Summary: Looking at why we should forgive.
Lord’s Prayer 3
Forgive us our sins as we forgive others
Which came first, the chicken or the egg? People have been debating that question for years and as far as I know, they have still failed to come up with an answer to it. Fortunately, as we look at the subject of forgiveness today, we are not going to have a similar problem. It is true that the words in the Lord’s Prayer say, “forgive us our sin as we forgive those who sin against us”, but again, as far as I know, nobody has suggested that forgiveness begins with us; the first act of forgiveness must always be God’s.
We love because God first loved us and in the same way, we can forgive because God forgives us. This forgiveness is central to the very character of God, if it was not, we would not be able to have any relationship with Him, and we would not be able to come together into His presence this morning, and we would certainly not have even begun to be able to forgive others.
However, our forgiveness of others and God’s forgiveness of us are linked together very closely. A biography of Lord Longford reads:
“When he was castigated, and often ridiculed by fellow Christians, for bearing the cross of Jesus when he publicly forgave Myra Hyndley, serial killers Peter Sutcliffe, David Neilsen, and any other that had committed horrendous crimes, these sadly misguided critics chose to forget that as a Christian Lord Longford had no alternative but to forgive.
Any Christian that is unable to forgive is not a true disciple of Jesus Christ. A committed follower of Jesus does not have the privilege to pick and choose, he is obliged to seek the good in everybody regardless of the extent of the sin that a person may have committed.”
We heard the same from the lips of Jesus himself in Matthew’s gospel this morning. After Jesus had told his listeners how the unmerciful servant was called back in and “turned over to the jailors to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed”, he went on to say “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart”. Do we really believe these words today? Do we realise that if we are not prepared to forgive others, the slightest thing we do wrong after that will be not be forgiven until we are prepared to do so.
And on this weekend in particular, only a few weeks after the murders of Holly and Jessica, a year on from the murder of thousands in the twin towers, and as politicians around the world talk about killing the leader of a different country because of his sins, it is time we considered how seriously we do take these words.
The problem is that forgiveness is an act that is totally against the human nature. If somebody hurts us, then for the majority of us, our first, and for some, only, reaction is to hurt them back. Sigmund Freud explained this perfectly when he wrote of forgiveness: “One must forgive one’s enemies, but not before they have been hanged.” The Readers Digest had a story some time ago about the riots that followed the trial of Rodney King in the United States; Reginald Denny was dragged from his truck and viciously beaten by a gang. After a painful recovery, he met his attackers, shook hands with them and forgave them for what they did to him. A reporter who witnessed this scene wrote, “It is said that Mr Denny is suffering from brain damage.”
This is how many non-Christians view forgiveness. It is not something that should be done or even thought of. There is something wrong with you if you do not hit back harder at those who hurt you.
Yet as Christians, we are commanded to forgive, and warned that if we do not, then we will not be forgiven. Sadly, it is a command that we are not very willing to obey. I heard about a lady several years ago that had arranged to have lunch with a close friend. She turned up for lunch at the right time and the right place but her friend never showed up even though she waited for almost an hour. When this lady got back home, she phoned her friend and discovered that she had forgotten all about the lunch arrangement and for the next five years they never talked again. This lady left the church she belonged to and moved to a different one because she refused to even sit in the same building with her friend or should I say ex-friend.
Not only that, but every time she arranged to meet someone for coffee after that, she would phone him or her a week before the meeting and say ‘you haven’t forgotten’. Then she would phone them a couple of days before and say the same thing. Then she would phone them on the morning of the day. Then she would phone them just before the time she thought they should be leaving to go to the meeting. It eventually got to the stage where people were reluctant to arrange to meet her because they did not want to be treated like this. I don’t know what happened to this lady. For all I know she could be doing the same thing now, all because she is not willing to obey God’s command to forgive.