Matthew 18:21-35 July 2009


One of the reasons so many of us have difficulty in relating to people in the present is because the pain and disappointment from the past continues to affect us.

When we are hurt, betrayed, abused, offended or disappointed by those close to us, we feel resentful and angry. If that resentment and anger is not worked through in a healthy way, we tend to bury it. When you bury a negative emotion you bury it alive.

The anger and resentment festers away underneath – turning into bitterness and regularly surfacing in our present relationships.

We are prevented from experiencing deep, trusting. loving, lasting relationships in the present because we have never let go of the anger and resentment from

the past.

How does this anger and resentment from the past affect our present relationships? Whenever we perceive that the same thing is happening in our present relationship that happened in the past the buried anger and resentment erupts.

Here is an example.

Ill. John was married to a woman who was very dominating and demanding. Because John hated conflict he gave into her bossy demands, but underneath he resented it. The marriage eventually broke up and 6 years later John remarried Alice. Alice was quite different from John’s first wife, but whenever she asked John to do something he had a negative reaction, he felt she was bossing him. Whenever Alice expressed some concern he went on the defensive. John felt those old feelings of being controlled and humiliated and he perceived that Alice was treating him like his first wife did. John had said to himself, “I will never let a woman treat me again like my ex-wife did.” That resentment and anger from the past was still very much alive and was already threatening to destroy his present marriage.

Ill. Carina’s husband Tom committed the unpardonable sin. She told him it was her mother’s birthday and she had invited them to dinner and asked him if he could be home from work by 5.30. Tom got so engrossed in hjis work that he forgot all about it and he didn’t get home until 7pm when they had all finished dinner. Carina was so hurt and disappointed, but Tom begged Carina to forgive him and from that day on he made a real effort in that area. Nine months later Tom was on his way home when the car broke down on a country road in the middle of the forested area. He tried to ring Carina but the cell phone was out of range. After a long wait Tom managed to hitch a ride to the nearest phone box and rang Carina. By this time she was furious and as soon as she heard Tom’s voice she erupted. She wouldn’t accept to his explanation and had decided that

he was being inconsiderate just like before.

In both these cases the resentment and anger had never been truly dealt with and was waiting to explode when similar circumstances arose. Unresolved resentment and anger is generally a sign that we haven’t truly forgiven someone.

In Colossians 3 Paul says, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you.”

How do we get rid of bitterness, rage, anger and malice…..forgiveness. The word forgive in the NT means release, set free. When we forgive someone we release them, we set them free from our resentment and anger, we no longer hold their offence against them, we cancel the debt. But forgiveness also releases us from the destructive power of our resentment, anger and bitterness and enables us to grow and develop as people.

In this passage Jesus gives us some very important principles concerning forgiveness.

v21-22. Peter came along to Jesus and said, “How many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to 7 times?”

The Jewish Talmud taught that a man was to be forgiven three times: “If a man transgresses one time, forgive him. If a man transgresses two times, forgive him. If a man transgresses three times, forgive him. If a man transgresses four times, do not forgive him.”

Peter must have felt that he was being exceptionally big hearted and kind when he suggested we forgive others 7 times.

Jesus came back with an answer that really flawed

Peter: Not 7 times, but 70 times 7. Did Jesus really mean 490?

Stop counting. Everyone of us are going to be hurt if we are in relationship with others. The people who will hurt us the most are those we love, because we expect more from them, because we make ourselves vulnerable to them.

When Jesus said forgive without counting He knew that because we are human we would get hurt many times by our brothers and sisters in Christ. He didn’t say, “Peter, you won’t need to forgive your fellow Christians, because they are perfect, they won’t hurt or offend each other.” Many of us think that way and when we get hurt by other Christians it really throws us because they are supposed to have it all together and this should never happen in church. Jesus said it would happen because we are still in the process of getting it all together…so He said that if we are going to be in relationships with other believers we will need heaps of forgiveness, because we get offended, get hurt and we will offend and hurt them too.


This servant owed the King a great debt, in today’s terms, over 2 million dollars. There wasn’t anyway he could ever repay the king. I don’t know what he had done with the money, but his crime meant he had to be severely punished.

