Monday, February 3, 2014

Matthew 18: Sin and Forgiveness

Matt 18:7-9 "Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come! If your hand or your foot causes you to sin cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.  

Matt 18:15-18 "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony 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, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." 

Matt 18:21-35 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.  Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. The servant fell on his knees before him. 'Be patient with me,' he begged, 'and I will pay back everything.' The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded.  His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.'  But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened. Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart."

In the ESV translation of Matthew, the word "sin" occurs only 9 times and 5 of these are found in Matthew 18. However, instead of the usual NT for sin (Greek: harmatano), the word for sin that Jesus used in this chapter is skandalizo, from which we get our English word "scandalous." Jesus did not use harmatia (Paul's favourite word) for sin. This word is theological definition as "falling short of God's standard."

Rather, Jesus uses the word skandalizo which literally means to "cause offence" or "cause to stumble". In referring to children in particular, Jesus has strong words against those who cause these little ones who believe in Jesus to stumble or be offended. Sin is not just a private and personal "indiscretion" but it causes others to be stumbled and offended--in other words, it is scandalous.

So, to Jesus sin is any act or attitude that produces an emotional response of revulsion: "Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin (or, cause people to stumble)" (18:7). Jesus says that such people should be tied to a millstone and drown in the open sea or thrown into fiery hell. Some might think Jesus' words are crude but remember He is God speaking. It shows God's revulsion against sin and the only word suitable to describe sin is skandalon.

There is an insidious danger that with so much exposure to violence, sex and wickedness through the movies, internet, and TV that we may become indifferent to sin. Sin has even become "funny". (I'm sometime shocked when audience laughs in a movie when someone gets killed). Sin is not funny -- at least not to Jesus. If we are His followers indwelt by His Spirit, we should share the same revulsion to sin as Jesus Christ Himself.

But in the same chapter, Jesus also mentions the only antidote to sin, viz., forgiveness of sin. When there is sin, whether at a church or personal level, there must be a confrontation of that sin and doors open for forgiveness and reconciliation. In the same chapter, Jesus uses "debts" as the metaphor for sin. Sin is a debt we owed to God and therefore can only be dealt with when it is canceled by God himself.

In the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant, Jesus told of a King who canceled the debts of his servant who owed him ten thousand talents--which was impossible for him to pay back. (A talent is about 20 years' wages for a laborer). Apparently, this servant did not appreciate the enormity of his debts ("I will pay you everything"). So, though forgiven by the King, he could not forgive his fellow servant who owed him only a hundred denarii (a denarius was a day's wage for a laborer).

Our sin-debts towards God is enormous and could not be paid by us. But God has decided to pay the debts himself by sending His Son to the Cross as our Sin-substitute. So, the saying, "Christ died for our sins" (1 Cor. 15:3). Because we have been forgiven such enormous debts, we should extend the same forgiveness to whomever sin against us--not seven times, but seventy seven times! In other words, as disciple of Jesus Christ, our only response to sin against us is forgiveness.

Father, thank You our sin-debts have been forgiven in Christ. Now, help us extend this grace to others. Amen.

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