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The Sermon We’d Like to Skip

The final sermon [of Jesus] . . . . comprises the whole of Matthew 18, the sermon on humility and forgiveness.

It too breaks neatly into two parts according to those two themes that we have just mentioned:

  1. HUMILITY: 18:1-14 dealing with the theme of humility—first the need of humility for disciples (they are to have a childlike attitude, understanding that they are entirely dependent on God and Christ), and also focusing on, in a sense, the humility that God Himself exhibits in the extent to which He goes to seek to save those who are lost (here we have the famous parable of the lost sheep in verses 10-14).
  2. FORGIVENESS: Verses 15-35 turn to the closely related topic of forgiveness and they too subdivide into two subsections that must be taken together.
    • No Repentance: Verses 15-20 deal with what happens with respect to forgiveness when there is no evidence of repentance. This caveat is not immediately obvious just from the text of Matthew, but is explicitly present in the parallel brief account in Luke 17:3. And it seems to be a necessary interpretive conclusion even from reading the text of Matthew 18 alone, because the following verses, 21-35, very clearly teach that there is to be lavish, even unlimited, forgiveness where there is repentance. The procedures then of 15-20, even if not explicitly stated, must come into play only when there is no repentance.
    • Church Discipline: And it is these verses, 15-18 in particular, that provide the famous basis in the teaching of Jesus for the practice of church discipline. If a brother or sister has something against someone, we are to try to deal with that problem first of all privately. How rarely is this followed when often such a person is the last one to know of our offense, after all of our friends have heard our gossip; but these are Jesus’ words. If this proves ineffective, if it does not solve the situation, then one or two others are to be brought together to still try to deal with the situation relatively privately. Only if that fails is the entire church to be involved in the process, and only if that step fails is something like what the church has come to call excommunication put into play.

      It is interesting that the phrase Jesus uses here is simply let such a person be to you as a tax collector or sinner or Gentile, if you like.

      These are the very people that Jesus bent over backwards to try to win to His side and to show love for. In essence, what Jesus is saying then is that even the most serious and severe step in this process of church discipline treats a person as a non-Christian. That may mean he or she is not permitted in certain assemblies that are for Christians only, but it does not mean that one should break off all contact with that person. As long as they are alive, as long as the possibility of repentance is there, Jesus seeks to win them back.

Part of the transcript from lesson 2 of NT220 Jesus in Galilee: Popularity and Misunderstanding
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Which is the harder command for you to follow—humility or forgiveness? Why?

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