“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 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. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.
“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
Matthew 18:15-35 (ESV)
Here we see two topics that really address the same issue. The first topic is about the role of discipline in the church. How are we to discipline unrepentant brothers and sisters? Jesus gives us four steps to follow. The first two steps involve minimal public involvement. The goal is to help a person repent without bringing shame upon him or her. Yet if this doesn’t work, then the public becomes involved and shame is employed to help the person see their sin.
The art of shaming someone has been lost in modern society. Yet the Bible teaches this technique when it comes to church discipline. I point to 2 Thessalonians 3:14,15. Here Paul uses shame to try to win a brother back. Yet at the same time, we are not to regard the person an enemy, but a brother. When it comes to church discipline, the use of shame is tethered to showing respect for that person as well. Remember, the goal is to win this person back.
The second topic arises when Peter asks Jesus how many times he is to forgive someone. Jesus responds with this great parable. He compares sin to a debt that is owed. The king represents God, and the ten thousand talents represent how grievous our rebellion against God is. The hundred denarii represent the sins another has committed against us. A denarius was worth a day’s wage in the first century. So a hundred denarii is no small amount. Think about how much money you make in a little over three months. That’s a hundred denarii. God doesn’t think the sins committed against us are light. They are heavy and hurtful.
Now let’s compare that to ten thousand talents. One talent was worth six thousand days worth of work. So ten thousand talents is equivalent to six million days wages. To work off such a debt would take a person over sixteen thousand years, an impossible task. This is how great our sin is. Yet the king in this story has pity and forgives the debt of his servant. The king is kind and merciful. He is the opposite of the servant. The servant is wicked. Right after he was forgiven so much debt, he sought out the one who owed him and showed no mercy at all.
Yet this is how we act, isn’t it? We forget all too often how much we have been forgiven and grow angry when we are sinned against. This is why the gospel is so important! Even as Christians, we need to hear this message again and again. Only as we reflect on what Jesus did for us on the cross, can we truly forgive others. If we forget about how much debt has been taken away from us, then we hold grudges and store up anger against people. But when we focus on Jesus and His mercy, then we understand true forgiveness and can forgive even our worst enemy.
This ties into church discipline as well. When we discipline a brother or sister in Christ, we do it with the cross in mind. We do it knowing that their sin against us is miniscule compared to our own sin against God. So we discipline not because we want retribution, but rather because we desire to win that person back. We do it out of love for each other.