Don’t know if I’m connecting dots here that should be connected, but let’s run with it.
Hovering over Matthew 18:15-20, a “go to” passage when it comes to church discipline. A progressive path towards calling a brother (or sister) to repentance who “sins against you.” Step one, try and work it out between the two of you. Step two, if that doesn’t work bring in some “witnesses.” Still no movement? Step three, tell it to the church. And if he (or she) still refuses to acknowledge, confess, and repent of their sin, then step four — treat him (or her) as an unbeliever, as someone outside the church. Get it? Got it? Good.
For many though, the thought of getting to step four is really, really uncomfortable.
But then I read Matthew 18:21. And if I’m connecting dots that I’m allowed to connect, it’s step one that gave Peter heartburn.
Then Peter came up and said to Him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”
(Matthew 18:21 ESV)
I’m thinking that, most often, if we shy away from step one it’s for fear it won’t work and then we’ll have to move on to steps two, three, and four. But it seems here Peter’s noodling on the implications of what could happen if step one does work. And then works again. And then works again.
Is Peter envisioning the scenario where a brother sins against him, he goes to that brother and tells him his fault, the brother listens, repents, and they’re restored, but then his brother does it to him again?
Peter’s obeyed and done step one and it works — he has “gained” his brother? Peter’s won his brother back. He’s helped him escape evil. He’s preserved him from the effects of unconfessed sin (Ps. 66:18). But sin being what sin is, and the flesh being what the flesh is, the brother falls again and sins against Peter. Is it back to step one? And if step one works again, then what about the next time? And the next time? How often, asks Peter, do I do the “one step” with this brother and forgive him when he repents? Seven times?
Nope, says Jesus, seventy-seven. That’s how the ESV reads. Seventy times seven according to other translations. Really? Yeah, really. Hmmm . . .
I’m guessing for most of us, avoiding step one for fear of eventually ending up at step four is less a thing than doing step one only to do step one again . . . and maybe again . . . and maybe again again. Easier to write-off a brother (or a sister) than to deal with the emotional roller-coaster of being offended, confronting, forgiving, and then being offended again. 490 times? Brother! Or . . . Sister!
But hey, if this really is a “brother”, if I’m truly seeing my offender as a “sister”, and they really are sorry for their sin, and they sincerely want to do better in their spirit but their flesh is weak, then what kind of effort am I willing to make for the sake of a member of my family? For the building up of the church? For the sake of obedience to Christ?
Okay, the more I chew on this, the more uncomfortable I become. If I’m connecting dots that can be connected, I get why Peter’s asking the question.
But if I’m willing to also connect the dots that I just might be that offending brother — if against no else than against the Lord — then how thankful am I that Jesus is a “step one” Savior? Confronting me by His Spirit of my offense against Him, again and again. In His Father’s kindness, leading me to repentance, again and again. Through His blood shed on Calvary, ready, willing, and able to forgive my sin (again and again) and cleans me from all unrighteousness (again and again).
So, how often will my brother (or sister) sin against me and I forgive him (or her)?
As many as a willing spirit and the abundant grace of God enables.
As many as the glory of God deserves.