MATTHEW 18:21-35

Question and Answer
Jesus and Lamech
Jesus and Paul’s Forgiveness
The Parable

As with the previous two passages, this section is unique to Matthew’s Gospel.

We have already seen how the first twenty verses hold together closely as one unit rather than it being necessary to understand them as a compilation of material which was spoken at different times and places and which the author has brought together into one section for ease of reference.

This is made more certain by the uniqueness of the material for we find no direct parallels in the other three Gospels and we are forced to conclude that the author must have had a fuller account than either Mark or Luke of what was said shortly before they were to travel to Jerusalem for the last Passover.

Little more really needs to be said as an introduction to this passage which won’t come out in the commentary which follows.

Question and Answer
Mtw 18:21-22

It’s Peter’s question which begins this passage and the implication in the text is that it was asked very soon after the preceding narrative. There’s the possibility, however, that there was a short break of time before Peter ‘came up’ to Jesus simply because the phrase used makes it seem this way. But it isn’t impossible that the disciples were standing around and that the disciple stepped forward from near the back to put to Jesus what was on his mind.

Jesus has just outlined the importance of reconciliation of believers back into the Church (Mtw 18:15-18) rather than their condemnation and exclusion and it appears to have arisen in his mind that there was a problem as to how ‘much’ forgiveness should be extended to a brother when they repeatedly sinned and turned to the offended for forgiveness.

After all, though one might attempt to restore one’s brother into God’s community and fellowship, there was the need for the offended to forgive the offender for this to take place. Peter, then, wanted to clarify just how often this reconciliation could be expected to be applied for the same sin from the same brother.

The same thoughts had been going through the minds of the religious leaders and Matmor quotes Yoma 86b from the Talmud (wholly too late a work for us to assert that this was the position in the time of Christ but certainly an indication of the way Jewish thought must have been leading them) which reads

‘If a man commits a transgression, the first, second and third time he is forgiven, the fourth time he is not forgiven’

and which probably has as its underlying foundation the belief that the transgressor should know better and have changed his ways long before he goes out and commits the fourth identical offence. Peter’s statement that forgiveness could possibly run to seven times is certainly not miserly and, if compared to the Rabbinic view, is positively liberal.

But both Peter and the Rabbis have approached the problem from the wrong angle - namely, that there is a limit to God’s forgiveness. For man’s forgiveness of his fellow man must be a reflection of the forgiveness of man by God - and that is limitless.

When a man is genuinely sorry for the sin he’s committed, God forgives. So, too, the whole idea of trying to quantify it is irrelevant - what’s needed is a qualitative assessment of what forgiveness is and this must be based on a revelation of the nature of God. Mathen is probably being just a little unkind by stating that

‘There was something wrong with Peter’s approach. It smacked of Rabbinism’

because Peter is trying to extend the need for forgiveness to a place where it becomes way above the standards that were currently being proposed in Israel (if the Talmud is accepted as being an accurate record of such). Besides, the number seven may have been used by Peter to emphasise perfect forgiveness. On a separate occasion which, in Luke’s Gospel, appears chronologically after this event, Jesus speaks to His disciples and says (Luke 17:3-4 - my italics)

‘Take heed to yourselves; if your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him; and if he sins against you seven times in the day and turns to you seven times and says “I repent”, you must forgive him

We should take Jesus’ mention of ‘seven times in the [one] day’ as being a command for unlimited forgiveness rather than to take someone by the hand and say

‘Look, I’m really sorry, but that sin was the eighth transgression against me today so you can never be forgiven’

which would take Jesus’ words to be contradicting what He’s said here in Mtw 18:22. That said, it may be that Peter was using the number seven to speak of perfect forgiveness but that Jesus wished to emphasise the point by expanding it into a number which was so large that it was virtually impossible that anyone in their right minds would keep count - you may know of people who do keep count, but my point is that the number is so large as to make the bottom of forgiveness virtually unfathomable.

Jesus and Lamech
Gen 4:23-24, Mtw 18:22

NB - These notes are a rework of my notes on a previous web page which the reader is urged to read to get a clear understanding of what it means to ‘repent’ and the emotions in a person and actions from God which are needed in order for this to take place.
While a believer must ultimately forgive everyone who has sinned against him, if the transgressor doesn’t turn to be forgiven by the person who has been sinned against, there is no way that he can be ultimately forgiven and ‘forgiveness’ is solely for the benefit of the offended who needs to come to terms with any resentment or bitterness that is being harboured in their heart.

