Today: [Matthew 18] The Utter and Absolute Need to Forgive Others. In Matthew 18, we see a much-neglected instruction from Jesus himself about bringing our unresolved offenses publically before the church. While this is commanded directly by Jesus, it is almost unheard of in modern church culture. Instead, offenses are swept under the rug, out of sight, and disagreements and judgments fester among those for whom Christ died until the unity of the faith is nearly extinct among us. Are you offended? What are you prepared to do about it? Are you willing to go before the church and solve your grievances as prescribed by the words of Jesus Himself?
[Mat 18:1-35 KJV] 1 At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? 2 And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, 3 And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. 6 But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and [that] he were drowned in the depth of the sea. 7 Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh! 8 Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast [them] from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. 9 And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast [it] from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire. 10 Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven. 11 For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost. 12 How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray? 13 And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that [sheep], than of the ninety and nine which went not astray. 14 Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish. 15 Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. 16 But if he will not hear [thee, then] take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. 17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell [it] unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.
After Jesus was declared to be the son of God by Peter, and after the transfiguration, the disciples are thinking through the implications of these things, and become concerned about each man’s position in what they expect to be the immediate setting up of an earthly kingdom. They want to know who will be greatest in the coming kingdom; therefore, Jesus, anticipating the controversy, asks the rhetorical question, “who will be greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” The language used here is interesting and bears an application for us today more than we realize.
Now, if we are going to look at something in the original language we know the gospels were written in, we must ask ourselves, was this the language Jesus was actually speaking? There were four languages common to the era and the region where Jesus’ ministry was walked out – those were Latin, Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew. We have direct quotations in two places where Jesus spoke Aramaic and one instance (the dialogue with the woman at the well) that it seems certain that Jesus spoke Greek. Greek was to the ancient world what English is today, the common international language. Jesus, no doubt was fluent in Hebrew, but scholarship does not conclude based on several factors that Hebrew would have been the exclusive language that Jesus spoke. To make an exact determination would require an exercise in forensic, linguistic criticism of a particular passage, but suffice to say that we are not doing violence to the scripture to look at a Greek definition and imply that its meaning has a bearing on what Jesus actually intended.
When Jesus asks the question “who would be greatest,” He is using the Greek word “mega,” He is saying, “who would be mega among you.” This is the same term we use to apply to “mega” church, or “mega” ministry, etc. If you look in the annals of those considered the modern-day leaders of church culture, they are almost totally made up of those who are “mega” among us. Yet Jesus repudiates this metric saying that if we want to be “mega” in the kingdom, we must come as a little child, and be receptive as a little child, and accepting and forgiving as a little child. What causes us to be other than child-like in our faith? Anyone who has grown up in, or spent years in the faith will become or will have to resist the temptation to become jaded in their views, because of the offenses, religious and otherwise that abound in Christian culture. For centuries and certainly in the climate of today’s church, it is not an exaggeration to observe that Christians are some of the most offendable people on the planet. Jesus repudiates the taking of the offense and those from whom offenses originate. Let us remember the words of the Psalmist in Psa. 119:
[Psa 119:165 KJV] 165 Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them.
Are you offended? Let the word of God, that great discerner, identify you. Today, carrying an offense is not a vice, but an art form. People wrap their whole lives up in the robes of crimson-stained offense as though that is their inalienable, God-given right that they will fight to the death to defend. Yet the testimony of God is sure; according to Psalms 119:165, if we are offended, we must admit, based on scriptural declaration, it is an indicator that we do not love the Word, God’s holy law.
What is the solution then? Verse 8 tells us: if your eye (what you see) offends you, pluck it out. If your foot (where you are going) offends you, cut it off! In other words, as Matthew 7:1 tells us, LOSE YOUR OPINION! In the information age, when we are bombarded with the narrative of offense, as part of the very fabric of the society we live in, rare is the individual who makes a choice, to radically excise from their thinking the mental scaffolding on the inside of him, on which offense is constructed. Yet, Jesus makes it so clear to us that offense, opinion, and the victim mentality is so poisonous as to merit the metaphor of actually maiming your own body if necessary to be rid of the shirt-sleeve offendable nature that our culture enshrines as its highest ethic.
