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We’re studying the section chapter 16:21- chapter 25, which you can see is a big portion of the Book of Matthew. In this section God gives us the nature of the kingdom of heaven, that it’s spiritual, rather than a physical kingdom. His domain, His realm is the realm of the heart, rather than any kind of a physical kingdom. It’s eternal rather than temporal; an invisible kingdom. In 16:21-25 God unfolds for us that nature of the kingdom. I think it’s better understood if you divide it into two parts. 16:21 through chapter 17, and then chapter 18-25; these two sections. The first section gives us, and we’ve looked at the three stories in there, gives us the heart and core of spiritual living. If I’m really spiritual, and I’m living in union with Lord, then what will be true in my life? And we looked at those three characteristics. I will be seeing Jesus glorified. That’s a rock; that’s the foundation. If I’m not seeing Jesus glorified, then I’m playing a religious game. I am not spiritual. I will be trusting Jesus unreservedly. If I’m not trusting Jesus all the way, I’m just playing a game. And I will be resting in Jesus as all-sufficient. If you find somebody or some group who is seeing Jesus glorified, and is trusting Him unreservedly, and is resting in Him as all-sufficient, then you are going to see what is described in chapters 18-25. We’re going to look at five, six,or seven different principles, characteristics. If I’m living this way, this will be true in my life. If I lack these things in my life, I don’t need to work on those things. I need to run back to the basic principles; to the foundation. This is an outworking of this. This is a superstructure. If you ever run after by-products instead of after the goal, you will lose both the by-products and the goal together. One is an outworking of the other.
Last time we discussed the first characteristic, chapter 18:1-14; if I’m really living spiritual, what will be true in my life. The first characteristic we stated was childlike; I’m going to be childlike. Remember what childlikeness is. It is not the disposition of a child. Many people think that; you’ve got believe like a child, be simple like a child, be natural like a child, and be innocent like a child, and be humble like a child. No; that’s childish. That’s not childlike. The Bible not only says that’s not what childlikeness is, but forbids those other things. If you go through your Bible it says, “Don’t think like a child. In understanding be men. Don’t believe like a child, carried about with every wind of doctrine.” He actually condemns those childish dispositions.
What is childlike? It’s a condition of a child’s nature, that is helpless. When he says “childlike” He means helplessly dependent. That’s the first outworking of a spiritual Christian. You’ll find that to be the most dominant characteristic of someone who is trusting Jesus; he’s helplessly dependent, and he never knows it all. He’s constantly at the feet of Christ, leaning upon Him and drawing from Him, and feeding on Him, always needy. When you got saved you came to Christ as a helpless sinner. That’s how you got saved. If you are going to understand spiritual living, you’ll learn to come to Christ as a helpless Christian. It’s the same principle. As you begun to walk in the Lord, as you received Him, so walk in Him. No amount of experience or growth in the grace of God is ever going to change that. Childlikeness; helpless dependence upon the Lord is one of your basic characteristics. The more you grow the more you’ll see how helpless you are, and how much you ever need the Lord. That’s Matthew 18: 1-14.
Before leaving these verses there’s one further thought I wanted to develop before we look at the second characteristic. I’m going to reread verses 5-11, and make a couple of comments, and then we’ll get onto the second characteristic. “Whoever receives one such child in my name, receives Me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believes in Me to stumble, it’s better for him that a heavy millstone be hung around his neck, and that he be drowned in the depths of the sea. Whoa to the world because of stumbling blocks, for it’s inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but whoa to the man through whom the stumbling block comes. If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you. It’s better for you to enter life crippled or lame than having two hands and two feet to be cast into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out, and throw it from you. It’s better for you to enter life with one eye than having two eyes to be cast into the hell of fire. See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that there are angels in heaven who continually behold the face of My Father who is in heaven, for the Son of Man has come to save that which is lost.”
I want to get one other point before your heart before we leave this section, and I’m referring to that matter of stumbling blocks. So we don’t get bogged down in the Bible doctrine of stumbling blocks, and depart from the message of Matthew, let me remind you how the Holy Spirit wrote the Bible. I realize this might be a simplification, but it’s not an over simplification. This is true in the main, and I think it will help us as we study any part of the Bible. God is one, and His truth is one, and it’s personified, of course, in His Son; the Lord Jesus is truth. That’s His name. The Old Testament is not one truth and the New Testament another truth. The Old Testament and the New Testament are the same truths. There’s only one truth. The Old Testament gives the truth in embryonic form; in seed form. It’s an egg; it’s an acorn. The whole yoke is there but it’s in seed form. In the Old Testament you have the truth in pictures, in types, in histories; they are foreshadows, but it’s all there. Another way to say it is that you won’t find anything in Romans that you don’t find in Genesis. You won’t find anything in Revelations that you don’t find in Genesis. It’s all there in seed. Just so, the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John gives the truth, if we’re continuing with the flower illustration, in bud form. It’s still not developed. It might be in blossom but it’s not in fruit. It’s not the mature fruit. The epistles finally give the full development of the truth, and give the full explanation of the truth. The Old Testament, seed form; gospel, bud form; and the epistles, give the truth in the fully developed form.
Why am I saying this? It’s to remind you that it’s not the intention of Matthew or the Holy Spirit through Matthew to give the doctrine of stumbling blocks in bud form; not here. He does that later on through Paul in the epistles. If you want to understand a stumbling block you’ve got to study what the Spirit says through Paul, because he lays down all the principles of stumbling blocks. Don’t let a questionable practice upset your Spirit controlled conscience, and don’t offend your brother’s Spirit controlled conscience. Does it hurt the temple of the living God? Does it edify? Does it bring glory to God? Is it expedient? Paul lays down all of that about the stumbling block. Matthew doesn’t do that. Matthew’s point is childlikeness. His illustration is a stumbling block. Sometimes we miss that and we study the illustration instead of the point, and you can get side tracked. We want to study stumbling, but only as the illustration, and there’s going to be a lot more about it that’s in other places. But I don’t want to lose the great message of Matthew.