Before we begin, a short word needs to be said about the translation in Mtw 18:22 which renders Jesus’ command as either ‘seventy-seven times’ (77) or ‘seventy times seven’ (490). Matfran has grasped the significance of the passage in Gen 4:24 and so allows that text to define the translation of the words which occur in the NT, commenting that

‘The Hebrew of Gen 4:24 clearly means seventy-seven times...and this is also the most natural rendering of the Greek...’

This seems fairly cut and dried, therefore, but Mathag could also be followed when he appends a note to his translation which precedes his commentary and explains his rendering of ‘seventy times seven’ with the words

‘The larger number is opted for here as more effectively pointing to the implication of an unlimited number of times’

His choice to use the larger number is solely on the grounds of exposition. That is, while some readers may think that seventy-seven could be a literal number that obligates believers to keep accurate records (and I’m sure there are some somewhere), the number four hundred and ninety is sufficiently large to make most people give up before they begin! Or, at least, to get fed up when they’re halfway through!

I haven’t weighed up which translation is the more likely to be correct but I’ve adopted for the higher of the two numbers simply to try and capture the force of what Jesus is trying to say.

There’s a direct parallel here with the OT passage of Scripture in Gen 4:23-24, one which was probably deliberate in nature seeing as the two contrast well and demonstrate the two different approaches which one can adopt when confronted by personal injury - whether it be a physical wound as it appears to be in the OT or in a variety of ways which aren’t specified in the new. Even to hurt someone’s feelings is tantamount to a wound which can give rise to a wrong reaction from one who’s been injured and we shouldn’t necessarily think that some great sin of theft or bodily harm has to be committed for the words to be relevant to our own situation.

Many a grudge has been harboured and vengeance sought simply because there has gone undealt with an internal wound that develops to the point of overflowing from the person’s life (Mtw 15:19).

The short two verse story of Lamech (Gen 4:23-24) is important to grasp here, then, as the antithesis of what Jesus is teaching. The Scripture reads

‘Lamech said to his wives “Adah and Zillah, hear my voice; you wives of Lamech, hearken to what I say: I have slain a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. If Cain is avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy-sevenfold [or “seventy times seven”]’

This passage also relates back to Gen 4:13-15 where Cain gripes that he’s been exiled away from the Lord’s presence for the murder of his brother Abel. God puts a mark on him, therefore, and vows that, if Cain is slain, God will take vengeance on the man who does such a thing sevenfold. It’s difficult to see how God’s statement there could mean anything other than that there would be ‘perfect’ vengeance (for who can kill a person seven times?!) but Lamech refers back to it, seems to misunderstand it and claims to have been avenged in a greater manner than Cain would have been because, although he was just wounded, he’s retaliated with the murder of his attacker.

Instead of God’s perfect and ultimate act of judgment, therefore, it becomes an inflamed and escalated retaliation which goes beyond the bounds of fairness where even the Mosaic Law (Ex 21:23-25) placed the limit on

‘ for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe’

The result of Lamech’s unforgiveness of his attacker, therefore, channelled itself into an act of murder. Indeed, unforgiveness imparts death whether physical, spiritual or emotional. That may take the form of inward death, where a person becomes dead to the life of God, or real death when war is declared on the person who has sinned but also, as a consequence, there will be a continuation of growing dead to the movings of God.

While anger burns in a person’s heart, there’s always the possibility that it may overspill from within and find expression in actions that, though they may stop short of murder, are certainly not actions based upon love (Mtw 5:21-26).

Because Lamech did not choose reconciliation with the one who wounded him, the only course of action left open to him was one of retaliation and vengeance which he pursued speedily. And yet, instead of exacting a price from his assailant which represented the crime committed, he dealt out vengeance which went way beyond its boundaries.

On the other hand, Jesus’ instruction in Mtw 18:21-22 speaks of forgiveness and, further, an unqualified amount of times that it was to be extended to the offender (Mtw 6:12). The end result of forgiveness is reconciliation and healing - it imparts life and release into situations that are bound up through bitterness. Forgiveness calms the anger that burns within when it’s felt that an individual has been wronged and pacifies the hatred that can so easily spill over into man’s dealings with the one who’s committed the wrong.

