Posts Tagged ‘forgiving others’

We’re continuing on in our study of the Lord’s prayer, remembering that when the disciples asked Jesus how to pray in Luke 11:2 – the Lord’s prayer is what he taught them. And so as we learn to pray the Lord’s prayer we’re learning how to pray.

Last time we started into the second section of requests that have to do with our needs and concerns. And we saw how to pray for daily bread is to pray for what we need of food, clothing and shelter to sustain us day by day.

Today we have before us the fourth petition of the Lord’s prayer. And it comes to us in two slightly different forms:

  • “And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us” – Luke 11:4
  •  “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven those indebted to us” – Matthew 6:12

[Notice that Luke has “sins” for “debts” in the first phrase. Also Luke has “for” instead of “as” in the second phrase, although the meaning is basically the same. Finally, whereas Matthew has “we have forgiven” past tense (aorist), Luke has “we ourselves forgive” or “are forgiving” which is present tense. A different emphasis.]

Alright, let’s dig in and see what we can learn from this –

First, this request is all about relationships

It deals with our relationship with God and also our relationships with all other people. And the focus is on maintaining right relationships. So, really, every time we pray this prayer we’re checking in to make sure that we’re right in our hearts and lives with God and others.

  • Each time we can pause and examine our relationship with God. What needs to be taken care of? Is God close? Is there some barrier that I’ve erected?
  • And each time we can pause and examine our relationships with others. Specifically, am I holding a grudge? Is there bitterness? Do I have wrong feelings and attitudes toward someone else?

We need to maintain our relationships with God and others.

I’ve already told you that of all the things Jesus could have chosen as the most important things we can pray for; our most important needs – he chose this as one. So this is a real priority. First keeping up with our relationship with God and then with others. And as we’ll see in a minute the two are interconnected.

This request assumes we will not be perfect

We will fail at times in our commitment to God and in our relationships with each other.

Now, don’t get me wrong. This is not an excuse to sin, you know, “we’re going to fail anyway, so why try?”God has given us everything that we need for a life of godliness – 2 Peter 1:3. There’s no lack from God’s end in terms of his power and grace given to us.

But, the fact that this request is in the prayer shows us that we do still fail, we still struggle, we make mistakes, we choose to do what is wrong, we often take the easy way – that is not God’s will for us. Like daily bread, we need regular grace and forgiveness in our lives. Again, we see that this prayer is supremely practical and connected to our real life experiences.

It teaches us something about the meaning of sin and forgiveness

In both versions, the word “debt” is used to talk about sin. (Luke also uses the word sin and Matthew in 6:14-15 uses the word trespasses to make sure we get that debt here means sin). Jesus is using a financial metaphor for sin and forgiveness. This was not uncommon in that day (also Matthew 18:23-35).

It goes like this – because God created us, we owe God everything. We have obligations to God. Specifically we owe God honor and obedience as his servants. When we don’t give God what we should, we incur a debt to God, which is what sin is.

This same idea is true in our relationships with each other. We owe each other to treat each other well. And when we don’t give this to someone we incur a debt to that person; we have sinned against them.

Forgiveness, then, is the release of this debt by God or another person. And indeed the word “forgiveness” in Scripture means “to release” someone from an obligation – whether legal, financial or moral. Have you ever had a financial debt you couldn’t pay? One with disastrous consequences? Can you imagine having it forgiven? Well that’s what sin and forgiveness is like. That’s the picture this request uses.

Next, even though it may appear that all we’re doing here is asking for forgiveness from God, biblically . . .

Asking for forgiveness assumes confession and repentance

In other words, asking for forgiveness is part of a series of actions that lead to finding true forgiveness from God – all of which are necessary to be forgiven.

The assumption here is that if you’re asking to be forgiven you are acknowledging that what you did was truly wrong, which is confession. And you are committing to not do it again, which is repentance.

But yet we do sometimes simply want the benefits of forgiveness – peace and relationship, without the hard work of confession and repentance. But this doesn’t work!

  • 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Notice the connection between forgiveness and confession.
  • 2 Chronicles 7:14 says, “If my people who are called by my name (talking about the the people of God here or the church today) humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” Notice the connection here between forgiveness and repentance – turning from our wicked ways as God’s people.

To ask for forgiveness without confession and repentance is presumption upon God’s grace, and we should not expect such a request to be received by God.

We’re not just asking for ourselves, but for all the people of God

This is a corporate prayer, “forgive us,” not just “forgive me.” This may seem a bit strange to us, but it was common in biblical times to think and act this way. They had a stronger sense of community and communal identity.

