Jesus spoke about and taught concerning many issues and ideas. But there is one topic he spoke about more often than any other. It is the topic of forgiveness. When Jesus spoke on this topic he did not only give his advise as to what we should do about this subject or what would be more humane and ideal to do. Jesus in no uncertain terms made it very clear that the subject of forgiveness was more important than any other subject he ever spoke or taught about. In order to demonstrate this fact I will begin with what is commonly called ‘The Lord’s Prayer.’ Virtually every Christian and even many non-Christians know this prayer and many even regularly recite the words of the prayer. I will quote the more familiar version - that of Matthew 6:9-13 [KJV]:
“Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil; For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.”
Which concept expressed in this prayer do you think Jesus thought was the most important? Many seem to think that the most important thing to do is to hallow God’s name. Others think that it is most important to pray that we be delivered from evil. Still others think that it is most important to give God glory and thanks. But this is not what Jesus thought. You might ask just how can I know or prove that? Well, after Jesus spoke the words of the prayer he chose to comment on that which he thought and believed was the most important concept of the prayer. He chose to comment on the concept of forgiveness. Verses 14-15 have Jesus say the following:
“For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
Jesus did not tell his followers that it would be nice and humane to forgive those who trespass against them. He did not say that if we forgive our debtors God would appreciate our generosity and give us some extra rewards in the coming Kingdom. Jesus most emphatically stated that if we want God to forgive us our debts and sins then we MUST, and he meant MUST, as we shall shortly see, forgive others their trespasses - no matter how painful or terrible the trespasses were. Jesus was dead serious about this topic and he wanted to impress its colossal importance and significance on his listeners. He really believed that this issue was the most important. But did Jesus mean that absolutely every follower of his must forgive those who trespass against them? Not exactly. If you are PERFECT - that is, if you never ever do anything that Jesus believed was wrong or transgressing God’s Law, then you are not obligated to forgive those who sin against you.
But if you have ever committed even one single transgression against God and His Law, then you are obligated and you absolutely must forgive all the transgressions of others against you. James argued that if you keep the whole Law but break only one point of it then your ultimate destiny is as of those who may break all the points of God’s Law - since “the wages for sin is death” [James 2:10-11; Romans 6:23]. This truth can also be demonstrated from Jesus’ attitude concerning the woman who was caught in adultery and who was condemned by the Pharisees to be stoned to death. When he was asked what should be done with her - since Moses, they believed, commanded that such should be put to death - Jesus said:
“Whoever among you has never sinned let him throw the first stone.”
Eventually they all felt that at one time or another they have sinned so one by one they went away. Jesus then said to the woman:
"Where are they? Is there no one left to condemn you?” She answered: “No one sir.”Then he told her: “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin [commit adultery] no more” [John 8:1-12].
If you believe that you are perfect and that you have never ever done anything wrong then you are not obligated to forgive in order to be forgiven. However, even so, the Holy Spirit would lead you to forgive as an act of kindness and compassion, just as Jesus was moved with compassion. He did not need God’s forgiveness but he still chose not to condemn the woman because of his real and genuine love and compassion. Some think that they will get away by not forgiving their brothers or sisters who have wronged them. But Jesus thought and believed otherwise. He didn’t want you to be able to say on the Judgement Day that his teaching on forgiveness was ambiguous. He told a parable from which his message is crystal clear as far as forgiveness is concerned and what will happen to those who cannot forgive. In Matthew 18:23-35 we read:
“Once there was a king who decided to check on his servant’s accounts. He had just begun to do so when one of them was brought in who owed him millions of dollars. The servant did not have enough to pay his debt, so the king ordered him to be sold as a slave, with his wife and his children and all that he had, in order to pay the debt. The servant fell on his knees before the king. Be patient with me, he begged, and I will pay you everything! The king felt sorry for him, so he forgave him the debt and let him go. Then the man went out and met one of his fellow servants who owed him a few dollars. He grabbed him and started choking him. Pay back what you owe me! he said. His fellow servant fell down and begged him, be patient with me, and I will pay you back! But he refused; instead, he had him thrown into jail until he should pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were very upset and went to the king and told him everything. So he called the servant in. You worthless slave! He said. I forgave you the whole amount you owed me, just because you asked me to. You should have had mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you. The king was very angry, and he sent the servant to jail to be punished until he should pay back the whole amount. And Jesus concluded. THAT IS HOW MY FATHER IN HEAVEN WILL TREAT EVERY ONE OF YOU UNLESS YOU FORGIVE YOUR BROTHER FROM YOUR HEART.”
Jesus did not say this story just because he loved story-telling but because he believed that the subject of forgiveness was of so vital importance that he dramatised the story in order that it would have a great impact on his listeners. God will forgive all sins that we could commit. But His forgiveness is CONDITIONAL upon our willingness to forgive others. Many have been baptised and claim that their sins have been washed away in the water of baptism. This is true only if we also forgave others who have wronged us before our baptism and repentance. If however we did not truly and completely forgive others their sins then we are still steeped in our sins - no matter who baptised us or even if we would get baptised a million times over. God will simply not forgive you your sins unless you forgive the sins of others. That is one of Jesus’ promises. You can bet your life on that promise. God does not need unmerciful people in His Kingdom. He wants us to be merciful and compassionate, loving and kind to others just as He is. Please don’t be fooled into thinking that you will make it into the Kingdom in some other way. Unless you forgive others their trespasses God will not forgive you your trespasses. God is just and He cannot forgive you your sins if you are unwilling to forgive others.
It would be morally wrong for God to forgive you while you are harbouring bitterness and animosity in your spirit against others. If you want to find favour with God on the Day of Judgement then you better be merciful. Jesus declared his blessing on the merciful saying that they will obtain mercy [Matthew 5:7]. James the Just, Jesus’ brother wrote:
“For God will not show mercy when He judges the person who has not been merciful; but mercy triumphs over judgement.” Jesus commanded us to be merciful just as his Father is merciful [Luke 6:36].
If you want mercy then you must be merciful. If you want your sins forgiven then you must forgive the sins of others. If you want to be lost and to be judged by God sternly and without mercy then don’t bother forgiving anyone but just keep on harbouring bitter feelings and ill-will towards others. It is better not to pray but forgive others their trespasses then to pray but not forgive. Jesus explicitly said what we MUST DO when we pray and communicate with God:
“And when you stand and pray, forgive anything you may have against anyone, so that your Father in heaven will forgive the wrongs you have done. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your wrongs” [Mark 11:25-26].
When we pray we must remember to forgive others their sins - no matter how difficult this may be - otherwise our sins will not be forgiven by God. Would you like to face God on the Judgement Day with your sins unforgiven? I don’t think so. Then, my friend, you better be kind and compassionate to others and forgive them their hurts and wrongs just as you want God to forgive you your hurts and wrongs. If you cannot or refuse to forgive others their sins then don’t even bother praying for God will not listen to your prayer. The importance of forgiveness cannot be exaggerated. Jesus spoke about it in no uncertain terms and he spoke about it more than any other subject. In the days of Jesus, the Pharisees taught that one was obligated to forgive his brother his sins UP TO THREE TIMES A DAY. Peter was a bit more generous. He thought that in his ultimate generosity he should forgive UP TO SEVEN TIMES A DAY. But Jesus shocked him when he told him:
"No, not seven times, but seventy times seven” [Matthew 18:22].
Jesus expects you to forgive your brother or sister even if they were to offend you and sin against you 490 times a day. Day in Jesus’ mind consisted of 12 hours [John 11:9]. One hour contains 60 minutes thus 12 hours contain 720 minutes. One minute contains 60 seconds thus 12 hours contain 43,200 seconds. Jesus therefore expects you to forgive others their sins and trespasses even if they were to sin against you every 1.28 minutes. Jesus was not joking but he was dead serious. He exaggerated the situation in order to stress the point. And the point is that we simply MUST forgive or else we will not be forgiven and thus we would certainly be lost and estranged from God. But how do we actually forgive. Many Christians say: “I forgive you, but that does not mean that God will forgive you” only to justify their inability to really and truly forgive and forget the whole thing. Others say “I forgive you but our former relationship and status cannot be the same.” Is this forgiving? Does God accept this attitude? Jesus had something to say about this ridiculous reasoning. His comment is found in Matthew 5:23-24:
“So if you are about to offer your gift [oblation, bloodless sacrifice] to God at the altar and there you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar, go at once and be RECONCILED with your brother, and then come back and offer your gift to God.”
I don’t know how to stress the importance of forgiveness. Jesus clearly shows that it is more important than serving God with any gift we could present. God will simply not accept anything from our hand if we are not in a mood to forgive and if we are estranged and unwilling to be reconciled with one of his children. To really and truly forgive means to be “reconciled” that is, you must restore the relationship and make it as it was before an offence. If you cannot be reconciled with the erring party that is a sure sign that you have not forgiven and that God will therefore not forgive you. When you sin against God you don’t expect Him to just say that He forgives you but remain apart and estranged from you for what ever reason. You expect Him to be reconciled with you and to treat you as He treated you before you offended Him. And God of course does that because He truly and really forgives.
If you cannot do the same then you are simply not able to forgive but are only fooling yourself that you have forgiven. Paul [then called Saul] was a bitter enemy of the first believers. He persecuted them and also was present and supporting those who executed Stephen by stoning. Stephen of course prayed that God would not take into account Saul’s sin and the sin of others who were murdering him [Acts 7:60]. Stephen had a gentle nature and the forgiving spirit just as Jesus had. Jesus himself prayed that his Father would forgive his executioners [Luke 23:34]. Jesus also forgave Peter for denying him under an oath. Paul did not only persecute and participate in the murder of Jesus’ early followers but he did something that is far more horrible. Paul tortured the believers in order to make them blaspheme:
“And I punished them often in every synagogue, and forced them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities” [Acts 26:11].
This is a heinous crime against God and the relatives of those tortured. It could be that some gave in to the torture and actually blasphemed and denied their faith. But when Paul was converted soon afterwards, God expected all believers to FORGIVE HIM and accept him as if he had never done any of those things. They were not only expected to accept him as a mere brother but in fact as a LEADER in those early days - until he later deviated from James and the Twelve. Thus we see that to forgive means to be RECONICLED. If you cannot be reconciled with the person who has wronged you it simply means that you cannot and did not really and truly forgiven.I would like to say few words concerning forgiveness in marriage. No bond of any kind could survive and function healthily if there is no forgiveness and tolerance. Parents and children cannot retain proper relationship if they don’t forgive each other. Siblings cannot have a good relationship unless they forgive each other. No organisation can function properly unless there is forgiveness, good will and compromising spirit.
Because the world has drifted so far from God and because everyone today only cares for self - many countries have fallen apart. Take a look at the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. Just take a look at the churches. Christians keep splitting for trivial matters simply because they cannot love, forgive, compromise and tolerate each other. If they cannot live together temporarily here, how do they expect to live together in eternity? They are simply kidding themselves. Whoever cannot live with a brother here cannot live with him there either. Unless we forgive each other and love each other as Jesus commanded us to do, we are all lost. Jesus said that the world would know that we are his disciples IF WE LOVE ONE ANOTHER. Jesus told his disciples:
“And now I give you a new COMMANDMENT: love one another. AS I HAVE LOVED YOU, SO YOU MUST LOVE ONE ANOTHER. If you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples” [John 13:34-35].
Jesus does not suggest but he actually COMMANDS us to LOVE each other IN THE SAME WAY THAT HE LOVES US. Where there is love there is also forgiveness and there is also a spirit of tolerance. But where there is no forgiveness and the spirit of tolerance there is no God there either. It is useless to go to church and pray and give God praise and glory IF YOU CANNOT FORGIVE. Everything else you do IS IN VAIN - since your sins which God will not forgive you because of your unforgiving attitude will condemn you on the Judgement Day. If you cannot see this truth then you must have a blind soul. Two main reasons why even so many Christians divorce are due to the fact that Christians now accept the societal view of marriage as a social contract and not as a sacred covenant which God Himself instituted and because today we live in a cultural transition when divine values and principles are being challenged both within and without the church. The love of many did truly grow cold - just as Jesus said it would because of the increase in lawlessness and disorder [Matthew 24:12]. St. Anthony the Abbot who lived in the 4th century, that is, some 1600 years ago spoke of our day and age when he made the following prediction:
"Men will surrender to the spirit of the age. They will say that if they had lived in our day, faith would be simple and easy. But in their day, they will say, things are complex; the Church must be brought up to date and made meaningful to the day's problems. When the Church and the world are one, then those days are at hand."
It does not take much to see all the immorality and disgusting things taking place among the “born-again” believers. The statistics show that the divorce rate among Christians is actually higher than among the atheists. How can those who depart from their spouses justify their actions? Married couples are one flesh and Jesus said that what God has joined together no one should separate [Mark 10:9]. How can a believing husband or wife depart from their spouses when Jesus said that they must forgive up to 490 times a day? Peter wrote that LOVE that is, true LOVE overlooks the multitude of sins:
“But foremost and above all things have a fervent love among yourselves. For love OVERLOOKS THE MULTITUDE OF SINS” [1 Peter 4:8].
You must overlook the multitude of your spouse’s sins and therefore you can hardly have an excuse to walk out of your partner’s life. But you may think that in some cases you are justified in not forgiving since the sin might be too gross. But remember this. Whatever you want God to forgive you, you must forgive others and your spouse. Put yourself in your partner’s position. Would you want your partner to forgive you everything that bothers him or her or would you want them to walk away from you? Would you want God to forgive you every sin no matter how heinous it may be? We all know the answer. Therefore you too are obligated to forgive any and all sins to your erring partner and therefore you have no justified cause before God to walk out of your partner’s life. Jesus said that you must do to others what you want others to do to you. You would not want your partner to desert you so please do not desert your partner. If you do it is a sure sign that you neither truly love your spouse nor did truly and really forgiven.
Thus you are in grave danger and you will be lost should you die in an unreconciled state. This is not my opinion but the most plain and authoritative teaching of Jesus. If you don’t forgive and that means be FULLY RECONCILED with the erring party then God will simply not forgive you and He will never be RECONCILED WITH YOU. Everyone can be a friend to those who are good and friendly. Everyone could live with a good and ideal partner. But God has called us out of this world and we are no longer a part of this world and that is why Jesus commands us to do more than those who are in the world [John 15:19; 17:6, 14-16]. This is what Jesus told us and COMMANDED us to do if we want to be his true and real disciples and followers:
“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you. If anyone hits you on one cheek, let him hit the other one too; if someone takes your coat, let him have your shirt as well. Give to everyone who asks you for something, and when someone takes what is yours, do not ask for it back. DO FOR OTHERS JUST WHAT YOU WANT THEM TO DO FOR YOU. If you love only the people who love you, why should you receive a blessing? Even sinners love those who love them! And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you receive a blessing? Even sinners do that! And if you lend only to those from whom you hope to get it back, why should you receive a blessing? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount! No! Love your enemies and do good to them; lend and expect nothing back. You will then have a great reward, and you will be the sons of the Most High God. For He is good to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful just as your Father is merciful” [Luke 6:27-36].
Even unbelieving spouses forgive each other and sometimes more often than those who claim to be believers. But if you stay with your spouse only because he or she is good and easy to live with - what more are you doing than any other average sinner in the world? You as a disciple of Jesus who is called out of this world and to be a light to the world must live with your spouse even when he or she is difficult to live with. We are called to be SERVANTS and not MASTERS. Jesus himself said that he came to SERVE and not to be SERVED. He washed the feet of disciples in order to show them the humility and the humble and gentle spirit in him. He commanded us that we also must wash the feet of each other. Jesus said that whoever wants to be the greatest must be the servant of all. Therefore if you depart from your spouse and are not willing to be reconciled with your spouse you are demonstrating the spirit of unforgiveness and therefore you cannot and must not expect that God will forgive you your sins.
You are obligated to forgive your spouse more than to other believers. Because physically speaking, your spouse is one flesh with you and that union and covenant you must not break unless this union was illegitimate in the first place. But spiritually speaking, your spouse is also your brother or sister in Christ. Both of you are God’s children and therefore members of the DIVINE FAMILY. All scriptures referred to earlier therefore apply to you and you must forgive your erring spouse 490 times a day. If you don’t then God will not forgive you your sins either. You may continue to go to church and you may remarry and your church and pastor may accept you but God never will. Jesus emphatically stated that IF WE DON’T FORGIVE MEN THEIR SINS THEN GOD WILL NOT FORGIVE US OUR SINS. It is as simple as that.
You can argue in whatever way you want to justify and excuse your separation and divorce from your erring spouse who has repented and wanted to be reconciled with you. But before God and Jesus His Son you will never be excused. Your sins which God will not forgive you because of your unwillingness to forgive and be reconciled, will separate you from God and they will condemn you on the Judgement Day. My dear friend, I hope God gives you ability to realise and comprehend the serious nature of this article and that He helps you develop a loving and compassionate nature so that you would always be willing to forgive and be reconciled since God’s forgiveness of your own sins depends on whether you are willing to forgive or not.