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. (Matthew 6:14–15)
Today’s big question: do I have to forgive others?
In this series, we have been examining certain instructions in Scripture that are often overlooked by Christians. Although frequently neglected, the words of this verse are straightforward. Immediately after giving his disciples an example of how to pray, Jesus told them how important it is to forgive others. If we refuse to forgive others, then we will not be forgiven. Failure to obey this requirement brings severe consequences.
Forgiving others is contrary to our sinful flesh, which tempts us to focus on ourselves. Our society promotes the lie that we need to love ourselves and look out for number one. It is so easy and natural (in a sin-cursed world) to fall into the trap of self-centeredness.
Christians are not immune to failure in this area. Rather than having a heart of forgiveness, believers often complain about and insult those who have slighted them. Instead of making things right, we make situations worse by failing to forgive.
There was a time when a fellow believer and close friend did something that led to a great deal of difficulty for my family and me. For a while I harbored bitterness toward him and did not forgive him for what he had done. Then, for several nights in succession, I continued to wake up in the middle of the night, and all I could think about was praying for him. So that’s what I did. I started praying for him, and within a few days, all of that bitterness dissipated. God taught me an important lesson about forgiveness: It is very hard to hold a grudge against someone you are praying for.
I had to forgive my friend whether he asked for it or not. Jesus did not tell his disciples to consider forgiving others. He didn’t say we should forgive them only after they ask for it. Nor did he tell us that we need to focus on ourselves before we consider how we should treat others. Essentially, he taught that if we expect to be forgiven by God for our many sins then we will forgive others.
For the Christian, forgiveness is not an option. We have been commanded by the Creator to forgive (Matthew 18:35; Mark 11:25). The key is to remember how much God has forgiven us. Our sin led to the crucifixion of the Son of God, yet God forgives all who turn to him in faith and repentance. How can we fail to forgive those who have done far less against us?
Today’s big idea: just as Christ forgave us, we must forgive others.
What to pray: pray for those who have treated you poorly, and ask God to help you forgive them.