Today, we begin a new series of messages examining the hard sayings of Jesus, starting with Jesus’ teachings on forgiveness. In Matthew 6, the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Here, Jesus is not saying that your salvation depends upon your forgiving someone. Salvation is a gift. There is nothing you can do to earn it. Instead, Jesus is saying that someone who truly understands how much they have been forgiven by God will be quick to forgive others. In other words, forgiving others is a fruit of a genuinely changed life.
The Bible speaks of two kinds of forgiveness: a “get into heaven” kind of forgiveness, and a “walk in fellowship with God” kind of forgiveness. The moment a person places his trust in Christ, he receives the “get into heaven” kind of forgiveness. But just as sin can disrupt your fellowship with your spouse, children, or best friend, sin disrupts your fellowship with God.
Let’s apply this to Jesus’ hard saying about forgiveness. When we sin by failing to freely forgive others the way we have been freely forgiven by God, it breaks our fellowship with God. It grieves him when we refuse to forgive others. And if we selfishly persist in unforgiveness, it will hinder God’s blessing in our lives. He may even discipline us, out of love. Forgiveness is hard. But let me give you three words that will help you get some traction to forgiveness.
Pray. The first thing you need to do when someone hurts you is to pray for him. Have you noticed that the Old Testament saints struggled with unforgiveness just as we do? For example, King David offered prayers such as this: “Arise, O Lord! Rescue me, my God! Slap all my enemies in the face! Shatter the teeth of the wicked!” This prayer shows how people in the Bible are just like us, and we all feel this way at times. But our example is not David; our example is Jesus.
Jesus didn’t just tell us to forgive, he showed us how to do it. “Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing’” (Luke 23:34). The context of this prayer is that just 24 hours earlier, Jesus was betrayed by one of his 12 closest friends. And then the 11 other friends who said, “We’re always going to be there for you” abandoned him. Jesus had ample reason to react emotionally to those who had hurt him. But he chose forgiveness. In Luke 6:28, Jesus commands, “Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you.” And then he does it as he hangs from the cross. He told us what to do, and then he showed us how to do it.
Bless. Jesus wants us to ask God to bless our enemies. If you pray for them and ask God to bless them, God is going to show them where they have been wrong. Because God can’t bless someone until he opens his heart to God. Then, he can get on the right path to where God wants him to go. Throughout the scriptures, we find this very challenging truth. In Romans chapter 12:14 we read these words: “Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them.” And: “Never take your own revenge…But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink… Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (vv. 19-21).
Let go. Letting go of past hurts is not a one-time decision, but an ongoing choice. This is clear from the immediate context in which this hard saying is found. Jesus prays, “Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:11-12). In other words, just as we are to ask God daily to provide for our physical needs, we are to ask him daily for forgive us as we forgive others. Forgiveness is a lifestyle. My challenge to you is this: Choose a lifestyle of forgiveness.
For the next 30 days, when someone hurts you, choose forgiveness rather than react with emotions. Will you take on this 30-day challenge? You will be amazed what God will do your life, as well as in the lives of those who hurt you.
APPLICATION / CHALLENGE
Who has hurt you? Over the next thirty days:
- pray for them
- seek ways to bless them
- let go—forgive them
TAKE ONE STEP
Each week, write down one doable concrete step of obedience, small or large that you will put into practice this week. (James 1:22: “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.”)