B. Stage Two: Hating. C. Stage Three: Healing. D. Stage ... book Forgive and
Forget, author Lewis Smedes recounts the case of a married couple who had just
PRAYER AND PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS Matthew 6:12 In this lesson, we will learn why and how we are to forgive. OUTLINE Why does Jesus teach His disciples to ask for forgiveness from God as they forgive those who have wronged them? Is it necessary to forgive others in order to be forgiven by God? This critical part of the Lord’s Prayer is foundational to successful Christian living. I.
Forgive Because We Are Forgiven
II. Forgive Just as We Are Forgiven III. Forgive That We Might Be Forgiven A. Stage One: Hurting B. Stage Two: Hating C. Stage Three: Healing D. Stage Four: Coming Together IV. Forgive Before You Need to Be Forgiven
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famous Jewish author and crusader, Simon Wiesenthal, himself a survivor of the Nazi prison camps, wrote a book called Sunflower. In it, he told the story of being asked for forgiveness by a young German soldier who had helped murder a group of 200 Jews. The young soldier felt so bad about what he had done that he was afraid of dying without confessing what he had done and receiving forgiveness from a member of the Jewish race. Sitting by the soldier’s hospital bed, Wiesenthal listened to his story—then rose and walked away. He could not forgive the soldier’s horrible crime. His book contained essays by people on the topic of whether he should have forgiven the soldier or not. There are many acts much less heinous than war crimes against innocent civilians that still make forgiveness seem unfair. In his book Forgive and Forget, author Lewis Smedes recounts the case of a married couple who had just seen the last of their children move out and begin life on his own. Just as they were thinking they were about to enjoy some time to themselves, the husband’s brother and his wife were suddenly killed in a car accident, leaving three children for someone to raise. The couple took them, with the wife handling most of the responsibilities since the husband traveled extensively in his work. Just as the last of the second set of three turned seventeen, when the wife was almost worn out, her husband divorced her to marry his charming young secretary. To top it all, she received a phone call from her newly remarried husband asking if she would forgive him for leaving her and join in the celebration of his newfound marital bliss. Her response was less than cordial— or forgiving. Hearing stories like these—and thinking of hurts in our own lives—we wonder how Jesus could tell us to “forgive our debtors.” To forgive is to throw away the only weapon we have left when we have been devastated by another’s actions—our hate and contempt. There is a lot to be said for not forgiving people. Why should people cut and thrust their way through our lives, leave us bleeding in their wake, and then expect us to forgive everything and act as if nothing went wrong? Forgiving is an outrage against dues-paying morality. Then we read our Lord’s words: “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Forgiveness is tough! Here in this prayer, our Lord says that every day when we pray, we are to deal with the issue of forgiveness 66 • Prayer—The Great Adventure
in our praying. We started this prayer with a focus on praise, then went to our priorities, then learned to pray daily for our provision, and now we turn to personal relationships. Sometimes we need to be reminded that the world in which we live is a fallen world— every day we have to deal with fallen people. But this prayer is not about the awareness of sin—it is about the confession of it and the forgiveness of it. I believe this part of the Lord’s Prayer is probably the most important part since it is the only part that Jesus re-emphasizes. In verses 14 and 15, He underscores the importance of forgiveness by saying that our experience of God’s forgiveness is going to be correlated with our forgiveness of others. What does that mean? Is my forgiveness of my friend the condition upon which God judicially forgives me? In order to understand Matthew 6:12, 14–15, we have to look at Matthew 18:21–35, a story Jesus told about forgiveness. The servant in Jesus’ story owed his king 10,000 talents, an amount so large that it is hard to conceive. A talent was worth about 6,000 days’ wages, so it would take the servant 13 years working six days a week to earn one talent. And he owed 10,000 of them! We don’t know how he got into this kind of trouble, but he was hopelessly in debt and had no money with which to pay. But he begged the king for mercy, which the king gave to him. The king in Jesus’ story forgave the man’s debt. There was no way the man would ever be able to pay it, so it was forgiven. We can’t imagine doing that. We would be up in arms over far lesser amounts than that—but this king forgave his servant. The king in Jesus’ story is God, and we are the servant. We owe a debt we cannot pay. Our attempts to pay off our debt incurred by sin would be as feeble as the servant paying a few cents toward his multimillion-dollar debt. But in this story, the king’s kindness was lost on his servant, who went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount of money. The one forgiven the 10,000 talents began choking his friend, demanding that he repay the smaller debt. The friend begged for mercy just as the servant had, but the servant refused to extend mercy and threw his friend in jail for not paying his debt. When the king heard what his servant (the one he had forgiven the huge debt) had done, he turned his servant over to the torturers until he should pay all that he owed the king: “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you
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not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?” (Matthew 18:32–33). And then the Bible says, “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses” (Matthew 18:35). This is a picture of somebody who wants to take all the forgiveness God can give, but is not willing to extend it to somebody else. “Is God saying I can’t be a Christian if I don’t forgive my friends?” you say. The way we put this together is by the following four-point paradigm.