Here are a couple of examples:

  • Daniel says in Daniel 9:20 – “While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel . . .” He confesses his and his people’s sins.
  • Nehemiah prays in Nehemiah 9:33 – “we have acted wickedly” – talking in context about things that other Israelites have done, not what he has personally done.

So when we pray this request, we pray for forgiveness for ourselves, but also for God to forgive all of his people who turn to him in repentance. We’re asking, “God have mercy on your people. Forgive, heal and restore.”

Here I would just mention, that yes, Jesus could pray this prayer request. Some say that we shouldn’t call the Lord’s prayer the Lord’s prayer because Jesus couldn’t pray this petition since he was sinless. But he could pray this petition for us.

Finally, if we don’t forgive others, God will not continue to forgive us

Jesus makes crystal clear that our relationship with God is interconnected with our relationship with others. That’s why this request for forgiveness from God has the additional phrases:

  • as we also have forgiven those indebted to us” – Matthew 6:12
  •  “for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us” – Luke 11:4

 The “as” and the “for” point this out. God will forgive us, but we must also forgive others who sin against us. There’s a connection. And every time we pray this we’re reminded of it.

In Matthew, this point is emphasized with an additional comment at the end. Jesus says this in 6:14-15 – “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.”

Let’s note here that we’re not earning our forgiveness by forgiving others. Jesus doesn’t mean that if we forgive someone first, then God has to forgive us. We do something and then God is obliged to respond.

No. To pray this prayer is to have already first received God’s grace. That’s why we can say, “father.” We’re God’s child by grace. God’s grace always comes first. We don’t earn it. (Also in Matthew 18:23-35.)

But this petition does teach us that those who receive mercy from God, have to pass it on to others. And if we cut off mercy to others, it will be cut off from us by God.

This is a common theme in the teaching of Jesus:

  • Mark 11:25 – “And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”
  • Luke 6:37 – “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven.” To judge or condemn is to withhold forgiveness from others. If we do this we will be judged and condemned by God (see also Matthew 18:35). But if we forgive others, God will forgive us.



Read Full Post »

Last week we talked a bit about the topic of forgiving others from Mark 11:25 and how this affects our prayers getting answered. I want to pick up this theme of forgiveness today and remind each of us of this important teaching from Jesus. And I want us to do this by focusing on the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:23-25.

We will go through this passage in two different ways. First by means of an impromptu skit . . ..

Second, let’s go through this passage adding in some historical and cultural background to help us understand it.

Matthew 18:23-35

First of all, this is a parable of Jesus that tells us about how the kingdom of God works.

And also, all through it, economic terms are used to talk about how sin and forgiveness work. This was fairly common. Sin is seen as a debt that we owe to God that we cannot pay (Matthew 6:12). And also it can be a debt that we owe others – how we should have treated them but didn’t. Forgiveness, then, is to release someone’s debt, whether it be God or us releasing the debt.

“23Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.”

The servant here works for the king in his royal court. And he owes the king a great deal of money. There are different ways to estimate this, but using our minimum wage, by my calculations he owed 3 billion 480 million dollars. [A denarius equals one day’s wage, which at minimum wage is $58 for an eight hour day. One talent equaled 6000 denarii, which then equals $340,000. Ten thousand talents then equals $3,480,000,000.]

This was an astronomical amount. For instance, all of the province of Judea only paid 600 talents in taxes for a whole year to Rome. But he owes 10,000 talents. Today we might say it like this – he owed a gazillion dollars.

“25And 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.”

Being sold into slavery because of unpaid debt certainly happened in the ancient world. In this case his whole family and all his belongings were to be sold – although this would not even begin to touch the debt that he owed his master.

“26So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.”

He calls out for mercy, somehow thinking that he can pay off his debt. And then surprisingly, the king has pity on him. He doesn’t even set up a payment plan, he wipes out the debt entirely. He is completely forgiven.

“28But 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.’ 29So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt.”

A hundred denarii would be $5,800 [A hundred days wages at $58 a day]. So the amount here is mind bogglingly lower than what he had owed his king.

When his fellow servant pleaded for patience, like he had, he completely disregards it. The fellow servant is sent to a debtor’s prison, where he would stay until he came up with the money, or his friends or family paid up for him.

“31When 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. 32Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt.”

The king’s servant is found out. He is rebuked by the king. His former debt is reinstated. And he is put in jail.

