Forgiven to Forgive
Whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him [drop the issue, let it go], so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions wrongdoings [against Him and others]. [But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your transgressions.”]
Forgiveness must be a really big deal to God. It lies at the heart of the gospel message: The Good News is that God has paid the price to forgive sinners. We enter a relationship with God only because Christ took away the barrier between us,and our spiritual growth rests on the strong foundation of gratitude that we have been freed from sin. Forgiveness, then, is the crux of Christian life.
In human relationships, however, love can evaporate as quickly as a cutting word is spoken. Offenses, great or small, require the healing salve of forgiveness. Forgiving other people is central to spiritual life, and our prayers are hindered if we refuse to forgive.
Jesus explained that we continue to enjoy God’s grace and forgiveness only when we have forgiven people who hurt us. His forgiveness has already been bought by Christ two thousand years ago, but our experience of His forgiveness is blocked when we harbor resentment. We may have a seemingly good reason to withhold forgiveness: He did it on purpose, she isn’t sorry she did it, he’ll do it again, she doesn’t even care, he has done it repeatedly, or she is vicious and doesn’t deserve to be forgiven. All these reasons, however mean very little in the sight of God’s command to forgive and His promise to bless us if we do.
Resentment secretly (or not so secretly) wants revenge. Give it up. Choose to forgive, and enjoy God’s peace and love more deeply than before.
He who cannot forgive others breaks the bridge over which he must pass himself.
As Peter stood before a beggar who was asking for a few coins, his response was amazing. He said, “Such as I have, I give to you.” And the beggar got more than just a few coins to get him through the day. He got a life transformation and in that moment his world changed. All because someone took time to respond to his cry. You may be wondering what this has to do with our subject of forgiveness. Like almost everything else, we can only give what we have and much of what we have has been given to us.
When we talk about forgiveness, most of us would say that it is one of the more difficult Christian principles to actually practice. Our sense of justice, our sin nature that drives us to be offended, and hold a grudge, and our expectation of an immediate response from the one we have forgiven work together to make forgiving difficult. The truth is that only someone who has received forgiveness has any to forgive. Every Christian has received immeasurable forgiveness from God through Christ Jesus. We could, perhaps, justify or rationalize our conduct with other humans since none of us are perfect. But in our relationship with God, we have nothing we can find to even remotely acting wrong toward Him. He never ceases to love us, care for us, bless us, and He is incredibly patient and kind to us. When we sin against Him, we grieve Him according to Paul (Ephesians 4:30). But when we come to Him in repentance and ask for His forgiveness, He doesn’t hesitate. As soon as we ask, He gives. Our sins against God are huge and many and nothing we could ever do would enable us to pay our debt.
As Jesus is teaching this powerful principle of forgiveness, He is very emphatic about our need to forgive others. In what we call The Lord’s Prayer, He gave us this to pray, “And forgive us as we forgive…” In other words, our forgiveness from God is conditioned by our forgiveness of others. And God doesn’t expect us to muster up forgiveness on our own. Back to Peter’s words: “Such as I have, give I thee.” That’s the secret. We who have received forgiveness from God now have forgiveness to give because in everything God gives to us, He gives an abundance (my cup runs over- Psalm 23). The matter of forgiving others is so important that it is one of the most prominent themes in the Bible, in the teachings of Christ, and the instructions of the apostles.
In one of His parables about forgiveness, Jesus tells of a person who owed a great sum of money. The amount of that sum was so great that the debtor couldn’t have repaid it had he worked his entire life and gave every penny he earned to the lender. That’s us. Our sin debt is so great that if we spent the entire rest of our lives trying to earn our salvation or to repay our debt, we would come up short. Any attempt to do so would find us always lacking that one thing. We come to God with no ability to pay our debt and in His kindness and love, Jesus steps forward and assumes our debt. An old song says it this way: “He paid a debt He did not owe, I owed a debt I could not pay, I needed someone to wash my sins away.” That’s the story of the debtor who came to the master and instead of being turned over to collections, he received total forgiveness of his debt. You would think that such a thing would have so transformed him that he would have responded like Charles Dickens’ Scrooge. After Scrooge’s encounter, he woke up a changed man and leaving his miserly, miserable life behind, he became generous and kind. That’s the expectation Christ has when we receive a second chance. We who have been given another chance in life now have the opportunity to give one to others. We who have wronged God and piled up a sin debt have been given a fresh start, a clean slate, and a new page. Since we have received such a gift, we now have something to give to those who have wronged, hurt, or offended us in someway, forgiveness. And we can be sure that no one can ever owe us what we owed God.
The end of the story Jesus told is indeed a sad one for the man who received forgiveness for the great debt went and found another who owed him a small sum. We would like to have the story say that the first man was so grateful and his heart was overflowing with thankfulness of being relieved of the great debt that he looked upon his friend who owed him a small debt with compassion and forgave the debt. After all, he no longer was under the pressure of the great debt. I think we might at least understand someone wanting to collect small debts if they had to pay a large one, but this wasn’t the case at all. The first man had no debt so there was no reason to not forgive the small debt. As a matter of fact, scripture says that to whom much is given, much is required and we who have been given the gift of forgiveness from God are required to give forgiveness to others. As Jesus concluded the story, he told us that when the master who had forgiven much heard of the debtor who refused to forgive, he brought him back and revoked forgiveness.
The truth of the matter is that even those who have been forgiven by God put themselves back into prison when the choose to carry unforgiveness and hold grudges.
For your sake, forgive. It will release you to enjoy life. It will break the power of those who have hurt you. It will enhance your relationship with God and others.
Dr. John Thompson