This is why forgiveness is so important and urged upon His followers by Jesus. If they’re aflame with anger then they cannot be full of love, they can’t reach out effectively to others who are continually sinning against them. And it is only love that is a reflection of the character of God into the world.

Therefore, there are two responses that we can give to the personal sin problem - one leads to death (as in the case of Lamech) but the other to life. One over responds to the offence that’s been committed, the other under responds - one demonstrates that God will not be called upon to deal with the situation His way, the other is a silent appeal for God to step in and sort out the situation.

If unforgiveness is allowed to take root in a Church fellowship, there can never be peace but war. Even though all the verbal formulae which one would expect from fellow believers might be there, if there’s a raging fire in people’s hearts that oppose their brother, any move of God which might be done in their midst will be quickly extinguished when the despised and unforgiven brother is used by God.

The Church must be a place where love expresses itself in endless forgiveness between brothers. A fellowship where there isn’t forgiveness between brothers is a place that has chosen to restrict God’s love in its midst (Eph 4:32, Col 3:13, Mtw 6:14-15) and brought in division in the unity of the Spirit and of the will of God for the fellowship concerned. Especially in this expression of love will unbelievers see that Christ is in us (John 13:34-35).

Holding resentment will lead only to greater resentment, even murder (Gen 4:3-8, Esther 3:5-6, 5:12-14) - forgiveness leads to a greater depth of the reality of God’s presence both in and through believers’ lives.

Genesis 4:23-24 Matthew 18:21-22
A lad or child wounded Lamech A brother wounds a brother. Mtw 18:1-14 concerns the little believers of the Kingdom. The brother who sins (18:15,21) could be considered as being a 'nothing' or 'nobody' in God's society (see Mtw 18:1-4)
Lack of forgiveness leads to vengeance - the name 'Lamech' means 'wild man' or 'overthrower' Forgiveness springs out of and leads to love
Unforgiveness and vengeance increases (7 to 7x70). Lamech's threat is of continual vengeance against all his opponents Forgiveness increases (7 to 7x70). Believers are called only to imitate God with regard to forgiveness (Eph 5:1). That is, never to stop and never to reach a limit where it would be withheld from a brother
An arrogant boast A humble action

However, having said this, there are consequences when sin is committed which must also be come to terms with. Firstly, it’s obvious from Jesus’ statement here that the forgiveness of sins is always to be bestowed upon those who offend us but we should also notice that Paul refused to take Mark with him (Acts 15:36-40) because he had withdrawn from the work that they were engaged in.

It would be very easy for us to think of Paul’s exclusion of him from being part of a subsequent missionary journey as an overflow of bitterness and hatred which had gone unresolved within him, but this needn’t be the case.

Paul seems to have had justification for refusing to take Mark not because he held the action against him but because in his assessment of Mark’s character, there continued to be a weakness that meant that he was not the ideal person to select for furthering the work. An assessment of a brother’s weakness must continue for his own salvation and to avoid him stumbling (as in the case of the weak brother mentioned in Rom 14:1-15:3) and it isn’t the same as holding unforgiveness in one’s heart against someone.

Therefore, although we’re commanded to forgive all who sin against us in order that we may not grow bitter against such individuals, there are still considerations to be made if that individual turns to be forgiven. If, for example, leaving a brother alone in a room will tempt him to steal what he sees around him, how can we dare allow such a situation to come about again? Or how, if a brother has taken prescribable drugs from our medicine cabinet because of his previous addiction, can we let them be readily available the next time he comes to visit?

Considerations have to be made - not only for the brother’s sake but for the advancement of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Secondly - and this is something which I’ve also mentioned at the beginning of this passage, it’s not possible to bestow forgiveness upon a brother if he is not repentant. There must be an acknowledgement of sin in the individual’s life before forgiveness can be received. Notice the similar passage of Luke 17:3-4 which talks about a brother who acknowledges his sin and turns to another to receive forgiveness. This detail is omitted from Mtw 18:21-22 but the need for repentance qualifies the passage as is shown by the parable that follows (Mtw 18:23-35).

