. This is an important foundation to have as we enter into these verses because it will show us the mentality that we should have in confronting a brother or sister who has hurt us. Not to mention, understanding the context here will make clearer what He went on to say in these verses we will be covering …
HOW MOST CONFLICTS CAN BE RESOLVED
Jesus then says, “…if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.” This is the first step we are to take when someone sins against us: we are to confront them about it! And it is important to see that Jesus said that you are to do this between you and them alone. Oh, how many offenses would be averted if people would just put into practice this one simple step!
You see, most Christians do the exact opposite when someone hurts them. They will either internalize it—never dealing with the hurt—or they will go to someone else about it saying something like— “Guess what so and so did to me!”
You see, the first and best rule to go by when someone hurts us is to confront them about it without ever mentioning it to anybody else. This is so important to do because, as I am sure many of us have learned, many times when someone has done something to hurt us they did not even realize what they did, much less intend to do it. Therefore, if we would just confront the person who hurt us, then many perceived hurts and offenses would be resolved immediately. But how many people have held on to their hurts for years when the person that hurt them was oblivious to the fact of what they did simply because this offended person never followed this first step? When, if they would just have gone to the person, they could have resolved the issue on the spot instead of holding on to it for years.
On top of that, many times the things that people do to offend us are so small and petty that if we would be forced to deal with those things in this way (by confronting them), we would be too embarrassed to mention to them what hurt our feelings. What I am saying is that oftentimes the things that we get hurt over are really just silly. They are not big enough to even be worth confronting someone over. And let me assure you: if someone does something that upsets us and the prospect of confronting them about it seems ridiculous, then I can assure you that the fact that we are offended is indeed ridiculous.
For example, say someone in church does not acknowledge one of us in the service. They even looked right at you and didn’t even say hello, good morning, etc. What will we tend to do? Well, certainly we do not go to them and say, “You know, you looked right at me this morning and did not say anything to me, and I was wondering why.” Why would we not do this? Well, one reason is because we do not want our fellow church member to know that we were so sensitive and easily offended by something so petty. Another reason is because we simply don’t like confrontations. But what usually happens is we internalize our hurt feelings and allow the devil to cause us to speculate as to why they did not say anything to us. We start thinking things like “they must not like, respect, or value me”—speculating as to why they didn’t give them what they felt was their due attention. On top of that, they then go to others and begin to defame the other person, saying things like they do not care about them, etc. Maybe (just maybe) the other person did not intentionally ignore us. Perhaps they had something on their mind and did not consciously shun them.
But what if we, first of all, began giving our brothers and sisters in Christ the benefit of the doubt instead of having a speculative imagination and judging their motives? And then, if we are either certain that what they did was intentional and/or we cannot get past the hurt we experienced, what if we just confronted them about it? I can guarantee you that just putting into practice this first step would solve most of the issues we have with other Christians.
LOVE COVERS A MULTITUDE OF SINS
Then Jesus said that step number two is, if they will not listen to you and you cannot resolve it with them by yourself, you are to take one or two more and let them, in a sense, act as arbitrators between you and the one who hurt you.
Now this does not mean that we go to one or two of our brothers and sisters in Christ just to tell them what a lowdown dirty scoundrel the person who hurt us is. Getting others involved is strictly for the purpose of having someone come in who will have an objective viewpoint of the situation. In other words, bringing others into the quarrel is not to get the odds stacked in your favor or to get somebody else offended and upset with the person who offended you; it is for the purpose of having someone else hopefully help in resolving the dispute.
You see, sometimes when we have a dispute with someone else, we might think they have done us wrong, but they might disagree with our viewpoint. This is when a third or fourth party might be necessary to be an objective judge in our dispute. But, again, this is only for the purpose of seeking reconciliation with our sinning brother or sister.
But then, there might be situations where the sinning brother will not hear the arbitrators either. This is when Jesus said that we are to take it to the church that both parties of the dispute attend and let them hear the situation in order to make a judgment.
The important point is that we see the order here. First, we go (by ourselves) to one who sinned against us. Second, we let one or two know for the sole purpose of helping to resolve the situation. Thirdly, we take it to the church and let those who are spiritual authorities in our life make a judgment in the dispute.
But do you know what most people do? They do the exact opposite… They take it to the others in the church first and do not even consider confronting the other believer. According to Jesus’ teaching, this is the wrong process.
You see, we need to understand that when we are offended, the first thing the flesh wants to do is tell someone else. Our flesh just loves to “vent” by telling our friends the sins of others—especially when that sin affected us personally. But love does not do this: Love seeks to cover sins, not expose them (First Peter 4:8). Love will only inform someone else of the sins of another when it is genuinely seeking the restoration of the sinner.
