As Jesus is the cornerstone upon which the Church is built, so are his teachings the unifying cornerstone of Christian doctrine.

The Christian Difference

Why is Christianity different to any other religion? We don’t need endless reincarnations, never attaining sinless perfection, working to reach nirvana. We believe in forgiveness, not to avoid forgiveness or to kill and terrorize. Christian history repeatedly fails this ideal, but no other religion offers a free pardon for our sins. We don’t earn our way into God’s favor. Forgiveness is completely undeserved, given to those who ask and are learning to forgive. We are not Christians because we are perfect like Christ. We are Christians because we participate in God’s kingdom of forgiveness and we are learning to be like Jesus and forgiving from the heart because we are forgiven.

The Rare Gift of Forgiveness

What is a rare gift that we give others and ourselves? It’s the gift of forgiveness. It is hard to find this gift. Most people hold unhealthy grudges and refuse to let them go. We preserve resentment like a precious treasure. It’s not a treasure. It’s a stinking carcass that we safeguard and bow down to and kiss as we remember the past. It’s our egos and hurt feelings, and we refuse to let go of them. Instead of forgiving and getting over it, we imprison ourselves in bitterness and inward anger. Jesus said to forgive from the heart, because only by doing so will our hearts experience freedom and healing.

Forgiving Churches are Healing Places

Are some people loners because they are deeply hurt and haven’t learned forgiveness? A healthy local church is the ideal place to heal and learn to love. Forgiveness does not mean trust. It is foolish to trust any human being, even ourselves (Psalms 118:8; Micah 7:5; Jeremiah 17:5; Psalms 118:9; Psalms 118:8-9). We must learn to trust the only One who is completely trustworthy, God. What we need to learn in church life is forgiveness. How wonderful it is when we are among a group of Christians where there is forgiveness. Human trustworthiness is an unrealistic expectation. Alone we don’t learn forgiveness. Forgiving churches are wonderful.

The Gift of Forgiveness

What if we refuse to forgive? God doesn’t give us that option. In Matthew 18:35 Jesus says, So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.” Peter wanted a mathematical count for forgiveness, like seven times and then no more forgiveness. With hyperbolic language, 70x7, Jesus taught that compassion and mercy must last a long, long time from the heart. There is no room for lack of mercy. We confess our sins, remembering the great debt we owe God, and forgive those who trespass against us. Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.

The Unforgiving Servant

What does the parable of the unforgiving servant teach us? A king’s servant borrowed a huge fortune (Matthew 18:23-34) and lost it all placing his whole family in slavery to debt. He asked for debt forgiveness. The king had compassion and forgave the astronomical debt. That servant then violently confronted a fellow servant, who owed him a very small amount, and had him thrown into prison. The king was angry at this lack of compassion. The king jailed his unforgiving servant and let him be tortured. This parable informs us how important compassion and mercy are to God. He demands that we, the forgiven, must also compassionately and mercifully forgive.

Forgiveness without Count

What’s Jesus’ answer to how often we must forgive? In Matthew 18:22 Peter was given an answer. Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” Forgiveness often accompanies deep personal pain, but we can’t change the past. It’s a choice, despite pain and despite lack of trust. Holding grudges hurts us deep in our souls. Forgiving blesses us forever. Jesus' answer, 70x7, means hyperbolically don’t keep count of how many times we forgive. If we track the number of times we gave someone forgiveness, then perhaps we have not really forgiven at all. True forgiveness sets no limits.

Is Forgiveness Limited

How often must we forgive people? Are we expected to be gullible victims? Jesus taught about forgiveness, but how often must we be abused and bruised by others and still forgive? That is essentially Peter's question in Matthew 18:21, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Ancient Jewish teaching could have suggested with forgiveness, 3 strikes and you're out. So, Peter's suggestion of 7 times, may have seemed quite generous to him. A question in response to Peter might be, how often ought we imitate God's forgiveness? If the answer is only 7 times, then we are all in trouble.

Matthew 18:19-20 Two or Three

A Literal Perspective
In Matthew 18:19-20 Jesus said that, if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven.” He also added that, “where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” Does that mean that God is obligated to answer a prayer agreed to by at least two Christians? What if we have two Catholics, two Orthodox and two Protestants praying contradictory prayers? What does the context of Jesus’ remarks tell us? It’s talking about solving offenses in the church, and God’s blessing on the witnesses in such a dispute.
A Spiritual Perspective

Matthew 18:19-20 is often misused to support exaggerated views of A Spiritual Perspective warfare, group prayer, or husbands and wives praying together. The difference between a mature and immature Christian church is not an absence of conflict, but how it is handled. Jesus gives us three broad principles of conflict resolution. Coupled with prayer for wisdom from heaven this can go along way to working through some very sticky interpersonal situations. It may not be a successful formula in situations outside the church, where prayer may not be a factor. However, among brothers and sisters who are anxious to live together in harmony, it can be very helpful in solving many conflicts.

Matthew 18:18 Church Decisions

A Literal Perspective
In Matthew 18:18 we read, “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven [Footnote: will have been bound ... will have been loosed]”. In the context of handling disputes, this expands the promise given Peter (Matthew 16:19) to all the Apostles and by extension to the whole Christian community. The church community’s decision to excommunicate, absolve of guilt or simply forbear are inspired by heaven. The antecedent to this are the Poskim of Jewish tradition whose “binding and loosing” was Halakhah (written and oral law). Jesus often criticized their traditions. What Christian traditions are inspired by heaven?
A Spiritual Perspective

Does Jesus’ statement to the Apostles in Matthew 18:18, “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven...” mean that all formal or ex-cathedra dogmas are infallible? The Christian community is in remarkable consensus on Jesus’ teachings, but not in everything. Jesus’ instruction was in the context of dealing with serious personal offenses. When do offenses require a decision by the broader church? What issues are personally offensive to you? Are we quiet for the sake of peace or is our cause too important for peace? Each of us must pick our battles carefully. Should we also listen more carefully when the broader Christian community agrees on a matter?

Matthew 18:17 Tell it to the Church

A Literal Perspective
Jesus explained the ultimate escalation of a dispute between two church members. This is the final stage of a three stage process in major disputes. 1) Go to them alone. 2) Take two or three witnesses. 3) if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.” So, we take the dispute to the community of believers. Here, there is yet no concept of individual congregations, nor a hierarchy of church elders. There is only a diverse group of disciples, a few, a dozen, a hundred, and rarely thousands.
A Spiritual Perspective

What disputes would we call a church assembly to decide? What offenses would we escalate up through church hierarchy? Jesus concludes teaching about conflicts in Matthew 18:17 that if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.” What does that mean? Does it mean excommunication in some cases? Does it mean that we simply continue to welcome someone, while praying for the day that they repent? Does it mean a public realization that their conversion is perhaps not a reality? Should we shun such people or simply treat them as kindly as we do all our other non-Christian neighbors?