Matthew 18:21 is a passage we often turn to when considering forgiveness. Despite Jesus’ teachings on forgiveness, however, we want to add our own conditions. “I’ll forgive if they ask for it.” “I’ll forgive up to a certain point.” “I’ll forgive if I feel like it.” This lesson, we’re going to look at some scriptures that govern forgiveness, and these scriptures will require us to adjust our attitudes and actions regarding forgiveness.

Gaining a Brother

In Matthew 18:21, Peter asks how often he should forgive if a brother sins against him. He uses an expression that infers a serious violation or trespass, and he places the burden of forgiveness on himself. In response, and he tells a parable of a servant in terrible debt to his master. This servant seeks forgiveness while is unwilling to forgive another in debt to him. Jesus makes a point that we are to be forgiving as we want our Father to be forgiving.

The goal, in Matthew 18:15, is to gain a brother. Prior to Peter’s question, Jesus is encouraging His followers to entreat one another when wronged. This is not regarding a disagreement or hurt feelings. This is nothing minor. This is a serious trespass, and Jesus does not instruct us to be passive. There is no waiting for our brother or sister to come to us. We approach him or her, and we engage in forgiveness.

Forgiving as God Forgives

Matthew 18:33 cites mercy as the basis of our forgiveness. We are merciful because we have been shown mercy. Verse 35 warns that God will not forgive those unwilling to forgive. Matthew 6:12 echoes this sentiment when Jesus models prayer for His disciples. Luke 6:35-37 says God is kind and merciful toward the undeserving, and Jesus encourages us to demonstrate mercy. The strict conditions we put on forgiveness will be put upon us by God. Finally, Mark 11:25 warns us to forgive others in our prayers before asking for our own forgiveness. We need to forgive so we may be forgiven.

What attitude do we hold in forgiveness? How do we act? Are we like children who are forced to apologize by our parents? Jesus is forgiving. He is compassionate. He is merciful. God granted us mercy forgiveness before we asked for it and while we are undeserving. If we are to be holy as God is holy, if we are to be sons of our Father. Think of Esau forgiving Jacob and Joseph forgiving his brothers. Think of David forgiving Saul. Are we as compassionate and merciful?


Leviticus 19:18 is cited by Jesus as one of the great commandments, and the first part of this verse warns God’s people against grudges or seeking vengeance. Grudges come all too easy, and God takes pains to turn His people from this habit. In Mark 6:19, Herod has John beheaded because of a grudge Herodias bore. Grudges wrap us up and consume us. It takes time, work, and energy to maintain these harsh feelings, and this is time, work, and energy we should be giving to the Lord instead. We need to be able to let our grudges go and move on. They causes us to hurt, to grow angry, to grow bitter. They draw us away from God.

Issumagijoujungnainermik is a compound Eskimo word that roughly means “unable to think about it anymore.” It is a word missionaries used to describe God’s forgiveness to the Eskimos, and it is a fitting description of how we should forgive. Our forgiveness should be compassionate and merciful. Love should take the place of grudges, allowing us to be in a right relationship with our fellow Christians and with our God.

lesson by Tim Smelser