A meditation on Matthew 6:14-15, Luke 6:37-38 & Matthew 18:15-17
Forgiveness is something which is not easy to do for we ‘poor miserable sinners’. The concept has been completely forgotten by our post-modern culture. As disagreeing sides in the political, business, family, and yes, faith environments face off, it seems that no one forgives the sin which they have perceived has been committed against them.
Even if Christians do not daily pray the prayer our Lord taught us to pray as they should, most churches pray that prayer in the exercise of their Sunday services. Each time we pray that prayer, we ask our Heavenly Father:
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. [Matthew 6:12]
Do we mean those words when they are verbally, or at least mentally spoken to our Heavenly Father? These words don’t say, ‘forgive us our sins as we forgive those who apologize to us’, they don’t say, ‘forgive us our sins as we forgive those things which we get over’, and they don’t say “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who agree with us.” No, we say “those who sin against us.” There is no exception, nor are there rules to follow to ensure we do it correctly. We are simply meant to forgive. Period.
If we take our Divinely taught prayer-lesson to heart and walk through Scripture, it is found that there are warnings given us by our Savior that underline the importance of heeding the words which He has given us. For example: Matthew 6, Luke 6 and Matthew 18. Now, scholars have historically taught that the Matthew 6 and Luke 6 passages are actually the same lesson written, through the leadings of the Holy Spirit, by two different authors. Yet, Matthew 18 is the traditional lesson taught regarding how one must deal with that sin which has been perceived from a brother or sister-in-Christ.
14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. [Matthew 6 (ESV)]
A first glance should cause the fact to be noticed that this reference immediately follows the prayer which our Lord has given us. In other words, this is not a ‘separate’ lesson, but rather a continuation of the explanation of how to pray.
37 Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. [Luke 6 (ESV)]
This Luke passage is part of that which is called the beatitudes and, for some, takes more effort to see the lesson of forgiveness, since our Lord does not instruct in 21st century sentence structure. To clarify, we will not be judged/condemned [only] if we do not judge/condemn. If we forgive, [only] then will we be forgiven. If we withhold a measure of forgiveness from someone (anyone!), that lack of forgiveness will be measured back to us. In simpler terms, ‘if you withhold forgiveness, then it will be withheld from you.’
And how is this forgiveness to be sought and given, especially among brothers and sisters-in-Christ? For that, we walk back to Matthew immediately after our Lord teaches the parable of the lost sheep which is an illustration of what He (& we should) do as someone wanders away from their loving Good Shepherd.
15 If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. [Matthew 18 (ESV)]
Simply stated, we should not go to anyone else when we are offended before we speak to the offender in private. That conversation should happen in love, not in anger. The idea is not to put a chip on our shoulder, march up to the one who we believe has offended, draw a line in the sand, and demand an apology. All this does is set up the conversation for failure in the eyes of our Lord. Only after an attempt (or several?) should we approach one or two others with the problem, and then as a last resort the entire congregation should be involved. And yes, it does say “the church”. After all we are all one in the Body of Christ, and He has instructed us to remove unrepentant sinners from our midst which greatly pains Him. Yet, it is His instruction.
We have recognized here from Holy Scripture that forgiveness is to be given to people for anything they have done. Although the Matthew 18 passage speaks of how to indicate to a brother or sister-in-Christ that a sin has been perceived, there is really no indication of how to give it. For that, let’s consider the example of Peter repenting of his denial of Christ to his resurrected Lord in John 21.
If anyone believes or has been informed that someone has felt offended, every effort should be made to seek that person’s forgiveness. Although our sinful pride may try to validate our sin, efforts should be taken to not do so. When we approach those who have felt the offense, we should also endeavor to use the words “apologize” or “sorry” AND “forgive”. Simply stated as example, “I believe I have sinned against you and truly apologize for it. Do you forgive me?”
Of course, it is best if the offended reciprocates explicitly with the words “I forgive you.” Statements like “that’s okay” or “sure”, or “just forget it” do not communicate forgiveness. Conversation immediately following should not rehash the disagreement, nor should it dwell on the repentance and forgiveness recently offered and given. Just as in the liturgy, repentance and confession is offered, forgiveness is specifically given, then the glory of God is recognized. For, as Matthew continues in chapter 18:
19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.
As we forgive one another’s sins, so does our Heavenly Father forgive us.