Let me start of by saying, by glancing at the verses that we read, there’s mystery in every truth of God, because God is infinite. Don’t think you’ve ever come to the bottom of any verse in the Bible. You’ll be in heaven a million years, and you’ll be rejoicing in John 3:16. You haven’t come to the bottom of anything. Some of these verses have phrases and expressions that are hard to understand; incomprehensible. I not only admit that the Bible is incomprehensible; I rejoice in it! It would be a terrible thing if I understood everything in the Bible, because that means that God would be the size of my brain, and any God the size of my brain couldn’t save a flea. It certainly wouldn’t do you or me any good. There’s mystery in all of the truth of God. I don’t understand everything that is written, and so it’s my heart and intention to catch the spirit of a passage. We might not be able to dot all our i’s in the same place or cross our t’s in the same way, and all. The sizes of our circles may be different, but if we have the same center, it really doesn’t matter what size our circle is. We can have fellowship and union with our Christ. There’s a lot here that I don’t even begin to understand, but I think I’ve caught the spirit of the passage, and I’d like to pass that on.
For those who like logical connection, here’s what I’d like to do. Let me give you a working definition of “stumbling blocks”. We ought to start there, and then let me give you four statements from this passage that I think will shed light on the truth of being a stumbling block. The Bible has a lot to say about not being a stumbling block, and don’t put a stumbling stone in someone else’s way. Don’t cause your brother to stumble, except, He says in another place, when you are united to Christ, the Living Stone, then you are supposed to be a stumbling block. Peter said that the stone which the builders rejected became the head of the corner; a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense. So, the gospel and the cross and the simplicity of faith, and the message of grace causes people to stumble, and you aren’t supposed to avoid that. You are supposed to be a stumbling stone as you are united to Christ, the rock of offense – the stumbling stone.
Let me tell you what a stumbling stone isn’t, and then try to nail it down for you, and then we’ll look at these practical things. A stumbling stone is not disagreement with a Christian brother. A lot of people think that’s a stumbling stone. Some people think that if someone disagrees with me, I’m going to have to change my belief, or at least not say anything, because I don’t want the weaker brother to stumble. What happens when you have that approach is the weakest Christians in the body rule, because nobody wants them to stumble, so everyone tolerates them, and no one disagrees with them. So, someone says, (this is just an illustration), “I believe all women should wear a veil; a head covering, in a meeting.” So, someone says, “I don’t want them to stumble, so I better wear a head cover.” That has nothing to do with stumbling. Someone says, “So and so says you should never go to a movie as a Christian, so I don’t go to a movie because I’ll cause them to stumble.” Does that cause somebody to stumble, because you disagree on that thing? Someone else says, “If you are a man you’ve got to have your hair above your ears.” “Well, I don’t want them to stumble, so I’ll get a crew cut right away, because I don’t want people to stumble.” Someone says, “Contact sports; I can’t believe you are a Christian and you watch football. Don’t you know that it’s wrong to hurt the body?” “Oh, I don’t want to cause them to stumble.”
I remember a man came up to me one time, and I had a tie on and a tie pin, and he said, “Brother, you’ve caused me to stumble. You are wearing jewelry. Christians don’t wear jewelry.” Well, he owns my tie pin now. I gave him the pin. I said, “I don’t want to cause you to stumble.” If he came up to me today, I wouldn’t stop wearing it. I’d still wear it, and I’d laugh at him. I’d say, “You believe that, you silly duck?” I’m still going to wear it, because that didn’t cause him to stumble. What is a stumbling block? I think disagreements like that are healthy. It’s good sometimes to get into a good theological bull session, and duke out some of these disagreements. It has nothing to do with stumbling.
I’m a stumbling block not when I have someone disagree with me, but when I actually cause someone to depart from God. Until you’ve made someone sin, until you’ve affected someone’s relationship with God, you have not caused them to stumble. Until anything I say or think or do causes people to depart from God, there is no stumbling. Some people live their Christian lives as if they were walking on egg shells all the time; so delicate, so worried that they’re going to cause somebody else to stumble. If I disagree with you, you may think, “Boy, that man is squirrely in his ideas.” Okay, think I’m squirrely, and I’ll think that maybe your head is a vacant lot. We can disagree with each other, and not come to agreement on some of these points, but when we cause each other to sin, when we effect someone’s relationship with God, then we’ve caused stumbling.
Rather than listing a bunch of stumbling blocks for you, remember when you give a principle, you have unlimited application, and that’s why I like to teach principles. I like to let you find your own application. Give the principle, and there’s no end to the application. Let me give some principles that are gleaned from this particular passage. Let me give four teachings from this passage. Verse 8&9 are not literal. The Lord Jesus is not saying literally, “Amputate your foot, amputate your hand, pluck out your eye,” though I understand through the years, some people have taken this literally, and have actually mutilated their bodies in the name of the Lord. Some people have actually believed that, and done it literally, not understanding the mind of God.
I know this is not literal. Let me give you three reasons I know that. First of all, because the hand, the foot and the eye, though they are the instruments of offense, are not the cause of offense. Let me tell you what I mean by that. We say “the lust of the eye” but it’s really the lust of the heart, isn’t it? Remember Jesus said that you can commit adultery with your heart? If I plucked out my eye because of lust, I haven’t touched the problem. The problem is still in my heart. Can blind people lust? Certainly they can. I’d have to amputate my heart to stop sinning, and if I literally cut off my hand, and literally cut off my foot, and literally plucked out my eye, I still haven’t touched the problem. So, I know He’s not speaking literally because that’s not a cure for what He’s talking about, because it’s deeper than that. It’s in the heart. I can wander without my feet.
