Matthew 18:15 (NIV)
“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.
It appears that the Holy Spirit wants us to deal with the issue of sin within our relationships. As the Apostle John admonishes us:
1 John 3:1-10 (NIV)
See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. 2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. 3 All who have this hope in Him purify themselves, just as He is pure. 4 Everyone who sins breaks the Law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. 5 But you know that He appeared so that He might take away our sins. And in Him is no sin. 6 No one who lives in Him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen Him or known Him. 7 Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as He is righteous. 8 The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. 9 No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. 10 This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.
So in the context of this “post resurrection” understanding brought to us by John, let’s go back to the matter Jesus discusses with His disciples and followers while He was still with them:
Matthew 18:15-20 (NRSV) – Dealing with Sin in the Church
15 “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out their offense when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that brother or sister. 16 But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. (Cf. Deuteronomy 19:15) 17 If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a pagan or a tax collector. 18 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you release on earth will be released in heaven. 19 Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
An authentic encounter with Jesus Christ should produce a discernible change of heart within an individual. It is not enough to simply know about Jesus; rather, a person must enter into an intimate relationship with Him … experience the new birth (born of God through His Spirit) … conceived in deep repentance and complete surrender to Jesus as Lord and Savior. John tells us that one who is born of God will not continue to sin because the Holy Spirit within them will bring conviction to their heart. This conviction will lead to confession of the sin. And as John instructed: “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (Cf. 1 John 1:9) Likewise, we are called to have this same mindset of forgiveness with one another. (Cf. Colossians 3:13) Indeed, I think the Apostle James brings additional perspective on forgiveness when he enjoins us “to confess our sins to each other and to pray for one another so that we may be healed.” (Cf. James 5:13-16) I think his message is that not only should we “release” the one who sins against us, but we should advocate in prayer for their “release” in heaven. In other words, when we forgive someone, we should ask God to forgive them as well. It does not necessarily change the consequence(s) of their sin(s), but the intent is to release the debt owed for their offense just as God in Christ released you….
Jesus taught that when we pray to God, we should ask for and receive forgiveness for our sins (trespasses or debts) because we have forgiven those who have sinned or trespassed against us. What we are asking for is the “release” of the debt we owe for our own conduct toward God. We plead for the blood of Jesus to atone for our sin. We ask for His grace to be extended to us. So it is “expected” that we have forgiven others with the same grace that we have asked of the Father for ourselves. Jesus noted: “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Cf. Matthew 6:9-15) With this context in mind, I encourage you to revisit Matthew 18:18 again: “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you release on earth will be released in heaven.” Consider that if you or I withhold forgiveness from someone (bind it on earth); then it could be that our own prayers for forgiveness will be withheld from us (bound in heaven). It could be that we are guilty of the same sin(s) committed against us. Just a thought … in case you never committed the act of adultery but did so in your heart with a spirit of lust or covetousness. Remember, Jesus has extended the threshold of sinfulness beyond physical deeds to include the malicious intentions of our hearts. For example, our tongues (our words) can wound the spirit or even murder the life of another person. If you have ever physically or emotionally bullied others, you have in essence murdered them in your heart….
Matthew 5:21-24 (NIV)
21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder (Cf. Exodus 20:13) and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister without cause will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ (an Aramaic term of contempt or verbal abuse) is answerable to the council. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. 23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.
More than our tithes and offerings … more than our gifts or sacrifices of praise … God is concerned with the thoughts and intents of our hearts. He observes how we demonstrate our love for other people. Is our love sincere or just lip service? Is our love for others manifested in our prayers? God knows in truth. In Christ Jesus, the love of God embodied in the greatest act of forgiveness … the release of our own sin debt. Likewise, it is our forgiveness of others that expresses our love for them. Oh, it may be difficult in our human nature to do so; but the precepts presented here in Scripture are too obvious for us to disregard or dismiss. Forgiveness does not mean what someone else did to you was acceptable. It was wrong. It was painful. It impacted, diminished, or desecrated your life in some way. What they did should NOT be tolerated; however, it can still be forgiven. You can still “release” them and pray for them … even if reconciliation with you is not possible. In doing so, you affirm God has been merciful to you…. Remember, God did not excuse our sins! What He did was release us from the judgment for them (death). In most cases, we all still suffer from the consequences of our sin. Perhaps this is why James encouraged us to confess our sins to each other and to pray for one another so that we may be healed of our brokenness….
Consider what Paul declared: “Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through Him! “For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life!” (Cf. Romans 5:9-10) I believe forgiveness is probably the most powerful demonstration of love ever conceived in the heart of God. And if we are to love one another as He has loved us, then forgiveness of others must be within our hearts as well. The riches of His kindness, longsuffering, and patience is intended to lead us to repentance. (Cf. Romans 2:4) Perhaps, if we too acted with kindness and forgiveness, the one who offended us might be granted repentance as well. (Cf. 2 Timothy 24-26) As the Apostle James pointed out: My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” (Cf. James 5:19-20) And we should take to heart the lesson Jesus taught us:
Luke 6:27-37 (NIV)
27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you. 32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most-High God, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. 37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.
When you love your enemies and do good to them, your reward will be great! We were once enemies of God; and yet, for the JOY set before Him, Jesus endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Cf. Hebrews 12:2) We have been called in Christ Jesus to share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory. (Cf. Romans 8:17) Peter affirmed this reward as well: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. (Cf. 1 Peter 4:12-14) Yes, somehow we need to find it within us to be kind to those who sin against us. To me, the greatest kindness we can extend is forgiveness. We can release them to God for His judgment. Perhaps they might respond to His kindness.
Romans 12:17-21 (NIV)
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. (Cf. Deuteronomy 32:35) 20 On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, then feed him; if he is thirsty, then give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” (Cf. Proverbs 25:21-22) 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Well, I see that I have covered quite a bit of ground on the issue of forgiveness. A final thought to share is that communication and interaction are essential for forgiveness and reconciliation to be realized. We are expected to “confront” our offenders. We should go to them in love … even when we should feel righteous anger toward them. How we feel is important … but how they are separated from you and from God is the greater issue to be addressed. When people sin against each other … we must realize that we sin against God. There should be a deep sense of sorrow for the offense. There should be a great desire to effectuate reconciliation. The impulse to seek revenge should be counterbalanced with a deeper desire to see repentance and restoration. And even though you act in a spirit of grace, there could be ambivalence or indifference on the part of the offender. Still, you and I should do what is best and just commit them to God. And do not be offended or upset with God because He is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. His kindness once led you and I to repentance and salvation in Jesus Christ. So I believe that we should pray that God would do the same for those who offend us. For God is longsuffering toward us all – not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. (Cf. 2 Peter 3:9)