Matthew 18:21-35 – Forgive one another



Genesis 45:1-7; 50:15-21.

Matthew 18:21-35.




ILLUS.: I read a story recently about a husband and wife in Texas, USA, who had a fight over how much the wife spend on sugar. The argument remained unresolved and one day the man got out a chain saw and sawed their timber frame house in half. He boarded up both open sides and moved his half of the house behind some pine trees on the acre plot they lived on. For 40 years they lived out the rest of their lives in separate half-houses and never spoke to each other.


It sounds bizarre and extreme and we can laugh at how ridiculous it seems – but it illustrates how important it is to forgive. NOT forgiving always leads to walls being built between people – even if the walls are only figurative.


We know that often the walls are physical too – think of Berlin; Nicosia; Belfast.

Think of neighbours who build high walls / fences between them and never speak / of Parents who will never talk to their children / of brothers and sisters who refuse to talk to each other / our society is littered with the broken lives of people who will not forgive.


We would be naive to assume such attitude don’t exist in Churches. The history of the church abounds with stories of splits and more splits – and to come closer to home, which of us has not caused offense to others or been offended then harboured feelings of bitterness, anger and revenge. We would not be human if this were not true.

The questions for us all, therefore, is how do we handle these situations? What is my role in the whole area of forgiveness? Must I forgive every offense? What about when I have been hurt / offended? Must I forgive those who don’t ask to be forgiven and who are unrepentant? What if I have been hurt by someone and that are totally unaware that they have offended me? ………


We cannot deal with every eventuality in this message ……… but clearly forgiveness is an essential part of the life – esp. for the Christian who have been forgiven by God.


Ephesians 4:31-32 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (NIV)


It would seem from this verse and others, that as Christians whether we are responsible for the offense or the recipients of it, the first move is always ours.





Let’s be clear – forgiveness is tough. In many ways it is unnatural – it is hard.

“Despite the 100’s of sermons on forgiveness, we don’t forgive easily, nor find ourselves easily forgiven. Forgiveness, we discover, is always harder than the sermons make it out to be. We nurse sores, go to elaborate lengths to rationalize our behaviour, perpetuate family feuds, punish ourselves, punish others – all to avoid this most unnatural act.” – Elizabeth O’Connor.


The classic case of forgiveness in the OT is Joseph.

Think of all Joseph endured – the bullying by his brothers – the mistreatment – being sold as a slave – the years of hardship in Egypt as a result. He had every right to feel miffed and angry.

From the time he met his brothers again after all those years, think of all the emotional and spiritual struggle he went through. One moment he acted harshly throwing his brothers into prison – next he was over come with sorrow and went blubbering out of the room – then he played tricks on them by hiding money in their sacks – seizing one as a hostage, accusing another of stealing his silver cup. For months/ maybe years this dragged on until he could restrain himself no longer and he dramatically forgave them.

This is a realistic struggle of a man who is grappling with the natural desire for revenge. He struggled to forgive the ones who had bullied him, schemed to murder him and then sold him into slavery.

He wanted to forgive but the wound hurt so!


Behind the act of forgiveness lies a wound of betrayal – the pain of being betrayed does not fade easily.


We have all been hurt – some more than others –

How does a husband forgive a wife who has had an affair?

How does a wife forgive a husband who walks out leaving her with the kids?

How does a parent forgive a wayward child?

How does a girl forgive a father or uncle who may have abused her?


These are not trivial things – and the wounds are deep and real.

When we are criticized or betrayed it hurts – whether by spouse – children – parents – friends – fellow Christians.


BUT there is something about forgiveness that seems unjust / unfair. It seems as if we get caught between justice and forgiveness – we have difficulty reconciling them.


When I have been wronged I can think of a hundred reasons against forgiving.

  • He needs to learn a lesson.
  • I don’t want to encourage irresponsible behaviour.
  • I’ll let her stew for a while, it will be good for her!
  • She needs to learn the actions have consequences.
  • I was the wronged party it is not up to me to make the first move.
  • How can I forgive if he is not even sorry.


Why must I forgive? Forgiveness is necessary for all human relationships if they are going to survive and grow. BUT for the Christian forgiveness is not just a good idea, it is essential – it is required by God.

“For us our trespasses AS we forgive those who trespass against us”

Surely Jesus didn’t mean that our forgiveness is in some way dependent on us forgiving others…….


We read the parable of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18. He had been forgiven by his master, an incredible debt of millions of pounds YET he was unwilling to forgive his fellow-servant just a few pounds. On hearing this the master called him wicked and had him imprisoned and tortured until he could repay!!

Oh that is just a parable we say – we can’t say that every little detail applies to us.

The parable ends in … Matthew 18:32-34

32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I cancelled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow-servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. (NIV)

After Jesus has finished telling the parable about forgiving others, he wraps up his instruction with this grim warning… Matthew 18:35

35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” (NIV)


One of the consequences of refusing to forgive is that we end up with tortured inside – harbouring grudges and bitter feelings – we often become restless and miserable.

One writer puts it this way… The word “Torture” is ‘an accurate description of the gnawing resentment and bitterness, the awful gall of hate or envy. It is a terrible feeling. We cannot get away from it. We feel strongly this separation from another and every time we think of them we feel the acid of resentment and hate eating away at our peace and calmness. This is the torturing that our Lord says will take place’


When we refuse to forgive it hurts us – we can easily become bitter and twisted and self pitying – Maybe the person we forgive doesn’t care / doesn’t want our forgiveness – sometime the only person to be healed by the forgiveness in the one who does the forgiving. When we genuinely forgive we set a prisoner free, and very often the only prisoner set free is ME!


Of course, when someone comes and asks for forgiveness how much more must we be ready to forgive – Matthew 18:21-22

21 …., “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.