We then come to the issue of trespass and personal grievances. In verses 15-17, Jesus gives specific instructions that we are to follow if you insist on decrying the wrong that has been done to you by another brother or sister in Christ. 1.) tell the culprit of your trespass that they have offended you. The expectation is that two brothers and sisters in Christ would immediately resolve the matter in unity and humility as befitting those for whom Christ died. 2.) if harmony is not restored, get one or two other people involved, and repeat step number one. Surely in light of the cold calculus of disinterested parties, the two bickering believers will come to their senses and settle the matter. 3.) if, against all expectations, the restoration process goes this far and is not settled, then bring the matter before the entire assembly, and if peace is not restored, let the offender(s) be considered a publican and a heathen and put out of the church.
Is this something you want to get involved in? You need to understand that if someone was put out of the church in the first century, it meant more than they were not invited to the Sunday covered dish dinner! In the early church, to put someone out of the assembly was understood to include their eternal damnation to hell itself. Is that how far you are willing to go to get your just desserts? Let’s remember the words of Paul on this very matter in 1 Corinthians:
[1Co 6:1-8 KJV] 1 Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints? 2 Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters? 3 Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life? 4 If then ye have judgments of things pertaining to this life, set them to judge who are least esteemed in the church. 5 I speak to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? no, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren? 6 But brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers. 7 Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? why do ye not rather [suffer yourselves to] be defrauded? 8 Nay, ye do wrong, and defraud, and that [your] brethren.
The point is, let us forgive. The fact of the matter is that today when others are offended, the last thing they do is go to that person with any thought of restoration. More commonly, when a believer is offended, the first resort is to go to the leadership and demand that the pastor or elders solve the matter for them. That is totally against what the scripture teaches. Yet, at the same time, even if a matter goes unresolved, can you picture in the church you attend anyone EVER being allowed to bring an unresolved, personal grudge up to the congregation between the worship service and the taking of the offering? Hardly. That is how far afield Christian culture has strayed so egregiously from the pattern established and, in fact, mandated by the Savior Himself. The defacto attitude today is we don’t care what Jesus said in Matthew 18:16, we have our congregation to think of and will not surrender our personal agenda even to the mandates of Jesus Himself.
18 Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. 21 Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? 22 Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven. 23 Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. 24 And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. 25 But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. 27 Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt. 28 But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took [him] by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. 29 And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. 30 And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt. 31 So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. 32 Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: 33 Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? 34 And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. 35 So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.
In verse 18, Jesus cites a truth regarding agreement that is very important to make a note of. In context, it is dealing with the implications of the whole congregation dealing with an offense in their midst. If you bring a matter before the whole church, Jesus is saying that whatever the decision of the church might be, that heaven itself will ratify and stand by the judgment. Whoever and whatever is loosed in earth will be loosed in heaven, and whoever is bound on earth will be bound in heaven. Do you see the power of the corporate body of Christ, even if we are only talking about two or three people coming together in agreement? All of heaven will reconfigure itself in a matter when two or three saints make up their mind, seek the face of God and take a position in a matter, even if it is only a small matter between friends. Is there any wonder that the enemy so intently (and effectively) has lobbied against God’s people coming into agreement. The existence in the past of around 16,000 groups, but currently as of 2018, a more accurate number would be 40,000. Forty thousand disagreements, polluting the agreement that Jesus is saying, will galvanize all heaven and earth into action to bring about divine justice among men! What are we to do? You can’t control what others do, but you can make it your determination to be a part of the solution and not part of the problem!
Having been instructed about dealing with a lack of agreement among them, Peter can’t take it anymore. He can understand the need to forgive and be magnanimous, but surely there is a limit! Therefore, Peter asks in v. 21 – how many times must he forgive (throwing out a spiritual sounding suggestion of surely no more than seven before he would be justified in holding an offense)? Jesus obliterates this false boundary, by declaring man must forgive 70 times 7! In other words, we are to forgive ad Infinitum. He then gives the parable of a servant who was forgiven a great debt, yet was unwilling to forgive a very slight and small debt of another toward himself. Because of this person’s unwillingness to relinquish offense, he is turned over to the tormentors and will not be delivered until his debt to his Lord is satisfied. What happens when we fail to forgive? The implication of the parable is sure; if you refuse to forgive, then you forfeit the magnanimity of Christ in forbearing judgments against your own life for your own personal sin. A dread prospect, but undeniably what Jesus is saying. We treat a struggle to forgive another as something others should feel sorry for us for. Jesus, on the other hand, most sternly commands us in no uncertain terms to forgive and forgive again for to do otherwise is to put ourselves in jeopardy that would be difficult to exaggerate.
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