Three steps of Admonition
I like to ask Christians if they are familiar with Matthew 18. Most biblically knowledgeable Christians respond,“That is the chapter about what we are supposed to do if our neighbor sins against us. Jesus teaches us to follow the three-step process of going to them individually, then with one or two others and then, if they still won’t listen and confess their sin, to tell it to the church.” We are often quite good at remembering these three steps of admonition.
But then I follow up with the question, “What else is in Matthew 18?”
People are normally stumped. We remember the three steps, but not the rest. And the rest of Matthew 18, the context of the three steps (which are actually only three verses in a 35-verse chapter), is incredibly important.
Comparing Billions to Thousands
The rest of the chapter includes Jesus teaching about humility, the Parable of the Lost Sheep, and the ity of the church to bind and loose sins. The chapter ends with Jesus’ emphasis on horizontal forgiveness between Christians, as he teaches Peter to forgive “seventy-seven times” and then blesses us with the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. In that parable, the first servant owes his master 10,000 talents (probably of gold). This was a HUGE amount. When the Queen of Sheba presented her exorbitant gift to King Solomon (1 Kings 10:10), it was only 120 talents of gold. Dr. Jeffrey Gibbs notes in the Concordia Commentary on Matthew that it would take the first servant at least 1,000 years to pay off such a debt. Yet, his gracious master forgives the debt entirely. Then the first servant comes across a fellow servant who owes him money — 100 denarii — about three months’ wages (perhaps equivalent to $10,000 for us today). This is a significant amount of money, yet it pales in comparison to what the first servant owed, like comparing billions to thousands.
When we Christians find ourselves in conflict with others, it is often over something significant. In church it may be whether or not to continue funding a particular ministry as stewardship revenues decline, a harsh snub by someone in another family, or a business deal that has gone sour with a fellow member. Yet, we are called by our Lord Jesus to love everyone, even those we are in conflict with.
Even if someone has sinned against us in some significant way, their sin still pales in comparison to what our Lord Jesus has forgiven us.
When we realize the scope of what Jesus has done to forgive us for “billions” and to vertically reconcile us to His Father, then it should always be possible for us to forgive our fellow humans horizontally for “thousands.” We can use sincere, explicit, Gospel-focused language to seek reconciliation (e.g., “I’m sorry that I said what I did. Would you please forgive me?”).
May our Lord grant us the grace to show His forgiveness through our forgiveness of others.