This morning we look at Matthew 18:21-35 and learn the true meaning behind Forgiveness. Forgiving others is not just a command which Christ gives to us, but something which heals us from bitterness.
Church members and friends can support St. John's By-the-Sea by visiting our website https://www.stjohnsbythesea.com/donate, where a donation can be made by PayPal or credit card, if you prefer that to mailing your donations to the church.
The Freedom of Forgiveness
Our Epistle Lesson begins with Paul thanking God for the Philippians. Their Bishop, Epaphroditus, brought Paul a substantial love offering to help cover his costs while he sat in house arrest in Rome. Although he is in chains, you can hear the thankfulness Paul has for this church which has constantly supported him in his ministry. But it might not have been that way if he didn’t put forgiveness first.
Philippi, which Paul came to in Acts 16, was Paul’s first mission to Europe, Macedonia specifically. It was a retirement town for soldiers and very loyal to Rome. Philippi had no synagogues, which is where Paul always went to preach when he came to a town. So instead, he found some women praying by a river and began evangelizing there.
Soon, a slave girl with a “fortune-telling” demon began following Paul around for days on end, yelling out and embarrassing Paul, Silas and Luke and their entourage. Finally, Paul cast the demon out.
The girl’s owner, who apparently made a lot of money from her, was furious, had them beaten and thrown in jail. Paul’s time in prison in prayer led to the conversion of the Jailer and many others, but his behavior afterwards was a model as well. You see, Paul was a citizen of Rome. And the owner, the soldiers and everyone else, had no right to beat him or put Paul in jail. Paul could have been bitter and had their citizenship revoked, he could have had some of them executed. But despite the poor treatment, he forgave them, showing Christ rather than the justice they deserved.
Later, he would explain in Hebrews how not offering forgiveness causes us a root of bitterness, which not only stops grace, but causes a “root of bitterness” to spring up causing trouble and defilement.”
I read the story of how a Christian Counselor ministering to children from divorced families noticed how they constantly struggled with anger and bitterness about their divided families. One day she had the kids in one room, took a bowl of water, and gave each child a vial of food coloring. She told them their food coloring was their anger toward their families which they keep inside and told them to squirt as much from their vials into the water as they felt represented their pain.
Some squirted a couple drops; others squirted in everything. Then they watched as the water turned black from the spread of the colors. Then she asked “Do you know why it was so black? That’s because light can’t get through. This is what our souls look like when we let bitterness get hold of us. 1 John 1:5 “…God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.”
When lives are filled with bitterness and unforgiveness, it’s a sign God’s light isn’t shining through, and unforgiving hearts stay filled with hatred, anger, and pain. And that’s why Jesus insists we forgive others. “… if you do not forgive others their sins, neither will your Father forgive your sins.” Matthew 6:15 (right after Lord’s Prayer)
Really? God won’t forgive my sins if I don’t forgive others? Why? Because when we don’t forgive others, it damages us.
“Forgiveness doesn't make the other person right, it frees you."
Forgiveness doesn’t excuse their actions, it stops their actions, their poison, from destroying your heart. And keeping your soul from getting to the point where you can’t see God’s light shine through.
It is so easy to see as bitterness and unforgiveness are hobbies in society today. People want to be offended by everything they can to justify their hatred of others with different views. It has become a culture of bitterness because it is a culture that has thrown away God’s grace.
So why, if this is so toxic, do people WANT to CLING on to bitterness? Well, there’s a couple of reasons, and they’re both found in our lesson from Matthew:
1st – they’ve been hurt. Jesus told a parable about a man who owed a King 10,000 talents. That’s roughly equivalent to about $15 million. And, of course, no matter how hard that first man had tried, there was no way he was ever going to pay off such an enormous debt. None of us could ever do that, and that’s the point of Jesus’ parable. Jesus wanted to emphasize first and foremost how much God has forgiven us.
After he was forgiven, the man met a man who owed HIM money. 100 denarii. For that, you are looking at about 10K. That’s a lot of money. It’s not 15 M, but I am sure that if a friend owed you 10k, you it’s not just something that is easy to forgive. That’s the point!
What Jesus was acknowledging is that when people hurt you… it’s not chump change, it’s not imaginary. Mental and emotional pain is so easy to downplay, especially in others, but it is real and it is really painful.
Jesus is asking us to forgive significant offenses. And He understands the pain you feel. But what He’s trying to get us to see is that - compared to the debt He forgave us – it’s nothing. God says: “I forgave YOU all of this… so if you’re my child you need to do that for others.”
The first reason people hang on to their bitterness is because they’ve been seriously hurt. The 2nd reason people hang onto bitterness… is because it gives them control. Did you catch Peter’s question to Jesus in vs. 21? “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” He’s asking – when do I get to say ENOUGH? When do I get to refuse to forgive them?
Peter wants to keep score. He wants to count to 7, and once he reached the 7th sin, he can be a “forgiving” person without having to forgive. And this includes not constantly remembering and holding it over the other person like certain husbands can tend to do to their wives.
That remembering is an attempt to hold power and not completely forgive, because that power we feel safer and in control over the person who’s offended you. It’s ungodly.
2 questions: Do I have to forgive someone who doesn’t ask me? Do I have to trust them again? Ok, First, someone who doesn’t ask, because in the parable, both ask, right. Well, I wouldn’t think you should have to, but I’m not God. In Mark 11:25 Jesus says: “when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” Theres your answer!
Jesus doesn’t say we should ONLY forgive people if they ask or if they’re sorry. He says “If you hold anything against anyone forgive them… so that God can forgive you. And why should I forgive someone who doesn’t ASK - who isn’t sorry? Again, bitterness damages us.
Now for the second question. In the books of Samuel, David was serving in the court of King Saul. All went well for David until it became obvious that the people loved him more than Saul. (1,000/10,000) This eventually led to jealous fury and Saul attempted to hurt/kill David.
Saul frequently apologized for his angry outbursts and bad behavior. And David forgave him. But did David remain in that house? No, he didn’t. He removed himself from the situation and sought his personal safety. A couple of time David had the opportunity to take revenge and kill Saul… but he refused. Partly because Saul was the Lord’s anointed. But partly because he truly cared for Saul and had forgiven him. But, importantly he removed himself from the danger.
Forgiveness is not just something we grant to others, but forgiveness heals, purifies our brokenness even when the person who hurt us is unrepentant. And, there’s one thing more forgiveness does --- it makes us into missionaries to those around us, like Paul.
In 2 Cor. 5, Paul tells us that forgiveness is a missionary effort to those who have done damage to us and others, and if we are faithful in obeying Christ at his command, we may be the vehicle God uses to heal the lives of those imprisoned by their sin… and bring them salvation.