Pursue Forgiveness not Justice

Matthew 18:15-35

Jerry A Collins




v     How often should we forgive someone?

v     Why should we be generous forgivers?

v     What does God say will happen if we do not forgive?


When you have the opportunity to exercise the liberating power of forgiveness, what do you usually do with it? Sometimes we withhold it don’t we? We can dangle it in front of people like a carrot on a stick offering a conditional kind of forgiveness requiring people to toe the line or meet our demands before granting forgiveness. For example, the son who never quite feels accepted by his father or the mate who gives the silent treatment, or the boss who is controlling and unrealistic, or the neighbor, the pastor, the butcher, the baker, the candlestickmaker who wronged you or injured you or you them. God never intended that people in His kingdom wield the power of forgiveness to serve their own purposes. God has given us the assignment of forgiveness. We must learn what that is biblically and then figure out how to apply it toward one another.

The theme of this chapter is the care and well-being of the little ones—the people of faith who have entered into God’s kingdom, those who follow Jesus by faith. This has been noted with the use of little ones or child in vs 3-13; your brother in vs 15, 16, 21, 35. They are not to be harmed or mistreated in any way, especially by others who are following Jesus too vs 1-14. And for the sake of purity and unity of the church believers are to find the correct way to resolve their difficulties related to when a believer stumbles into sin—that is, prayerful consideration with witnesses to confront them vs 15-20; and forgiveness without measure instead of justice vs 21-35.

Peters question: We want to focus our attention on the assignment to forgive without measure as Peter learned when asking Jesus, Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times? vs 21.

Jesus’ answer: Basically, Jesus answer is to forgive continually, don’t seek justice when a fellow child of the kingdom of God wrongs you vs 22. Like Peter, we may wonder how long and how often we should be forgiving someone. In other words, do I ever have the right to withhold my forgiveness? Jesus response alludes to Gen 4:24 to say seventy-seven times. There Lamech, a descendent of Cain, also kills a man—this shows that killing, the first sin committed outside the garden is here to stay—and he demands greater leniency in the vengeance that mite come his way than that afforded to Cain. Jesus uses this to say that the way of the righteous would be to forgive 70 times seven. So Lamech’s revenge becomes a guideline for forgiveness.

(1) Does not mean that this is the limit of forgiveness or to keep a record. (2) Does not mean that we should not discipline and correct believers in the church—vs 15-20 teach discipline. (3) Does not mean that we should simply keep forgiving and tolerating and accepting. The point is sins among the brothers and forgiveness cannot be limited by frequency or quantity. He means that forgiveness is continual. He then extrapolates on this concept with a parable v 23-35.


A man settles his accounts 23-25 While he is auditing his outstanding accounts, during the review a man is brought to him who owed a vast amount of money—some have suggested the equivalent of $10 million dollars. This was no accounting error but a debt that had accumulated over a period of time. So this guy now stands face to face with the creditor who is expecting to be paid back. With no way to pay it off, the creditor declares that the debtor and his family and all his possessions will be auctioned off and sold to the highest bidder to repay the debt. The family is now in slavery for as many generations as it takes to make restitution.

The debtor begs for time to repay 26-27 These words pierced this debtor’s heart as the consequences registered with him. Ashamed and guilty, with the prospects of a broken family in slavery, the man crumbles and prostrate pleads for more time to pay it all back. We learn later that those within hearing distance had been impressed by this plea for mercy vs 31—they were deeply grieved at the later turn of events. Amazingly, the creditor—one, we would expect to be a hard-nosed businessman—is touched with pity and compassion. So much so, that he releases the debtor from everything he owed!    Implications:

(1) The man and his family are set free from imprisonment. (2) The debt is fully canceled. (3) No indication of lost employment. (4) The creditor took the financial lose personally for him absorbing all the debt. (5) So forgiveness—for that is what this is—vs27,  vs 32, it  is  the willingness to suffer the consequences of the offender’s sin against God without seeking revenge, harboring bitterness, or demanding justice. We have been forgiven an infinite amount by God in order to enter His kingdom. There are ramifications for us who are in it that determines the way we now must treat others—especially those who need to be forgiven. The fact is we have been forgiven more than we will ever forgive. (Amnesia promise Jer 31:34; stain removal promise Isa 1:18; east/west promise psa 103:12; deep sea promise mic 7:19).


The debtor is unforgiving 28-30 Somebody owed him about $20. He seizes the debtor and choking him demands full payment. The debtor also pleads for mercy as this original debtor had done. But the response is much different. Instead of mercy he gets justice and is thrown into prison—a sentence this original debtor had been delivered from. The offense is so miniscule in comparison. We have no business seeking justice in our personal relationships. We cannot reserve forgiveness for special occasions. The point is being forgiven by God of such a large debt of sin makes it impossible for us not to continually forgive others who have wronged us by their sin against God. He has no sense of forgiveness or mercy. Do you need to release someone from a debt you think they owe you?

Original master exacts justice 31-34 The original creditor hears what happens, summons this guy, calls him wicked for not forgiving the debt, and tells him he should have had mercy—he had even received more than he had originally asked for—could you not have shown mercy at all? And the original sentence is imposed upon him!  


The point of vs 35 is if you do not keep on forgiving believers then expect God to deal His justice to you and not His mercy and forgiveness when you face Him! We have to ultimately answer to God our Father about these matters and He expects that we have the same heart concern that He does. God will judge you according to His standard not one you concoct to justify your unforgiveness of others.

1. It’s a question of justice vs mercy. Vs 28 paying back what you owe is justice. Vs 29 have patience I will repay is mercy. The point is to not pursue justice with people—an eye for an eye—but pursue mercy.

2. Forgiveness does not ignore the wrong incurred but absorbs it by faith without harboring bitterness, imposing justice, or seeking payback.

3. I must never withhold forgiveness of anyone for anything. Their offense may impact our relationship in a different way, it may even mean removing myself from them but forgiveness is essential with God.