FORGIVE BECAUSE WE ARE FORGIVEN When we understand how much God has forgiven us, we are set free to forgive others. That’s the whole purpose of the story. That’s the whole purpose of Matthew 6:14–15. That’s the whole purpose of Matthew 6:12 in the Lord’s Prayer. We are constantly to reflect upon the fact that we have been forgiven much. Some Christians were saved out of a Christian home and may not have lived a very sordid life for which they have been forgiven. But by reading Romans 1–4 a few times, every believer will come to grips with the state of his or her sin and how much they have been forgiven by God.
FORGIVE JUST AS WE ARE FORGIVEN How did God forgive us? For Christ’s sake, He forgave us unconditionally. He forgave us freely. He didn’t say, “I’ll forgive, but I won’t forget!” The Bible says when He forgave, He threw our sins into the deepest part of the sea (Micah 7:19). He put up a sign saying, “No fishing!” He put our sin behind His back, as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). That is how we are to forgive— just as we are forgiven.
FORGIVE THAT WE MIGHT BE FORGIVEN This is the hardest part of the paradigm, for it makes our forgiveness by God seem conditional upon our forgiveness of others. When you accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior, immediately, in heaven, the righteousness of Christ was applied by God to your account; and you were justified (declared righteous) by God. Christ took your sins, and you received credit for His righteousness. Now, when God looks at you, He sees the righteousness of Christ in spite of anything you may have done. This was a legal adjustment to the 68 • Prayer—The Great Adventure
accounts of heaven, done at a point in time. From that moment on, you were judicially forgiven by God, declared righteous forever. That is one kind of forgiveness. But there is another kind of forgiveness called relational forgiveness, illustrated in John 13. When Jesus washed the feet of His disciples, He did it to illustrate a principle. The principle is that when you take a bath, you are clean. That’s your salvation. But when you walk around on a dirty earth in sandals, you’ve got to pause on occasion and get your feet clean. By washing their feet, Jesus showed His disciples what it’s like to have relational forgiveness. When I was a teenager, I disobediently took my father’s car out for a joy ride when he wasn’t at home. Unfortunately, I ended up running the car off a country road into a ditch. A farmer helped me pull the car out with his tractor, and I limped home with it— big scrapes down one side and damaged steering. When my father came home that night and saw the car, he asked me if I was responsible for the damage. I said I was. He didn’t say anything else then, or for the next entire day. I was miserable—until it finally hit me: I was responsible, and I needed to take responsibility for the problem. So I went to him and said, “Dad, I’ve got to tell you I feel terrible about what I did. I was wrong, deceitful, dishonest. I knew better than to do that. I’m sorry, and I want to ask you to forgive me.” His reply: “You are forgiven—but you will pay for the car.” Now—when I damaged my father’s car, did I cease to be my father’s son? Was my judicial forgiveness in jeopardy? No. But my relational forgiveness was in deep trouble. That’s what Jesus is talking about. If you want to know the oneness with the Lord in your daily relationship with Him, if you want to feel the reality of your forgiveness when you pray to God, don’t hold grudges against others and fail to forgive them. You can’t come to God and expect to enjoy His forgiveness of your sins while you have not confessed your own sins of unforgiveness and forgiven your brother. If you want to know the daily sense of your forgiveness in your walk with the Lord, then you must forgive those who have wronged you. The only way to heal the pain that will not heal itself is to forgive the person who is trying to hurt you. Forgiving stops the rerun of the pain. Forgiving heals your memory as you change your memory’s vision. When you release the wrong-doer from the wrong, you cut a malignant tumor out of your life. You set a prisoner free, and you discover that the prisoner you set free is yourself. Prayer and Personal Relationships • 69
But forgiveness is hard work. Sometimes the word is tossed about flippantly when forgiveness is not really extended. Think of the price God paid for our forgiveness—the life of His own son. The person who forgives does not overlook the injury, and does not forgive for free. There is a high price to pay. Lewis Smedes, who has written the best book on forgiveness I have read, deals honestly with this subject. He says, What do you do when you forgive someone who has hurt you? What goes on? When is it necessary? What happens afterward? What should you expect it to do for you? What is forgiving? The act of forgiving, by itself, is a wonderfully simple act, but it always happens in a storm of complex emotions. It is the hardest trick in the whole bag of personal relationships. So let us be honest with each other. Let us talk plainly about the magic eyes that are given to those who are ready to be set free from the prison of pain they never deserved. We forgive in four stages. If we can travel through all four stages, we achieve reconciliation.1
Stage One: Hurting When somebody causes you pain so deep and so unfair that you cannot forget it, you are pushed into the first stage of the crisis of forgiving. There is hardly a person here who hasn’t felt the hurt that needed forgiveness. Don’t be afraid of the hurt. That is part of the process. We are often told as Christians that we are to take offenses in stride. No, offenses hurt! The Bible does not mask the real hurts that life brings, and we should not either. Hurt is a signal to us that forgiveness is needed.