If there is no acknowledgement, then forgiveness ‘works’ for the offended only, not for the unrepentant transgressor. The sinned against is ‘released’ from any bitterness or hardness of heart (that is, spiritual death) and so can continue to serve the Lord in purity. But a person cannot receive forgiveness unless he is repentant.

This entire subject of ‘forgiveness’ of men and women is a tricky one and one that we are all probably going to struggle with for the rest of our lives. Who can honestly say that they feel confident that they could forgive the grossest sin committed against them without in the least feeling any bitterness or anger towards that individual? Even considering how God lives out the reality of what He tells us to do (while at the same time knowing that God will judge everyone at some future day), makes it no easier.

But forgiveness is where we must aim and so turn to God for help. That may sound a glib answer to a very difficult problem (and I admit that it sounds that way to me also - and I wrote it!) but it’s the only way that we’re going to find ourselves remaining unembittered by our dealings with the world (where I have expanded the label of ‘brother’ to include even the unsaved).

Jesus and Paul’s Forgiveness

It would be wrong to assert that both Jesus and Paul had different concepts of how forgiveness was effected but it’s certainly true to say that they seem to have generally chosen a different word to convey it - this needs to be balanced, of course, by the fact that Jesus probably spoke Aramaic and that the Gospels are more likely to be Greek renderings of what He spoke.

However, that the words used by the Gospel writers were predominantly different to the word which Paul used (when each of the works were written at around the same time) does tell us something about the fundamental issues which seem to have flavoured each of their teaching.

In the Gospels, then, the word ‘aphiemi’ (Strongs Greek number 863) is translated 38 times by the verb ‘to forgive’ in the AV and yet only occurs some five times outside the Gospels with this meaning (Acts 8:22, Rom 4:7, James 5:15, I John 1:9, 2:12), only one of these being Pauline in origin. Primarily, this word means, as Kittels, ‘to send forth’ and is translated elsewhere in the NT with the verb ‘to leave’.

This is the word for forgiveness in the Gospels and may well have been employed because it implied the ‘sending away’ of a person’s sins as in Lev 16:20-22 where the goat for Azazel was sent away into the wilderness on the Day of Atonement bearing the sins of Israel, forever to be forgotten (see my notes on Yom Kippur).

Paul’s only use of this word is in Rom 4:7 and even here it’s as a quote from Psalm 32:1-2. It’s therefore true to say that, for Jesus, the thought of the payment of the cross was continually in mind and that this was expressed with a Hebrew word which naturally found itself into a Greek rendering which spoke of the putting away of sin - a fact which is hardly surprising since He was acutely aware of the fulfilment of His mission on earth as needing a final act of sacrifice on His part in Jerusalem (Mtw 16:21, 17:22-23).

On the other hand, Paul uses the word ‘charizomai’ (Strongs Greek number 5483) which is translated by the verb ‘to forgive’ numerous times and only once in the Gospels in Luke 7:43 in the AV, it’s use being restricted mainly to the post-ascension records (II Cor 2:7, 2:10, 12:13, Eph 4:32, Col 2:13, 3:13).

This word is wholly different from the first mentioned, meaning more along the lines of the bestowal of ‘unconditional favour’ where Kittels notes that the verb

‘...means “to show pleasure” or “to show oneself to be pleasant” and...”to be agreeable”’

This has the effect of pulling away from the thought of the means whereby forgiveness is achieved and speaks more of the result of how that forgiveness is applied. Therefore, it emphasises that the forgiveness of man by man is a matter of a willingness to forgive (that is, of grace) and not of the sinner’s repentance (that is, works - see Eph 4:32, Col 3:13) and the forgiveness of man by God is a willingness to forgive received by repentance and faith which are active within the sinner (Col 2:13 - such a verse cannot teach that all men are forgiven regardless of a response, when other passages are truthfully compared such as Mtw 4:17, Luke 24:47, Acts 17:30 and Heb 6:1).

Therefore, although Paul will speak of the cross, the resurrection and the ascension, he makes sure that he mentions the forgiveness of sins as a concept which is presently acceptable and receivable, rather than Jesus who speaks of the event with the projection towards the work that He’s about to achieve.

While Jesus emphasises the sending away of a person’s sin in the OT language of the Day of Atonement (a picture which would have been common to the Jews) and almost prophesying what was soon to be accomplished when the Lamb of God would take man’s sins away, Paul emphasises the gratuitous nature of forgiveness from God received through individual repentance and faith but unconditionally bestowed by believers on others.