But so many err in this way as well: They will go to others and start off by saying, “I am only telling you this so that you can pray for them, but…” Now, while this can be done out of genuine love for someone, my experience is that it usually is not. These are not gossiping about the sins and shortcomings of others because they love them so much but because their flesh just loves to uncover and expose the sins of other people. We need to be very careful about this. Whether we are a witness to or a victim of the sins of another, we should more often than not, keep it to ourselves and pray for that individual.
LET IT GO!
But I want us to now turn our attention to what Jesus said to do if that offender will not repent after all three of these steps have been taken. He said, “let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.”
What does this mean? Well, first of all, it could certainly mean that you’ve gotten to the place where church discipline must take place and you have to remove the person. But I want us to look at it from a different perspective: Notice that Jesus said, “let him be to you.” This basically implies to “let them be that way.” In other words, it means just to let it go—to forgive them and forget about it. We know this because just a few verses later, when Jesus concluded His teaching on what to do when our brother sins against us, Peter immediately asks the question— “Well, how many times do I have to forgive my brother?” You see, something had to have instigated Peter asking this question—and I believe this step in the process of dealing with those who sin against us is it.
But what did Jesus mean by saying that you are to let him be to you “like a heathen and a tax collector?” Again, it could mean that fellowship needs to be withdrawn, but it is important to understand that this does not mean— “Fine, if you want to be that way, then you just gained an enemy, buddy!” No, letting them be like a heathen or a tax collector to us does not mean that we treat them like an enemy as some have mistaken this statement to mean. We are called to love our enemies and Jesus Himself was called a friend of tax collectors and sinners. So, it should be fairly obvious that this statement is not a license to be unloving towards the one who sinned against us. What this statement means is that we need to treat them like we would a lost person—forgiving them for their sin against us and seeking to see him or her reconciled into right relationship with God. It means to let the problem go and continue to seek the restoration of your brother through prayer.
You see, we are commanded, if it is at all possible, to live peaceably with all men (Romans 12:18). So if we have done our best to seek reconciliation with someone and they still will not repent, the only thing left to do is to forgive them and forget about what they did to you, especially another Christian.
I can assure you that it is not worth holding on to, my brothers and sisters! It is not worth becoming embittered and resentful. This only keeps you in bondage and hinders God’s best from being accomplished in your life. So just let them be that way! Let them act like they are! If they have taken something from you, give them a little extra! This is what Jesus taught us to do, is it not? It is just not worth it, and I can assure you, God is able to add it back to you in fullness and abundance when you walk in His ways—which are love and forgiveness. Amen!?!
THE PRINCIPLE OF BINDING AND LOOSING
Then after Jesus covered these steps to reconciliation notice what He went on to say in verse 18: He said, “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.” It is important to note that Jesus had not changed the subject here. Although many have interpreted this verse in different ways, we need to understand that the context of this verse is still reconciliation and forgiveness.
So, the “binding and loosing” mentioned here must have more to do with “binding” our brothers and sisters to their sins or “loosing” them from their sins. This should become even more obvious when we understand that Jesus concluded His teaching with the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant where the literal binding and loosing of individuals is the illustration He used to describe the forgiveness or unforgiveness of debts. Of course, the principle of binding and loosing has to do with more than just forgiveness. The sphere of our authority is great and is not limited to one particular area (see 16:19). So, I am not saying that people’s sins and the consequences thereof are all we have the authority to bind and loose. But from the context here, we know that it definitely involves this.
Therefore, when Jesus said, “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven”, He was describing the authority that God has given us on earth to either bind someone to their sin’s consequences or to loose them from their sin’s consequences.
Of course, this requires some further explanation, so bear with me as I will attempt to explain what I mean by this: Jesus went on to say in verse 19 (which is still the same teaching, mind you), “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.”
Notice Jesus said “Again I say to you…” So what Jesus was doing in verse 19 was reiterating what He said in verse 18. In other words, I see verse 19 as kind of like the description of how to practically apply the binding and loosing Jesus just mentioned in the previous verse. So how do we bind and loose a brother or sister who sins against us? We bind and loose them through intercessory prayer which is done when two of us agree on earth concerning anything that we ask.
Now let me quickly interject this: Who are the two of us that are praying this prayer of agreement? Well, in context, you would have to say it is the one or two that we involved in our dispute earlier when we were attempting to reconcile our brother (see verse 16).
So, what do we see happening here? We see the believer who was sinned against joining together with the one or two that were privy to the situation and tried to help, interceding for the wandering sheep who is in need of restoration and reconciliation. And Jesus said that the result of this intercession is that it will be done for us by our Father in heaven!
You see, verse 19 clearly portrays the truth of verse 18 that if we bind or loose anything on earth that it will be bound or loosed in heaven because again notice what Jesus said in verse 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.” In other words, because of the authority God has given His church, whatever two or more born again believers agree in prayer to bind people to or to loose them from on the earth will be done for them by their Father in heaven.
