The Lord’s Prayer, in Matthew 6, contains a glimpse into the mind of God as Christ shares the secret and purpose of prayer with his disciples. From a spiritual perspective it is incredibly powerful; from a historical perspective it is a fascinating, rare glimpse into the secret “boardroom” of a divine apprenticeship. Many times, the most powerful portions of a passage don’t appear to be the main point. There is just such a point in verses 14-15.
14“If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. 15 But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins. – Matthew 6:14-15 NLT
There are two mentions of a sin that cannot be forgiven. One is to blaspheme the Holy Spirit, a much less clear and often misunderstood passage. The second is crystal clear. If you don’t forgive others (regardless of whatever hideous wrong they committed against you) you forfeit the forgiveness of your Heavenly Father.
Housed in each person is the capacity and tendency for bitterness and revenge. It is the de facto response, the post-Adam default programming that kicks in at birth. It is the self-destruct button pre-programmed into everyone living in a post-Eden world. Bitterness really does destroy the vessel that holds it.
This default is not immediately erased and replaced with forgiveness the moment a life is surrendered. Forgiveness is an integral part of that daily death that leads towards sanctification. Many people think of unforgiveness in a divorced mindset where it is the unbelievers, the sinners that struggle with bitterness. The striking thing about this caveat that is mentioned (almost as an aside) is that it is directed to those who can call God their Heavenly Father.
God knew or rather knows that the capacity for unforgiveness would not disappear entirely so He warned against the self-sabotaging consequences of choosing not to forgive. When the believer chooses not to forgive, they pull the pin on the source of their own destruction.
Historically, culture is revenge obsessed. In literature, movies and songs, the thread of revenge runs deep. A lot of folk music dwelt on these themes. The Count of Monte Cristo by Dumas or the Hatfield and McCoy series. Everyone wants to see some kind of karma meted out and no one wants to wait.
In His final moments on earth, Christ was showing the Christian that to be like Christ was to be opposite to the world, to our default programming. To be forgiven is to daily become more like Christ and this is incompatible with unforgiveness and bitterness. Fortunately, Christians have an advocate, Jesus Christ, that intercedes. You can ask him for help, for supernatural strength to forgive what is impossible in our default nature.
What have you faced in the past or perhaps might face in the coming week that requires forgiveness? As you approach the new week, keep this sobering reminder in the forefront of your mind. We are recipients of God’s grace and forgiveness, but He requires us to forgive.