The word for jailers is actually “torturers.” The idea is that he will be tortured until he comes up with the money. Maybe he has some hidden somewhere.

But since his debt is insanely large, and since he would now have no friends to help him given his behavior, he will be in jail forever.

Jesus then bring home the point of the parable – “35So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

God has forgiven us, and so we are to forgive others, Jesus says, “from your heart.” That is, not just outwardly, pretending or smoothing things over, but truly releasing their debt to us.

And if we don’t do this, God will treat us like the king treated the servant he had previously forgiven, which is a clear warning to us.

Let me highlight now –

Three key points

– from this passage, and from the teaching of Jesus on this topic in general. 1. We are to forgive those who sin against us.

  • Matthew 18:35 – “forgive from the heart”
  • Luke 17:3 – “forgive”
  • Luke 17:4 – “forgive”
  • Luke 6:37 – “forgive”
  • Mark 11:25 – “forgive”
  • Matthew 6:12; Luke 11:4 – in the context of the Lord’s prayer, we acknowledge that “we have forgiven our debtors.”

If someone comes to us in true repentance and asks (here begs) for mercy, Jesus tells us to forgive. Don’t hold their debt over them. Don’t hold their sin against them so that you seek to punish them. Don’t hold on to bitterness and resentment.

2. Why should we forgive? It is, after all, often very difficult to forgive. We are not just talking about trivial things here. This has to do with people who truly mistreat and wound us, and those we love.

This causes pain and anger, and we naturally want justice. So we have to work to give this pain and anger over to God so that we can find love and a heart of mercy for the one who has done wrong.

This is not easy, or necessarily a one-time event. It is often a process. And certainly the relationship will need time to heal and to rebuild trust, especially if the wound is severe.

When Jesus presented his teaching on forgiveness in Luke 17 the disciples responded by saying “increase our faith,” because they thought that this was impossible to do.

So with all this, why should we forgive? The answer is that if you don’t, you will not be forgiven. This is what Matthew 18 teaches. In fact, the servant’s former debt was reinstated in full.

  • Luke 6:37 says, “forgive, and you will be forgiven.” The reverse being clear that if you don’t, if you condemn, you will be condemned.
  • Mark 11:25 tells us that we must forgive, “so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”
  • Matthew 6:14-15 says, “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.”

And when our sins are not forgiven this destroys our relationship with God. Just as with the servant in our story in relation to his king.

3. Why won’t God forgive us, if we don’t forgive? Certainly what the servant did was wrong. This is why when the others heard about it, they were “distressed.” And this is why the king called him “wicked” in v. 32

It was certainly self-centered. He wanted mercy for himself because that benefited him. And he wanted justice for his fellow servant  because that benefited him. He was always guided by his self-interest. 

And he certainly didn’t understand that one who has been forgiven has no ground to stand on to ask for justice. To receive grace is to acknowledge that you yourself can’t live up to the standard of justice. And so to demand it for others is to undercut the very grace that makes your life possible.

But at the core we are bumping into a fundamental principle of the kingdom of God. Our relationship with God is always interconnected with our relationships with others. They affect one another back and forth.

 •  So when God forgives us we are to forgive others. And if we do this, God will continue to forgive us. Our relationship with God affects our relationship with others. As the king tells the servant in v. 33, “should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” And as Jesus said in Luke 6:36 – “Be merciful even as your heavenly Father is merciful.”

 •  But if we treat others with justice, then this is how God will treat us. As Jesus said in Luke 6:38, measure for measure. The measure you give to others is the measure you will get from God. Our relationship with others affects our relationship with God. If you give mercy to others, you will get mercy from God. If you give justice to others, you will get justice from God – and your sins will be held against you.

So let’s not be like the unforgiving servant. But rather let us be merciful to others, just as we have received mercy from God.

William Higgins 

Read Full Post »

We are dealing with community life skills that we all need to be able to be a healthy church community in our relationships with each other.

We talked about repentance last time and ended with Luke 17:3 – “If a fellow believer sins, tell them to stop; if they repent forgive them.” To heal a relationship damaged by sin you need both repentance and forgiveness. And so we look at forgiveness today.

Jesus has some strong things to say about our need to forgive others their wrongs against us

1. If the person repents – you must forgive. As we just saw, “If a fellow believer sins, tell them to stop; if they repent forgive them” – Luke 17:3.

2. If you don’t forgive – you won’t be forgiven by God for your sins. Jesus says, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” – Matthew 6:14-15.

