and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors……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 6:12, 14-15)
Today we arrive at a key point of the ‘Lord’s prayer’. I don’t think I am overstating it, but this subject is crucial if you want to be a true follower of Jesus. It’s such an important subject that straight after Jesus taught His disciples about prayer, He reiterates the point again in verses 14 and 15 to accentuate the importance of this subject.
I know I’m generally going through the ‘sermon on the mount’ verse by verse, but rather than cover the same subject in two weeks’ time, I thought I would do it all today.
Forgiveness is a key aspect of Christianity, because anyone who is a follower of Christ has asked for and received forgiveness. If anyone just follows Christ because they think they are already a good person, they have missed the point. Before we come to Christ, we are all sinners and a long way from God. In fact the bible refers to us as ‘dead’ in our sins (Ephesians 2:1, Colossians 2:13 etc). We cannot reach God through our own efforts. We come to an acknowledgment of our sinful state before a Holy God and receive the forgiveness Jesus offers that is available through His death and resurrection.
The important point of our verses today is that when we have received forgiveness we should in turn forgive others. God has given us the example to follow. It just isn’t right to receive God’s forgiveness and not extend forgiveness to others. Jesus makes this point in the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:21-35. In fact the consequences of not forgiving somebody are quite shocking.
God knows that forgiveness is one of the hardest things for us to do. It is not just a ‘one-off’ process either. We have to forgive some people over and over again. We do it continuously, because every now and again the same old hurt and resentments come back to us. That’s why we should repeat this prayer, if not daily, then very regularly.
This subject is so important because we are all part of God’s family. As a parent I hate it when my kids fall out and fight, God is just the same. He loves it when His children get on with each other and forgive one another. In fact the bible says that when it happens He has reserved a big blessing for us:
Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!….. For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life for evermore. (Psalm 133:1,3)
There is generally a lot of misunderstanding regarding forgiveness. Forgiveness is not necessarily restoring a relationship to its previous state before things went wrong. Sometimes when trust has been broken it can take a long time to win back. It’s not becoming a ‘door mat’ either so that someone sins against you multiple times and you are stuck just having to forgive them without them facing up to the consequences of their sins. Sin needs to be confronted and not tolerated.
I will finish with just a few more points about forgiveness:
- Forgiveness is a process. People can be very hurtful and especially those closest to us. Some emotional problems can take a long time to heal. Start with the intention to forgive and then let God help you achieve it.
- We forgive if they repent or not. Some people can hurt us and they seem to be quite happy to do so. Remember this; Forgiveness is about our attitude, not their action.
- We don’t always have to tell them. Some people can be blissfully unaware that they have hurt us. Telling them we have forgiven them can be a bit of manipulation to make them feel guilty. It can also be a form of pride. Some people need to be confronted though, so make sure you are confronting with the right attitude.
- Forgiveness does not mean forgetting. It’s normal for memories to be triggered in the future. When we get these memories, it’s what we do with them that counts. Many times we have to forgive over and over again. It should get better the more you do though!