But he begged and pleaded with the king for mercy and the king felt sorry for him and completely cancelled the debt.

The king literally said to the servant, “The debt you owe me is wiped. From this moment on you owe me nothing.”

The word forgive in the Greek is apoluo which means to release, to set free.


Most of the hurt and disappointment we experience in relationships comes from the people we love and trust. The reason it hurts so much is because we expect more from them. We believe they owe us loyalty, love, encouragement, support, time, attention, affection, companionship, etc. etc.

And when they fail to give us what we expect from them we feel angry, hurt and disappointed.

We may feel angry and resentful towards our parents because they failed to give us the love, attention, encouragement that we expected from them.

Because they failed to give us what we believe they owed us, we can hold it over them for years. Just like a debt they have never paid to us. It can happen in marriage, in church life.

And when we are around them or we think about them,

this tape keeps playing in our heads, “I resent you

because you never gave me the love, support, encouragement, etc etc. You owe me…and you have never paid up…and I hold this against you. I wont forget.”

To forgive is to say, “I cancel that debt. I release you from what you never gave me. You don’t owe me anything now.”

Ill. When the books of a certain Scottish doctor were examined after his death, it was found that a number of accounts were crossed through with a note: “Forgiven — too poor to pay.”

Now the servant went out from the king’s presence, having been forgiven this massive debt of over 2 million dollars and he found a man who owed him something like $4,000.00.

This man begged the servant to give him another

chance, but he did not treat this man as mercifully as the king had treated him. He refused to cancel his debt and he had him held in prison until he paid the debt. He said in effect, “I am going to hold onto you until you pay me what you owe me.”


The servant held onto the man who owed him the money. He refused to release him. And forgive and release mean the same thing.

And when we refuse to forgive others we hold onto them with our anger and resentment. We remain emotionally bound to them….We wont release them from our anger and resentment, we wont forgive them.

The word resentment means, literally, “to feel again”: resentment clings to the past, relives it over and over, picks each fresh scab so that the wound never heals.

That person who wronged us becomes the focus of our negative emotion. There is a principle in scripture that says, we become like the things we focus on.


When we remain bound to someone through

unforgiveness the very things that we despised in that person become part of our own make up.

If someone we loved refused to show us love and affection, and we hold that against them, it is highly likely that we too will become cold and aloof with others.

If we had a parent who unleashed their anger

on us, we may find that we too have a problem with uncontrolled anger.

If we still harbour resentment towards our alcoholic

father, we may find that we too have a problem with

alcohol or alcoholic behaviour.

When we don’t forgive, we emotionally bind ourselves to that person and take on the very characteristics and faults we despised in them.

When the king discovered what this servant had done,

he was very upset with him and had him thrown into prison.


Prison is a place where people are bound, shackled and restricted.

Unforgiveness, unresolved anger, resentment and bitterness bind us, and restrict us from developing spiritually, emotionally and socially.

Not to forgive imprisons me in the past and locks out all potential for change. I become the victim of the resentment and anger that binds me and I doom myself to suffer the consequences of my own unforgiveness.

When we refuse to forgive, we literally stop growing spiritually, emotionally and socially. And although we may continue to develop physically, spiritually, socially and emotionally we remain bound up.

Hebrews 12:15 “See to it that no root of bitterness grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”

You can have a 60 year old person who was deeply

hurt as a teenager and because they have held onto that root of bitterness…emotionally they have remained a teenager, and they still relate to their peers like an emotionally unstable teenager; controlled by moods and oversensitivity.

Not only was this servant put in prison but he was sentenced to be tortured.


There is a terrible price to pay for unforgiveness.

We are emotionally bound to the past so that we cannot enter fully into the present. The hurts and anger of the past become un unbearable burden and they keep surfacing in our present relationships causing ongoing pain and suffering.

Until it is dealt with we find ourselves repeating the same old destructive patterns of behaviour.



The key to our release is in releasing others.

Luke 6:37 “Forgive and you will be forgiven.”

In the Lord’s prayer, forgiveness comes before deliverance.

