Jesus spent quite a bit of time on how to deal with sin in Matthew 18. The most well known verses in that chapter are 15-20,
“If your brother sins, go and point out his fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”
These verses are straight forward. If you know another Christian is sinning, here is how you approach him. It cuts out gossip and limits the chance of misunderstanding the situation. If we followed these instructions, the church would be a lot healthier than it often is. But this is not all Jesus had to say about dealing with sin in Matthew 18. After Jesus says this, Peter comes up with a question for clarification,
“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” (vs 21)
To which Jesus gives a straight forward answer,
“Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”
But Jesus didn’t leave it at that because Jesus knows us too well. He knows that people have the tendency to follow the letter of the law without having the right spirit about it. It is entirely possible to follow the steps given in Matthew 18:15-20 with a horrible, evil attitude and do great harm. It is also entirely possible to forgive another Christian 7 times or even 77 times (which means we are keeping count) but be ready to be unforgiving on the 8th or 78th time.
He goes on to teach them something that goes far beyond the mechanics of forgiveness and gets right to our heart. He tells a parable about a man who owed $800 million dollars (an un-repayable sum). On the brink of being thrown, with his family, into jail…he begs for forgiveness and receives it! Having that happen to you should do something to you. It should do some significant heart shaping. But it doesn’t. He immediately finds someone who owes him a much smaller sum of money (about 2 months wages) and demands it back! When the first, big lender finds out what he did…he calls him back in and punishes him.
When it comes to dealing with sin and forgiveness…there is much more to it than just following four easy steps or being forgiving up to a particular number. It takes a great effort of the heart to wrap your mind and your self around truly forgiving someone…especially if they have sinned against you multiple times.The only way to be prepared to deal with those who sin against you, you have to put your life in perspective and remember that you sinned against God and he continues to forgive. After considering that and feeling the great joy of forgiveness and the weight of sin being taken off our shoulders, we are then ready to talk with someone in a way that is in line with the heart of God.
Let me end the post with a quote that I am unsure who came up with but think it is worth sharing. “Unforgiveness is the poison you take expecting the other person to die”