Let us pray: Dear Savior, You have shown us the Godly way to live and die. You have shown us that forgiveness is the singular truth from which balance and harmony in life and death springs from. Today, restore that harmony in each of us by placing forgiveness as the primary well-spring of all we think, say, and do. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, OUR FORGIVING GOD!
TEXT: Matthew 18: 15-20
Dearly Beloved By Christ:
You learn important things from all sorts of people. Recently, I learned a new insight into forgiveness. A therapist and I were talking about emotions in people. For each emotion we have there is an opposite one. The emotional response of: hate, came up. I told her that its opposite was: love. She corrected me. “No, its opposite is: forgiveness.” That’s true, too. Hate is our emotional response against love. Forgiveness is our emotional response born of love. Hate is holding on to hurts. Forgiveness is letting go of them. So, if you want to let go of the pain of hatred you need to ground yourself in, with, and under forgiveness.
In our text Jesus touches on all this. And He should know because no one has ever experienced hate as much as Christ (the Lord laid on Him the iniquity, the hate, of us all) and then overcome it with love-born forgiveness (By His wounds (of the cross) we are healed.) So, in the context of life, today we will discuss what forgiveness really means.
To be sure, hate, the inability to love, and also forgiveness or the ability to love—they are all intertwined. As Christians, we’re told: “Forgive as the Lord has forgiven you.” And how has He forgiven you? In love, God sent His only Son to suffer all of the world’s hatred, all our evil, in His body. Christ literally “became” sin for us. And then Christ also, in love, went to the cross to die for that hateful evil. Thereby, He forgave us completely of all sin and its attendant consequences and emotions. He put away hatred from our lives and remembers our sins no more. Thus, through forgiveness we are reborn and made new, whole, balanced, and complete. The darkness of a hardened heart has been removed by loving forgiveness.
In our lesson, Jesus begins by talking about a brother who sins against you. Someone hurt you deeply. They said or did something which cut you to the core. It made you angry. It upset you. It seemed unfair and nasty. The common human response to this is to get equally upset and repay them in kind. Thus, hatred is birthed. If it is left unchecked, it grows and eventually throws your whole life out-of-whack. Likewise, it alienates you from your brother and it alienates both of you from God Who is forgiveness personified. So, Jesus has a solution. Go to your brother—in concern for their soul—and tell them politely what they have done and why it is wrong. You do that because you care about their soul, just as Jesus cares about all our souls.
But, what if they decide to rebuff you and hold on to their sin and hatred—because that’s what it is—hatred for you and hatred for God’s ways? Do you give up? Do you wash your hands of the problem like Pontius Pilate did? No! A heart which has forgiveness directing it should and will never adopt an ungodly attitude in this matter. Instead, you take a fellow Christian with you to help sort it out. A witness will give insight while also serving as a second voice to the problem. Sometimes it works! Thanks be to God. If so, you forgive the guilty party when they repent and then, like your sins against God, He remembers them no more. Harmony among God’s people is restored.
Of course, there are times when even this is met with spiteful opposition by the guilty party. The emotion of anger is easily roused. It is a human defense mechanism. And we all employ it when threatened, don’t we? By this time it is usually obvious that the guilty party would rather hold on to hate then they would be comforted by forgiveness. Pride and ego have gotten very directly involved. So, at that point, if they are a Christian and that’s the context here, you are greatly concerned over the status of their soul. You want them to go to heaven, but it’s obvious they are on a different pathway. So, you “tell it to the church” or get the Pastor and/or Elders of the church involved. Elders here are not “old, wise members” but means: Godly men who have been chosen or elected by the church for their spiritual insights. These folks are to adopt the same approach outlined earlier in the lesson. They are not to be confrontational, but caring—caring about the person’s soul. And if they are rebuffed, eventually the church formally acts to excommunicate the hateful person. We are to cut them off from Christ because they have cut themselves off by their evil actions. That’s the reference by Christ to “treating them as you would a pagan or a tax collector (cheating person).”
When such action is taken, it is always with a heavy heart. Basically it is the ultimate form of “tough love.” But you cannot have such hatred infecting and destroying other souls. But one thing we need to note and note well: Matthew, who recorded this section was originally a tax collector, too! He was just as evil, hate-filled, and uncaring of others as the rest of his original group. Obviously, since Matthew is the only disciple to record this conversation it hit home to him. Yet, Jesus didn’t write him off or quit trying to work forgiveness in his heart. Jesus never closes a door, but He does leave it slightly ajar sometimes. And in Matthew’s case, it paid heavenly dividends—he came to see the errors of his ways and was saved.
Forgiveness is the opposite of hate. Forgiveness is the only thing that can overcome it. It has and does in Jesus Christ. So, receive loving forgiveness through faith in Christ and be whole once more! Many years ago, I preached on this text under the theme: “Forgive and Forget.” My parts to that sermon were: “You owe it to God, you owe it to your neighbor, and you owe it to yourself.” And all of that is still true– to this very day! Amen