Matthew 18:21 – 35
The dynamics of forgiveness
Context: Matthew 18:15 “If your brother sins against you...” Implies that by going to them you have forgiven them.
I. QUESTION: How do I forgive?
A. Peter asks about limits.
1. How many times?
a. Seven times was double plus one the cultural and religious standard.
b. Setting a limit means that forgiveness is not unconditional.
2. How much are we to forgive?
a. Is Peter trying to set fences?
b. Is there a point where he say “enough?”
B. Jesus’ response:
1. 77 times (or other translations 7 x 70)
2. Basically Jesus was saying “unlimited.” (If we keep track of how many times we have forgiven, then we haven’t forgiven the first time.)
II. ILLUSTRATION: Forgive like God forgave you.
A. Our debt is beyond counting.
1. [v 24] the Greek word for 10,000 is “myriad.” (Literally meaning more that we can count.)
2. In light of this we should have no problem with the “small” debts of others.
3. Trouble is we see ourselves as “good” and without these kinds of spiritual debts.
B. Our debt is unpayable.
1. We “earned” the debt of sin. God offers to cancel (unearned) the debt. This is called “grace” (unearned kindness).
2. [vv 26, 27] The man asked for patience but RECEIVED mercy.
a. He was condemned to slavery.
b. He was about to lose everything.
c. He deserved to suffer miserable.
d. Those around him were about to suffer too (as is often the case with sin)
C. Our debt is forgiven this way:
1. [v 27] It is “canceled” (literally “forgiven”)
2. [v 27] We are “let go” (literally “to free fully”)
a. We are released from the eternal consequences and obligations of our debt of sin.
b. However, all of God’s covenants and promises are “conditional.”
III. PROBLEM: Our willingness to forgive.
A. The man’s actions were premeditated.
1. [v 28] He “found” (literally “looked for”) the man who owed him.
2. This was not a chance meeting.
3. Demonstrates knowledge and will (the definition of sin).
B. He man’s actions were aggressive.
1. [v 28] He was violent, and “grabbed him” and “began to choke him.”
2. [v 29] His debtor asked for patience (jut like he did).
C. His actions were justified (under the law).
1. [v 30] He refused to have patience or mercy. It was his right.
2. He threw the man into prison. It was his right.
D. His actions were disturbing.
1. His attitude and behavior distressed others.
2. [v 31] The Greek is very strong, literally it means “violently/vehemently distressed.” In other words, they were outraged.
IV. REALITY: Forgiven people forgive.
A. The king considered the man “wicked.” (Value judgement based on behavior and standards.)
1. [v 32] Wicked here literally means “hurtful” which is the same word used to described Satan. (Unforgiveness puts us in the same category as the devil.)
2. He refused to treat others the way he had been treated. This shows that he did not really understand the concept of mercy and forgiveness.
B. The king treated the man “in kind.”
1. SPIRITUAL PRINCIPLE: How we treat others is the way God will treat us.
a. The book of 1 John is clear: our relationship with others is a reflection of our relationship with God.
b. Forgiven people forgive! (It is who and what a forgiven person is and does.)
(Ill.) I can hear “Forest Gump” say “Forgiven is as forgiven does.”
2. The result of the lack of mercy... unforgiving... is eternal torture.
[The unspoken issue of the “jailers.” There are no jailers in eternal hell. However, the Greek indicates (here as well as others) the consequences of opening ourselves up to demonic attack/control.]
a. We owe a debt we cannot repay.
b. God has canceled the debt by actually paying it on the cross.
c. BUT we refuse to accept it by refusing to forgive others.
(Ill.) Jesus taught us to pray “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” [Matthew 6:12] “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.” [Luke 11:14] (A “debt” is something we can hold against. A “sin” is a violation against.)
“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” [Matthew 6:14 – 15]
How much clearer could Jesus have been? The problem is our theology. We often say we cannot do anything to earn or deserve our salvation and that salvation is offered freely, in other words “unconditional.” But here Jesus is clearly saying we if we do not forgive, we will not be forgiven.
(Ill.) David has just killed the giant Goliath and won the war against the Philistines because of this act. On the return home, the women sang “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.” [1 Samuel 18:6] Saul’s reaction? “Saul was very angry; this refrain galled him.” [1 Samuel 18:7a] The result? “The next day an evil spirit from God came forcefully upon Saul.” [1 Samuel 18:10a] [see Matthew 18:34]
***** By holding the anger, keeping the debt or sin of others, we refuse to forgive. When we refuse to forgive, we refuse the forgiveness God offers to us. *****
REALITY: this is how we will be treated unless we forgive.
V. To do:
A. Forgive from the “heart.”
1. Forgiveness is a choice, an act of the will the deals with our thoughts and feelings.
2. Forgiveness determines your actions and behavior patterns.
B. Act differently towards the offender than an unforgiving attitude would.
1. Don’t count it against the person. (Ill. The person who’s spouse gets “historical” during an argument.)
2. We stop bothering the person. No more attacks.
3. We give up what we think is ours.
4. We give up our claim for “justice.”
5. We stop insisting that we are right.
VI. CONCLUSION: “A Christian is not flawless, but forgiven.”
A. God’s forgiveness is beyond what we can imagine.
B. The things against otters are minor compared to the things against us.
C. The choice is yours.
1. Forgive and be free.
2. Treat others the way you want God to treat you.
Remember this is your choice, your behavior, your responsibility.