These are but two sides to the one coin, of course, and they mean nothing more than that there are two ways of looking at one and the same action.

The Parable
Mtw 18:23-35

The best exposition I’ve ever seen of this parable was a comedy sketch by the christian youth workers ‘Rodd and Marco’ who came to our area through an invitation and worked in the local schools throughout a week period a couple of years ago.

It’s very easy to read this parable and let it all just wash over your head, but the participation of the local kids as the characters in the parable (and more, I noticed, than the parable actually mentions - after all, where does the character of the bouncer come from?!) gave fun to the learning and emphasised the point that it was necessary for the one who is forgiven to also extend forgiveness - the point which Jesus is attempting to make to Peter and the disciples who have asked the question as to how many times they must be prepared to forgive their brother when he sins against them (Mtw 18:21-22).

This is why the word ‘therefore’ begins the passage and we shouldn’t think of the teaching here as being devoid of what has immediately preceded it - Jesus is giving flesh to the bones of his command of unlimited forgiveness and explaining that the forgiveness which He’s insisting upon is based on the believer’s recognition of their own forgiveness before God and how what they were forgiven was of far greater importance than anything which a fellow man might do against them.

The insignificance of the believer is still in mind, probably, for it would be too easy to choose to forgive only those who are ‘great’ and thought much of. But forgiveness must be extended to all believers - even the ones that we may personally consider to be of no consequence. As with all parables, however, there’s the danger that we might extract too much information and turn the story into a principle where only restitution payments are involved (thus limiting it to sins such as theft) or think of it only in terms of money which was borrowed and not repaid - but the principle is far removed from these two areas though it must necessarily include them.

Jesus is concerned to give substance to His requirement of believers to forgive one another based upon the grounds that the forgiveness of themselves by God is of such a greater cost that the insignificant sin of their fellow man should be easy to come to terms with and wash away.

There are no Hebrew parallels, either in the OT or in first century Jewish culture which would prompt us to see the story as one which took place and which Jesus is now using to bring home His point, the incident seemingly being drawn from the set up in some Gentile nation or other which goes unnamed.

In Ex 22:1 there’s the law regarding the man who steals a person’s possessions being sold to make restitution for that which has been stolen if he doesn’t have the means to pay but the similarity ends with the way the money has been procured, for Jesus’ parable speaks more of a loan being given than money being removed without the permission of the king. Lev 25:39-46,47-55 speak of an Israelite selling themselves into slavery because they’ve become poor but, again, there’s the voluntary selling of oneself rather than the throwing of a debtor into prison.

Perhaps the closest parallel is II Kings 4:1 where there’s the case of the husband of the family dying and the widow falling into debt through a borrowing which can’t be repaid - the creditor comes to take away her two children into slavery to wipe out what’s owed. But the difference here is that the woman who is in debt is not the one who is to be sold!

There are also similarities in Neh 5:5, Is 50:1 and Amos 2:6, 8:6 but none of these come very close to an exact match of the subject of this parable.

It’s certainly true that, outside Israel, the practice of selling into slavery those who could not pay was common and it’s probably from a Gentile nation that this parable is drawn. The first servant is thought to have been a satrap or provincial governor by many commentators and was duty bound, as Mathen notes

‘ collect the royal taxes in their several domains and to deliver these large sums to the king at the proper time’

Mattask, on the other hand, sees the story drawn directly out of the Roman political organisation and comments that

‘The servants in the parable were high-placed officials in the service of the emperor, some of whom would often have occasion to borrow large sums from the imperial exchequer’

Another interpretation is that the servant was one who had bought the tax rights of a specific location (called ‘tax farming’ - it was this sort of thing that Matthew the tax collector would have been involved in - Mtw 9:9) but that he’d been unable to recover the money which had been laid upon him which would thus place the situation squarely into the Roman society of its day and have direct relevance for the Jews of Galilee. The sum of ten thousand talents (Mtw 18:24), however, is rather too large, seeing as Josephus in Antiquities 12.6.4 comments that

‘...the sum of the taxes together of Celesyria, Phoenicia and Judea with Samaria [as they were bidden for] came to eight thousand talents’

at a time prior to Jesus. Josephus details the tribute laid on the land when Herod died in 4BC in Antiquities 17.11.4 but the sum doesn’t come anywhere near the ten thousand talents of the parable and is measured in hundreds rather than the previous thousands.