You see, it is not that we have the power to forgive sins. Only God Himself has the ability to forgive sins. It is simply that we have been given the authoritative position by God as His legal representatives on the earth to loose people from the consequences of their sins and then to intercede on their behalf.
LIFE FOR DEATH
So here is a good question: When Jesus described this binding and loosing as two of us agreeing in prayer and petitioning the Father, what specifically are we asking God for? Let’s look over at First John chapter 5 to get our answer…
In First John 5:14-15 the apostle of love says, “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.” Then I like what the Message Bible says at the beginning of verse 16: “For instance…” The reason I like this is because of what John says immediately after the previous statements about prayer. He says, “If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He (being God) will give him (being the sinning brother) life for those who commit sin not leading to death. There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that.”
So this verse shows us specifically what Matthew 18:19 said we are agreeing together to ask the Father for: It is for God to grant them “life” (as opposed to “death”—for the wages of sin is death). In other words, when someone sins against us and we have gone through the necessary steps of reconciliation, we are to intercede for them and ask the Father to mercifully grant them “life” as opposed to the “death” that they might deserve.
Now based on what we see in the Scriptures, this one word “life” can have 3 different implications: The New Testament refers to three kinds of life—eternal life, resurrection life, or abundant life.
First of all, eternal life is defined as knowing the one true God and His Son Jesus Christ (John 17:3). So, if we intercede for someone—asking the Lord to grant them “eternal life”—we are asking God to bring them into a more fruitful and intimate relationship with Him and His Son. This is obviously an appropriate form of intercession for a believer who is living in sin simply because their relationship with God is waning.
Secondly, if we ask the Lord to grant our offender “resurrection life,” we are asking God to grant them freedom from the old man. Resurrection life is described as living a new life, not like the life we did before we were crucified with Christ. So, we can agree together, asking that God would grant them repentance from those old habits of the old man and walk in the newness of life.
Finally, there is abundant life, and this is the toughest one to ask the Father to grant to those who hurt us. Abundant life describes a better quality of life—one that is experiencing the abundance of God’s blessings. So, to pray for a brother or sister to have “abundant life” is to ask that they would be blessed and that their sins against us would not yield any harm in any area of their life.
You see, this is how we are to intercede for our brothers and sisters who sin against us: We are to ask the Lord to grant them eternal, resurrection, and even abundant life in place of the “death” that they deserve for the wrong things they have done to hurt or injure us. This is our duty as followers of Christ—to pray for those who spitefully abuse us (see Luke 6:28).
Now, even though we are to forgive people for their sins against us, sometimes we are not always to go through the steps of intercession for them because, as John went on to say, there is a sin leading to death and we are not supposed to pray for God to give them life for that. Of course, this does not mean that we are to stop praying for them; it just means that we are to pray for them in a different way. The apostle John was saying that there is a time to remove our intercession and not pray for God to bail them out of the fruit of their doings but rather to ask that they would reap what they have sown. This would be when they might need to reap the wages of their sin so that hopefully they might repent and be restored into fellowship with their God.
One obvious example of this is in First Corinthians chapter 5 where Paul made mention of the guy who was having an affair with his stepmother. In this situation, Paul said that he was turning him over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh that his spirit may be saved. What does this mean? It means that with some sins (i.e. what John called sins unto death), people need to reap the consequences in the natural so that they will hopefully repent and not face any of the eternal consequences.
DOES LOVE HAVE A LIMIT?
Now for the sake of time, I want you to notice what happened immediately after Jesus finished His teaching on forgiveness and reconciliation: In verse 21, Peter approaches Jesus and asks, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Basically, what Peter was saying was, “Lord, how many times do I have to go through these steps of reconciliation and then forgive my brother who offends me? Is seven times enough?”
Evidently when Peter heard this, his thought was exactly what many of you likely thought when you read this: Well, how many times am I to forgive someone who hurts or takes advantage of me? When can I stop seeking to be reconciled with them and stop forgiving them for what they do to me? Of course, we already know Jesus’ answer to these questions. He said, “I do not say to you up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” In other words, Jesus’ answer was that we are to offer an unlimited amount of forgiveness.
You see, forgiveness is such an important part of Christianity. It was absolutely an integral part of how we came into relationship with God. Therefore, it is also an important part of our walk henceforth. As Jesus told us through the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (See Matthew 18:23-35), God expects us to forgive our brothers as He has forgiven us. He is very serious about this! Love has no limit! Just as God has chosen to wipe our slate clean, separating our sins as far as the east is from the west, likewise God expects us to do the same with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Now, before we end this teaching, let me say this… While some of these principles that we discussed this month are also applicable to what we should do when we are sinned against by unbelievers, these steps were primarily given so that we would know how to handle these types of situations within the church walls. And Jesus gave us this because He wants His body to walk in unity and in love towards one another. For how will the lost know that there is a God? John 13:35 says that they will know this by the love that we have for one another. Selah!
