Summary: The quickest path for you to obtain peace inside yourself, peace with God and display Christ-like love is for you to confess and forsake. Then, go to that brother or sister in Christ and make things right.
Opening illustration: When I was about nine or ten, my grandmother a very godly woman, would give spiritual advice to keep the grandchildren on the straight and narrow. I remember one thing she said very clearly. “Stay away from sin, because you don’t want to commit the unforgivable sin.” Well, I did not know what that sin was, and maybe, she did not tell me on purpose, because I sure did not want to commit that sin! In my mind, I associated sins found out with spankings, and I envisioned a sin that would result in a perpetual spanking, in the world without end … amen! For me, that was scary!
Let us turn to Matthew 18 and see the kind of sin this man committed which got him into a lot of trouble.
Introduction: Forgiveness is not natural to man. Our fallen-human nature has at its core a selfish desire for revenge, and personal retribution. But forgiveness is the whole basis of our opportunity for heaven. It is a most Christ-like character trait. Think about Christ as he was dying on the cross, having been falsely accused by His own people, beaten and mocked, by the Roman soldiers. Yet His attitude on the cross is one of forgiveness, Luke 23:34 (KJV), “Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
Forgiveness reflects the highest human virtue, because it so clearly reflects the character of God. A person who forgives is a person who emulates godly character. Nothing so much demonstrates God’s love as His forgiveness. A person who does not forgive is therefore a person lacking in godly character and without Christ-like love, no matter how correct his theology or how outwardly spotless his morals appear to be. A Christian who will not relinquish a hateful, resentful attitude toward someone who has wronged him is a person who knows neither the true glory of his redeemed humanity nor the true glory of God’s gracious divinity. An unforgiving Christian is a living contradiction of His new nature in Christ. It is central to the heart of God to forgive, and only the Christian who radiates forgiveness radiates true godliness.
Considering forgiveness from another direction, Christians need to forgive because they themselves need forgiveness. They are spiritual children and, like all children, are ignorant, weak, selfish, disobedient, and regularly in need of forgiveness, both from God and from each other. Forgiving is a give-and-take issue of life.
Forgiveness is therefore the key to spiritual unity in the church, because it is the key to love and the key to all meaningful relationships. Only forgiveness can break down the barriers that sin continually and inevitably erects between people, including God’s people.
How does FORGIVENESS play out in our lives?
1. The Gift of Forgiveness (vs. 23-27)
What is this wonderful, biblical forgiveness? There are several words used for forgiveness in the Bible: three Hebrew words in the Old Testament and four Greek words in the New Testament. The first Hebrew word is kafar, from which we get the meaning "to cover," as in, "to cover or blot out our sins." The second word is nasa, which means "to bear, to take away." The third word is salach, which is used only with reference to God forgiving the sins of people. It means "to pardon," as in, "our God [who will] freely pardon." (Isaiah 55:7)
In the New Testament, first you find the Greek word apoluein, which means "to release." There also is the wonderful word charizomai, which comes from the word charis, or "grace." Charizomai means "to grace you," to freely give you heaven when you deserve hell. What a truly beautiful word! The third word is aphesis, from the Greek word aphiemi, "to send away." Finally, there is paresis, which means "to disregard"-this word is used in the context that God will not see our offenses, but rather will disregard them.
Forgiveness does not mean that we pretend like nothing ever happened. It does not mean trusting a swindler with money, trusting a wife-beater to not get abusive again, or appointing a child-molester to be a youth pastor. However, forgiving means that we do not harbor grudges, we do not seek vengeance. It means letting go of our need to get even. It means praying for our enemies. It means seeing ourselves in their shoes, knowing that God has, for the sake of Christ, forgiven us all our sins too. No groveling required. God does not want us to sin again, but his mercy lasts forever.
God wants us to forgive, and he knows that it’s hard. He wants us to obey him in everything, and he knows that we don’t. That’s why our salvation does not depend on our performance, but on the righteousness of Christ. Our salvation does not depend on our performance in keeping the law, or in having enough faith, or in forgiving as well as we ought. In all these areas, we are sinners who fall short of the glory of God.