Although these examples may certainly help us to place the parable directly into the world of the first century, it’s hardly necessary to the overall meaning of the text and the interpretation of the christian youth workers Rodd and Marco noted above is just as much relevant to make the parable apply to the people of today as is an exact identification of the nation in which this event could have occurred. What is important is that the meaning of the passage is correctly understood and, if it’s necessary for the generation in which we live to hear the parable told by reference to finance directors of soccer clubs, managers with whom money is entrusted and players, then so be it.

It’s the responsibility of every fellowship to reach it’s own generation with an adaptation of the Gospel that is relevant to its needs - not watering down the message in any way whatsoever but maintaining the fundamental truths of the Gospel. Application of truth to our own society will always be vitally important if those around us are to understand the message of the Gospel.

The national identity of the king and of his servants are hardly important, therefore, but it does show us that Jesus felt free to use stories that weren’ even drawn from the nation’s life to bring home spiritual truth to the disciples and this marks a departure from the more usual parables which exemplified everyday social life (for instance, the parables of Matthew chapter 13).

I have set out the comparisons between the two debtors in the following table which shows us the relative worth of the debts and how one could have been expected to have been paid while the other was impossible.

The king's servant The fellow servant
18:24 - He is brought before the king 18:28 - The king's servant meets (or 'seeks out') the fellow and seizes his opportunity for repayment
18:24 - The vast amount owed
£ millions
18:28 - The relatively small amount owed
£ hundreds = one six hundred thousandth of what the other owed
18:24 - The debt was impossible to pay - at a common labourer's rate of daily pay, it would have taken approximately 180,000 years 18:28 - A debt possible to pay - 15 weeks' wages
18:24-25 - The king demanded payment 18:28 - the king's servant first seizes his fellow servant by the throat before demanding payment
18:27 - The king's servant receives mercy - 'pity' comes from the same Greek word as 'compassion' in 9:36 18:30 - The fellow servant receives no mercy

The point of the story is not that the servant didn’t have a right to recover his debt but that he was insistent that the money had to be paid when his debtor was not able to pay it at that instant. Indeed, for our own understanding of the passage, we would probably do best to try and get our own minds off the payment of a monetary debt and onto the implications of a transgression which is what Peter has brought up in Mtw 18:21-22 and which has inspired this parable.

The king is most obviously representative of God Himself here and the debt which has been cancelled against the servant should be primarily thought of as the sum total of offences committed against God, not as some loan which has reached an amount which is virtually impossible to pay (unless he got lucky on the lottery - but, as they didn’t have lotteries in ancient times, this wasn’t an option).

The servant, then, has no means to repay, he has nothing which will wipe out the error of his ways and wash him clean.

Yet, even so, the servant is acutely aware of his misdemeanour and this is the basis upon which the king can now extend forgiveness through mercy, hoping that the lesson will be learnt as he goes out to begin a fresh life with no debts.

However, although the servant can rejoice that his debt has been paid, he cannot come to terms with a fellow believer who has sinned against him and refuses to forgive him ‘from his heart’ (Mtw 18:35). A disciple should have a perceptive realisation of the debt that’s been cancelled which exists in the sight of both himself and God before that next step can be taken which assesses others’ sins in the light of what others have done against them.

Alienated away from God’s presence and without hope in the world, access back into God’s presence was never a viable proposition. As the psalmist noted (Ps 49:7-9)

‘Truly no man can ransom himself, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of his life is costly, and can never suffice, that he should continue to live on for ever, and never see the Pit’

We aren’t talking about the quality or quantity of sin committed, therefore, where we might reason that, because we’d lived a fairly moral life, what we’d been forgiven by God was relatively small compared to the man who had murdered our loved one - and therefore turn to extract some sort of revenge from them, knowing that there’s nothing that they could ever do which would bring our loved one back from the grave.

Rather, it’s the difference between a sin against God which excludes us from His presence compared with a sin against ourselves which can be dealt with in the natural. If the ultimate price has been paid to grant the believer the opportunity to receive entry into the final destination of human life, then anything which is done on earth against themselves has to be seen to be on such a lower level as to be insignificant.