When forgiveness is free and genuine it sets both forgiver and forgiven free!

Sometimes a story from real life help convey truths no amount of explaining can do – this one I read in my preparation this week!


ILLUS.: page 104 – “What’s so amazing about Grace?” – Philip Yancey. Story of Rebecca whose husband – a pastor left her for another woman – she forgave and when his new wife suffered as she had she was able to help and lead her to Christ.


Often we don’t see a satisfactory outcome even when we do forgive – rarely do we find it completely satisfying. Nagging injustices remain, and the wounds still cause pain. We have to approach God again and again, yielding to him the residue of what I had committed to him long ago. Why must we do this? Because the gospels make clear the connection. “God forgives my debts AS I forgive my debtors.”  — the reverse is also true; only by living in the grace of God will I find the strength to respond to others with grace.


Are there times when we should not offer forgiveness? It is difficult to know!

Jesus ask God to forgive the Roman soldier’s because they did not know what they were doing BUT he makes no such request for the Jewish Religious Leaders who handed him over to the Romans. YET we know that some of them became believers and received God’s forgiveness – Nicodemus, probably, and Saul of Tarsus who persecuted him ….



What is our responsibility when we have hurt/offended someone else?

We have it in a nutshell in ……. Matthew 5:23-24

23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, [clearly because you have offended him]24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift. (NIV)


The scene is clear – a person has come to worship at the temple bring a sacrifice which was then required – they realise they have offended someone.

STOP! says Jesus don’t ignore that realisation – be sensitive to God’s promptings.


  • STOP ……………………      24 leave your gift there in                  front of the altar
  • GO          ………………………. First go
  • RECONCILE ………… be reconciled to your brother
  • RETURN         ……………… then come and offer your gift.


We are to go, personally if possible, [at least by phone or letter] confess the wrong and our sorrow over the offense and seek the forgiveness of the one we have wounded – THEN we are free to return to God in worship and prayer!



We must remember that I am responsible for me and you are responsible for you. The important thing for each of us is that with the right motive and the right spirit, we are to humble ourselves and attempt to make things right. God will honour our efforts!

The one offended may need time – occasionally lots of time – first to get over the shock and next, to have God bring about a change in his/her heart. Sometimes they may not accept our apology – that we must leave with God AND do what we know is right!



This can happen. The one you have offended has possibly been thinking bad things about you, how they might get even etc… Suddenly face with you wanting to make things right can cause the internal scales to go out of balance.

David tried to put things right with King Saul and it only seemed to make matters worse. Sometimes we have to wait a while for God to break through – sometimes that person may never accept our apology. That we must leave to them. I must do what is right!




Firstly that is a direct contradiction of Jesus instructions of  – STOP – GO – RECONCILE – RETURN!

It can also make matters far worse.

ILLUS.: Next week after Church you reverse you car in Mr Smart’s brand new Mercedes 450 SEL – Crunch! He is standing on the steps with a look of absolute horror on his face!

You get out – survey the damage and then bow in prayer … “Dear Lord, please forgive me for being so preoccupied and clumsy. And please give Mr Smart grace as he sees the extensive damage I have cause out of sheer negligence. And provided his needs as he takes his car to the panelbeaters to have it repaired. Thank you Lord. Amen!”

As you drive away you smile at Mr Smart and yell. It’s all cleared up! I asked God to forgive me. Isn’t grace wonderful!


How does that approach appeal to you? Not too well if you are Mr Smart.

In the Jewish law the way to deal with someone you have offended or whose property you had damaged was to go and ask forgiveness, offer to make reparation and undertake to take measure to insure that it did not happen again!




Remember when David committed adultery with Bathseba and murdered her husband Urriah – when David came to the point of confession and needing forgiveness Urriah was long dead – but Nathan the prophet was there to listen to the king pour out his soul – And David sought God’s forgiveness. While we always need God’s forgiveness – sometimes it is only to God that we can go – and we must!


Whether we are the OFFENDER or the OFFENDED the first step is always ours! Until one party stops and asks forgiveness the cycle of tension and unforgiveness and blame continues …

ILLUS. W- “I can’t believe you forgot your own mother’s birthday.”

H – “Wait a minute, aren’t you supposed to be in charge of the calendar?”

W – “Don’t try to pass the blame to me she’s your mother”

H – “Yes, but I told you last week to remind me. Why didn’t you?”

W – “You’re crazy – it’s your own mother. Can’t you keep tract of your own mother’s birthday?”

H – “Why should I? – it is your job to remind me.”

Until one partner says, “Stop! I am sorry. Please will you forgive me?”  the cycle goes on …….


God calls us to love and forgive. Not just our friends but also our enemies. He never said it would be easy.

ILLUS.: Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran Pastor persecuted by the Nazis -ultimately killed. Commenting on the command to love our enemies he wrote … “Through the medium of prayer we go to our enemy, stand by his side, and plead for him to God. Jesus does not promise that when we bless our enemies and do good to them they will not despitefully use and persecute us. They certainly will. But …. so long as we pray for them we are doing for them what the cannot do for themselves.”

Why did Bonhoeffer say this? He had only one answer – “God loves his enemies – he loved us while we were his enemies – that is the glory of his love – and he forgives us – freely!” Every follower of Jesus knows that!

If God has forgiven my debts – as great as they are – how can I not do the same?


As we pray:-

  • is there someone who has come to mind as you have listened – someone to whom you need to go and be reconciled, asking forgiveness.
  • Is there a letter you need to write or a phone call you need to make.
  • are you harbouring bitterness and resentment from old wounds – ask God to help you deal with these – if you need to talk about it please find a Christian friends who can help you.
  • THANK God for the forgiveness that is available to you through Jesus – and seek God’s help to be more like Christ in your attitude to those who have hurt you.

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