Scriptures: Matthew 6:12, Matthew 18:21-23, Matthew 18:32-35
A WAY TO FORGIVENESS:We can receive forgiveness because of all that Jesus Christ did for us. Jesus made a pathway to God for any who chose to walk it. Within that walk is a way for each of us to receive forgiveness for all the hateful, cruel, dishonest, lying things we have ever done. For all the times we lied to people, we can be forgiven. For all the times we hurt people, we can be forgiven. For all the times we were dishonest, we can be forgiven. For all the sins we have ever done against God and man, Jesus made a way for us to be forgiven. But I don't think we understand exactly how forgiveness works in the kingdom of God. We are told that we can pray a prayer to receive Jesus as Lord and from that moment on forgiveness is automatic. That is not accurate. We are told that we can simply ask God to forgive us and he must do it. Neither is that accurate.
HIT IT HARD:Today's lesson is about forgiveness. I intend on hitting this subject hard. I don't want to offend, but I do want to shake everything that can be shaken (Heb 12:27). There are several reasons I want to hit it hard. I believe the church as a whole is deceived about their Christianity. God cannot forgive us unless we forgive. Another reason I am hitting it hard is because people who do not forgive are spiritually ill and distant from God. I don't care if the person is a preacher, the pope, or a nun. Another reason is eventually they will become ill in their souls. They will be depressed and filled with hate and bitterness. Another reason is because they will eventually become ill in their bodies. My not forgiving affects my spirit, my soul, and my body (1Th 5:23). Another reason is because not forgiving will make a church sick and can even cause a church to split which brings scandal upon the kingdom. We cannot afford to tolerate unforgiveness.
STORYRobert Lewis Stevenson in his Picturesque Notes of Edinburgh tells the story of two unmarried sisters who shared a single room apartment. As people are apt to do who live in close quarters, the sisters had a falling out, on some point of "controversial divinity." In other words, they disagreed over some aspect of theology. The controversy was so bitter that they never spoke to one another again! Yet, possibly because of a lack of means or because of the innate Scottish fear of scandal, they continued to live together in the single room. They drew a chalk line across the floor to separate their two domains. It divided the doorway and the fireplace, so they each could go in and out and do her cooking without stepping into the territory of the other. For years they coexisted in hateful silence. Their family visitors were continually exposed to the other's unfriendly silence. And at night, each went to bed listening to the heavy breathing of her enemy. Thus the two sisters (ostensibly daughters of the church!) continued the rest of their miserable lives. (1)
Something is terribly wrong when such events control us. I fear we are deceived about our Christianity when we permit such hate to live in our hearts. How can a person pray the following words?
Matthew 6:12 Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
PIT OF HATE AND BITTERNESS:How is it that those words never prick the hearts of hate controlled people? There is no way anyone should be able to pray the Lord's Prayer and remain bitter and unforgiving. Yet, I observe church people do this on a nearly daily basis. I observe preachers hate people. I watch people hate preachers. I see members hate other members. I observe family members hating their own family members. The very entity created to bring forgiveness - the church - is often a pit filled with hate and bitterness. I watch people hurt others while in the same church. I watch people leave churches and find another church so they can go on hating and not have to face forgiveness. Yet, from our youth we know the Lord said, Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
Forgiveness is a given for the Christ follower. We are supposed to forgive. Yet, I know of so many Christ followers and so many churches filled with hate. It's as though we feel that the Lord's direction to forgive is for everyone except me. I fear the evil one has pulled one over on us. I FEAR MANY ARE DECEIVED ABOUT THEIR CHRISTIANITY.
REMINDER TO FORGIVE:I personally use this prayer - the Lord's Prayer - as a guide when I do my 'closet prayer' (Mat 6:6) which is nearly every day. When I come to this part of the prayer - Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors - I am forced to look at my heart concerning forgiveness. There have been times that I was forced to deal with the issue. Years ago when I began using the prayer as a guide and I would get to this part and I would not want to forgive. I would wrestle with the Lord. I would come up with all sorts of reasons as to why I should not forgive and why the Lord should kill the person I had bitterness toward (at least do something horrible to them). Today I immediately recognize my not forgiving for what it truly is and I go to work on my heart.
