Posted by: brittany marie | March 10, 2008

Forgiveness – Matt.18


I do believe I’ve taken that word for granted. It’s said in church a lot and thrown around by believers and non-believers. The treatment it receives nowadays is reminiscent of how the word “love” is also treated…it’s easy to say. Easy to speak. But to live it out…that’s a different story all together.

[ Matthew 18 ; Luke 6 ; Colossians 3 ; 1 John 2 ]

But, I like Jesus, and he had some things to say about forgiveness.

Matthew 18 seemed like a good place to start as a good portion of it deals with conflict and forgiveness. It’s funny though what is included before and after.

Verses 1-4 are about how the greatest in the kingdom of heaven are those who humble themselves as children. Verses 5-11 are about how to treat these “children.” There are severe consequences and warnings against looking down on them or causing one of them to sin, “For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost.” Verses 12-14 details how the Father is not willing that any of those little ones should be lost. Verses 15-17 then tells how to treat a brother with whom there is conflict. 18-20 are about binding and loosing… 21-22 is about forgiving 77 times… 23-35 is a story (parable) of what the kingdom of heaven is like when it comes to forgiveness. It’s the tale of an ungrateful servant and the sentence put upon him by the king.

I’m slightly thrown off by this collection of things that Jesus said. How do they relate? What does binding and loosing in 11-20 have to do with forgiving 77 times?

Perhaps this section begins with the disciples in the midst of a disagreement. They want to know who the greatest in the kingdom will be…and in response Jesus calls this kid over and tells the disciples to basically turn [G4762 // strepho: turn quite around or reverse (literally or figuratively)] and be like this child: humble [G5013 // tapeinoo: to depress; figuratively, to humiliate (in condition or heart) — abase, bring low, humble (self), or literally, to level a mountain or a hill.] The state of children in that day wasn’t a good one. They had no rights or social status. If that’s greatness in the kingdom of heaven it not only was radical in the original context, but even now.

Verse 7 declares woe for those who cause one of this “children” to stumble. The word there is [G4625 // skandalo: scandal; snare (figuratively, cause of displeasure or sin); originally was “the name of the part of a trap to which the bait is attached”]. This theme continues and you can see the great importance that the Father places on these children…from finding them to being unwilling that they be lost.

Now the entrance of the section about conflict doesn’t seem so random. Verse 10 has Jesus telling the disciples not despise or look down upon these children. He’s still talking in reference to their question about the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Perhaps the disciples had been arguing and in the process dissention had been rising along with cruel feelings or intentions toward one another.

I’m not sure. All I know is that Christ hasn’t finished answering their question. And in verse 15 he enters into the proper way to deal with conflict: If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

And how are we to treat pagans and tax collectors? In 1st Peter we are called to live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

Really though, how many fights and issues would have been resolved with this solution? If people went first to the person they had a problem with before skipping to the 2nd and 3rd steps…

So in 18 when Christ talks about the power to bind and loose… Duling says “Moreover, the three-step legal process in Matthew 18:15-17 receives divine ratification by the Matthean “binding and loosing.” ” Perhaps following this plan told be Christ and also found in the Torah [Deut. 19:15] and in Rabbinic practice [With respect to Deuteronomy 19:15, “Samuel said: Whoever sins against his brother, he must say to him, I have sinned against you. If he hears, it is well; if not let him bring others, and let him appease him before them” (y. Yoma 45c)]

Verses 19 and 20 then could be continuing this divine approval by saying that when the above process is carried out as Christ desired then God would be with those involved. A major part of this would indeed be prayer and so Christ is assuring that those who come together to resolve conflict and to ask for some specific thing, then it would be done…and this even reminds them that they are of one family, on the same side. United.

But then Peter, perhaps unsatisfied with the answer of his rabbi, and maybe even annoyed, asks “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” The number seven meant a good deal in Hebrew culture. It was the number of completion, so in affect, Peter is asking when he can cut off forgiveness…after how many offenses can I refuse forgiveness.

Jesus responds with the number of 77, not implying that 77 times is good, but rather that there is no number at which forgiveness ends. And then he follows with a story of a man who received forgiveness but when called upon, did not give it out. And he called that an aspect of the kingdom of heaven…that those who did not forgive would not be forgiven.


Basically, Christ has told them that they are to be children to be great. Then he’s told them how great the Father’s affection is for them as the punishments against those who cause stumbling are pretty serious. After relaying the Father’s view of these children, then Christ continues with a softer rebuke on how to handle conflicts when they arise. And then he follows with a more serious story addressing the consequence afforded those who refuse to work as God calls…in forgiveness.

I’ll go back to the other passages later on…



Dennis C. Duling:


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