How does the Church live together day in and day out? It isn’t programs, musicians, leadership, spiritual giftedness. Rather the Church lives and breathes in the environment of forgiveness. There is no short-cut, not a handy bypass to avoid dealing with sin. Ignoring sin will foster an atmosphere of approval of sin. Refusing to forgive leads to arrogance, on the one hand, and the desire to cover sins, on the other. No, dealing with sin can be done in no other way than through forgiveness. It means dealing with sin, not to “win” but to “win the brother” — that is, to restore the brother or sister to the fellowship. Thus, this process is for the purpose of restoring relationships. It means forgiving, even in the midst of a crises. It means letting God have the first word and the last word.
Forgiveness is not the same as saying, “Oh that’s okay.” No, the reality of sin is that it is destructive of people, relationships, and especially relationship with God. When we as Christians face sin, it can be unpleasant. But, forgiving sin is restorative, it is the mending of broken relationships, and it is foremost the bringing together the forgiven sinner and the God who forgives.
Who are you to forgive?
You will often hear something to this effect: “Only God can forgive sins.” Or “Who do you think you are to forgive sins?” But Jesus says the opposite. Tomorrow our Gospel reading is Matthew 18:15-35 (also basis for the sermon)—see below. The theme is forgiveness; namely, Jesus tells us how to deal with sin: in love confronting the person about the sin (not attacking the person). When the person repents, we forgive the person, freely, even as God has forgiven us (Ephesians 4:32).
We do not forgive on our own authority but on the authority of Jesus himself. Note in 18:18
Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.
In other words, the forgiving we do is done on the basis that it has already been forgiven in heaven. We are not in control, but rather declaring what God has already done.
Also he says in 18:20
“For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”
Note that 18:20 is often taken out of context and used to apply to any and every gathering of Christians—except forgiveness. However, in this context, Jesus’ promise to be there with us is in the forgiving of sins. Let’s not ignore the central aspect of the Christian life: forgiveness of sins. Let’s not downplay the role in the gathering of Christians. Let’s not pretend we are super pious by claiming “I would never dare take the authority to forgive sins.” Indeed, Jesus says the very opposite. We fail to live in Christian community when we do not confront sin (with the Law) and forgive (sin (the Gospel). And it isn’t self-appointed, it is Jesus’ description and commission of Christian living.
The text is Matthew 18:15-35 (NAS)
[Jesus said:] 15 “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.’ 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.
19 “Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. 20 For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”
21 Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”
22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.
23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25 But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made.
26 “So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’ 27 And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt.
28 “But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’ 30 But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. 31 So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. 32 Then summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.
33 Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’
34 “And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. 35 My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”
May we live together in community based on the forgiveness of sins!