The second reason I know it’s not literal is the expression in verse 9 “enter into life with one eye,” verse 8 “enter into life crippled”. I know it’s not literal because of God’s clear revelation on heaven. Are there going to be any cripples in heaven? Are there going to people up there with one eye? Any handicapped people up there? Revelations 20:4, the Apostle John said he saw the souls of those who were beheaded for the testimony of Christ and the word of God, and they reigned with Christ a thousand years. Just picture that. They were beheaded. Do you think they reigned with Christ with no heads for a thousand years? You aren’t going to enter life with one eye. That can’t be literal. You aren’t going to enter life in heaven with one foot, with one hand. He means something else. That can’t be literal.
The third reason I know it’s not literal is because that’s the way Jesus always spoke. He took strong physical illustrations in order to illustrate spiritual truths. It’s not unusual at all. Almost always He chose the extreme illustration because by choosing the extreme He included all lesser applications. In other words, if you love the world, you don’t have any question about loving your neighbor, because they are included in the world. The lesser is included in the greater. If you amputate a thing as precious as your hand or your foot or your eye, then certainly any precious thing less than that would be no problem for you to deal with. For example, Abraham was a rich man, wasn’t he? Do you think after he came to the place where he let go of Isaac that he had any trouble letting go of an acre of land for the Lord? Once he gave Isaac he gave everything. God uses the greater to include the lesser. Matter of fact He applies than to Himself in Romans 8:32, “For God, who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him freely give us all things?” If He gave His Son, will He withhold anything? So, I know that it’s not literal.
That’s the first of the four facts; that it’s not literal. The second fact may be summarized in these word; God hold both the offender and the offended responsible; guilty. It’s wrong to offend. It’s wrong to be offended. God has an awful lot to say about the sensitive spirit. That’s why He moved in verse 8. Before that He was talking about, “Don’t offend them, don’t offend them,” and then He gets personal, “If you are offended, you are in trouble.” If your hand offends you or your eye offends you or your foot offends you…” In this connection I love Psalm 119:165, KJV, “Great peace have they that love Thy Law, and nothing shall offend them.” Isn’t that a marvelous verse? NAS says, “Those who love Thy Law have great peace, and nothing causes them to stumble.” Wouldn’t that be wonderful if that were true of every person in this room, and true of everyone listening by tape, that nothing would ever cause them to stumble? It’s wrong to hurt somebody’s feelings, and it’s a sin to be sensitive.
Verse 6&7, God warns those who put stumbling blocks in the way of children, but then in verses 8&9 He comes back to the individual, and He said that it’s your own self that causes you to stumble. Someone can put a stumbling stone in your way, and they’ll answer for that. That doesn’t mean you have to stumble over it. It’s your eye that causes you to stumble over it. It’s your foot that leads you in that path. So, He takes the blame, and says you can’t say, “It’s not my fault. He caused me to stumble.” No, He put it in your way; now don’t stumble. You have a responsibility before God, and so do I. Both are true. It’s wrong to offend, but it’s also wrong to be offended. All through the Bible God underscores that principle, and He puts the responsibility squarely on the will of the individual, on the will of man. I choose if I’m going to be blind. I choose if I’m going to be deceived. You can’t blame someone who has deceived you. Otherwise, it would be ridiculous to give this command, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked.” God gives a command. If you are deceived, you’ve been disobedient. God says, “Don’t be deceived.” He puts the responsibility upon us. Don’t stumble. You’ve got no right to stumble, especially since you have a benediction like Jude 24, “Now, unto Him who is able to keep us from stumbling, to present us falseless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy.” We have a high priest we can trust. There’s no excuse for stumbling, so we can’t pass the buck. Don’t call one another stumblers, and don’t be sensitive. Don’t stumble, and don’t be offended.
The third fact can be stated in these words, because it’s a sin to cause a helpless Christian to stumble, or to put a stumbling stone in his way, when I cause someone to stumble, since that’s a sin, I hurt myself. The one who causes stumbling injures himself. You see, before I can cause you to stumble, there’s already been an inward stumbling in my heart, in my soul before God. I’ve already fallen in my heart before God. It’s always true that before I can sin horizontally, I sin vertically. I can’t sin this way, until I’ve sinned this way, against my God. That’s why this greatly simplifies counseling. See, this is never the problem. The problem is not the problem. This is always the problem; relationship with God is the problem, and because the problem is not the problem, any answers that people give to the problem is not the answer, because you can’t have an answer to a problem that is not a problem. The problem is always sin, and the answer is always relationship with God, and when I’m right with God, I’m right in all the horizontal relationships of life.
There’s no such thing as a marriage problem. There’s only such a thing as a problem with the Lord. If you get rightly related to the Lord, you’ll be rightly related in all of the relationships of earth. This, of course, gives great liberty to the Christian. I remember when I was more green than I am now in some of these things, and I used to live like I was on eggshells, “Oh, I’ve got to be so careful. I don’t want to cause my brother to stumble. I don’t want to say anything or do anything or go any place or be associated with anything. I’m going to quit this and that. I had a whole list of do’s and don’ts. I don’t smoke, and I don’t chew, and don’t go with the girls that do, and all the rest.
