Theme: Offenses and Forgiveness
In this week’s lesson we see a man forgiven, but unforgiving
Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”
The most important principle of all is that discipline is intended for the restoration of the sinner and not for his or her condemnation, still less for the self-justification of the offended party.
This is why the steps set out in verses 15-20 are followed by the parable of the unmerciful servant in verses 21-35.
But before we look at the parable let me share how the elders of Tenth Presbyterian Church discovered the steps in verses 15-20 to be misused by some persons, since the parable is an answer to this and any other misuse of this procedure. What the elders began to notice some years ago was an attempt by some individuals who were having marital problems to use these verses to justify getting a divorce and being declared free to get remarried. Their argument went like this.
In 1 Corinthians 7: 15 Paul says that if an unbelieving person is married to an unbeliever and if the unbeliever insists on terminating the marriage, the believer is free to let the unbelieving spouse go: “A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances.” That is perfectly understandable, of course. It is only the apostle’s way of saying that it takes two to live together and that if a non-Christian, who is not even attempting to live by biblical standards, wants to leave the marriage, in the final analysis there is no means of stopping him or her. Divorce is inevitable.
However, that concession was joined next to Christ’s teaching about reconciliation (or failure to achieve reconciliation) in Matthew 18. Jesus said that if a brother refuses to respond to proper attempts by the church to affect a reconciliation, the church is to “treat him as [one] would a pagan or a tax collector” (v. 17), that is, as an unbeliever. So the argument went that if in a Christian marriage one party refuses to be reconciled to the willing spouse after the church has been involved in the reconciliation attempts, the obstinate party may then be regarded as a non-Christian and be allowed to depart according to the principle of 1 Corinthians 7: 15, and the Christian may then be allowed to remarry with God’s blessing~in spite of God’s saying that he hates divorce (Mal. 2:16) or Jesus’ clear teaching that divorce followed by remarriage is adultery (Matt. 5 :32).
We found that the elders of the church were being manipulated by the spouse who wanted a divorce. We were asked to approach the stubborn spouse to effect a change of mind. But if we were unsuccessful, we were expected to declare that the rebellious one was either an unbeliever or (it is supposed to be the same thing) was acting like one, and allow the person making the complaint to get a divorce and remarry. Thus, we were placed on the side of facilitating divorces rather than restraining them.
That particular problem is not in view in Matthew 18, of course. But it was because of this kind of foreseen abuse that the chapter continues with the parable of the unmerciful servant. It is about forgiveness, and it teaches that we must forgive without limits since that is how we have been forgiven by God if we are Christians.
How were the church elders manipulated into facilitating divorce?
What teaching did Jesus give to prevent abuse?
If you have approached a Christian about an offense, what was your motive?
Pray that your conduct may be honest and forgiving.