What I am attempting to share is that this part of the Lord's prayer constantly, nearly daily, every time I pray through it, forces me to keep my heart pure concerning forgiveness. Thus, I make certain that I am forgiven. If it were not for this prayer, I would be one bitter hateful person.
FORGIVE US OUT DEBTS . . . : The Greek word translated dept is opheilema (Strong's #3783) and is pronounced of-i'-lay-mah. It means (1) that which is owed; (1.a) that which is justly or legally due, a debt; (2) metaph. offence, sin. Jesus saw sin as an unpaid legal debt. It's as though the judge has decreed that the debt must be paid and if it is not paid, we will be placed into prison. To make certain that we understood perfectly that Jesus was talking about sin, he amplified his thought about forgiveness in Matthew 6:14-15.
Matthew 6:14 For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
Matthew 6:15 But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
Is there anything about those verses that we do not understand? How good of Jesus to put it so clearly. It does not require theological training to grasp his meaning.
THE SCALE:Forgiveness is like an empty balance scale that must be kept empty. The Lord was asked once which was the greatest commandment Mat 22:36-40). The Lord said the first would be to love God, but the second is very close to the importance of the first. In fact, the Lord would not mention the first without mentioning the second. The second was to love people. We must maintain a balanced relation with God and man. One side of the scale will deal Father and the other side with people. When we come to Father, our side of the scale is weighted down with sin. Father forgives all our debt and removes it from the scale. The scales are balanced and empty concerning forgiveness. Eventually people sin against us. We have all been sinned against. Our people side of the tray becomes weighted. What do we do? If we remove the debt, the scale balances and both trays are empty concerning forgiveness as they should be. If we do not remove the debt, Father does not remove our sins from Father's side of the scale.
FORGIVE PARABLE:Somebody said, "I don't know about that. That's not the way I see it." Jesus told a vivid parable to make certain that we would get this forgiveness teaching. Peter asked the Lord once how many times we need to forgive? It's found in Matthew 18:21-35. Let's look at a few of those verses.
Matthew 18:21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?"
Matthew 18:22 Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. [KJV - seventy times seven.]
Matthew 18:23 "Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.
Obviously the kingdom of heaven is not something that will happen one day in the future. Jesus was telling us how the kingdom of heaven worked two-thousand years ago and is still working that same way today.
The kingdom of heaven is like a servant who owed his king about ten million dollars, but could not pay the debt. The servant asked for mercy and the king granted mercy by forgiving the entire debt (Mat 18:24-27). He emptied the scales. However, the servant forgiven that massive debt was owed by a fellow servant a few hundred dollars, but refused to forgive that small debt. The people side of the scale was weighted. Instead, the forgiven servant had his fellow servant put in prison. (Mat 18:28-30). The king found out about the servant he forgave the massive debt not forgiving the small debt of his fellow servant. He summoned the forgiven servant. Here is what Jesus said happened.
Matthew 18:32 "Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to.
Matthew 18:33 Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?'
Matthew 18:34 In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
Matthew 18:35 "This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart."
Jesus said this is how "Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart." Forgiveness must be more than words. It must be from the heart.
My not forgiving hurts me. It doesn't hurt the person that I refuse to forgive nearly as much as it hurts me. I am the one ending up tortured. True, I am trying to put the person that I refuse to forgive in bondage (seldom am I even affecting that person), but I am getting the worse end of the deal. I am the one tortured.
Not forgiving is torture. It takes away joy. It will cause us not to sleep. We are consumed with hate and we become vindictive. We talk about basically good people. Sure, they have some quirks, but so do we. People literally become sick who refuse to forgive. Their blood pressure goes up. They stress out. They become depressed. All sorts of medical problems develop. They fail to keep jobs. They are in a prison of torture. They are miserable and unhappy people. There are no exceptions. Jesus said,"each of you."