Now watch. Do you know what simplified it? My responsibility now is this. If my eye causes me to stumble. I’ve got to keep my heart. There’s my responsibility. I don’t have to worry about offending you. I just have to remember to have to be right with God, and if I’m right with God, I can’t offend you. The only time I can offend my Christian brother is when I stumble in my own heart before God. He greatly simplifies it by bringing it home again. Everything depends upon this. I don’t have to get paranoid about everybody I meet, that I’m going to lead them astray, or something like this. If you are hungry tonight to know Jesus, there’s nothing I can say that can lead you astray. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst, for they shall be in danger of going astray by what Ed Miller says.” Is that what it says? “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst. They shall be filled.” And if you are hungry and thirsty, it’s your responsibility. I can’t lead you astray. You won’t stumble. I have many desires toward you and to those that I teach. The very best thing I can do for you is to delight myself in the Lord, because if you delight yourself in the Lord, He’ll give you the desires of your heart. I don’t have to go after the desires of my heart. I have to go after Him. Delight myself in the Lord, and that will come.
This passage is not literal. God holds the offended and the offender responsible. When I cause others to stumble, it’s a dead give away that I already inwardly stumbled myself before God. I don’t have to try to safeguard myself against causing others to stumble. I just need to walk in an unbroken union in fellowship with the Lord. Let me mention one other fact, and then we’ll get to the second principle.
Glance again at verse 8&9, since this is such a strong illustration. God is illustrating through this extreme that there is no physical law, no matter how dear and precious that might be to you, and what a strong illustration He uses to illustrate that. There is no physical law, no matter how precious that is to you, that can be compared to a spiritual law. He uses that all exclusive extreme to illustrate the less. Just think about it for a moment. Can there be anything on earth in time or space, family or friends or jobs or material things or money, even life and limb, that’s worth keeping for the trade of spiritual life? That’s what He’s illustrating here. If we only had God’s eyes, if we only see as He saw, if we only had His values, then we’d know the intrinsic worth of spiritual reality in anything, no matter how precious it is, that is in our life, we’d be willing to amputate, if it hindered our relationship with Him. I think that’s one of the things He is illustrating here. Obviously they are no exhaustive principles. They are suggestive, and I trust the Lord will apply it.
The other parts of this passage, I don’t really know what He’s reckoning when He warns about the millstone tied around the neck, and drowning in the depths of the sea. I don’t know how He can talk about eternal fire when He’s addressing the people of God. I don’t understand verse 10 and how that supports the fact that we’re not to despise the childlike who believe in Him. There’s a lot here I don’t understand. Verse 11 is in a parenthesis, but it doesn’t fit, as far as I understand. I don’t understand what He’s emphasizing in these things. There’s many things I don’t understand, but I think the direction in the whole passage is clearly childlike. Those who are spiritual are childlike. They stand before God, and God stands before them. They stand before God as helpless infants, and God stands before them protecting them from those who offend them, watching over them, guarding them, keeping them. If they go astray like the sheep that went astray, He goes after them. I see the big thing, but I don’t see a lot of those details.
Matthew 18:15-35, let me read that. Follow along, please. Let me show you how this section relates to what we’ve just been studying. In the New American Standard you’ll notice there is a footnote in verse 15, “If your brother sins,” and the footnote is, “against you.” Some translations don’t have that expression “against you”, but it’s in the footnote. That means that not all the manuscripts have it, but some do. We’re just talking about those who dare to offend His little ones, those who dare to put a stumbling block in their way. If someone sins against you, if someone puts a stumbling block in your way… Understand what I mean when I say this, the Lord Jesus was very hot when He wrote and said verses 6-10. He was angry. At least He was severe. He said, “Don’t you dare try to offend my little one. I’ll roll up my sleeves against you. You don’t begin to touch them. If you touch them I’ll drown you. That’s what He said, “It will be better for you that a millstone were hung about your neck and you would drown in the depths of the sea. Whoa to the world because of stumbling blocks. It’s inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but whoa to the man to whom they come.” He was really tough. He was very severe. He warns them about eternal fire and the hell of fire, “Don’t you touch My children.”
Then it’s almost like He turned off the hot and turned on the cold, “If your brother sins against you,” well after reading what He was going to do, I’d expect it to say, “Hit him with a shovel,” or something like that. What should your attitude be if someone sins against you? Punch him in the nose? Bust his lip, break his knees? That still wouldn’t be as severe as He was! He said, “Take one of those mule driven mill wheels and tie it around his neck and push Him overboard.” That’s what he said. But God has given us the full heart of the Lord here. What should our attitude be if someone causes us to stumble? God says, “Go after them. He’s lost.” See, that’s the point we’ve been discussing. If someone sins against you, they hurt themselves. When they sin against you they’ve gotten out of joint with the Lord. He’s the one who is suffering. You are responsible for our sinning brother, not because they offend us, but because in offending us they hurt themselves, and they’ve departed from the Lord.
Glance at these verses. Many have taken this block of verses right out of its context, and they looked at verse 17 and said, “Here is a teaching on church discipline.” And then they look at verse 18, and say, “Here’s a teaching on church authority.” And then they look at verse 19 and say, “Here’s a word about the prayer meeting.” And then they look at verse 20 and say, “Here’s what constitutes a local church.” And that’s true, but that’s not what Matthew is talking about. He’s not saying, “What’s your attitude toward those who sin? Now a word about church government; now a word on church authority. Now a word on the prayer meeting. Now a word on the local church.” He’s not doing that. He has a message and a theme, and once again we’re to catch the spirit of that. A brother has sinned against you, and in sinning against you he has hurt himself, and he lost. Verse 15, what should you do? You should go after him, and notice the word, try to gain him and try to win him back. You don’t go venting his sin before the world. If he has offended you or hurt you, you don’t go saying, “Attention everybody! Look what that scumbag did to me.” That’s not what He is saying. See, he’s lost and he’s hurting, and he’s wounded. “He’s really hurt me.” No, he’s hurt himself. He hasn’t hurt you.
