There are certain words in Christianity that make us cringe. Words and phrases like “sacrifice” or “love your enemies” are things that we don’t really like to talk about. The word “forgiveness” is also one of these words. But just because we don’t like to talk about them doesn’t mean they are not important. Usually the things we don’t like to talk about are the most important things.
So what is our issue with forgiveness? In short, it’s pride. We don’t like to forgive because it requires us to hand vengeance and retribution over to God. We want to be in control. When someone does us wrong we want to be the ones to punish them, because we are afraid God will let them off the hook. But forgiveness is not optional, it is an absolute necessity.
In Matthew chapter 6, Jesus is right in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount. This is considered by many to be the greatest sermon ever. The thing that’s so great about it is it’s simplicity and complexity at the same time. As Jesus gets to what we call “The Lord’s Prayer” he makes this statement, “And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” The word “as” is the most important word in the entire verse.
The word “as” in this case means “in the same way” or “in like manner.” Therefore, the verse could read – forgive us our debts in the same way that we forgive our debtors. Think about that. Jesus is relating how you will be forgiven to how you forgive others. This isn’t the only place he does it either. In the very same sermon, at the beginning of chapter 7, he says that whatever judgment we hand out to others will be given right back to us. The indication is clear. If you want God to forgive you, then you must be willing to forgive others. No exceptions whatsoever.
There is a story in the Old Teatament that captures this concept perfectly. Most of us know the story of Joseph. He was betrayed by his brothers, sold into slavery, lied about, and thrown into prison. Eventually he becomes second in command in Egypt and gains an opportunity to get revenge on his brothers. He has all the power and all the advantages. Yet he forgives them and embraces them.
Why would Joseph do this? Because Joseph understood something that we also must understand. Forgiveness isn’t about me versus them. It’s about me and God. When I fail to forgive, then it’s simply because I am not close enough to God. As Jesus hung on the cross he uttered the 3 most stunning words you can imagine: “Father forgive them.” If he can forgive under those circumstances, then I can certainly forgive under mine.