Introduction: Sometimes unity is hard work! Many years ago, I was at
a meeting where our local church leadership was meeting the new
conference president and our new pastor. As Lay Pastor, I was the
leader of the local church. The new conference president asked each
of the local elders their thoughts about the church. A newly elected
elder said things were fine, except their was something wrong with my
theology and the church leadership had a problem with racism. My
immediate thought was that unity would be best preserved if I walked
over and strangled him! The two of us had never had a personal
discussion about theology. He had just transferred to our church, and
although he was of a minority race, within a year we had elected him
an elder – unlikely actions for a group of racists! This unexpected
and unwarranted attack on my reputation and the church leadership
created hard feelings in my heart. What should we do when things like
that happen? Let’s dive into our Bibles and see what we can learn!

  1. Conflict Resolution

    1. Read Matthew 18:15. Let’s go back to the story in my
      introduction. Racism is a sin. If this new elder thought
      that the other leaders and I had shown prejudice towards
      him because of his race, what was his responsibility?
      (According to this text, to go to me. Or, he could have
      brought it up at an elders’ meeting.)

      1. What is the reason for going personally to the other
        person with your concern? (So often we simply have
        different perceptions. Sometimes we do not know the
        whole story. This text says that sharing your
        concerns allows you to win over your fellow church

    2. Read Matthew 18:16. What does this suggest is the nature
      of the underlying problem? (This suggests that after the
      initial meeting, you have a different opinion about the

      1. What is the advantage of bringing a few others? (If
        other members of my church said, “Bruce, we see a
        problem,” I would have taken them seriously. On the
        other hand, if this new elder looked for others who
        shared his opinion, I doubt he could have found any.)

      2. What was the disadvantage to me (the target of the
        complaint) of bringing it up for the first time
        before the new conference president and the new
        pastor? (How do you defend against such an attack?
        “I’m not a racist and we agree on theology?” What I
        said instead was, “I’ve not heard these complaints
        before, and I think they may arise from a difference
        in perception.”)

    3. Read Matthew 18:17. What is the final step in
      reconciliation? (Having the church decide the matter.)

      1. Let’s look at this from the new elder’s perspective.
        Why does the church get to decide? Would such a vote
        be fair? (Read Matthew 18:18. This tells us that the
        church bears the authority of God. If these charges
        were true, God would take care of them. If the
        charges were false, then God would take care of that,

    4. Read Matthew 18:19-20. Is Jesus off on another topic? (No.
      The idea of talking with others and praying with others
      about a problem is very important. I never did understand
      how this new elder’s theology differed from mine. To my
      knowledge, no one else ever accused the church leadership
      of being racist. Perhaps forty percent of our church came
      from minority races, and racial harmony was an important
      part of our reflection of God’s love.)

  2. Forgiveness

    1. Read Matthew 18:21. This event happened many years ago,
      but the fact that I still remember it shows that it hurt
      and that I might have a problem with forgiveness. Do you
      think that Jesus has changed subjects? (No. Jesus is still
      talking about how Christians get along.)

      1. This young elder never asked me for forgiveness. Does
        that matter? (Notice that Peter asks about
        forgiveness for those who sin against you, not for
        those who request forgiveness.)

    2. Read Matthew 18:22. Should we keep a little book and mark
      off how many times we forgive someone? I would have a hard
      time keeping count to 77.

      1. Are Jesus and Peter in agreement that there is a
        limit on the number of times we should forgive, they
        just differ on the right number?

    3. Read Matthew 18:23-25. Is this related to the prior
      discussion? Does forgiveness apply even to money?

    4. Read Matthew 18:26-27. Notice the difference between the
      request for mercy and the king’s response. What does that
      suggest? (The king gave him more than he requested. It was
      not just mercy, it was forgiveness.)

      1. Notice that the debtor did not ask for forgiveness,
        yet he still received it. Why?

    5. Read Matthew 18:28. Is this a reasonable reaction? The
      debtor had come very close to having his whole family sold
      into slavery because bums like this had not been paying
      what they owed him!

    6. Read Matthew 18:29-33. What is the proper answer to the
      king’s question? (Yes, he should have had mercy.)

      1. Let’s stop a minute and think about everything we
        have discussed so far. I am embarrassed by a young
        elder who questions my theology and calls me a racist
        in front of a new church official I do not know. What
        should I remember? (That Jesus was called names and
        was taunted because of my sin. If Jesus can forgive
        me, how can I fail to forgive such a minor offense?)

        1. What additional light does this cast on the
          discussion between Jesus and Peter about the
          number of times we should forgive? (Jesus is
          not talking about specific numbers. What
          person reading this lesson has been asked to
          forgive more than Jesus forgave us?)

    7. Read Matthew 18:34-35. Wow! Did the unforgiving debtor end
      up on a worse position? (He was going to be sold into
      slavery. Now he is sent to jail and torture.)

      1. Does this mean that our loving heavenly Father will
        torture us if we do not forgive? (Read 1 John 4:19-21. This text is just one of many which say that the
        essence of being a Christian is showing love towards
        others. If we do not reflect love we have not
        accepted Jesus’ love and we are lost.)

      2. Does this “send him to the torturers” teach us that
        this King had one forgiveness in him, and not seventy
        times seven, or even seven? (Something we need to
        know about parables is that not every part is
        intended to teach a lesson. The point of the parable
        is that we should show forgiveness to others because
        of God’s great forgiveness to us. The point is not
        that God has us tortured when we sin twice.)

  3. Discerning Love

    1. Read Revelation 3:19. What we have studied so far might
      lead us to think that our obligation of love causes us to
      simply forgive. What does this text bring to the
      discussion? (Sometimes love rebukes and disciplines. We
      must forgive, but love is not just a silly “that’s okay”
      when serious problems are not properly addressed.)

    2. Read Philemon 1:1. Let me give you a little background.
      Philemon is a slave owner who was converted to
      Christianity by Paul. Philemon owned a slave named
      Onesimus who ran away and lived with Paul to help Paul.

    3. Read Philemon 1:8-11. What is Paul’s request to Philemon?
      (To forgive Onesimus for running away.)

      1. Why should Philemon forgive Onesimus? (“I appeal to
        you on the basis of love.”)

    4. Read Philemon 1:12-16. What does Paul want? (For Philemon
      to send Onesimus back to help Paul.)

      1. Aren’t some major issues lurking here? Shouldn’t
        Philemon forgive Onesimus because of love? Isn’t
        slavery against the law of love? What if you just
        said, “Everyone should love each other: so love ends
        slavery, love forgives Onesimus, and love leaves
        Onesimus helping Paul when Paul is in prison?”
        (Philemon had a property interest in Onesimus. Love
        is not theft. The matter is complicated and Paul’s
        approach teaches us that we must be discerning in the
        way we apply forgiveness and reconciliation.)

    5. Friend, how about you? Are you a quart low on love? Is
      your failure to grasp God’s incredible love causing you to
      fail to forgive others? Why not ask God to forgive you for
      your lack of love, give you more love, and open your heart
      to those who have sinned against you?

  4. Next week: The Promised Revival: God’s Mission Completed.