Stage Two: Hating You say, “Hate can’t be godly.” Hate isn’t godly, but it is the second stage leading to forgiveness. You cannot shake the memory of how much you were hurt. You cannot wish your enemy well. Sometimes you want the person who hurt you to suffer like you suffered. You want them to hurt. You construct speeches in your mind, things you want to say to them.
Stage Three: Healing The third stage is healing. You are given the magic eyes that Lewis Smedes mentioned to see the person who hurt you in a new light. Your memory is healed. You turn back the flow of pain, and you are free again. 70 • Prayer—The Great Adventure
Stage Four: Coming Together You invite the person who hurt you back into your life. If he or she comes honestly, love can move you toward a new and healed relationship. The fourth stage depends on the person you forgive as much as on you. Sometimes he doesn’t come back and you have to be healed all alone. But you do get healed. So Jesus says this: Those who live by God’s forgiveness must imitate it. One whose only hope is that God will not hold his faults against him forfeits his right to hold others’ faults against them. “Do as you would be done by” is the rule here. The unforgiving Christian brands himself as the hypocrite. It is true that forgiveness is by faith alone apart from works, but repentance is faith’s fruit. There is no more reality in a profession of faith than there is in the reality of repentance accompanying it. Jesus Himself stresses that only those who grant forgiveness will receive it.
FORGIVE BEFORE YOU NEED TO BE FORGIVEN Every morning when you pray according to the pattern of the Lord’s Prayer—praise, priorities, provision—when you come to this part about personal relationships and forgiveness, pray this way: “And, God, sometime today, someone is going to hurt me, and I forgive them already. In my heart I forgive them.” You leave your prayer closet and begin your day, and in a matter of minutes, somebody hurts you carelessly, even intentionally. And you say, “That’s OK. I forgave you.” “What do you mean you forgave me?” “I did it this morning.” “You what?” “I did it this morning in my prayer time.” “You forgave me for what I just did this morning in your . . . ? “You’re weird!” I love those kinds of weird people. In your prayer each day, you can build the foundation of a forgiving spirit, not even having been injured yet. You can ask God to help you each day to see the incredible debt that He has paid on your behalf and pray, “God, I don’t know the things that will happen to me today. Maybe some of them will be bad. But, God, this one thing I do know. Nothing will happen to me today that will require forgiveness like that which Prayer and Personal Relationships • 71
You have granted to me. Oh, God, thank You for Your forgiveness. Help me to forgive as I have been forgiven.” The Lord may have shown you through this lesson that you have some homework to do today. Maybe you need to do it in person, maybe on the phone. But let me encourage you to do it. Remember what God has done for you, and then in the power and the spirit of that truth, go extend that forgiveness to others.
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A P P L I C AT I O N 1. What do you learn about God’s forgiveness of our sins from the following verses: Romans 4:7–8
a. Do these verses indicate that the Christian’s forgiveness by God is an established fact, or that it is dependent on our forgiveness of others?
b. What insight do you get on the need to forgive others from Luke 6:37, Ephesians 4:32, and Colossians 3:13?
2. Read Matthew 5:43–48. What was the Old Testament standard regarding love and forgiveness (verse 43)?
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a. How did Jesus revolutionize that standard in His teaching (verse 44)?
b. What does the expression “Like father, like son” have to do with this new teaching (verse 45a)?
c. What does God do for all (your neighbors and your enemies) that is a model for how we should treat every person (verse 45b)?
d. Why is loving only the lovable not a high-enough standard (verses 46–47)?
e. What is the standard Jesus sets out for love and forgiveness (verse 48)?
f. How did the standard Jesus mentions in verse 43 evolve out of the teachings in the Old Testament? Did God really command Israelites to “hate” their enemies? (Read Leviticus 19:17–18 and Psalm 139:21–22 for background.)
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3. What insight do you glean about forgiveness and maintaining personal relationships from the following verses: Proverbs 14:29
4. What is the greatest challenge to you in forgiving another?
a. How does delaying our forgiveness to another impact our own relationship with God?
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b. If we ourselves sin against God while withholding forgiveness from another, what immediately comes to mind when we go to seek forgiveness from God?
c. What is the best way to keep our communication channels with God open and accessible at all times?
DI D YOU KNOW?
orgive has several synonyms, each with a slightly different meaning. Excuse means that we overlook an action without demanding punishment. Pardon is a non-emotional legal term that means we absolve someone of a just penalty. Condone means that we tolerate an act, while not agreeing with or appreciating it. But none of these measures up to the idea of “forgive.” When we forgive, everything is considered: the act, the offense, the penalty, and the future relationship. God called our acts sin, willingly paid for them with the highest of prices, and then re-established peace with us. We are not called upon to pardon, excuse, or condone another’s sin— but to forgive.
Note 1. Lewis B. Smedes, Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don’t Deserve (San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers, 1984), 2.
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Want an adventure of a lifetime that will bring you closer to God? Know God and His plans for you by learning how to prayer more effectively. This study guide offers a step by step approach through the Lord's Prayer, the same prayer Jesus taught his disciples to pray. Discover the importance of praise, petition, protection and provision as elements of your prayer life. Matthew 6:9-13. Contains 10 lessons