You are living in a sound proof pavilion in the presence of God, according to the Psalm, “I will hide them in the secret of My presence; from the snipe of tongues.” There is nothing anybody can say that is going to hurt you because you are in that soundproof pavilion in the presence of God, but He’s got to be found. He’s lost to you. When someone sins against you, you’ve lost a brother. He’s lost; go after him. What happens if he won’t listen? He’s lost to the other brothers, too. He’s lost to the other brothers, too. So, you take one or two Christian brothers, because they’ve also suffered a loss, and you go after him again. That should be the attitude, with the purpose of winning them back. What if he still refuses? The body has also suffered a loss. The whole body of Christ suffers a loss. Take it to the church. Take it to the brothers and sisters in Christ because they, too, have lost him. When one person is out of joint, the whole body suffers. What happens if he won’t listen to the church? Verses 18-20, take it to the Lord, who has also suffered a loss. That’s the idea there. It’s also bound in heaven. The Lord has also suffered with this person going astray. He’s lost to you, and he’s lost to the brothers, and he’s lost to the body, and he’s lost to the Lord. Take him to the Lord.
Verse 17 says, “Let him be as a gentile and a tax gatherer.” I used to misunderstand that. I used to think what he meant was, “If he won’t listen to you and won’t listen to the brothers and won’t listen to the church, then forget it. Just throw him out and let him be a dog; just disregard him. He’s not going to listen to anybody, then just throw him away. He’s not going to listen to the united voice of the Christian family, then he’s no good anyway. He’s lost to you, he’s lost to the brothers, he’s lost to the body, he’s lost to the Lord, and if he doesn’t see it, put him out with the lost, and maybe he’ll recognize that he’s lost by seeing that the people of God, the body, has broken fellowship, and maybe he’ll understand that he’s not in fellowship with the head. Maybe he’ll see that he’s lost.” And what should our attitude toward the lost be? Win them to the Lord. That’s the whole idea. He’s not saying, “Just forget them and let them be as a heathen and a publican.” He’s saying, “If you can’t win them by warning, and he won’t listen to the brothers, and won’t listen to the body, bring them to the Lord, and consider him lost, and then go out and get him. Pray for him. But it’s always with the attitude to bring them back. That’s why they put him in the sinner’s place, that he might be won.
So that we don’t misunderstand what that attitude is, let me label it for you, and call it the second characteristic of someone who is spiritual. The second characteristic of a spiritual Christian is the spirit of forgiveness. The spirit of forgiveness is a small part of the spirit of love, because 1 Corinthians 13:5 says, “Love is not provoked, and love does not take into account any wrong suffered.” Forgiveness is practical love. Nothing is more beautiful than a childlike Christian manifesting the spirit of forgiveness. A spiritual person is as helpless as a newborn babe, and a spiritual person is a forgiving person. He not only doesn’t hold a grudge as he sits in neutral, but he goes after the sinner until that sinner is won back and is fully restored.
Glance back at your Bible, please. It’s clear the Apostle Peter did not understand the forgiving spirit. That’s why the Lord Jesus gave the parable. He gave the parable to show exactly what the forgiving spirit is. Glance at verse 21 & 22, Peter’s question, “How often shall by brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” You see, Peter’s question reveals Peter’s ignorance. Peter thought that to forgive is something you do; you forgive. So, he said that since forgive is something I do, then how many times; how many times do I do it? According to the background of this passage, when Peter said in verse 21, “Up to seven times,” that was a very virtuous statement. The Jews in the New Testament followed the teaching of the Pharisees and their misinterpretations of scripture. The Pharisees taught from Amos 1, “For three transgressions or for four, I will not turn away to punish.” They taught from that verse, they didn’t understand the Hebraism and the truth of God, and so they taught that God only forgave three or four times; for three transgressions and for four I will not turn away to punish. So, the Jews taught you could forgive three or four times, and then after that you don’t have to forgive anymore. Well, Peter went way beyond the Jews when he said seven times; he added the three and the four.
In verse 22 when Jesus said, “Seventy times seven,” he wasn’t giving a higher number. He wasn’t saying four hundred and ninety, and if he sins the four hundred and ninetieth time, let him have it. He didn’t say that at all. He was using that number seven as the number of perfection. Peter was using number seven as 6 plus 1. Jesus was using the number seven as it’s used throughout the Bible as the number of completion; the number of perfection. What He was saying is, “You forgive seventy times the perfect number, and you’ll never stop forgiving; in an unlimited way.” We’re going to come back to that in a moment, but let me home in on this. Peter has the idea that forgiveness was something that you do, but the parable pointed out that forgiveness is not something you do. It’s part of the spiritual nature. It’s something you are. It’s a trait of spirituality.
I read a wonderful book by William Law, an eighteenth century writer from the Church of England, and it’s entitled “A treatise of Christian Perfection”. In that book William Law was calling attention to the truth that what we do issues from what we are. Everything we do is because of what we are. He said, “Charity is not alms giving. Alms giving is what you do. Charity is a condition of your heart. We’re all called to the same virtues. We’re all called to equal honesty and equal justice and equal truth and equal forgiving spirit and equal faithfulness. We’re all to have the same heart.” Then he asked these questions, “Can’t the rich be more charitable then the poor, because they have the means to be charitable. Can’t those who are under persecution and are called upon every day to turn the other cheek be more forgiving than somebody who is never called on even once to go the second mile or turn the other cheek? What if it never comes up? What if you never had the opportunity to forgive somebody? What if nobody ever does anything to you? How can you forgive them? Can’t those in responsible positions be more honest because their honesty is tried every day, then those who aren’t even in a responsible position?” He made this comment, “No; virtue is a habit of the mind and a principle of the heart.”
