AFTER recounting the incident of the little children, Matthew records further teaching of our Lord upon the same occasion (Matt. 18:15-35). He gives us the procedure we should follow with an offending brother in the church. Strange that we should overlook such plain instruction in our church discipline nowadays! The offended party is to go to the offender alone; if reconciliation cannot be effected that way, two or three others are to be taken along the second time; if that fails, the church is to act; and if he hear not the church, he is to be treated as an heathen and a publican—not despised, but as one outside the fold.
Then follows the word of authority about “binding and loosing” which we considered in our study of Peter’s confession. Next is the promise that where two are agreed as touching anything they shall ask, it is granted of the Father, and that where two or three gather in His name, He is there. Another glorious check we fail to cash! We roll it under our tongues as a precious promise, but it is not a motto for the wall but an endorsed check to present at the Bank of Heaven.
Peter asks about forgiveness, and our Lord tells the story of the unmerciful servant who, himself forgiven of a great debt, chokes a fellow servant who owes but a mite. We believers are forgiven of an incalculable debt against God, but “Jesus paid it all.” Shall we not freely forgive again and again those who wrong us? Of course, this is primarily kingdom teaching and does not mean that we are lost if we do not forgive others. Rather, we are bidden to forgive one another “even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven us.” The absence of a forgiving spirit shows that the professing believer does not have the Spirit of Christ and is none of His.
Going back, it is interesting to note the place our Lord claims for Himself in the promise that where two or three gather in His name He is there. If He were not the Son of God, what comfort would there be in knowing He was there when we prayed? How precious to know that He Himself intercedes as our Advocate before the Father!
This Christ is with us when we pray, and if we hold malice and will not forgive, He knows it. Peter, of course, was still on Jewish ground, for the fuller light of grace had not yet liberated him. The rabbis taught that trespass should be forgiven three times. Peter, no doubt, congratulated himself that he would be willing to make it seven. But in the Spirit there is no limit to forgiveness nor any Christian mandate. When we set a limit to how much we will forgive, or to any such matter, we lapse back into legalism. Our Lord answered Peter in kingdom terms, but today we must remember that the reason for our forgiving others is not that we may be forgiven but because we are forgiven.