3. You should forgive whenever someone comes to you in repentance. In Luke 17:4 Jesus says seven times in one day. In Matthew 18:22 Jesus says, seventy times seven – or 490 times. These are both meant as overstatements to make the point – forgive whenever someone comes seeking it.

If we ask, “why forgive?” the answer comes in the parable of Matthew 18:23-35. It is an evil hypocrisy and inconsistency to receive forgiveness from God for what is a huge debt that you owe to God and not forgive others what is relatively speaking a small debt. You can’t receive mercy – and then not give mercy.

Three components of forgiveness

So, a person comes to you – with repentance – and you want to forgive them – what does this look like?

1. Set aside your anger and the desire for judgment. When you have been wronged, anger is the natural response. In fact it’s the way God has made us. Anger is given to us as a way of stirring us up to seek out what is right for ourselves and others.

The problem, of course, is that we can’t usually handle our anger, because our fleshly desires corrupt it and turn it into a vehicle to simply get back at those who hurt us. So our anger leads us to seek out judgment of the other person. We want to get even; to make them pay; to harm them in return. We stew in anger and hostility until judgment is done or we sink into bitterness if it is not done.

But Jesus tells us in Luke 6:37-38-

judge not, and you will not be judged forgive, and you will be forgiven
condemn not, and you will not be condemned give (mercy), and it will be given to you

Judging and condemning are the same thing here and they are the opposite of forgiving and giving mercy. Jesus teaches us that we have to choose. You can’t have both at the same time. Forgiveness means setting aside this anger and desire for judgment

This is not based on emotions – you most likely won’t feel like doing it – it’s a decision you make. Also, this is not an overlooking of the wrong that was done. It is a search for a different kind of resolution – other than payback. One that brings peace and wholeness rather than more wounding and harm.

2. In mercy release the person of their debt to you. There is actually an economic background to the idea of forgiveness in Scripture: Sin is seen as a debt that is owed – Matthew 6:12. The word that Jesus uses here – “forgive” means to release someone of a debt.

This shows us that we owe each other to do what is right and good. And when we fail in this by wronging them we are in debt to them. To forgive someone is to release them of this moral debt to you.

So when someone comes to you with genuine repentance, seeking mercy, “I owe you and I can’t ever really make it right” – forgiveness means releasing them of this debt that they can’t pay.

But note, it has to be real, not a show or a put on, or a social courtesy. It has to be “from the heart” – Matthew 18:35. Also, once it is dealt with and you are satisfied that there is real repentance – you must really let it go. You don’t keep bringing it up.

3. Begin the relationship anew. The goal with any broken relationship is reconciliation. As Jesus says in Matthew 5:24 to the one who does the wrong – “leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother.” He also says in Mark 9:50 – “Be at peace with one another.” This can happen when you have true repentance and true forgiveness  – the relationship can heal.

Now this doesn’t mean that you can always pick right up where you left off. Some wounds go deep and need time to heal, time to reestablish trust – and that is fine. It’s a process. The key is that you are in relationship – and you are working at healing.

 Clarification: What if there is no repentance?

In popular language “forgiveness” is something we can just do internally by ourselves – an inner release of anger and debt. But in Scripture “forgiveness” has to do with all three components. There has to be repentance that deals with the issues and leads to reconciliation. Both parties need to be involved.

What should we do when there is no repentance? It is similar to the teaching on forgiveness:

  • We give up our anger and desire for judgment.
  • We choose to love them even as we are to love all our enemies. (And what is an enemy except one who harms you and doesn’t care or repent.)
  • And we stand ready to forgive them if they ever repent and work toward true reconciliation.

Finally –

What is more powerful –  the evil deed or love that forgives?

In some cases forgiveness is seemingly unthinkable – the pain is too deep. I think of sexual abuse, child abuse, or the murder of someone you love. But even in these catastrophic cases, each of us have to choose:

  • Will we allow the evil done to us to be the most powerful reality – and let it enslave us and twist us and deform us and make us bitter?
  • Or will we act on the belief that love is more powerful – and choose to make the hard choice to forgive and allow God to set us free?

It can be an incredible struggle to forgive. We could say like Jesus said to the rich man, “with man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” – Matthew 19:26. It takes God acting in us and through us to make the decision to forgive and to live out that decision throughout our lives.

But if we make the choice we can put into practice the admonition of Paul in Romans 12:21 – “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Instead of being overcome by the evil done to us, we can overcome it with good – the power of love and forgiveness.


Read Full Post »