Red Letter Year: 5/3

Matthew 18:15-35

15 “If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. 16 But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. 17 If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won’t accept the church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector. 18 I tell you the truth, whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven. 19 I also tell you this: If two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you. 20 For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.”

21 Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”

22 “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven! 23 Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him. 24 In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars. 25 He couldn’t pay, so his master ordered that he be sold—along with his wife, his children, and everything he owned—to pay the debt. 26 But the man fell down before his master and begged him, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.’ 27 Then his master was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt. 28 But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars. He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment. 29 His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it,’ he pleaded. 30 But his creditor wouldn’t wait. He had the man arrested and put in prison until the debt could be paid in full. 31 When some of the other servants saw this, they were very upset. They went to the king and told him everything that had happened. 32 Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ 34 Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt. 35 That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.”


I wrote about this passage a few years ago. Many English translations mess up the parable at the end of this chapter by not paying sufficient attention to the amount owed. The NLT does better than most, but using recent census data to put the amounts in terms accurate for us, the servant owed his master about $7.6 billion, while the other servant owed him about $20,000.00. The first amount may as well be infinite, only a miracle of grace gets one out from under that kind of debt. The second amount is quite significant in its own right. We really do sin against each other and cause lasting hurts. Forgiveness is not easy or automatic. But it is necessary. And it can be hard. The community Jesus builds requires confrontation. We have a responsibility not to leave each other in our sins.

In the middle of a very difficult time in a church nearly destroyed by its failure to confront sin, I preached a sermon about this (link below). But even this teaching got misused because we lacked the courage to carry out the full program Jesus lays out here. The procedure Jesus gives here is morally formative and as such requires some level of moral formation to operate well. The less of that a community has, the messier this will be. Which is why most churches do not follow this approach. Cleaner and more efficient for someone at the top to adjudicate conflicts and keep a lid on the mess. Which I suppose works okay (except such an approach does not lead to moral formation, which is not something churches always care about anyway), because following this approach part way  is about the worst thing you can do. Of course, when someone at the top judges poorly, or unjustly, or is the one who needs to be confronted, then the more usual approaches fail altogether. In those moments, communities may turn to Matt. 18 for guidance (as ours did), but it can only help if the community has the courage to follow it all the way through. It is a hard path and if you are on it, you have my empathy.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

who you work for

Who do you work for? A small business owner? A large (faceless) corporation? Yourself? How do you know when you’ve done well, made the boss happy?

If you’re anything like me, you have multiple income streams, which means multiple ‘bosses’ with various degrees of personal contact. One my jobs is helping out at a small business here in Raleigh, working directly for the owner. Easy to know who I work for there and when he’s pleased. In my teaching posts, I work for the universities, interacting with (ever changing) people in administration, none of whom I have ever met in person. You could say I work for the students, but the right thing to do with a student is not always what pleases them.

In my own research, I really work for myself, but I find it really hard to please my boss in that setting. That boss is never satisfied, anticipates and rejects all my excuses, and is a real task master, on my back all the time. 🙂

But then there’s this thing Paul wrote:

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.” Col. 3.23-25

You know who we work for? We work for the Lord. Read it closely, Paul is not encouraging us to start working for the Lord, but to recognize the reality that we are already working for the Lord in everything we do. The question is not who we are serving – only how well we are serving. If you haven’t done this before, try going through a whole day deliberately thinking to yourself that what you are doing – working, driving, cooking a meal, cleaning the kitchen, etc., is serving Jesus. It will make a difference in your productivity and the quality of your work. If you’ve been a slacker in some areas, it might be a good idea to ask forgiveness for poor service rendered. I did that just this morning, praying: “Forgive me for wasting time, energy, resources. Make me into a more faithful steward of all the many gifts you have given me.”

And don’t ignore that last sentence in what Paul wrote. If you have been doing immoral/unethical things in your work, you need to find ways to do your job ethically. That does not mean some arbitrary standard you or your company can live with, but real ethics – your work should engender (or at least not inhibit) justice, freedom, and well-being for all the people (all of them!) touched by your company. Working for the Lord means working in this way. You may find this requires small or large changes in how you go about your work. Or you may find it is impossible to do ethical work where you are. In which case you should quit at your convenience immediately as soon as possible. If you feel a tug in this direction, don’t ignore it. Pray into it, seek counsel and prayer support from those you trust in spiritual matters, and follow what the Lord tells you. Because he will tell you.

Working for the Lord is the best. He is gracious, easy to please, and gives the best swag. Plus the retirement benefits are out of this world (or to die for (pick your pun!)).