Let me illustrate what I think he meant there. Just because we have different circumstances in the world, and some of us have more occasion to use one thing than another, that doesn’t mean that we aren’t all required to use the same characteristic and disposition of the heart. You may never be called on to burn at the stake for Jesus, but God has called you to have a martyr spirit. You may never be called upon literally to turn the other cheek, but you’ll stand before God one day on whether or not you turned the other cheek. “But I never had a chance to do that.” You still have to have a forgiving heart. You might be as poor as all get out, not have a penny, but you better have a generous heart. It has nothing to do with giving. You may never have a chance to give. So what! That has nothing to do with a generous heart. You may never be called upon to forgive. The question is not, “How many times do I forgive?” The question is, “Do you have a forgiving heart?” That’s different. If you have a forgiving heart, then the numbers have nothing to do with it. If you have a forgiving heart you are going to forgive, because that’s the kind of heart you have. It’s automatic; you don’t have to work at it. Forgiving heart always does what a forgiving heart does. It’s like admiration, or sympathy, or like love, or appreciation; nobody asks the question, “How often, Lord, should I appreciate nature? Seven times?” No, appreciation is built in; that’s you. You appreciate every chance you get because you have a nature of appreciation. How often shall I thank? If you have a thankful heart you’ll thank all the time. How often will I be sympathetic toward suffering? Every time you see it. How often shall I forgive? That’s not an issue, if you have a forgiving heart.
The question is not, “How often shall I forgive?” The question is, and Jesus brings it around to this, “Are you spiritual? Because if you are spiritual, you have the kind of heart that forgives in an unlimited way, and if you are not forgiving in an unlimited way, it’s a dead giveaway that you are not spiritual. And He’s not saying, “And now you’ve got to go out and forgive.” No! You can’t! You don’t go out and start forgiving. You run back to the basics. Am I seeing Jesus glorified? Am I trusting in Jesus in an unreserved way? Is He my all sufficiency? Then I will have a childlike spirit. I will have a forgiving heart. These latter principles are objective tests as to the reality of my inward walk and relationship with God.
Let’s look at the parable. In my own opinion I think this is one of the most thrilling of all the parables the Lord Jesus gave. I just love this parable up and down and every way. Let me start by showing you the wonder of God’s forgiveness. Verse 24, one thousand talents. A talent was the largest denomination of currency in the period. The footnote in the NAS says, “About ten million dollars in silver content, but worth much more in buying power.” Most of my commentaries are written from old English writers, and I get it all in pounds, so it’s worth about 2 ½ million pounds in sterling. That doesn’t help me too much. Jamieson, Fawsett and Brown and their commentary says, “If it’s a Jewish talent that is referred to, the sum is much larger than 7 ½ million American dollars.” I think you get the point. It’s an immense debt. What He’s saying is this, and this is the first parable where the Lord Jesus refers to Himself as king, and what He says is (let’s use the figure in the margin here) ten million dollars. God has forgiven me ten million dollars worth. It’s almost too big to grasp. I can’t imagine owing such a debt.
I’m not going to get into practical principles about not owing anybody anything, I’ll just give you some advise; don’t owe anybody anything. If you can get away from it, stay out of debt, because when you owe, you are under a great burden, and I can’t imagine the burden here; ten million dollars worth of debt. That’s oppressive. Remember that He’s speaking spiritually, and He’s talking about the best person in the world; the best person in the world has been forgiven ten million dollars worth of debt, of sin before his God. Talk about a picture of the holiness of God, it’s right here. Hold that a moment; I’m forgiven ten million dollars worth.
Verse 28; a hundred denarii. That’s the second total. Once again the footnote; about 18 cents in silver; 18 dollars in debt. Let me ask you this, and may God give us eyes to see it. Do you believe that the worst thing anybody could ever do to you is under $20 worth of damage? That’s what He’s teaching in this parable. You have been forgiven 10 million dollars worth of debt, and the worst thing that anybody can ever do to you is about 17 or 18 dollars worth, and no more than that. I can’t imagine any case that can come to your mind. I got real gruesome in my study. Suppose somebody terribly hurt a member of my family; emotionally or physically. It’s 17 or 18 dollars worth. Suppose somebody would rob me of my possessions; steal all my books and burn all my notes. Let’s say they would mutilate the bodies of my family, my wife and my children; mutilate my own body. It’s under 20 dollars worth. That’s what Jesus is teaching in this parable.
Jesus is saying, “If you’ve been forgiven talents, there’s no way you can exact denarii from anybody.” Forgiveness is not something you do; it’s something you’ve experienced and then expressed. It’s a condition of your heart. I like to state the principle of this parable in these words; the key of the forgiveness of others is to rejoice in God’s forgiving mercy of you. If it’s real in my heart that I’ve been forgiven ten million dollars worth of debt, then I’m not going to struggle forgiving somebody who owes me about 18 dollars. If I have to struggle with forgiving anybody, then I have not entered into God’s forgiving mercy for my own self; His mercy toward me. Jesus goes right to the heart of it, and gives a foretaste of Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other just as God in Christ has forgiven you.” He models the forgiveness that is created in our soul when we look in simple faith to Jesus. He models that kind of forgiveness, to the kind He gave us. There is no way you can exercise forgiveness until you’ve experienced it. There’s no way in the world we can exercise forgiveness, this kind, until we’ve experienced it. And when we experience the fullness of God’s forgiveness, and live in it, it will be as natural as breathing and as simple as pie. It will be an outworking of a recreated nature to forgive.
