Conditions of Forgiveness (Matthew 18:35)

“My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”

Matthew 18:35

I was reading through C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity some times ago and came across Lewis’ observation that the prayer Jesus taught us to pray includes a condition on God forgiving us. The prayer asks God to forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. It is an uncomfortable observation. This morning, the parable of the unforgiving slave was part of my reading and I am reminded that my forgiveness comes with conditions.

The parable tells of a slave who owes his master an impossible debt and pleads with his master to give him time to repay. The master is a charitable individual and forgives the slave’s debt. The slave happens to encounter someone who owes him money later on. He, however, is not willing to give any grace to the person who owes him money, despite having been forgiven an impossible debt. The master gets wind of it and hands the slave over to the torturers (that is precisely the term used) until every cent is paid back. Jesus notes that My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart. Forgiveness is readily available and God is only too willing to give it, but it comes with a caveat: I must turn around and forgive as well.

This is a big deal, because we are wont to nurse grudges and hold on to things that we should have let go. I know that I am often grateful for my poor memory where debts are concerned, because it is challenging, if not impossible, to be upset with someone who owes me something if I have not the faintest idea that I am owed anything. It is in my best interest to extend this same forgetfulness to wrongs suffered. If someone wrongs me and I can forget that it happened, I will be much better off. And there are two massive reasons for this.

One, harboring bitterness toward another has been compared to drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. I only cause myself suffering by nursing grudges. Worse, the other person might not have meant any harm; might even have been trying to do me good and flubbed it horribly. If I can make a habit of forgiving; letting go the wrongs done me, then I will be much happier and will have healthier relationships.

Two (and this is the big one), God commands it. He is so deathly serious on this point that He states that my forgiveness hinges on whether or not I forgive others. The parable preceding this morning’s verse is one evidence. What is commonly called “The Lord’s Prayer” is another. Jesus says that if I forgive others then God will also forgive me (Matthew 6:15). It is not requested or strongly encouraged. It is commanded.

The application for this is clear. Let me go forth and practice forgiving others today. I have yet to encounter a day in which I did not have the chance to practice forgiving (or needing to ask forgiveness), so I am quite certain that there will be opportunities afforded me today.

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