Judgment Considering Judgment

If you’re a disciple of Jesus, you’ve just got to love the Apostle Peter. I firmly believe that when Paul says God gave “…some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers” to equip and perpetuate the church, that for me today it means I have the inspired letters of numerous Apostles. Their number was/is fixed, and the rest of the church is equipped by them until the end. I don’t just have stories, or their examples in those stories, I study under Peter daily if I read his words daily. I study under James daily if I read his words daily, etc. Peter was an amazing guy and we’re given a lot more data on him than most. Peter was the rock of the first disciples. A rock in the church as a whole in his day. He’s shown often to be the spokesman for the first disciples of Jesus. His personality seems to get him into trouble sometimes, but he only asks the kinds of questions we all would, and he only makes the kind of mistakes they all did, or that we all would. But we get to learn from him a lot as a result. His questions often let us learn from the Lord some amazing lessons. Let’s consider one of them.

The setting: In a section found in Matthew chapter 18 (vv. 15-20) Jesus gives the disciples an amazing teaching on judgment between themselves and others, and a model for the hoped-for process of forgiveness in our lives as members of his churches. It ends with the phrase: “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.” In the context of the passage, Jesus is saying: “When Christians judge someone for sin, so do I. When they forgive someone’s sin, so do I.” He’s teaching about the responsibility we have to each other as disciples to farm for discipline and grace in each other’s lives. Jesus tells them to deal with the “specks” in someone else’s eyes first privately, then with others, then publicly, then decisively with literal excommunication if the person will not be corrected. And Scripture elsewhere teaches that we should want this from others in our lives as well if we’re blind to any sin we ourselves commit. We should judge others as we wish to be judged.

Peter heard this teaching. He then comes to Jesus with a request we can learn from. “Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” Matthew 18:21-22. This alone would answer Peter sufficiently. 490 times is not the limit, but the alliteration works. It communicates. It would teach Peter and the boys that forgiveness is to be a way of life for the believer. But we get far more to chew on. What we get next is actually the gauge for what Jesus’ answer was in vs. 22. Matthew 18:23-35 immediately follows. In this section, Jesus shows us why we should forgive others to such boundless extent. It’s the context for it. The impetus for it. The strength of it. If you’re not familiar with this teaching, please read Matthew 18:23-25 below:

“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’ And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’ But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. Then summoning him, his lord *said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”

That’s why seventy times seven times a day makes sense. That’s why we discipline those who need it when they need it. That’ why we judge. Reader, if God has forgiven you for all of your sin, then you’re to forgive others when they sin against you. This is simple, but life-shaping in its profundity. You’re God’s representative in this. If God forgave me for everything, and this by the way is the promise of the Gospel (Colossians 2:13-14) then I should seek to model that kind of rich grace to others in the church.

Don’t miss the sequence of this section catalogued in Matthew 18. It follows Peter’s question which followed Jesus’ teaching about judgment by believers against other believers in the church.

So, when we judge, we should do it with restoration in mind. Peter’s question helps us see this from his Lord’s answer. We should do it with all the riches of heaven in mind. We should do it as if our hearts are under the shadow of the very Cross itself. This affects everything and everyone in our lives. It doesn’t make it easy, no, but God gives grace. And not as the world does. He forgives us everything in Christ. All sins past, present, and to come. Only one who lightly esteems this foolishly will not judge with that kind of judgment in mind. We may have to discipline each other, but when there’s repentance, we run to forgive. We rush to it. We throw ourselves at it. We rejoice to be able to be like our Father in forgiveness.

So, who’s sinned against you? What does this passage teach you about what you should do with them? Have you prayed about it? Have you reminded yourself of the promises of God in Christ toward you? Have you spoken with them about it? Have you asked them to consider it? If so, obey what Christ tells you. Seek out godly counsel if you’re able to. Trust and obey. But seek after the kind of grace you know has been brought to you by God already. Love never fails.

Joseph Pittano

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