Lessons in forgiveness

Disciples of Jesus should be willing to forgive fellow believers who sin against them, but they should also be concerned that offenders realize their sin and turn from it. In each case the believer should go to the offender privately and point out the wrongdoing, so that the person might be spiritually helped. If this fails, two or three others should be called in, firstly to make sure that the offender is in fact guilty and secondly to appeal for reconciliation. If this also fails, the entire community of believers should appeal to the offender. Should there still be no change, believers should treat the offender as if no longer part of their fellowship; though they should also desire the person’s repentance and restoration (Matt 18:15-18).


God has given his people the responsibility to deal with such cases, and they must find out God’s will and do it. If they are to be confident that their actions carry God’s authority, they will not act in haste or out of personal prejudice. They have Jesus’ assurance that as they talk and pray about the matter, he will be with them, silently giving his guidance and help (Matt 18:19-20).

Peter asked how many times Jesus’ followers should forgive before taking the severe action that Jesus had just outlined. Jesus’ reply shows that the severe action was not intended to be an alternative to forgiveness. Believers do not take action against offenders out of spite, but out of a concern for the offenders’ spiritual good. Regardless of how many times offenders do them wrong, believers must still forgive them (Matt 18:21-22).

To illustrate the point, Jesus told a story. A king forgave a servant a huge debt, but the servant then refused to forgive a fellow servant a small debt (Matt 18:23-30). When the king heard of his servant’s behaviour, he withdrew his forgiveness (Matt 18:31-34). The lesson is that God will not forgive people if they do not forgive others (Matt 18:35; cf. 6:12).

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