Matthew 18:15-17 “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church.”
As Jesus was dying on the cross, He prayed a prayer that would forever set the standard for all of mankind as it pertains to forgiveness. He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” In reality, Jesus offered forgiveness to the very people who killed Him, while they were killing Him! In so doing, Jesus set the bar extremely high regarding forgiveness and the restoration of broken relationships. The grace Jesus offered reveals just how much He valued people. However, in our society today, forgiveness is not easily offered, even in the church.
On more than one occasion, this pastor has heard the bitterness of an individual who at the thought of offering forgiveness said, “I’ll forgive, but I won’t forget.” However, anyone who adopts this attitude has not truly forgiven. In Micah 7:18-19, the prophet discusses the willingness of God to forgive the people of Israel. He states that God will cast our sins into the depths of the sea. In Psalm 103:12, David speaks of the mercy of God and His willingness to cast our sins as far as the east is from the west. Scripture is clear, when a sinner is saved by grace, his sins are covered by the blood of Christ, forgiven and forgotten (Isaiah 43:25, Hebrews 8:12). Therefore, as believers, who are we to refuse to practice forgiveness when God has forgiven us so much?
In Matthew 18, Jesus provides some very simple instructions concerning the process of forgiveness. The first step requires an individual who is in conflict with someone else to “go” to that person and resolve it (v.15). The body of Christ suffers greatly when conflict is not handled biblically. Complaining to other people, gossiping, or simply allowing bitterness to grow can destroy a relationship. However, Jesus states that we are not only to “go” to our brother but “go alone.” A conflict between two people is a private matter and should be handled privately if at all possible. If reconciliation is achieved then, Jesus says, “You have gained your brother.” The word “gain” can be translated “avoid loss.” In other words, when forgiveness is practiced in the life of a believer, one avoids losing a friend and brother in Christ.
If the conflict cannot be resolved between the two individuals, then Jesus instructs us to take someone else in an effort to restore the relationship (v.16). This person should be someone who is mature in the faith and who is willing to be completely impartial. If restoration is refused, then the conflict or the offending individual should be brought before the church in a continued effort to reconcile the issue and restore the relationship (v.17).
What is important to remember is that when two believers deal with conflict, they should do so in humility and love. Restoration is the goal and it is the only result that will bring glory to God. When a believer truly understands his own sin before a holy God, it should motivate him to forgive others. Biblical forgiveness brings healing, peace, and physical health in life, as well as spiritual health in the church.