Let me suggest the kind of forgiveness flows out of a spiritual heart. I’m going to give a couple of truths about God’s forgiveness, since it’s the same as His. #1 God initiates. That’s the whole point of verse 15-20. He doesn’t wait for the sinner to come to Him. Sometimes you hear reasoning like this, “He sinned against me. It’s His fault. I did nothing. I was as pure as the driven snow. I did nothing. I’m willing to forgive if he comes and apologizes. Let him humble himself. Let him eat crow. Let him crawl. If you come to me and apologize and admit wrong, I’ll forgive him.” Jesus says, “No, as soon as somebody sins against you, go after them. Don’t wait for an apology. As soon as he sins against you, you’ve lost something, and he’s lost. Go after him, that he might be restored. When a brother has lost something, and the church has lost something, and God has lost something, go after them. God initiates. Bring him back.
#2 God forgives without a struggle. Imagine if God has to go through a bitter struggle every time He forgave us for something. What a terrible thing that would be. “Dear Lord, I blew it again. Please forgive me.” God, “Oh, not again. How many times have I told you?” There’s no struggle with God. I speak as a fool, but if you spit in his face, he would not have a struggle forgiving. That’s how God forgives. And if I have any struggle whatsoever in my heart forgiving, as God forgives, it’s a dead giveaway. I can sing all the songs and say all the words and read all the books; I’m not spiritual. There’s only one reason I’d ever have a struggle to forgive anybody; I’ve lost the joy of my salvation. That’s what this parable teaches. I’ve forgotten how much I’ve been forgiven. I’ve lost the thrill that I’ve been delivered ten million dollars worth. If God would burn that into my life, if I’d begin to enter into all that I’ve been forgiven, then there would not be a struggle to forgive anyone. Every time I struggle with forgiving my fellow brother or sister, it’s because I ceased to value my own salvation, because I’ve forgotten that He pulled me out of the depths and set my feet upon a rock, and He put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God.
Sometimes when you are in the presence of an unforgiving spirit, you can almost cut the air with a buzz saw; it’s so thick and the spirit is so heavy; Christians not speaking to one another, and carrying grudges and harboring vindictiveness and animosity; like breathing smoke. May God give us this kind of a heart! God not only initiates forgiveness, God not only forgives without a struggle, but God’s forgiveness encompasses all future debts. That’s a truth we don’t realize enough. Do you realize that God has already forgiven you for the sins you have not yet committed? Don’t be afraid of that. Pull out all the stops and believe it with all of your heart. When Christ died all your sins were future. You were future; you weren’t even born yet. Sometimes when we come to the Lord we come in an unscriptural way. Of course, He recognizes the direction of the heart, and He goes after the motive of faith and obedience; so we can be technically wrong and spiritually right. He’s not the critic that man is.
Sometimes we’ll ask God to forgive us. That’s unscriptural, because He’s already forgiven us, and when we come to the Lord on New Covenant ground, we’d say, “Lord, I think You that You’ve already forgiven me in Christ, and that two thousand years ago,” (it’s not something He has to do now), two thousand years ago He’s forgiven me for all my sins, and I claim that again. There’s no struggle with God. It’s already done. Can you see that working in a Christian home? I go to Lillian and I say, “Darling, please forgive me.” And she says, “I already have. When we were married I forgave you of everything you’ll ever do.” Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every Christian had that kind of forgiveness toward every other Christian? You’ve already forgiven everybody of everything they are ever going to do. That’s God’s forgiveness. That’s how it is with the Lord.
#3 Characteristic; God wills not to remember. Notice what I didn’t say. I didn’t say what you hear in all these silly country songs, “He forgives and forgets.” God does not forgive and forget. That’s charging God with infirmity. Forgetting is a weakness. God can’t forget, and neither can you, if someone sins against you. To say, “I forgive you, but I can’t forget,” is biblical. You can’t forget, and God has never called you to forget. But what does the scripture say about His forgiveness? It says, “Your sins and iniquities will I remember no more.” There’s a difference between forgetting and willing not to remember. He makes it an act of His will, and He says, “I choose not to bring it up again.” That doesn’t mean that He forgot it. He just wills not to remember it. And in the same way we are to forgive one another. You can’t forget it if someone hurts you or injures your family. You can’t forget it, but you can will not to remember it. You can make that an act of your choice. That’s the kind of forgiveness He has; He initiates and forgives without a struggle, He forgives in advance, He wills not to remember, and His forgiveness, according to this parable, is seventy times seven. His forgiveness is unlimited. He forgives to the uttermost. If we can only enter into the spirit of forgiveness! If we could see that we’ve been forgiven 10 million dollars worth, we’d never have trouble with this characteristic.
I’m going to ask you to look at verse 32-35, we’re at the end of the parable, “Summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave; I forgave you all that debt as you entreated me. Should you not have mercy on your fellow slave, even as I had mercy on you?’ And his lord, in anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him.” Listen to this next verse, “So shall my heavenly Father also do to you.” What? Hand me over to the torturers? Heavenly Father; it sounds like a contradiction! “So shall my heavenly Father also do to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”
Let me give you both sides of the truth. One side of the truth is this. I need to experience God’s forgiveness in order to exercise it. Here’s the other side. I need to exercise God’s forgiveness in order to experience it. Let me tell you what I’m saying. Remember how we began this whole chapter, “If someone sins against you, they are only hurting themselves.” If you have an unforgiving spirit against somebody you are only hurting yourself. Sin against them and you are only hurting yourself. That’s the idea of verse 34, and being handed over to the torturer. God says that an unforgiving spirit will eat like an acid in your heart. There’s no torture chamber on the earth that can compare with bitterness in the heart, and hate, holding a grudge. If you want to get ulcers, I’ll teach you how to do it. Have an unforgiving spirit. Do you want a nervous breakdown? I’ll tell you how to do it. Have an unforgiving spirit. Do you want high blood pressure? It will drive you crazy. When you see that person who sinned against you, you have a knot in your stomach; that’s only the physical. Torturers; does a good job on the Bible; tears you to shreds. But there’s a more severe torture and that is the spiritual torture, because when you are harboring an unforgiving spirit, when your heart is filled with animosity and vindictiveness and vengeance and the spirit of retaliation, you’ve lost your peace with God. You’ve lost your rest in Him. You have an undeniable evidence that you are not spiritual. That’s the whole point of this. Because if you are spiritual, forgiveness will flow like water. He’s forgiven you in order to create a fountain of forgiveness in you. You’ve been forgiven ten million dollars worth in order that you might forgive 17 or 18 dollars worth, whatever man can do to you.
