BY: HARRY ROBERT FOX, JR.
MARCH 18, 2002
In Matthew 6:12 in what is commonly called “The Lord’s Prayer”, Jesus tells us to pray that God will forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Then in verses 14 and 15 he says, “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive you.”
From these verses it would seem that whether or not God will forgive us depends wholly upon our forgiveness of others. But such conclusion could be reached only if we fail to notice the context in which these verses are located, namely, the first twelve verses of Matthew 5 which constitute the “gospel preface” to “The Sermon on the Mount.” Those twelve verses are known as “The Beatitudes” and are spoken in the indicative mood whereas most of what follows them in chapters five, six and seven are in the imperative mood. This means that before God commands us IMPERATIVELY to be or do anything He first bestows on us INDICATIVELY His empowering grace communicated to us in His Beatitudes and in many other passages in the New Testament.
Jesus said that all of God’s Commandments (including His command for us to forgive) can be condensed into one all-inclusive commandment to love God with all that we are and have and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. But (thankfully) we are taught in I John 4:19 that before we can love God or anyone else we must first be loved. This basic truth needs to be applied to forgiveness: Before we can forgive others we must first be made aware that God has forgiven us long before we are asked to forgive others. How do we know this? We know it from what God tells us in the “good news” of His Gospel, namely, that before we even knew that we needed forgiveness or repented of our sins or asked for forgiveness — when we were still enemies of God and participated vicariously in nailing His son Jesus to the cross, God forgave us when Jesus prayed “Father, forgive them!”
To state all of this in other words, when we did our worst to God (in nailing His son to the cross) He did His best for us! — not when we were His obedient children but when we were at our disobedient worst. The Apostle Paul confirms and supports this truth when he wrote in Romans 5:6 that “while we were yet helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” thus, he goes on to say in verse 8: “God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” (Emphasis mine.) Then he caps it all off in verse 10 by saying that “while we were enemies (of God) we were reconciled by the death of His son.” (Emphasis mine.)
Jesus also confirms this view of forgiveness in his parable of “the unjust servant” in Matthew 18: 23-27. In that parable Jesus tells of a king whose servant owed him ten thousand talents (an amount far beyond what he would ever be able to repay). So “out of pity for him” the king “forgave him the debt.” Only when we who have been forgiven so much (even when we were God’s enemies!) remember this prior forgiveness will we be enabled to obey God’s imperative for us to forgive others — even our enemies!
FORGIVENESS [Harry R. Fox, Jr.] 1