“…as we forgive those who sinned against us.” (Matthew 6:12b)”
The subject of forgiveness is always a difficult one. We have dealt with the reasons why we need to continually ask God for forgiveness. But how should we respond when someone else has offended us? If we are the offending party, we generally expect others to readily forgive us. But if the tables are turned and we are the aggrieved party, then forgiving can become a very difficult proposition indeed. But forgiving others is something that our Lord expects us to do as we seek forgiveness from God for our own sins. It’s not an option! In fact, having a forgiving spirit is so important that our Lord Jesus immediately re-emphasise it following the end of the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:14-15,
“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
Yes, you’ve heard it right! If we do not forgive others their sins, God will not forgive us our sins too. This does not mean we would lose our salvation or our position as children of God. As we saw in the last segment on forgiveness, Jesus’s righteousness is imputed to us and our position of being forgiven is secured once and for all. But if we are unforgiving, it does mean we have disobeyed God and would therefore suffer the consequences of broken fellowship with God and subject to His chastisement. Consider what Jesus taught at the beginning of His discourse a chapter earlier. In a parallel principle stated in Matthew 5:7, Jesus taught “Blessed are the merciful for they shall received mercy”. Further along the chapter Jesus illustrated that if there is a grievance that has not been settled between you and a brother or a sister, don’t bother to come worship God and offer your gifts. But instead, sort it out with them before you come to worship God. In fact, the order is important too. We are to forgive in order to receive forgiveness. The merciful are the ones who will receive mercy. And we are to deal with our earthly grievances before we come to address God in worship.
And how often are we to forgive someone? Matthew 18:22 quotes Jesus as saying seventy times seven times which is a saying to signifies boundlessness or no limit. Then He goes on to illustrate the importance of having a forgiving spirit through the parable of the unforgiving servant, who having been pardoned by the king for a very great debt refused to forgive his fellow man of a small debt and thus suffered the judgement of the king. The parable further illustrates the magnitude of our sin against God and His forgiveness toward us compared to our relationships with our fellow men. In other words, the offences committed against us are petty compared to what we have been forgiven for by Christ. Forgiving others is therefore a hallmark of a true believer.
Before we think that forgiving someone is easy, consider the case where the offence against us is a serious one. An unfaithful spouse, an unjust lawsuit, victims of abuse or other unspeakable crimes like those committed during the holocaust or Rwanda genocide? The subject suddenly becomes a lot more sobering and weighty. It’s not difficult to imagine the hurt, anger and despair that accompanies the one on the receiving end of such acts. Our inner being cries out for justice! Now that’s a whole different ball game! But the principle is the same as articulated by the Apostle Peter in 1 Peter chapter 2. Our Lord Jesus Christ, having suffered for us, has set for us the supreme example in that ““Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth”; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; It’s easier said than done and we have to dig deep and draw strength from God whose grace is sufficient for us and whose strength is made perfect in our weaknesses ((Hebrews 12:9). As Christians, we have to lean all the more on God’s unmatchable grace to be able to forgive.
An unforgiving heart makes us ultimately the victim as we allow the resentment in our hearts to fester. If we feed the resentment, It gnaws on our conscience and eats away our energy. If unchecked, it may even lead to all sorts of physical ailments. On the other head, forgiving others liberate us and allow our hearts to be healed. And like any spiritual quality, it’s not natural but a habit that requires constant practice.
The morning I wrote this, I watched on TV how a Muslim mother stood in a New Zealand court, face-to-face with the white supremacy who killed her son and 50 others in a mass shooting at a mosque. Janna Ezat, whose son Hussein Al-Umari was killed, looked at the murderer and spoke softly. “I forgive you,” she said. “The damage is done, Hussein will never be here. I only have one choice and that is to forgive.” When I looked at that, two things came into sharp focus:
- We all suffer from the deadly consequence of sin in a fallen world which has given rise to the single greatest spiritual need of man for forgiveness by God. For without forgiveness, we will not have a relationship with God. Without forgiveness, we are doom for an eternity in hell.
- The offences we suffer pale in comparison with what others like that mother has had to endure and also what Christ went through for us. I see in churches so many people bearing grudges over what are really minor petty personal offences. How many have you known who have left a ministry or the church or stopped talking to someone because of an offence done to them? And rather than dealing with it in a godly way, many have allowed bitterness, guilt and resentment to rob them of the joy of forgiving. If a Muslim mother can forgive the killer of her son, is there anything we cannot entrust our God to judicially deal with (Romans 12:19)?
Are you a forgiving person? Is there someone in your life you need to forgive or a grudge you bear that needs confessing to the Lord? Let us pause and examine our hearts. In FBC, let us practice Paul’s exhortation in Colossians 3:12-15, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”
Heavenly Father, forgive us when we harbor a grudge against others when we should have forgiven them. When we consider our Lord Jesus, who though pure and innocent, became sin for us, is there anyone here we would bear an eternal grudge against? Help us to have a forgiving spirit and thereby enjoy the peace of pleasing You. Amen!
(This article is adapted from a series of sharing on the subject of Prayer by Yew Lum to his Lifegroup members.)