THE PARABLE OF THE UNFORGIVING SERVANT
In this parable of the unforgiving servant, Jesus used a powerful illustration that shows us why we must forgive our brothers and sisters to the extent that He has commanded us to… He likens God to the King of a particular kingdom, and this king wanted to settle accounts with his servants. One in particular owed him ten thousand talents (I have heard that that equates to about four hundred million dollars). When the king’s judgments were made known to this particular servant, he threw himself down before the king and begged for patience and mercy until he could pay back the debt.
Verse 25 says “but as he was not able to pay.” To me, the way this is worded shows me that there was no way that he could have paid it. It is a statement that basically says, “And, of course, he was not able to pay back that kind of debt.” Likewise, we could not ever have done enough works to deserve forgiveness. Our debt towards Him was so large that it was impossible to deserve the mercy He showed us.
Now an important thing to point out from verse 26 is the attitude of the servant as he pleaded for mercy. He wanted mercy so that he could pay back the debt. He was not asking the king to just cancel the debt. This shows a truly repentant heart. He wanted to do what he could to make it right. You see, if you are truly sorry for what you have done you will have a heart to make it right and not just expect someone to give you a clean slate. Now, of course, we know we cannot make our sin debt to God right no matter how hard we try but the principle still holds true. Our repentant heart will be to serve Him for the massive dept He forgave us of.
Of course, we know that the king was moved with compassion, He released the servant (i.e. loosed him), and he forgave him of the total four hundred-million-dollar debt that he owed.
The story then progresses to that same servant going out and finding a fellow servant who owed him a hundred denarii (probably only around twenty dollars). When he found that fellow servant he grabbed him by the throat and said, “Pay me what you owe me!” Notice what the other servant’s response was in verse 29… It was exactly the same response that the original servant gave to the master! But the outcome was different… The servant who was forgiven of the huge debt threw his fellow servant into prison till he could pay back the little debt that he owed.
There is another important point here… How was this servant going to be able to pay back the debt while he was imprisoned? That is exactly what we do when we do not forgive people… Instead of showing them mercy and restoring them into your good graces, we ostracize them to where they do not have the opportunity to make up for their mistakes against us. If we would just give them grace then that kind of unconditional love would probably end up bringing conviction to them and they would be more apt to pay us back.
When this got back to the king, he was angry. He called that servant back to himself and said some powerful things… He said, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?” (verse 32-33)
THE HINDRANCE TO WALKING IN FORGIVENESS
You see, the main issue of this parable is compassion and pity. These virtues really describe being touched with the feelings of another—that is, being able to sympathize or empathize with them. But how do we do that? By staying mindful of the great sin debt that God canceled on our behalf. If we would keep this fresh on our minds then when our brother sins against us we can just refer back to all that God has forgiven us of and be able to have compassion on them.
You see, this is the main point of the parable… We ought to forgive our brothers and sisters in Christ because God has forgiven us of infinitely more than they could have ever done to us. In other words, in light of how much mercy God has given us, forgiving the brethren of the sins that they commit against us should be no problem whatsoever.
Let me give it to you the way that God gave it to me several years ago…
Back in the first few years of my Christian walk I was spending some time with the Lord and was specifically thanking the Lord for making me the righteousness of God in Christ. I was praising Him for putting me in right standing with Him not by anything good that I had done but simply by His awesome grace. As the words—“Thank you Lord for freely putting me in right standing with You”—came out of my mouth, I heard the Lord say to me, “Freely you have received, freely give!”
What I knew Him to be saying was, “Just as you have freely received right-standing with Me, you freely give right-standing with you to other people.” In other words, when people are hurtful, hateful, and just plain ugly towards me I should grant them good-standing to me even though they do not deserve it. Why? Because what someone does to me in the natural can not hold a candle to what I have done to God in the spiritual. It was my sin that put Jesus on that cross. He would not have had to die in my place if I would have not sinned against Him. And no one has ever done anything so wicked to me as killing my own son. Therefore, if God can extend me grace for all that I have done against Him, then I most certainly can extend grace to someone who has done much less than that to me.
You see, this is the main reason why a believer has such a hard time forgiving someone else for an offense… It is because they are totally focused on the sin committed against them and are absolutely not considering the sin God has forgiven them of. If we would just take the time to consider all that God has forgiven us of when someone has hurt us, we would be more able to show mercy to the ones who have hurt us.
It is just a matter of perspective… Are we going to magnify the sins people commit against us or rather, are we going to choose to consider all that we have been forgiven of by God?
Freely we have received, so freely we ought to give!