I do not wish to underestimate the strong and sometimes bitter feelings which exist in those who have, as I mentioned above, lost loved ones through a direct consequence of man’s actions, but Jesus’ solution is simple - forgiveness must be extended towards those who sin against us because we have received a forgiveness which is so much more important from God Himself that it should inspire us to do so.

But again I need to point out three things, mentioned above but summarised here so that we don’t miss their significance.

Firstly, forgiveness can only be directly extended to a person who has sinned against us when that person turns to us to receive mercy. This doesn’t mean that an amount of money stolen shouldn’t be recovered if the thief has the means to pay it back, for the restitution of what has been taken is just as important as a demonstration of repentance for the thief as the bestowal of mercy and forgiveness is for the victim.

But, if a brother should approach another to be forgiven sin, there is an obligation to forgive without question.

Secondly, if there is known sin between brothers in Christ, Mtw 18:15-18 should immediately spring into effect which, as I noted on the previous web page, gives opportunity for reconciliation.

Thirdly and finally, if a sin has been committed by a non-believer against a disciple of Christ (and this is outside the application of the parable if we take it as a response to Peter’s question of Mtw 18:21), forgiveness must still be extended so that no bitterness might be held in the victim’s heart which would eventually overflow into an action which could be seen to be vengeful - even in a totally different situation.

The evening before I typed these words, my wife and I finished watching the film ‘The Peacemaker’ - a film which I wouldn’t recommend anyone to see. But we were struck by the lack of forgiveness which sprang up within one of the main character’s lives which prompted him to want to make some sort of controlled terrorist statement against those who had supplied the weapons which had been used to escalate the conflict within his own nation.

And yet, even towards the conclusion of the film, he realises that the people that he’s trying to kill are the very same people that he is - that is, he begins to see that the act of revenge he will be committing is the very same type of act which had caused him to want to take revenge.

While it’s quite true that mercy and forgiveness doesn’t make for box office success, these two principles would have stopped the film from ever needing to be made! And perhaps it’s true to say that most of the aggression that exists in the world is retaliatory in nature where there is no dealing with an offence and where a reaction is expected if the people or person sinned against are not to be seen to lose face.

Jesus’ radical statements about mercy and forgiveness are the solution to the world’s problem but only when a person comes to accept the price that has been paid for them through the cross. We must remember that the forgiveness exemplified in this parable is that which should exist between brothers, not between the unsaved or a mixture of the two. It is only when the realisation comes of the mercy which has been bestowed on an individual by God, that true forgiveness becomes a natural (or, supernatural) consequence of a life. Mattask summarises the rationale of the parable well when he comments that

‘The society of the forgiven has no meaning if those who are forgiven are themselves unforgiving’

One final word must be said about Mtw 18:35 which reads

‘So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart’

because both this statement and the example of the parable seem to make it plain that, even though a believer is forgiven of their sins by God, if they choose not to forgive their brothers, that forgiveness will become unforgiveness - a strange statement but one which is repeated in Jesus’ explanation of the parable.

We’ve encountered a similar statement previously in the Sermon on the mount where we read that (Mtw 6:14-15)

‘...if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses’

Here forgiveness is bestowed on believers as a consequence of their own forgiveness of others, a difference of which comes first. I noted there, though, that the principle was one of willingness to forgive and that it was not necessary for a person who comes to receive the work on the cross into his life to have necessarily put everything right with their fellow man before God’s forgiveness can be received.

However, to live in a state of unforgiveness after mercy has been received and understood isn’t acceptable to God. We should also note that the parable was told as an example of how a brother should forgive a brother (Mtw 18:21-22) and such a situation can only exist when a person has come into the Church by rebirth. Matmor infers that the parable is told to identify the type of forgiveness which must be extended to all men, but the context in which it was told is specifically to outline the type of forgiveness which is to exist between fellow believers.

Therefore, the statement is necessarily correct that, if a forgiven man or woman does not reciprocate the mercy received towards their fellow believers, then God cannot forgive. This may sound like a harsh statement but there seems to be no getting round what it is that Jesus here says about relationships within His Church.

Even if a man has been forgiven and yet will not turn to forgive their brother as and when they sin against him, God will not consider that the initial debt of sin in their life has been wiped clean.