Summary: God expects us as Christians to forgive those that hurt us.
Text: Hebrews 12:14, 15
We all get hurt. Sometimes, a loved one will say the wrong thing and hurt your feelings. Or your spouse will forget your anniversary. Or someone that you thought was your friend betrays a secret. Most of the time we consider these to be minor offenses, and usually, after time passes and maybe an apology is made, we forgive.
But some offenses are more serious and more difficult to forgive. Maybe you were molested as a child and you still can’t forgive your molester. Maybe you think that it is impossible to forgive your spouse that you caught cheating on you. Maybe you are in an abusive relationship, and you feel that there is no way you can ever forgive your abuser for what he is doing to you. Many of us struggle with feelings like this at some time during our lives.
What we need to realize though, is that if we continue to harbor feelings of bitterness and hatred, it will consume us and make us unusable to God. It will destroy not only our witness, but our peace and joy as well. The author of Hebrews warns us about this when he writes, “ Work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord.  Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.” (Hebrews 12:14, 15 NLT) If we are unwilling to forgive someone, feelings of hatred and bitterness will grow within us, and choke the life out of our relationship with God. Even worse, it can spread to others, causing splits in families or churches. If you have ever worked in a place or gone to church in a place where you’re either on “one side or the other,” you know what I mean.
What did Jesus have to say about forgiveness? In Matthew 6, Jesus is talking about prayer, and He gives the disciples what has come to be known as “the Lord’s prayer.” We pray this prayer every Sunday morning at this church, and sometimes I am afraid that we have said it so many times that we don’t really listen to what we are saying. Jesus said, “ After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.  Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in 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.” (Matthew 6:9 – 13)
Did you catch verse 12? The word “debts” means “sins” in this context. Let me read this verse to you in the NLT: “and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.” When we are reciting that prayer, we are asking God to forgive us just like we forgive others. Now THAT’S a sobering thought. How well are you forgiving others?
Jesus doesn’t stop there, however. He continues in verses 14 and 15. “ 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.”
Let’s take a time out there. Jesus is NOT saying that we can not be saved if we refuse to forgive others. Our salvation depends completely on Jesus and what He has done, not what you and I do. If we had to forgive everyone else as a condition for salvation, we could claim that we earned it by doing a work, and the Bible says that “ For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:  Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8, 9) Jesus is not talking about forgiveness that leads to salvation, but forgiveness that leads to fellowship. Jesus is talking about sins that we commit after that we have become a Christian. Sin in our lives as Christians will hinder our growth, and cause us to be out of fellowship with God and with our brothers and sisters. It will cause God to stop blessing us and to chastise us instead.
The point that Jesus is making is that if we have truly experienced the forgiveness of God, we ought to mirror that attitude and forgive others that sin against us. Jesus told a parable about it one time. In Matthew 18, Peter comes and asks Jesus a question. He says, “ …Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?  Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18:21, 22) The Jewish custom of Jesus’ day was to forgive someone three times for the same transgression. If they did it more than three times, they were considered to be non-repentant, and you were no longer required to forgive. Peter thought that he was being especially generous by forgiving seven times, but Jesus says that you should keep on forgiving as many times as it takes. What if God only forgave us three times for the awful things that we do sometimes? I am glad that God is merciful and will forgive us time and time again when we fail. This is not a license to sin, but a characteristic of a loving and merciful God.