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!