Sermon session

Counter Measure

Session #118 Counter Measure

Scripture Matthew 18:21-35

As believers and followers of Jesus, we know that we are to forgive. However, many still struggle with this instruction. Can we ignore it altogether? After all, aren’t we already forgiven and saved? Even worse, why should we keep forgiving if the other party is unrepentant? Unfair? Henson considers these concerns in this session on Matthew 18:21-35 through the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. This teaching closes Jesus’ kingdom discourse in Matthew 18 about relationships in the kingdom community.


Matthew 18 is the 4th kingdom discourse in the gospel of Matthew; about Relationships in the Kingdom Community.

Matthew 18:21-35  speaks of Forgiveness, and has three parts to this passage:

18:21-22 – what we should do
18:23-34 – what we should not do
18:35 – why we really should not do what we should not do

Matthew 18:21-22 Peter’s Counter Mentality

Then Peter came to Him and said, “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)

As Peter seeks to apply the teachings on forgiveness and wants to know how many times one should forgive another, this inevitably will cause Peter to count the number of times of offence, having a Counter Mentality.

Peter’s reference was a Rabbinic maxim and the teachings of 3 times only. However, this is a wrong interpretation of Amos 1:3 & 2:1, “For three transgressions of Damascus/Moab, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment,…”

This seems to relate to three levels in the previous passage in Matthew 18:15-20, three strikes and you’re out! After that, the counting restarts. However, Jesus says 70 x 7 which is better translated as 77 times, “If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, then Lamech seventy-sevenfold.” (cf Gen 4:24) 

The point is to keep forgiving. Jesus is saying to let them expect that grace from kingdom people. Kingdom Counter Measure simply means Forgive, Keep Forgiving. Do not keep track of how many times you have to forgive. 

To Defy Counter Mentality. Apply Counter Measure.

Matthew 18:23-34 Jesus’ Counter Parable

Jesus uses a parable to provide a negative illustration, a counterpoint. As the disciples know what they should do, Jesus tells them what they should not do.

The king calls a servant to account as the servant owes the king 10,000 (largest number in Greek) talents (highest known denomination). In today’s unit is a googolplex or a centillion (1 followed by 303 zeros). The servant begs and offers to repay but is unable to repay. The king has compassion, and knowing the servant’s inability and plight, he cancels the debt (forgives him the debt).

The servant is set free and released. He then counts and exacts payment from a fellow servant who owes him 100 denarii (100 denarii is about 100 days’ wages).

Jesus illustrates the extent of forgiveness that the king has given and yet the servant refuses to show compassion to his fellow servant. Nothing can be compared to what he owed the king.

As the other servants report this servant to the king, the king’s countenance changes from compassion to anger. The debt is reinstated and the servant is thrown into prison to be tortured and tormented.

This is what we should not do, do not keep accounts and exact payment, we are to forgive. Instead of counting and demanding repayment, we are to release and cancel. If not, we will find our own debts reinstated.

Quite clearly, the king represents God and servants refer to kingdom people, us. But what do the reinstatement of debts and torture mean?

Matthew 18:35 Jesus Clarifies the Main Point

“So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.” (Matthew 18:35)

The word “So” means in this manner, in the same way, or similarly. It refers to Matthew 18:34, the reinstatement of debt. Forgiveness is withdrawn.

One may think that this is not applicable and part of the Old Covenant as all sins are forgiven already. If this is not applicable, then we have to cancel a few other verses. In particular, those in the Lord’s or Disciple’s Prayer. Matthew 6:12 should just read as “And forgive our debts”; without “as we forgive our debtors”. Yet, this part about forgiveness was the part that Jesus chose to highlight and emphasise again immediately after teaching disciples how to pray, For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. If you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (Matthew 6:14-15).

Torturers & Torment?
In this life, there are lots of psychosomatic issues and sicknesses linked to unforgiveness such as anxiety, stress, heart issues, stroke, and rheumatoid arthritis.

How about after this life? Purgatory? Since debt is reinstated, is salvation at stake then? This may not be what we want to hear but this is more in keeping with Jesus’ picture of eternal torment in hell.


We want judgment. We want repayment and compensation. We want the other party to pay, to hurt, to suffer. Are we to keep forgiving and forgiving? No matter what? This sounds so unfair!

God’s counter measure to counter the counter mentality is counter-intuitive. It goes against our every fibre! Then again, the kingdom is upside-down.

Here’s an overview of Matthew 18 again:

Jesus addresses relationships in the kingdom community. Teaching that humility is a key trait for a disciple. The King is very serious about righteousness and sin in the community. He deals with those who stumble others, who cause others to sin. Yet He seeks to restore everyone, extending enough chances to repent and to return. He prescribes a process. He affirms authority to carry out this process.