I suggest those who are spiritual, and are really spiritual, seeing Jesus glorified, and trusting Him unreservedly and resting in Him as their all sufficiency, they are childlike, they are helpless, and they have a forgiving spirit. It’s not something they do; it’s something they are. They are automatically forgiving, as God is forgiving. They are enjoying their own salvation. They are walking in the knowledge that they have been forgiven ten million dollars worth of debt. They are free. And they are rejoicing in that salvation, and it’s expressing itself in all their relationships with them. If not, they are not only not spiritual, but you are only hurting yourself. And your heavenly Father hands you over to the torturers. Oh, may God deliver us! These are characteristics, basic characteristics. There’s I think nine of them altogether; testing us whether or not we’re spiritual. Are we childlike? Do we have that kind of a spirit? If not, don’t try to go out and say, “Oh, I’m not like that. I’m being tortured. I better go out and forgive somebody.” That isn’t going to help. You don’t do that. You run again to your God, and you settle things with Him until He creates in you the reality. If it’s not natural, and not intuitive, it’s not real, and it’s not from the Lord. I hope you’ve come far enough that you don’t want to play religious games, that you want to be real with God. These are not games. These are characteristics of a spiritual life; helpless, and the heart is tender and loving, forgiving.
That’s a very debated passage. There’s another in Matthew 16 that’s also used, and the best I’ve been able to see is the principle of authority, that is God saying… Let me use an illustration of an unsaved person. An unsaved person comes to you as a Christian and says, “I accept Jesus Christ as my Savior,” you have the authority to tell him, “Your sins are forgiven.” That’s an amazing thing, to tell a man that your sins are forgiven. And what you say on the earth is done in heaven. And, also, if he rejects, to tell that man, “You are going to burn forever in hell.” What authority! To be able to tell somebody for sure, and God says that’s true, it’s done in heaven what you’ve said on earth. It’s a principle of authority.
In verse 19 where it says, “Where two or three agree about anything,” that’s usually applied to prayer, but in the context He’s not talking about prayer. What He’s talking about is this… I don’t know anything worse than the duty of going to a fallen brother, in my own heart I feel rotten when I’ve got to do that. What He’s saying is, that when you have to go to a brother who has sinned, I’m going to give you authority to do that, and when two or three are gathered in My name (not to pray) but gathered to rebuke that brother, I’ll be in the midst. I’ll be there to give you that strength and that authority. I think that’s where the authority ties in, because He’s talking about going to restore that brother, and those two or three gathered together (He’s not talking about the gathering together of the local church I don’t think). I think He’s talking about when the time comes that the brothers have to go and rebuke them, they aren’t alone. God has given authority in what they say on earth and God will do in heaven, and God will be there with them when they have to do that terrible task. That’s how I understand that. There’s only one way it could be different than what I just said. I could be wrong.
When he makes his final rejection, then our attitude should still be in love and a longing for him to come. It should never be anything but longing to have him saved. But now he can’t be treated as a brother, when he has that attitude. He’s got to be treated as a publican and a sinner. Now we deal with him as an unsaved person, but we still love him and we want the unsaved to get saved; but always that heart attitude that I want him won, because we lose when they go away. You can’t say, “No skin off my nose.” When a brother sins, it’s skin off my nose. If he doesn’t want to hear it, still your heart didn’t change. You don’t be cold and hard for them because they don’t want to hear it. You just long for the day when they do want to hear it. Remember where we’ve come from; the mercy God had upon us. We’ve been forgiven ten million dollars worth. He had mercy on us, and it’s all based on that, because of all He’s done for us, the worse they can do is 17 or 18 dollars.
Forgiveness is like prayer. Prayer is an attitude, often expressed as an act. Forgiveness is an attitude of the heart, often expressed as an act. I think you need to walk softly before the Lord; I don’t think there is a right way or wrong way. The overall principle is that we long with our heart to see them right, whatever that takes. The Lord is going to deal with us as children. We’re going to do it wrong, just because we’re human. We’re going to mess it up. That’s why our hearts have to be right, because if we’re right in the direction of our heart, we get credit for faith. That’s like Abraham; he was all wrong when He said that God was going to kill Isaac and then raise him up. That was wrong. God never intended that, but he was wrong by faith, so he made Hebrews 11. If you are wrong by faith, God gives you full credit. That’s what He said about Abraham. He staggered not at the promises of God to unbelief, but was strong in faith, giving glory to God. And I wonder if Paul ever read Genesis, staggered not at the promise of God. But he lived up to the light he had, and God gave Him full credit for the whole thing. It’s the attitude of our hearts totally.
Let’s bow before the Lord. Father, we pray that this might be more than a Bible Study, but that these truths and principles beyond what we stated tonight, that You long to work into our lives and hearts. We prayer that Your Spirit might have His unhindered right of way in our lives to make these things real. Lord, deliver us completely from the spirit of unforgiveness, in all of its subtle forms. We ask in Jesus’ name. Amen