For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6:14–15, NKJV)
Jesus applies the principle of sowing and reaping to forgiveness. Just as we reap what we sow, God’s forgiveness of us depends upon our forgiveness of those who sin against us. Here is a fundamental truth to remember: the hypocrite will not be forgiven. In this context, Jesus has been addressing the problem of hypocrisy in one’s spiritual life, and now He returns to it (Matt. 6:2, 5, 16). How hypocritical and futile to think that we have God’s forgiven when we ask Him for it, yet we refuse to give it to others when they ask for ours. If we hold bitterness and resentment in our hearts toward one who asks our forgiveness, instead of freely and immediately forgiving them from our heart, we will not be forgiven by God when we ask Him to forgive us. Allow this truth to sink deep into your heart so that it shapes your readiness to forgive those who sin against you (Col. 3:12-14).
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. (Matthew 6:12, NKJV)
When someone borrows money, the lender expects to be paid back – with interest. Could you imagine your lender forgiving your mortgage debt and releasing you from your obligation to pay? That is the figure used to describe the forgiveness of sins. Because of the blood of Christ (God’s grace) and our faith, God releases us from the debt that sin imposed upon us (Rom. 6:23; Eph. 2:8-9; Acts 2:37-38). Christians, the citizens of the kingdom of heaven, are taught to pray for forgiveness when we sin, being assured of God’s pardon (1 Jno. 1:9). A stipulation of forgiveness is hinted at here (and fully expressed in Matthew 6:14-15): “as we forgive our debtors.” How do you forgive those who sin against you? Do you forgive them from the heart (Matt. 18:35)? Fully, completely and continually (Lk. 17:3-4)? Begrudgingly? Bitterly? Not at all? We cannot successfully ask God to forgive us when we do not forgive those who sin against us. God will not give us forgiveness while we refuse to give it to others.
33 ‘Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ 34 And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. 35 “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.” (Matthew 18:33–35, NKJV)
Forgiveness does not necessarily come easy to us. Sure, we all want the mercy of forgiveness when we have sinned against someone. But, when the shoe is on the other foot, we are tempted with urges of pride, or anger, or vengeance or other sins that build barriers against showing mercy to those who hurt and harm us. In this parable (recorded in Matthew 18:21-35), Jesus make the unmistakable point that God will not forgive us if we refuse to forgive each other from the heart. Forgiveness requires humility, as well as an appreciation of the forgiveness we have received from the Lord. What a great way to be like our heavenly Father; to forgive others like He forgives us!
Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door! (James 5:9, NKJV)
How unseemly it is when Christians grumble and groan against each other. Such complaints lead to condemnation; a sinful devouring of one another that reaches into eternity (Gal. 5:15). James reminds us that the judgment is near, and such sins against fellow Christians do not escape the sight of the Lord, who is Judge of all (Acts 17:31). James urges patient endurance when we are wronged (Jas. 5:10-11). The Scriptures instruct actions of reconciliation, not words and deeds that lead to barriers and burdens (Matt. 5:23-25; 18:15). Forbear and forgive, “if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do” (Col. 3:13). Forgive, instead of fomenting strife. Forbear with patient faith, instead of verbalizing complaints that condemn your soul. The Judge is at the door!
23 Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. 26 The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ 27 Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt. (Matthew 18:23–27, NKJV)
No doubt, the king in this parable alludes to God Himself and each servant, a disciple of Christ (see Matt. 18:21-22). Jesus illustrates how we must forgive each us with compassion or “from the heart” (Matt. 18:33-35). In Christ, God forgives sinners compassionately and completely. This is our pattern to follow in forgiving others. Forgiveness is about releasing a person from a debt they owe. God forgives our debt of sin. We must not refuse to forgive those who have sinned against us. If we do, He will not forgive us (Matt. 18:35). Have compassion, and forgive one another.
12 And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, 13 although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. 14 And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.” (1 Timothy 1:12–14, NKJV)
The amazing grace of God in Christ Jesus is on full display in the conversion of Saul and in his appointment as an apostle. As we reflect on the sins of Saul and the wonderful mercy he obtained in Christ, we are confident the Lord will forgive every sinner who calls on His name (1 Tim. 1:15-16; Acts 2:21, 37-41). We are also compelled to ponder how (or whether) we forgive those who sin against us. How tragically unrealistic it is to expect God’s wonderful mercy and grace to forgive our sins when we are unwilling to forgive others (Matt. 6:14-15). Today, remember this faith-challenging promise, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matt. 5:7). Be merciful to others and live in the mercy of God.
3 “Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.” (Luke 17:3–4, NKJV)
Isn’t it interesting that Jesus said to “take heed to yourselves” when someone sins against you? Our first impulse, when sinned against, is often to be on the alert and cautious toward the sinner. Or, we may focus on our hurt and pain the sinner caused. Yet, these reactions do not help us or the one who sinned against us. Jesus knew the difficulty of responding in godly ways when sinned against. He teaches two essential responses here. First, rebuke the sinner. This rebuke comes from a genuine concern for the sinner’s soul; an attempt to bring him to repentance. Second, do not withhold forgiveness from him when he repents. This can be even more difficult when sins are repeated against us. Yet, inasmuch as God repeatedly forgives our sins against Him when we repent, we must follow His example toward repentant sinners.