When Somebody Sins Against You

Text: Matthew 18:21-35

In the name of Jesus. Amen. 

We sure make a mess of things when somebody sins against us.  That is to say, instead of looking towards forgiveness, we typically go the way of revenge.

Here is how it works with us. 

Somebody sins against us. What the specific sin and circumstances are, do not matter at this point.  What matters is that somebody has wronged us.  And so, what happens after we have been sinned against is that we immediately magnify their offense. We make their sin big – no we make their sin very big, while at the same time downplaying our sins.  We become self-righteous in thinking that we would never do to others what has just been done to us… and we make sure to let everyone else know this too. 

And so, after we have been wronged, we hold on to the other person’s sin.  We hold on to it so that we can analyze their sin and the circumstances to determine a fair price for their sin. In other words, they sinned against us which means that they now owe us a payment to make up for their sin.
The exact amount of the payment or the way that they can pay for their sins is usually determined in our mind after we have had time to mull it.  If we think it is a big sin, then their payment will be significant.  If small, we may perhaps take a lower payment or waive the fee altogether.  The point being, they have offended us and must do or say something to pay it off, so that we can let go of the offense in our minds.

And if they don’t pay?  Well, we laugh in our minds with glee because that means that we now have the right to get revenge on them for their sins.   They sinned against us, and they won’t pay the payment, so now we are free to enact a penalty on them.  After all – they have it coming! 

In our minds, the scales must always be balanced. By sinning against us, the other person has unbalanced the scales of justice. To balance the scales, they must give something back to us to balance the scales, or we must take something from them to make things right again - to balance the scales.

And so, going this way of thinking, we become fixated on keeping track of everyone who sins against us. In our mind, we catalog all the people who sin against us along with the payment they owe us to be made right again.  If a person makes their payment, they may earn back our good graces again. If they don’t make their payment, well…. we will be gracious by not seeking revenge right away, but by giving them the cold shoulder, or perhaps talking behind their back to send them a message to pay up.  And if they don’t pick up on our cold shoulder and our talking behind their back, we may then make a plan to penalize them for not paying up.  The plan may hurt them and their reputation, but we have no other choice but to penalize them because justice must be had.  Somebody must uphold righteousness, somebody must stand up to them, and it must be us!

Now, I do not have to tell you that living a life of revenge, as I have been sharing, is not only sinful but toxic.   

Dear friends, living a life of revenge demands that you are always on the lookout for those who sin against you. Instead of love covering a multitude of sins, vengeance seeks out every possible offense against you.  Instead of putting the best construction on situations and other people, this life of vengeance seeks out every possible way to get dirt on other people and be offended.  And when this happens, grace has no place in you, and you end up giving yourself into bitterness and a toxic self-righteousness that will lead you straight to hell.

This is why we pray in the fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer that the Lord would forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Furthermore, this is precisely what we are learning from today’s reading in the Gospel of Matthew. 

In the Gospel of Matthew, we hear about a parable of a servant who was forgiven over 7 billion dollars in debt.  And yet, this very same servant would not forgive another fellow servant of a mere $12,000 in debt. In other words, the servant was forgiven an astronomical amount of money by his master and was unwilling to forgive another servant for a very small debt. 

This is why the master called out the servant as being wicked.  He was not only called out for having a wicked heart but called out for being actively evil, hurtful, diseased, and ethically blind.  There was a tremendous inconsistency with his heart. He gladly received from the gracious master and ruthlessly took from his fellow slave - pure wickedness,

Frankly stated, when we go the way of revenge, vengeance, and unforgiveness, we are not only acting just like the unforgiving servant but are exemplifying the same wicked heart.

Dear friends, keeping a record of everyone's sins in one hand while receiving the body and blood of Christ in the other hand, is not only downright inconsistent but reveals the evil of our sinful natures.  There is an inconsistency in holding on to grudges in one hand and holding on to forgiveness in the other hand. 

So what must we do? The answer is that we must forgive one another.

But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, we must take a moment and understand that great harm has been done to Christ’s church when forgiveness is confused with things that it is not. 

For example, forgiveness is not the same as friendship.  When you forgive a person, you are letting go of revenge and the need for them to payoff their sin to you.  You are letting go of the need to get even through penalties.  And this forgiveness may or may not lead to a great friendship.  If you become great friends through forgiveness, God be praised.  If you do not become best friends, God be praised that you have forgiven one another and are forgiven in Christ.

Forgiveness is also not forgetting. You see, when God forgives, He forgets; however, when we forgive, we are letting go of revenge.  What this means is that there will be times where forgiveness leads to forgetfulness and other times that it does not and should not.  Case and point; a person – by God’s grace – can forgive someone who sexually abused them as a child but probably should not let that same person babysit their kids.  You see, you can forgive someone and still have wise boundaries against the tactics of their old Adam.  Remember that Jesus called His disciples to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.  He called them to be upright and without bitterness, yet diligently aware and remembering the pitfalls of the old Adam, the Devil, and the world.

Forgiveness also does not mean that a person should be automatically free from the consequences of the state.  You can forgive a person and they may or may not still face charges underneath the law by the state. 

And finally, forgiveness is also not brushing something under the carpet, as if it never happened.  Forgiveness is the exact opposite.  You only forgive where there is sin.  If there is no sin, no forgiveness is required.   

Baptized Saints, take a moment and think about everything we have covered thus far.  Now, think about forgiveness in the following manner: your sins have made justice unbalanced. Your sins demand payment before God. And God in his wrath would be completely justified to smite you.  But Christ, who is rich in mercy and abounding in love, balanced the scales, made a payment, and satisfied wrath for you – completely - through His death and resurrection, which results in your forgiveness.  

And forgiveness?  It is God letting go of vengeance towards you. Forgiveness is God erasing your debt. Forgiveness is God letting go of your penalty.  Forgiveness is God loosening the demand. Forgiveness is equal to the simple word, “Freedom!”

And this is what you have in Christ; you have freedom.  Christ has freed you from the vengeance of God, the debt of your sin, and the demands of the law.  And in Christ, this is what you get to deliver to others who have sinned against you – forgiveness…. Freedom!  

The man in the parable was forgiven 7 billion dollars in debt, which showed that there was no limit to his forgiveness of other people’s small debts.  Indeed, there is more forgiveness of sins in Jesus than you and your neighbor have sins.  There is no sin that you and your neighbor have committed that is so deep that it escapes the blood of Mount Calvary.  The blood of Mount Calvary is that payment that atones for every single one of your sins – and your neighbors – in thought word and deed, from the past, present, and future. 

And so you have been forgiven all of your sins in Christ Jesus so that you can forgive one another – not out of compulsion but out of the love and forgiveness given to you first.  

Only forgiven people can forgive. 

Only loved people can love. 

You forgive because there is more grace in Christ than there are sins in you and especially your neighbor. 

Forgiveness for you; forgiveness for your neighbor; all because of Christ.  

In the name of Jesus and His forgiveness.  Amen. 

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