"Forgive Us Our Trespasses" (Part 2 of 4)
From the sixth lecture in the audio seminar Praying Biblically
Jesus is in all ways the pioneer and the perfecter of our faith, and so we (Jesus’ people) must have the same attitude, the same willingness and embody the same conduct as our Lord did. Is it trespasses, is it sin or is it debt in Matthew 6:14? Do not be tripped up by the language. The answer to that question is that the Hebrew word here lends itself to all of those interpretations. It is all of those things. The important point is that of all the phrases in the Lord’s Prayer, this is the only one that Jesus elaborates upon.
It is so important to the very life of his community and the furtherance of his kingdom, that on this point and this alone he elaborates the implications of it, and he does so in a way that is very well known to his Jewish compatriots. He says in verse 14: “If you forgive when you are offended, when someone trespasses against you, when someone abuses, hurts you then your Father in heaven will also forgive you because you do exactly the same to him. But if you do not forgive men and women their sins, your Father will not forgive you.” I think I can say almost without exception there is not one reading this who takes that scripture literally or even seriously. Those of us who so esteem the Word of God, somehow we skate around, over the issue of what Jesus calls in a well known Rabbinic phrase: “Measure for measure. As you do to others so God will do to you. And as God has done to you so you should do to others.”
One of the reasons we do not take this seriously is because our whole concept of salvation is very individualistically oriented. We are part of a western culture that celebrates individualism. We do not understand the destructive power of unforgiveness to a community, and so it does not trouble us a lot if I have not forgiven somebody or if I still hold ought against them, or if I am still wounded or hurting. It does not trouble me so much because we think basically it is my problem. It never occurs to us that the kingdom imperative is that you make it the other person’s problem. Not to bring judgement upon them but to bring healing to them. And it never occurs to you that it is not only your problem, it is the community’s problem.
If you are harboring unforgiveness, if you are carrying around wounds, hurts and resentments, you are a cancer to the body. Jesus commands you to lance that growth out, and he will give you the power to do so and to heal. When you do so it is extraordinarily invigorating for you, for the ones who have accepted your forgiveness and for the community of which they are part. Let us be honest, we all have been hurt by others. And if it is not the case for you it is for me that I kind of let time take care of those hurts, I do not actively seek to be a peacemaker, I do not actively look to put myself at risk by extending and asking for forgiveness, for those I have hurt or for those who have hurt me.
That is not Jesus’ gospel. If God operates that ways, where would we be? Too many of us have kind of a scissors mentality of forgiveness. I have heard it said: “I have forgiven that person, but I do not want anymore to do with him; I have forgiven them but basically I have cut them out of my life.” It is a very western, kind of legal thing to do—I have engaged in a legal requirement, the Scripture says I have to forgive, so okay I forgive them. But I am not forgiving from my heart, it is a legal transaction. True forgiveness means not only removing the debt and punishment for an offense, it means reconciling, restoring the fellowship. If you truly forgive someone then that offense that they have perpetrated against you should no longer affect the way you relate to them. I am not saying you will not remember it, I am saying in the power of forgiveness, if you have truly forgiven someone, not only do you not seek revenge, not only do you not seek to punish them to prove yourselves right, to humiliate them. But if you have truly forgiven them, then according to the biblical pattern, that offense should no longer influence, distort or shape your relationship with them.
Jesus says: “this is important what I am telling you, it is measure for measure.” How do you want God to treat you? We cry out: “Oh God, have mercy on me, a sinner!” Some of us do it daily as a spiritual discipline as some of the mystics of the past have done. Jesus is teaching us that if you are crying out to God and if you are exhibiting contrition on your behalf but you are not exhibiting compassion on behalf of others, then your contrition in God’s sight is in vain. How can you ask God to treat you in a way differently than you treat others if you call him your Father in heaven and you pray: “Father may I sanctify your name in all I do?” Rather than sanctifying God’s name you are profaning it—I am profaning God’s name when I refuse to forgive.
In Matthew 5:2: “if you are offering your gift at the altar,” Jesus is talking about making a sacrifice, bringing an offering unto God. “If you are making an offering unto God you are worshipping God, and you remember your brother has ought against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar, first go and be reconciled unto your brother and then come and offer your gift.” Jesus gives other examples about quickly seeking to settle things. If you are coming to the altar to be restored to fellowship with God—you have sinned and are offering a sin-offering, or you are offering a fellowship offering to enhance your relationship with God—and the Spirit of God brings to mind that somebody has something against you, Jesus says (not in a radical way at all—this is part of his tradition): “Put your offering aside, first go be reconciled, extend forgiveness and restore fellowship and then come to the Lord with clean hands, pure hearts and say Father forgive me and restore fellowship with me.”
Is it not the case that most of us come to church week in week out, year in and year out, knowing that there are some that have something against us and we have something against them, and yet we keep coming, offering our sacrifices of praise, of worship, of the word, all the time being disobedient to Jesus’ very teachings. What this relates to is what Jesus says is the single greatest teaching of all of the Torah. The great commandment of all the Torah is: “love God with all of your heart, soul and strength.” And equivalent to it, of the same nature, is the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself, because in the loving of your neighbor you show or you demonstrate your love for God. He binds those two commandments into one. To love God is to love your neighbor; to love your neighbor is to love God. Given that logic, and the power of those scriptures, do you understand that to refuse to forgive your brother is to force God to refuse to forgive you? To love your brother is to love God.
* This is an audio transcript, listen to the original message here.