“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15).
In these two verses we see two amazing promises. One good and the other terrifying. We see that God will forgive us. What a glorious promise! But we also see that God will hold back forgiveness if we are unable to forgive others.
Wow. What a glorious yet frightening truth. So it would seem to me that our ability to forgive others is pretty important. At least important enough for Jesus to make the above statement. So today I want to look at forgiveness and it’s central role in our lives and our salvation. So let’s start by looking at how our ability to forgive relates to Jesus’ forgiveness of our sins.
Now it’s extremely important, actually vital, that you understand this first point. God’s forgiving you is what allows you to forgive others. Your ability to forgive others does not earn God’s forgiveness. He is not waiting for you to forgive your arch enemy before He saves you. Rather, Jesus is teaching us that God’s forgiveness does such a work in our lives that the natural response to this work is our ability to forgive others.
Maybe a little complex. Well Jesus thought so too so he gave us a parable to try and explain it in a way we would understand.
“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:21-35).
It basically breaks down to this: we have been so unfaithful and so undeserving to God, yet in his graciousness He forgives us of all of our iniquity, (again think of every sin you have ever committed, that’s a lot of iniquity!). Thus because we have been forgiven of so much we are now able to forgive others. Jesus has forgiven us thousands of times, we should be able to forgive others the few times they have wronged us.
You see our ability to forgive horizontally, (to other people), is only possible if we have first been forgiven vertically, (been made right with God through faith in Jesus Christ). So the statement Jesus makes about forgiveness in Matthew 6 is not some kind of works based salvation. Rather, it is the glorious truth that because Christ has forgiven all of our numerous sins that we are now free to forgive others who have hurt us! And that our inability to forgive others shows our lack of understanding about God or because we have never experienced Christ’s forgiveness.
Now I know some of you are probably thinking, “That sounds nice, but he doesn’t know my situation. He doesn’t know what that person did to me. I can’t forgive them. To forgive them would mean that I am ok or happy with what they did. They will walk all over me if I act like that!”
It may be someone who lied to you and broke your trust. Maybe someone even cheated on you or murdered someone close to you. In China, many find it hard to forgive the Japanese for what they did in the war. Regardless of whether or not the other person has asked for your forgiveness, you need to forgive as Christ has already forgiven you. Sadly, the above statements are all too common in the Church today. We so easily forget how much Christ has already forgiven us.
If you are finding it hard to forgive others let me give you two points of advise. First, the reason you may not be able to forgive others is because you don’t really have a relationship with Christ. Going to Church does not equal a relationship with Christ and forgiveness of sins. The ability to forgive others, (even those who have done us unspeakable harm), only flows from our hearts first being transformed by the forgiveness of Christ, (Ephesians 4:32). So if that’s you, seek to know Christ first and his transforming forgiveness and see if forgiving others becomes more natural.
Secondly, some of you do have a relationship with Christ, but are allowing some unrepentant sin to prevent you from the joy of forgiving others. My advise to you is to repent and be set free. Living in unrepentant sin keeps you from missing out on so much joy. Forgiving others is an amazing gift from God, but Satan prefers we not share in this joy. Thus repent and be set free.
Also, if you find it hard to forgive someone who has hurt you very badly, my advise is to pray for them. Two years ago my computer was stolen. At first, I hated the man who did it and was hoping one day I would find him and pay him back. But I knew this was wrong. I know the Lord will repay, that’s not my duty, (Romans 12:19). So I started to pray for this man. I prayed he would come to know Jesus. I prayed he would find a life away from crime and that the Lord would protect and guide him. I don’t hate him anymore and hopefully one day I will see him again in heaven. Prayer often is God’s tool in changing our attitude.
So I hope that all of us can learn to forgive just as Christ forgave us. May we see just how much Christ has forgiven us and in response forgive others. May we repent of any sin hindering us from this joy and pray for those we find hard to forgive. May our hearts be transformed in order to forgive as only a follower of Christ can.
I have attached a story below of amazing forgiveness. These people experienced a terrible tragedy and rather than respond as the world would, they instead followed Jesus. I hope it impacts and challenges you just as it did me.
On Monday morning, October 2, 2006, a gunman entered a one-room Amish school in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. In front of twenty-five horrified pupils, thirty-two-year-old Charles Roberts ordered the boys and the teacher to leave. After tying the legs of the ten remaining girls, Roberts prepared to shoot them execution with an automatic rifle and four hundred rounds of ammunition that he brought for the task. The oldest hostage, a thirteen-year-old, begged Roberts to “shoot me first and let the little ones go.” Refusing her offer, he opened fire on all of them, killing five and leaving the others critically wounded. He then shot himself as police stormed the building. His motivation? “I’m angry at God for taking my little daughter,” he told the children before the massacre.
The story captured the attention of broadcast and print media in the United States and around the world. By Tuesday morning some fifty television crews had clogged the small village of Nickel Mines, staying for five days until the killer and the killed were buried. The blood was barely dry on the schoolhouse floor when Amish parents brought words of forgiveness to the family of the one who had slain their children.
The outside world was incredulous that such forgiveness could be offered so quickly for such a heinous crime. Of the hundreds of media queries that the authors received about the shooting, questions about forgiveness rose to the top. Forgiveness, in fact, eclipsed the tragic story, trumping the violence and arresting the world’s attention.
Within a week of the murders, Amish forgiveness was a central theme in more than 2,400 news stories around the world. The Washington Post, The New York Times, USA Today, Newsweek, NBC Nightly News, CBS Morning News, Larry King Live, Fox News, Oprah, and dozens of other media outlets heralded the forgiving Amish. From the Khaleej Times (United Arab Emirates) to Australian television, international media were opining on Amish forgiveness. Three weeks after the shooting, “Amish forgiveness” had appeared in 2,900 news stories worldwide and on 534,000 web sites.
Fresh from the funerals where they had buried their own children, grieving Amish families accounted for half of the seventy-five people who attended the killer’s burial. Roberts’ widow was deeply moved by their presence as Amish families greeted her and her three children. The forgiveness went beyond talk and graveside presence: the Amish also supported a fund for the shooter’s family.