The rebellious and unrepentant will be dealt with by the King. The King is gracious, patient and compassionate but He does get angry and will judge righteously.

When we understand this in context, we see that Jesus addresses both the one who has sinned and the one who has been sinned against. Both have been given clear instructions to follow, as well as the consequences of not following these instructions. Both have a responsibility as kingdom people to live as instructed.

To the one who has sinned, if he repents, he is forgiven by God. If he is unrepentant, he is not forgiven by God. Possibility of destruction.

To the one sinned against, if he forgives, he is forgiven by God. If he does not forgive, he is not forgiven by God. There may be a possibility of torment/torture/destruction.

Jesus addresses both parties and we must do the same. Our problem is that we almost never consider these passages together. We only focus on one – you must forgive! – and neglect the other.

Where is the judgment or the payment?!! Counter Mentality? There was judgement – Jesus bore that judgment on all our behalf. Neither sinner nor the one sinned against can pay. On the cross, Jesus paid it all for all. What Jesus paid for you, He also paid for the one who sinned against you. To question this judgment is to question the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice. To belittle this payment is to mock the value of Christ’s love and grace for us.

God’s counter measure to the counter mentality is counter-intuitive. To forgive is the right kingdom thing to do.

Defy Counter Mentality. Apply Counter Measure.

How to Apply Counter Measure: because it’s not easy

Forgiveness is a Kingdom Expectation based on the King’s Example.

And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you (Ephesians 4:32).

Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do (Colossians 3:12-13).

Who forgave first?
It is tempting to read this parable or the Lord’s Prayer and presume that if we do not forgive first, God will not forgive us. This is wrong, God has already forgiven. He forgave first. God always takes the initiative, and Jesus expects us to follow His example. That is what followers of Christ (disciples) are expected to do.

The Lord does not expect us to do what He Himself has not already done. “… forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32) and “… forgiving one another … even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.” (Colossians 3:12)

If not, have we really received or understood forgiveness from Him? We are not forgiving (working) to be saved (forgiven). If we are saved, forgiveness is expected of us. The King expects His kingdom people to forgive one another within the kingdom community (and enemies too).

We are not to have this counter mentality that keeps track and scores. Defy Counter Mentality. Apply Counter Measure.

If you need to count, count your blessings, count the grace, count the number of times God has overlooked and forgiven you. Either we follow His example or He will follow ours – the choice is ours.

A Choice with Consequences
The servant had a choice, to be like the King or not; to extend grace or not; to release or not. Similarly, we have a choice, to be like Jesus or not; to forgive or not (or to keep counting), to obey or to disobey.

“You are free to choose but you are not free of the consequences of your choice.” Obey. Remain free. Enjoy the freedom. It releases us to fulfil our kingdom assignments. Disobey (which is sin): Have the debt reinstated, where it will trap and trip us in our assignments. Over time, bitterness, distrust, critical spirit, judgment will breed.

Choose wisely. Choose life. Do not choose death. Break the Counter Mentality with God’s Counter Measure.

Defy Counter Mentality. Apply Counter Measure. If you need to count, then count the cost of choosing wrongly. If you have made a wrong choice before, you can still repent. Repentance from unforgiveness is not just acknowledging you have not forgiven but to forgive.

We are to live by Faith, not by Feeling. Forgive by faith as Jesus teaches that this is the right thing to do. God is the ultimate judge and He will deal with the person/situation in His time, in His way. The Lord wants the best for me and therefore I obey (faith =obedience).

Do not be led by feelings but by faith. Even if there is no repentance or change in the other person or situation, still forgive by faith.

Faith is always coupled with grace. His grace becomes sufficient and strengthens.

Forgiveness is

Not A One-time Event: keep forgiving
Not Forgetting: Let God heal the memories
Not Ceasing to feel the pain: It will take time to heal
Not Waiting for Apology or Repentance
Not Approval or Denial of Sin
Not Neglecting Justice: If a child is molested, call the police.
Not necessarily Trusting (earned again) or Reconciliation (takes two)

Cautionary Note about Marriage – this is not a point to justify divorce


A Counter Mentality justifies unforgiveness in our hearts and the enemy exploits this to the max, turning it into a weapon to hurt us and the Body of Christ. 

In dealing with the issue of sexual immorality in the Corinthian church, Paul told the disciples to forgive the one who has sinned “lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices” (2 Corinthians 2:11).

Defy Counter Mentality. Apply Counter Measure.

This passage may focus on the one who has been sinned against – to keep forgiving. Let us remember that it is not meant to be applied in isolation. It must be applied in conjunction with the rest of Matthew 18. Imagine if the ekklesia – the kingdom community – heeded the words of the King. Sadly, we have much to improve in these aspects. How we need His grace as we encourage one another to grow in that same grace to be able to forgive.

Defy Counter Mentality. Apply Counter Measure.

Is there someone you need to forgive?