Principles of Justice that are amplified and illustrated
in Matthew 18:15-35 include:
Impartiality and Fairness. Treating others fairly and without
partiality is God’s standard for us to use with others just He does with
us. Double standards do not work in the Kingdom. V32-33
matters of Justice, there is no favoritism with God. We will be treated
by God in the same manner as we treat others.
Settle quickly with anyone that we sin against, or we will pay a larger
penalty if we do not, and then must answer to Jesus. Truly, mercy will not
be given where we have not been merciful ourselves.
Expressing Repentance and begging for forgiveness must also be
accompanied with an effort to correct the wrong and restore the relationship
to it former condition. Often folk will desire to escape the penalties and
desire to escape the costs as well. Costs may be pecuniary and/ or
Witnesses improve communications.
If a plea to an offending brother fails, then the priority shifts from reconciliation to the maintaining, even to the enforcement, of righteousness. (V.16) For this purpose, the victim is advised to take one or two witnesses to address the offender along with the victim himself. With reconciliation as the objective, determining facts, observing attitudes and actions of both persons, and confirming responsibility will be the primary functions of any honest witness.
A witness serves to report to the church what the offender’s response is to the victim and the way the victim communicates with the offender. Witnesses may not have seen the original incident, but now are called to observe how each person conducts themselves. Witnesses may not be able to support the victim’s position, but can validate before the church the victim’s attempts at reconciliation and the response of the offender.
Witnesses may come away from the meeting with a different view than when called by the victim. It may be that the victim’s cause is frivolous, inaccurate, or even malicious. Witnesses can then act to bring the victim to repentance as representatives of the local church. “Let every matter be confirmed by two or three witnesses.” Matthew 18:16, Deut 19:15.
Taking witnesses will generally not produce warm, happy responses, but it will speak loudly to the offender that he should take this meeting seriously. If the witnesses have first hand knowledge of sin, they should convince the offender of his guilt and need to repent. It might be the sin of self defense at the expense of reconciliation, but that issue would be presented as a secondary issue.
The appearance of two witnesses who, seemingly, support the victim does not seal the offender’s guilt. The credibility of a witness must be assessed by all those who are concerned. There are those who are present only to support a friend, the victim. Since friends bring a personal bias, they do not make the best witnesses. Witnesses must realize they risk losing their friendship with the victim if the truth discovered is something other than what the victim reported to them.
True witnesses serve to discover truth and factual information unprejudiced by emotional relations. If the fear of God is present, good witnesses report a true picture. The local church could have a list of objective member who are willing to serve as witnesses who fear God and are not willing to pervert Justice. The fear of the Lord must be known by witnesses as much as with judges. In the law of Moses, the witnesses that caused a man to be found guilty, had to cast the first stone to take his life. This made it a ‘very personal’ issue for them as well.
The best witnesses are ‘eye witnesses’ who have first hand knowledge of the alleged offense. They are not sympathetic to one side or the other. True witnesses have righteous reconciliation in mind rather than winning the cause of anyone. False witnesses might ‘spin’ the story to be persuasive, but in God’s system, they will then suffer the same punishment at the one they support. V31, Deut 19:16-19.
If the one accused of offending really feels he is right and is not guilty, he should immediately appeal to the church himself, through the witnesses, so that an impartial review can be had. While reconciliation is the first objective, it must not be coerced, extracted or synthesized. Reconciliation can only be accomplished by righteous means. Amos 3:3
Authority is given to the local church, even as small as two members, to
bind and to loose. Our view, considering the context of the passage, is
that Jesus authorizes the local church to deal appropriately with offenders
and their victims. Binding and loosing can refer to determinations of guilt
and of innocence, remedies for reconciliation, degrees of separation for the
guilty, fixing penalties and determining restitutions. Jesus confirms that
these actions of members in the natural realm will be enforced and honored
in heaven by the Father. V18-19
Forgiveness must always be the default choice of a victim when an offender
repeats the sin a large number of times and even in the same day. The
continuing objective of Justice is reconciliation in righteousness.
With each successive sin, the victim should go to step 1. (v15)
and follow the process to completion which is the right thing to do no
matter how many additional sins the offender commits.. This in no way
removes the obligation of the offender to truly demonstrate repentance each
time. This provision is given to emphasize patience with each other
and does not condone unrighteousness. No one has a unilateral right to
be forgiven for sin. This passage does not teach that a victim
must forgive everyone for everything all the time. Scripture must be
compared to scripture and there must be harmony. V 22
Forgiveness is not granted to the unforgiving. See notes on
unforgiveness.Forgiveness may be revoked. The master in Matthew 18
was not unforgiving in rescinding the forgiveness he had granted. A member
who has been lead to believe that the offender is repentant, when in fact he
is not, is not unforgiving if he rescinds a previously expressed
forgiveness. Jesus declares this is God’s way although the Church has
disallowed this possibility for the sake of ‘love.’
