Matthew 18:19-22 (On Church Numbers and Forgiveness)

Mat 18:19-20   Recall: who is the “you” in Mat 18:18-19?  Do Jesus’ words apply to any gathering of people, just because they say they are Christians, call themselves a church, and are even registered as a 501c3 tax exempt religious organization?  What do these verses teach us about how many people it takes to compose a true church?  What do they teach us about the power and authority of even just a few righteous believers?  Cf. Rev 11:3-6, Jam 5:16b-18.  The Scripture teaches that the time will come when men will not endure sound doctrine but gather around them teachers who will tickle their ears (2Ti 4:3), and that there will be a great apostasy or falling away from the faith in the last days (2Th 2:3) in which we believe we now live, and that the love of most will grow cold (Mat 24:12), so that although holding to a form of godliness and having an appearance of religion they will deny its power for a truly transformed life (2Ti 3:1-5); shall we then concern ourselves that a church of only two or three true believers is too small or isn’t real?

Mat 18:21-22  Consider again the context of Matthew 18:1-20.  The disciples had been looking down on others both inside and outside of their band with whom they disagreed, so that Jesus had reproved them and reminded them of the Father’s great love for the lost whom He came to seek and to save.  Even when a brother sins He commands patience and repeated attempts to restore him.  What then is the connection between Peter’s question in Mat 18:21 and this context?  Think: are the faults of our human nature easily corrected?  Suppose a person does repent, or says he does, but then stumbles and falls again, and again, and again; what then?

What part of the previous, and the following, context makes it clear that Peter’s words assume there is a repentant attitude on the part of the offending brother and a desire expressed to be forgiven?  See Mat 18:15-17, 29; see also Luk 17:1-4.  In other words, if an offending brother is unrepentant in regard to some sin against us, is our responsibility to just forgive him anyway and act as if nothing happened?  See Mat 18:15-17.  Which is the spirit of true Christian love: to say nothing to a brother who has sinned against us and hope he doesn’t do it again too often, or to reprove him so that he clearly understands there is a problem and has the opportunity to repent and be reconciled both to us and to God?  Is there a difference between a sin and an annoyance?  If a brother annoys us, but it isn’t necessarily a sin, which is the spirit of true Christian love: to reprove him for irritating us, or to say nothing and patiently forebear the irritation?  If a brother sins against us, for whom should we primarily pray: him or ourselves?  If a brother annoys us, for whom should we primarily pray: him or ourselves?

What does Peter’s question in Mat 18:21 reveal about his understanding of the need to forgive?  Cf. Pro 24:16.  What does “up to seven times?” indicate about his understanding of a limit as to our need to extend forgiveness to a brother who sins against us, even though the brother may be repentant and seek forgiveness?  How is that like us?  Did he yet understand the fullness of the need to forgive?  What is it that prevented not only Peter in particular, but that prevents human nature in general, from understanding the full depth of our need to forgive?  See Mat 18:24,28, Rom 4:15, 5:20, 7:7-13,24.  Is it possible that we don’t understand the full depth of our need to forgive others because we don’t understand the full depths of our own sin, and we don’t understand the full depths of our own sin because we don’t understand the holiness of God and the righteous requirements of His law?  See Gen 6:5, Psa 14:1-3, Mat 24:37, Isa 6:1-5, 42:18-25, 64:6, Heb 12:18-21; cf. 1Ti 1:5-11.

What was Jesus’ answer to Peter’s question about how often he should forgive?  See Mat 18:22.  Does Jesus mean that we should keep careful count of a brother’s transgressions and when they reach a certain number refuse to have anything else to do with him?  See 1Co 13:5, esp. in the NIV.  What does Jesus mean?  See again Luk 17:4.  Where else in Scripture is the same idiom used?  See Gen 4:23-24; cf. Gen 4:15.  How is Jesus’ use of the idiom the exact opposite of Lamech’s, and what does His use of the idiom reveal about the nature of God that is so very different from the fallen nature of man?  Cf. again Rom 5:20b and see also Jer 3:11-14, Mic 7:18-19.  In what way does the failure to observe Jesus’ use of the idiom lead to Lamech’s use of it?  What does this teach us about the best way to prevent evil from spiraling out of control into even more evil: the exercise of vengeance and retaliation, or forgiveness?

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