Gospel: Matthew 18:21-35
Epistle: Romans 14:1-12
Lesson: Genesis 50:15-21
Psalm: Psalm 103:1-12
CLB Commentary – Rev. Ken Narvesen
The major exegetical issue to solve regarding this text is to understand its relationship to the preceding verses. Among the commentators on this passage we find two very different positions.
Stoeckhardt and Kretzmann represent one position:
Stoeckhardt: Now the Lord deals with an opposite case, how we are to deal with a brother who has sinned against us, but repents of his sin and apologizes, even without us admonishing him.
Kretzmann: The entire discourse (verses 15-20) had really concerned the question of dealing with an erring brother. The need of saving the brother, if there were any possibility of doing so without denying the truth and bringing dishonor upon God, had been emphasized. But Peter now (verse 21) wanted to know whether there is any limit to the number of times one should forgive a repentant brother.
Lenski states the other position:
Lenski: This remission on the part of the wronged brother is an entirely separate thing and is not to be confused with the remission God may grant. We must at once forgive every wrong, whether the wrongdoer repents and makes acknowledgment to us or not. That clears us. We hold nothing against the man who has wronged us. But he has his sin to settle with God. It is to help him settle it aright with God, so that God, too, will remit and dismiss his sin, that Jesus orders the procedure outlined in verse 15 etc.
The one position says there is a difference between how to deal with an erring but still unrepentant brother and a repentant brother. With the erring brother, we seek restoration, but dare not deny truth, while with a repentant brother we are always ready to forgive.
Lenski on the other hand suggests that we as believers are always to forgive even where there is no repentance. He says our forgiveness and God’s are two different matters.
This may sound like the height of love, but it is problematical in that it denies the whole point of vv. 15—18, which intimately connects our forgiveness with God’s. Lenski seems to have seriously confounded law and gospel on this point.
The point of this week’s pericope then, is that where there is repentance, we dare place no limit on forgiveness. Vv. 15—20 had taught that when someone sins, our goal is to lead that person to repentance, and then offer forgiveness. But here Jesus is warning against withholding forgiveness even after repentance. We are not to put a repentant sinner on probation. We are to risk the sort of thing we see in the parable where the one we forgive later proves himself unworthy of that forgiveness. Instead of trying to determine whether or not a repentant sinner is really repentant, we are to forgive.
These are intensely practical matters in the life of a believer. As we follow vv. 15—18, we may be called judgmental for insisting that sin is sin and seeking to lead the sinner to repentance. As we follow 21—35, we may be considered too extravagant with our forgiveness. When the sinner proves himself still unrepentant, as in the parable, we may hear, “I told you so.” But the point is that we are not to choose between vv. 15—20 and vv. 21—35. Both are critical aspects of how Jesus calls us to forgive.