Forgiveness is not granted without repentance, restitution and
reconciliation being offered and, perhaps fulfilled at the option of the
victim or the judge. V 26
Forgiveness is not given to those who only make a show of repentance by
showing false humility by begging without actions to match.
Repentance must be demonstrated, in humility, by a change of behavior
and attitudes. Faking repentance to extort forgiveness from a weak victim
will bring God’s wrath to that insincere person. Granting forgiveness to
such a faker does not serve righteousness, and forgiveness will be revoked
when the ruse is discovered. The penalty will be greater for the lie.
V32-35 2 Chron.7:14, Matt 3:8, Mark 1:4, Luke 24:47, Acts 5:31, Acts
20:21, Acts 26:20, Rom 2:4, 2 Cor 7: 9-10, Hebrews 6:1-8, 2 Peter 3:9.
Compassion, pity, forgiveness and the canceling of indebtedness follow
humble repentance. God’s expectation is that we promote reconciliation by
being forgiving and merciful with those who bring forth the ‘fruits of
repentance.’ (Luke 3:8)
Mercy means the direct involvement, by anyone possessing strength, resources, or capabilities, with someone whose life is weakened by sin or misfortune. The Apostle Paul found mercy because he acted in ignorance and unbelief. Mercy for him included revelations from God that corrected his ignorance and unbelief. Mercy is an opportunity to give life where death is near and working. Those unwilling to give personal assistance to a repentant offender will not find mercy when they need it. “Blessed are the merciful for they will obtain mercy.” Matt 5:7 NIV . Restoring a relationship by extending mercy is more important than the costs and penalties that might be suffered, but where an offense has been committed, the offender must be repentant and show a true desire to make restitution and to be reconciled. If the offender can not make restitution, but is repentant, then mercy is called for where the victim will pay the debt himself or cancel it. Mercy means helping someone that can not help themselves. But is not extended to the proud, arrogant and unrepentant. V27
There are penalties for treachery which are long lasting and severe in the Kingdom. V34
Admitting responsibility (when true and appropriate) and confessing it
is part of repentance.
Restitution may or may not be set aside. It is the choice of the debt
holder or the one who is injured, and is not something to be pressured or
extracted by the offender. Certainly the offender must not be indignant when
the victim fully accepts and keeps the restitution. Compare v.26,27 with
Offenses we think are over and the forgiveness we have obtained might be
annulled by future behavior. V34
All have the right of appeal to the Master for justice to be done. Christians can make an appeal to church authorities and to God on behalf of others. V31 (See Luke 18:1-6)
New Century Version, Matthew 18:15-35
15"If your fellow believer sins against you, go and tell him in private what he did wrong. If he listens to you, you have helped that person to be your brother or sister again.
16But if he refuses to listen, go to him again and take one or two other people with you. 'Every case may be proved by two or three witnesses.'
17If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen to the church, then treat him like a person who does not believe in God or like a tax collector.
18"I tell you the truth, the things you don't allow on earth will be the things God does not allow. And the things you allow on earth will be the things that God allows.
19"Also, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about something and pray for it, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.
20This is true because if two or three people come together in my name, I am there with them."
21Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, when my fellow believer sins against me, how many times must I forgive him? Should I forgive him as many as seven times?"
22Jesus answered, "I tell you, you must forgive him more than seven times. You must forgive him even if he wrongs you seventy times seven.
23"The kingdom of heaven is like a king who decided to collect the money his servants owed him.
24When the king began to collect his money, a servant who owed him several million dollars was brought to him.
25But the servant did not have enough money to pay his master, the king. So the master ordered that everything the servant owned should be sold, even the servant's wife and children. Then the money would be used to pay the king what the servant owed.
26"But the servant fell on his knees and begged, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you everything I owe.'
27The master felt sorry for his servant and told him he did not have to pay it back. Then he let the servant go free.
28"Later, that same servant found another servant who owed him a few dollars. The servant grabbed him around the neck and said, 'Pay me the money you owe me!'
29"The other servant fell on his knees and begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you everything I owe.'
30"But the first servant refused to be patient. He threw the other servant into prison until he could pay everything he owed.
31When the other servants saw what had happened, they were very sorry. So they went and told their master all that had happened.
32"Then the master called his servant in and said, 'You evil servant! Because you begged me to forget what you owed, I told you that you did not have to pay anything.
33You should have showed mercy to that other servant, just as I showed mercy to you.'
34The master was very angry and put the servant in prison to be punished until he could pay everything he owed.
35"This king did what my heavenly Father will do to you if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart."