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Summary: In order to receive God’s forgiveness, we must forgive those who harm us. This is how to do it.

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Forgiveness September 26, 1999

Matthew 6:14-15

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

I recently saw a news item that was a follow up on a shooting that had happened a year before. An innocent woman was shot in the cross fire between two men. She become paralyzed by the injury. The item was about the huge change in her life since the shooting. The thing that struck me most was her statement: "I haven’t forgiven them yet, but I know I have to, because if I don’t God won’t forgive me."

I could see the pain that she was in, I could see the life that she had lost, and I wanted to say, "No, God loves for who you are, you been greatly damaged, it’s all right!" But she knew the truth, beyond the emotion of seeing a terrible crime like this, the truth is, that unless we forgive those who haves harmed us, who have sinned against us, God will not forgive us.

She had two things true.

1) We must forgive to be forgiven.

Jesus says it in a number of places:

in Matthew 7:2

For in the same way as you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

in Matthew 18:35

``This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.’’(to be handed over to the torturers)

in Mark 11:25

And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.’’

Paul says it in Colossians 3:13

Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

James says it in James 2:13

because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!

It covers the New Testament. If we do not forgive those who harm us, God will not forgive us!

What is forgiveness?

Some people who have troubles with forgiveness think that forgiveness does not take the harm of sin seriously. But forgiveness does take it very seriously. Forgiveness does not excuse sin, it does not say "O that’s alright, your sin really wasn’t a bother, my stay in the hospital wasn’t that long, and I was able to catch up on my reading!" No forgiveness calls sin, sin, and in many ways it holds the sinner accountable for their actions. Forgiveness says, "you hurt me, and what you did was wrong, but I will not hold it against you, I will not try to get back at you and I will not hate you for it."

Forgiveness also initiates the process. You have most likely heard someone say, Or maybe you have said yourself "Ill forgive them when they come and say they are sorry." This is not God’s way God says "I forgive you, now will you accept it by confessing and repenting?" If we wait for a confession to forgive, most often we will be waiting a long time.

In his book "What’s so Amazing About Grace," Philip Yancey tells a story about a man and wife who one night had an argument about how supper was cooked, it was so heated that night they slept in separate rooms. Neither has approached the other to say I’m sorry or to offer forgiveness, and they have remained in separate rooms years after the argument, each night they go yo bed hoping that the other will approach them with and apology or forgiveness, but neither goes to the other. God’s forgiveness does not wait for repentance, it initiates and calls out repentance by offering forgiveness.

This is why some people have great difficulty forgiving people. Either they hate confrontation and don’t want to confront someone with their sin, so instead they stew in their unforgiveness and hate not wanting to do the hard work of forgiveness.

Other times the seriousness of forgiveness shows up the pettiness of our grudges. When I was in university, I was talking with a friend and I was trying to decide wether or not to get my hair cut short, or let it grow long. After letting me natter on for awhile, he coyly said "Why don’t we pray about it" He was joking of course, but it was his way of saying that if it doesn’t warrant prayer, then it really isn’t that important of a decision is it?. Some wrongs against us aren’t serious enough to warrant forgiveness. Some behavior needs to be excused rather than forgiven. Accidents, mistakes, minor lapses in judgement, misunderstandings seldom need forgiveness, usually the just need to be excused. I know two elderly sisters who were in a car accident 20 years ago. Each blamed the other for the accident. The one driving said her sister was distracting her, and the sister said she was driving badly. Both of them should have said "these things happen" and got on with life, but instead of excusing each other, they have not spoken in 20 years!

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Phil Bridges

commented on Sep 8, 2006

Being a supply pastor in a methodist church, this was very helpful in prepation of a sermon, that was needed in my church. Thanks, and praise God for this web site.

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