Jesus gave us some VERY hard teachings about forgiveness. This certainly doesn’t represent everything Jesus had to say on the subject, but here are a few of the key points He made about forgiveness.
FORGIVENESS IS A PRIORITY
Matthew 5:23-24 So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.
This is a big lesson in priorities from God’s perspective. Unforgiveness prevents us from coming into the presence of God, as does other un-confessed sin. If we hold on to unforgiveness, God doesn’t want our worship! He commands us to go make it right with the other person, and then we can come back to be in His presence. If all believers would live in obedience to this one command, the church would be completely transformed!
FORGIVENESS IS FOR UNDESERVING PEOPLE
Matthew 5:38-48 “You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow. “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! [Bless those who curse you. Do good to those who hate you.] Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For He gives His sunlight to both the evil and the good, and He sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.
If that doesn’t take the breath right out of you, read it again because you didn’t understand it! It can be REALLY hard to forgive a person who deserves our forgiveness… but forgive enemies?! People who do evil to us? Our immediate response should be “I can’t possibly do that!”, and that is exactly the point Jesus was making. None of us can live up to His standard of forgiveness, much less being perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect. We aren’t capable of this kind of forgiveness on our own. We must have the help of the Holy Spirit in us.
UNFORGIVENESS AFFECTS OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD
The next chapter of Matthew has the model prayer that Jesus gave to His disciples. Jesus taught us to pray for God’s forgiveness of our sins, because He knew we would need it! He gave us a standard for our lives, and we all fall short.
Matthew 6:12a [Jesus] and forgive us our sins,
All sin damages our relationship with God and distances us from Him, so we need to confess our sins to Him and pray for His forgiveness. Our unforgiveness, just like any unconfessed sin, can even block our prayers.
Psalm 66:18-20 If I had not confessed the sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. But God did listen! He paid attention to my prayer. Praise God, who did not ignore my prayer or withdraw His unfailing love from me.
This tells us that God isn’t going to listen if we hold on to unconfessed sin in our heart, and holding on to unforgiveness is sin.
We will continue looking at some of Jesus’ teachings on forgiveness next time.