Ill. For years I held resentment against my father for the way he treated me and even after I became a Christian I still felt very negative towards him in spite of the fact that I knew Jesus commanded us to forgive those who have wronged us. After I was married I was visiting Dad one day and something went wrong and he lost it and blew his stack and in that moment I saw myself. The very behaviour I despised in my father had become part of my life…irrational temper. I knew I needed to forgive Dad, but it wasn’t that easy because the wounds were very deep.

Eventually I cried out to God and prayed, “Lord, please help me to want to forgive.” Over a period of time with god’s help I came to that place where I was able to forgive and God did even more.” The day came when I was talking to dad and I felt a love for him that was beyond myself. I said to Him, “Dad, Can I give you a

hug?” From that time on that day on that irrational

anger evaporated.


Once we have released our negative emotional hold on the people who hurt us through forgiveness, we are no longer bound to them in the sense that they owe us anything. The debt is cancelled; the demands and expectations are dropped. They no longer become the focus of our negative emotion.

We are free to focus on Jesus.

2 Corinthians 3:18.


Jesus said in Matthew 18:18 “Whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” If you look closely at this passage you will see it has to do with relationships and particularly with forgiveness.

When we release others from our resentment and unforgiveness, we release them to God so that He can work in their lives. I have seen this happen with husbands and wives.


1. Forgiveness is a choice.

2. Forgiveness is a process. In some cases the pain that has been inflicted on us is so deep that it will take time until we are fully able to forgive and release the one who offended us, but we begin the process when we pray, “Lord, please bring me to the place where I am willing to forgive.” All God asks is our willingness to be willing to forgive and He will help us come to that place.

Ill. Steven MacDonald was a 29 year old detective with the New York Police. He was newly married and his 23 year old wife was expecting their first baby. While investigating a series of burglaries he was shot by a 15 year old boy and left paralysed. Steven became a quadriplegic confined to a wheel chair. For months he withdrew and battled with resentment, anger and bitterness. He could not bring himself to forgive the teenager who had ruined his life. One day it dawned on him that the greatest damage was not in his body but in his mind. He was allowing these destructive bitter emotions to eat his life away and destroy his relationships. He knew that the only way he could begin to live again was by freeing himself from this inner poison and that could only happen by forgiving the teenager. He realised that He needed God’s help to come to that place of forgiveness – and that day came when from his heart he could truly release and set the young man free from all resentment and anger. Once Steven had done this he discovered a new motivation and power to go on with his life.

Here are some factors that can help us come to the place of forgiveness:

1. Did the offender really intend to hurt us or did we perceive it that way, take it personally? 80%

2. Were we unjustly treated or did we deserve it? Sometimes we are too proud to admit we were wrong and react like an unfairly treated victim.

3. Remember God will not allow anything to happen to us that He can’t use for our good. [Romans 8:28, Genesis 50:20]

4. If we have been wronged, leave it to God to vindicate us. [Luke 18:6-8]

5. Remember we all offend and we all need forgiveness.

6. Our withholding forgiveness does not punish them, it punishes us.

7. Ensure that we have not over-reacted because of some unresolved hurt from the past.

8. Release the one who offended you. Cancel their debt. When we release them from our resentment and anger we are released in more ways than one. It also releases them to move forward.

9. Determine to show kindness to the offender. It helps the process.

10. Forgiveness does not mean that trust is

automatically restored. We can give forgiveness, but trust needs to be earned.

11. Remember that forgiveness does put aside justice.

If someone has committed a serious crime against you justice still needs to be carried out through the proper legal channels. Forgiving them is releasing them from your resentment, anger and desire for revenge.

We have all committed a serious crime against God. We have rebelled against His moral laws, rejected His Truth and abused His kindness. If God was to forgive us, justice still had to be carried. The penalty for our death offences still had to be paid, but God chose to pay it Himself and he sent His only Son to the cross to ensure justice was carried out; the death penalty paid for our wrongs so He could forgive us and set us free from the power of His anger and judgement.

This morning you may be aware that the same attitudes or behaviour that you despised in someone who offended you are now being expressed in your life.

Could it be that you have not really forgiven them from the heart? This morning you can make a choice to hold onto the anger and resentment or to begin the process of forgiveness. It’s your decision…..what you become is the result of the choices you make.