Series Title: "Pray Then, Like This ..."
Forgive us our offenses, for we have forgiven those who have offended us. (Matt 6:12).
We believe in and are assured of God’s forgiveness of our sins. His holy justice has been satisfied in the sacrifice of the unblemished Passover Lamb, Jesus. His fatherly eagerness to forgive is embodied in the person of his Son.
We can be in right relationship with God, fully forgiven, reconciled, and restored, by way of the New Covenant in Christ Jesus—this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:28). Hallelujah! That is good news indeed.
Jesus goes on to say that we, the forgiven people of God, must in all ways imitate our Father. I contend that nothing is more important for the life of the community, for the vitality of the kingdom of God in and through us than the issue of forgiveness.
In the prayer Jesus gives his disciples, he emphasizes man’s responsibility to forgive. It is a duty, it is also an enormous privilege in the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus has the power to extend God’s forgiveness to you and me. In instance after instance, he comes upon people who are in sin—who are separated, alienated, and distressed—and he extends God’s forgiveness to them.
For example, Jesus says to a paralyzed man, your sins are forgiven you (Luke 5:20). Those around him were distressed by this because they understood he was speaking as if he were God because he uses the very language from Leviticus in which a man’s sins are forgiven by God. Jesus, addressing their concerns, said that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home (vs. 24).
In all ways, Jesus is the pioneer and the perfecter of our faith. So, if we are to follow him, we must walk as he walked.
One of the things that can trip people up is the language used in our Lord's prayer. Is it trespasses, offenses, debts, transgressions, or sins? The Hebrew concepts behind the Greek wording include all of those interpretations. It is all of those things.
Here is the important point. Of all the phrases in the prayer, this is the only one that Jesus expands upon. It is so crucial to the very life of his community and the furtherance of his kingdom that Jesus elaborates on the implications in a way familiar to his hearers. Jesus is using a well-known teaching method called measure for measure. It means that as God has done to you, so you should do to others. And, as you do to others, so God will do to you.
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 (Matt 6:14-15, ESV). He is crystal clear here, yet somehow, even those of us who esteem the Word of God fail to take his teaching literally or even seriously.
I believe one of the reasons is our whole concept of salvation is so radically individual-oriented. We are part of a western culture that values and celebrates individuality. Therefore we fail to comprehend the destructive power of unforgiveness in a community. It doesn't trouble us to withhold forgiveness from someone, to continue holding something against them, to nurse grudges and live wounded.
We think whether we forgive or not is basically a personal problem therefore, even though unforgiveness affects us and others, it rarely troubles our conscience.
The kingdom imperative is to make it the other person’s problem as well, not to bring judgment but to bring healing. If you are harboring unforgiveness—if you are carrying around wounds, hurts, and resentments—you are like a cancer to the body of Messiah. Jesus commands you to lance that growth. He will give you the power to forgive in order to heal. And when you do so it is extraordinarily invigorating for you, for the ones who have accepted your forgiveness, and for the communities of which you are a part.
Let's be honest, we have all been hurt by others. Too often, I choose to let time take care of those hurts rather than actively seek to be a peacemaker. Said another way, 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.
We adopt what I call a scissors mentality of forgiveness. “I have forgiven that person, but I do not want anymore to do with them. I have forgiven them, but basically, I have cut them out of my life.” Does that sound like Jesus' Gospel? If God operated that way, where would we be?
Again, this way of thinking and acting is a western legal mindset. We say to ourselves, in effect, I have engaged in the scriptural, legal requirement to forgive by saying, "I forgive them." Yet I have not truly forgiven from my heart. True forgiveness, modeled by Jesus, means to remove the debt and punishment for an offense and to actively seek, if possible, the reconciliation and restoration of the relationship.
Here is how you know if your forgiveness is from the heart, the offense they have perpetrated against you no longer affects how you relate to them. I am not saying you will not remember it, God does not require us to forgive and forget. What I am saying is that in the power of forgiveness, according to the biblical pattern, their offense should no longer influence, distort, or shape your relationship with them.
Jesus says, "Listen carefully, my people, forgiveness is measure for measure." How do you want God to treat you?
You cry out, “Oh God, have mercy on me, a sinner!” But if you exhibit contrition by crying out to our Father yet do not exhibit compassion on behalf of others, then it is vain in God’s sight. How can you ask God to treat you in a way different than you treat others? You call him Father and ask that his name be honored in all that you do. Yet you profane his name when you refuse to forgive.
What a beautiful theological system Jesus had. But it is tough! It is about as comfortable for us to forgive a real grievance as it is to have a tooth pulled out without Novocaine. It hurts. But in the power of the Holy Spirit, when that forgiveness occurs, healing is released.
Unforgiveness binds you and shortens your life. It makes your actions contingent upon long-standing resentments. Resentment means to feel something again and again. Unforgiveness binds you to your feelings, to your hurts, to your grievances. It blocks God’s shalom coming into your life, it blocks God’s ability to enter into full fellowship with you. Why hold onto it? Rise up, make the call, set the captives free, in Jesus' name.
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This study is from a professionally produced transcription of the audio recording. It was edited for readability by the team at JC Studies.
Dwight A. Pryor (1945-2011) was a gifted Bible teacher of exceptional clarity and depth who earned the friendship and admiration of both Christian and Jewish scholars—in the United States and Israel—as well as the respect and appreciation of followers of Jesus around the world. His expertise in the language, literature, and culture of Israel during the life and time of Jesus and the early church yield insights that nourish every area of faith and practice.
Dwight founded JC Studies in 1984 to edify the people of God. Click here to explore over fifty of his audio and video seminars.