BUT WHAT IF I PRAYED THE SINNER'S PRAYER? : Doesn't that fix my forgiveness forever? Well, perhaps the Lord was confused on this point. I suppose he had not yet heard that doctrine. What do you think? How does it read to you (Luk 10:26). We know Jesus wasn't confused, I believe that we are confused and deceived concerning our Christianity. My forgiveness is directly linked to my forgiving others.
Let me give us several thought provoking quotes from several theologians whose teachings have endured centuries.
St. Augustine said this was the "terrible petition" because we are actually telling God not to forgive us unless we first forgive.
Thomas Watson, the Puritan leader said, "A man can as well go to hell for not forgiving as for not believing."(2)
Charles Spurgeon said, "Unless you have forgiven others, you read your own death-warrant when you repeat the Lord's prayer." (3)
Wycliff Commentary says, "An unforgiving spirit is sin, and should itself be confessed." (4)
Matthew Henry's Commentary says, "Those that come to God for the forgiveness of their sins against him, must make conscience of forgiving those who have offended them, else they curse themselves when they say the Lord's prayer." (5)
Emptying the scales of forgiveness is an extremely important issue. Forgiveness is much more important than we make it or want it to be.
What I have learned over the years, as I have prayed this "Lord's Prayer," is that I am CONSTANTLY REMINDING myself that Father cannot forgive me unless I forgive people. It is then that I make certain the scales are empty.
CHRISTIANS FORGIVE:The point is that if we are Christians we want to forgive even though at times it is a struggle. There is a difference between struggling with forgiveness and having no desire to forgive. Forgiveness is a process through which we move. As long as we are moving through the process we are in actuality forgiving. It is when we have no desire to forgive that we are not forgiven.
SPIRITUAL HEALTH:This part of the prayer, perhaps as much as any other teaching in the scriptures, helps us monitor our own spiritual health. A heart storing hate and not forgiving becomes bitter and critical. Eventually the relationship with Father becomes nonexistent. No relationship means no salvation (Mat 7:23).
Unforgiveness, as does forgiveness, must be maintained. We feed hate or we starve hate. A person is spiritually ill by maintaining an unforgiving heart. No one will argue with that. A person that has hate in their heart is struggling spiritually and it doesn't matter if they are a preacher, a nun, or the pope.
The opposite is true when forgiveness is maintained. We are never closer to God, or more like God, than when we forgive. We are like Jesus when we can say, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Luk 23:34). We are never more divine-like than when we forgive.
Alexander Pope said, "To err is human to forgive is divine." (6)
How are we at Life Gate? How are you? If you look into your heart this very moment for someone whom you haven't forgiven, do you find anyone? Do you find more than one? There is a lot of not forgiving in churches. Who is it that you need to forgive today? Do you need to forgive a parent or parents? That is common. Do you need to forgive an employer? Perhaps there is a neighbor that needs forgiving. Could there be a church member you need to forgive? Maybe there is a church member at some other church you need to forgive. How about an 'X' something - x-wife, x-husband, x-pastor, x-church member, x-boyfriend, x-girlfriend? Could there be a pastor that injured you and you need to forgive him or her? Could there be an elder that you need to forgive? Please forgive today no matter whom it is. Begin the forgiving process today.
I want to end with this thought. Forgiveness is a miracle. Forgiveness is not a trick. It is a miracle from God that only Christ followers can truly do. It clears and cleanses our hearts. It removes the stench from our hearts. Instead of a frown and a scow on our faces, there is a smile and a joy coming from the heart. Let's allow the miracle to work in our hearts today.
Do we dare to pray this prayer? Can we pray it? Father forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.
1. R. Kent Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount, page 87
2. I. Thomas, Puritan Quotations (Chicago: Moody Press, 1975, page 111
3. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Vol. 24, page 694
4. Moody Press, Wycliff Commentary, Bible Research System
5. Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible: New Modern Edition, Electronic Database. Copyright (c) 1991 by Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.
6. Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism