Matthew 18:12-14 How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray? 13 And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray. 14 Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.
The Importance Of Christian Unity
It is so easy to misinterpret and misapply Scripture. We know that God says of His Bible that,
2 Timothy 3:16-17 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 17 that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.
- It is the Bible that gives us “doctrine”, truths by which we live.
- It is the Bible that “corrects” us, keeping us in the Way of Christ.
- It is the Bible that gives us “instruction in righteousness”, that is, in how to best live our lives so as to honor our Savior and Lord.
- It is the Bible that makes us “perfect”, that is, “mature” in the eyes of God.
- It is the Bible that equips us to do good works, works that GOD considers good.
This is why it’s so very important to read the Bible carefully. The text above has often been preached by well meaning Pastors as an evangelistic message, teaching us how we ought to “go out from the Church and tell others about Christ”. The principle preached is correct. We should go out from the Church and tell others about Christ. This is what the Great Commission teaches us. Didn’t Jesus say:
Matthew 28:19-20 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20 teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you …
Yes, we should go out and reach others for Christ. We are salt, but no good if we stay in the salt shaker. We are light, but no good to God nor anyone else if we are only light while in this building. The salt must go. The light must go. But our focal text has nothing to do with reaching the lost.
This text deals with Christian unity.
It’s very clear that it deals with Christian unity, a unified Church. First, what is Jesus speaking of? Who is lost? Jesus is speaking of a sheep. A SHEEP that went astray. The word “sheep” is used 189 times in the Bible. Many times it just refers to the animal, that baa, baa, baa sheep. Abel was a keeper of sheep (Genesis 4:2). Abraham had lots of sheep (Genesis 12:16). But sheep has another use in scripture. Sheep is a term used for the people of God, those saved by faith. You find this in the Old Testament:
Psalm 95:7 For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. …
Psalm 100:3 Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Before the Millennial Kingdom begins on the earth, Jesus said:
Matthew 25:31-34 When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: 32 and before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: 33 and he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
It is the sheep on Christ’s right hand that will enter His Kingdom. But the goats on the left hand, what happens to them?
Matthew 25:41 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
When Jesus speaks of leaving the ninety and nine to reach out to the one sheep that strayed, and went “into the mountains”, He is speaking of a believer who wanders away from the Shepherd and the Church. This is not a lost person, but a saved person, a well intentioned believer who has allowed life to lead himself or herself astray. This is not a goat, but a sheep. The shepherd went after the one sheep. Why? We are told in:
Matthew 18:14 Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.
Again, what does Jesus mean by “little ones”. Read your context.
Matthew 18:6 … one of these little ones which believe in me …
When one of the “sheep” gets away from the flock and the protection of the shepherd, the little one is susceptible to be eaten of wolves. The protection that a believer has is the Church, the gathering of like minded believers. As we come to this section of Scripture Jesus is emphasizing the importance of Christian unity and love. The Church must remain Christ focused, and must care for one another. It is not God’s will that any of you should perish. He wants you to live blessed lives in Him. God our Father wants you to be the light of the world, the City of God (Matthew 5:14). We cannot be light while there are divisions and fighting among us.
Jesus is ministering now in the shadow of the Cross. It will not be very long before Judas Iscariot betrays the Lord, and the disciples will scatter as the Master is taken. Jesus knows this is coming. He knows His earthly purpose will soon be fulfilled. As He speaks in the shadow of the Cross, He wants His Church to know the importance of unity in Him. There is safety in the Church. There is protection in the Church.
Conflict Resolution In The Church
A Church is a gathering of imperfect, but saved people, following Jesus Christ the Lord. Imperfect people often err. It happens. I have heard people get mad and leave their local Church because someone did something that hurt their feelings. It is a weak Christian that runs away from a problem, rather than resolving it the way Christ directs. Read with me:
Matthew 18:15 Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.
Jesus says “if thy BROTHER”. This is a brother in the faith, a fellow believer in Christ. If a fellow Christian trespass against thee, does something that offends you, then what are you to do? Does Jesus say?
“Get on the phone and tell somebody else – preferably a lost person – about it”.
Does Jesus say?
“Smile outwardly, but inwardly carry a grudge against that person”.
No, Jesus says, “Go to that brother or sister who offended you, and privately discuss it”. The hurt, though it may have occurred publicly, is to be resolved privately. “Tell him his fault between thee and him ALONE”. Don’t tell anybody else. Tell that person. Jesus said in ..
Luke 17:3-4 Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him.
There is no limit on the number of times a brother or sister in Christ offends you and you must forgive them. If they hear you, and repent of what they did (yes, say “I’m sorry”), then you are to LET IT GO. Let go of the hurt. Let go of the slight. After all, how many times a day do we ourselves fail our Jesus? The Apostolic text says:
Colossians 3:13 Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.
Jesus forgives us repeatedly throughout the day when we fail Him. As He has forgiven us, we are to forgive those who offend us. When Jesus taught us the Lord’s Prayer – the model we are to follow when we pray – part of that prayer is:
Matthew 6:12 … forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
As we have been forgiven, we are to forgive. To drive this point home, Jesus said, following this Model Prayer:
Matthew 6:14-15 … For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: 15 but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
A failure to forgive someone is a breach of Grace. To harbor a grudge is to harm yourself. This active sin puts a wall between you and your Lord Jesus. God says:
Isaiah 59:2 … your iniquities have separated between you and your God,
and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.
Forgiveness is not an optional thing, but a commanded thing. Why is this so important? Because the Church is a group of believers who are to WORK TOGETHER FOR CHRIST. The Body is one, and has many members (1 Corinthians 12:12). God sets the members in the Body as it pleases Him (1 Corinthians 12:18). And every member needs the other member. You have gifts given you by God that I do not have. When we unite as a Church, we stand together against the darkness. God has ordered that there be no division in the Body, but the members should care about one another (1 Corinthians 12:25). God has decreed:
Leviticus 19:17 … Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart
Ok, so you’ve went to your brother or sister who has offended you, and the conflict still exists. What is done then? Jesus said:
Matthew 18:16 But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.
This is not a new thing that Jesus devised. Jesus took this from the Old Testament Law.
Deuteronomy 19:15 One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sinneth: at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established.
If there is a breach, and the other brother is at fault and will not repent, then you are to take another believer with you and, together, speak to the wayward brother or sister. But what if they continue to repent?
Matthew 18:17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.
Those who will not make peace, in the end, are expelled from the Church. They are recognized as “heathen” and “publican”. That means the erring brother or sister is, at that point, treated as if they were lost (for they are).
You see, the only way that I know you’re saved is by your evident and outward behavior. The Apostolic text states:
1 John 4:20-21 If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? 21 And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.
The person who is saved will be loving of others, gracious to others, kind to others, forgiving of others. These are the fingerprints of God on the saved life. If a person stews in hatred, that person was lost anyway. The Church is called to recognize it when that person will not repent.
Why is unity so important in the Church? Because Jesus is in our midst only when we are together in Christian unity.
Matthew 18:18-20 Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.
The Church, bound together by Christian love, has been given a great deal of power by God. The Church has the power to bind, and to loose. Not because of our power, but because, when we gather together in love, loving Jesus, then Jesus is manifest in us. And there is nothing too great for Jesus to do.
Are There Any Loopholes In What Jesus Said To Do?
As Jesus finishes teaching these great truths, Peter comes to Him and asks the question in everyone’s mind. Don’t make fun of Peter. When God gives us a law, then it is in our human nature to look for “loopholes”. Like when we drive. When the speed limit says “70 MPH”, we often drive 75, because “it’s only five miles over the limit”. I heard a fellow one day talking, LOUDLY, about a ticket he got for going 5 miles over the speed limit. He said, “I can’t believe the cop gave me a ticket! I just can’t believe it! I’m going to take this to court. I was only – only – five miles over”. If he took it to court, I’m curious what the judge said. I think I know. I think he had to pay the ticket, and maybe a little more for stupidity. The word LIMIT means LIMIT. But we are human.
So Peter comes and asks the question we were all thinking:
Matthew 18:21 Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?
“Lord, seven is a good number. That’s the number of completion. If my brother offends me seven times, can I hate him after that?” Jesus replied in a very interesting way:
Matthew 18:22 Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.
Now why did Jesus choose “seventy times seven”? If you were a Jew, you would know this. When God gave Israel His Law, He gave them Shmita, or the Sabbatical Year. At the website My Jewish Learning we are told:
“In the Shmita year, debts are to be forgiven, agricultural lands to lie fallow, private land holdings to become open to the commons, and staples such as food storage and perennial harvests to be freely redistributed and accessible to all.”
Every 7 years Israel was to have Shmita (see Exodus 23:10-11). Though Israel was given this Law, for 490 years or 70 times Israel refused to take Shmita. It was only after 490 years of disobedience that God punished His Israel, and placed them in 70 years of captivity by Babylon, and later Medo-Persia. That is 70 times 7. Jesus said, you are to forgive your brother, just as God forgave Israel, 70 x 7 or 490 years. Let me ask, how many of you sitting here today are 490 years old? No one, I’d guess.
As long as you live, you are to forgive the brother or sister who has offended you. Those who will not do so are LOST, not found. They are not of Christ’s Kingdom.
Jesus now speaks a pretty lengthy parable. This parable is only found in the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus says:
Matthew 18:23-24 Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. 24 And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents.
The “King” in this parable is a reference to our Heavenly Father. The King is settling accounts with His servants (that’s we who believe in Jesus). One servant stands in front of the King. This servant owes ten thousand talents. Now, this is an astronomical amount of money. Six hundred talents was the Roman Tax levied on all of Southern Palestine. Ten thousand talents is over 16 times more than that tax. It was impossible for the man to repay this.
Matthew 18:25-27 But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. 27 Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.
The man begged the King for Grace. And the King gave Grace. Rather than make the man pay what he owed, the King forgave him this tremendous debt. Beloved, if you are saved by faith in Christ, then you have been forgiven an immeasurable amount by God. Sin is an offense against God. Sin is a slight against the Immortal. And yet, for Christ’s sake, we have been forgiven.
The forgiven should themselves forgive. We have been forgiven much. We must forgive much.
Matthew 18:28-30 But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. 29 And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. 30 And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt.
The man did the opposite that was done to him. He should have been gracious. Instead, he had no grace in him. He not only cast his poor servant into prison, but humiliated him by grabbing him by the throat. But word gets around.
Matthew 18:31-34 So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. 32 Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: 33 shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? 34 And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him.
The King reversed his earlier decision. The evil and ungracious servant was “delivered to the tormentors”. What does this mean? I don’t know, but I don’t want to find out! I think that God surrenders the ungracious believers to something that causes them pain until they repent. Again, I don’t know exactly what that it. But I do know, it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:31).
Jesus brings the parable home. He ends with:
Matthew 18:35 So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.
We are to forgive – FROM THE HEART – anyone who offends who is a brother or a sister in Christ. Always. No loopholes. It is the unified Church that can bring light back to America. Let us work together for Jesus, loving Him and loving one another. May God bless our hearts with this His Word. Amen and Amen.