Robert Louis Stevenson, Scottish novelist, tells the story in one of his books (Picturesque Notes of Edinburgh) of two unmarried sisters who shared a single room apartment. The sisters had a falling out, which was on some theology issue. They were Christians. But they disagreed about something. The controversy was so bitter that they never spoke again. Forever. Just silence. They did not separate, and they continued to live together in the single room. A chalkline was drawn across the floor which separated their two domains. They were careful not to step over the line.
They coexisted for years like this in unfriendly silence. They were believers, but they continued in unforgiveness the rest of their lives. Sad, is it not?
Don’t think this story is all that unusual. There were two brothers I knew who hadn’t talked to each other for 20 years. I knew them at Northwestern University Medical Center. They were both 45-50 year old general surgeons who had some huge rift years ago, and couldn’t get rid of their grudge they had for each other. Sad. But true. You may know somebody like this.
If these sisters prayed the Lord’s Prayer, I mean really prayed it, they would have reconciled. Seriously prayed, it can be the healing salve for a fractured relationship. Jesus doesn’t want us to misunderstand this concept. If we have forgiveness from God for our sins, then we MUST forgive those who wrong us. This the Christian way. In Matthew 6:14-15 He emphasizes, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Shockingly true.
Matthew 18 contains a moving Parable for our teaching on this subject. A man was forgiven 10,000 talents by his lord, but then he refused to forgive his own slave a 100 denari debt. The parable ends with a warning: vs 32-35– “Then the master called the servant in. “You wicked servant,” he said, “I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured until he should pay back all he owed.”
C.S. Lewis said, “No part of His teaching (on forgiveness) is clearer: and there are no exceptions to it. God doesn’t say that we are to forgive other people’s sins providing they are not too frightful, or provided there are extenuating circumstances, or anything of that sort. We are to forgive them all, however spiteful, however mean, however often they are repeated. If we don’t, we shall be forgiven none of our own.”
The bottom line is if we refuse to forgive, there can be only one reason, and that is that we have never understood the grace of Christ.
Do you have any grudges that you hold on to? Family, parents, old friends? Have you forgiven an employer who wronged you? Do we have a grudge against your last church? Its pastor, its elders? Forgive today. Take an honest inventory and get right with that person. We do this for the spiritual health of ourselves and our Churches. And for God’s sake! Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
Forgiveness is a product of your new nature in Christ. It is NOT something you can manufacture from your old nature. Keeping score and grudge matches are the work of Satan.
The fundamental qualification for praying this phrase in the Lord’s Prayer is that we are cognizant of our sinfulness. But we are saints that are saved also. Let’s rest in that fact.
Next week: Lead us not into temptation