The Quality of Forgiveness

Forgiveness. It’s something we seek so readily for ourselves from God. In fact, God’s forgiveness of us provides a foundational principal of our faith. We seek it from God for ourselves, yet how readily do we extend it to others?

We often assume that our forgiveness from God is the precondition for us being able to forgive others, yet at the conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus stated, “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matt. 6:14-15). Jesus actually inverted the order: our forgiving others is the precondition for God forgiving us!

Jesus placed such a premium upon our forgiveness of one another as a prerequisite to God’s forgiveness that he told his Galilean listeners, “So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple [Jerusalem is at least a three day journey from Galilee] and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God” (Matt. 5:23-24).

For Jesus, between me and God stands you, my neighbor (Luke 10:25-37), my enemy (Luke 6:27-31). In the manner that I relate to you, God will relate to me. Or, as Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matt. 5:7); by my showing mercy to another, like myself, I will receive mercy from God. Elsewhere he said, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Luke 6:37-38). If I intend to receive mercy from God, I must show mercy; if I want to receive forgiveness, I must forgive.

In the parable of the “Unforgiving Servant” (Matt. 18:21-35), a servant, shown great mercy by his master, refuses to extend mercy to his fellow servant, like himself, and therefore, he faces judgement from the master because of his failure to show mercy. Jesus concludes the parable, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart” (Matt. 18:35).

Forgiveness. It’s something we all want from God. But, according to Jesus, before we can be forgiven, we must first forgive our neighbor, including our enemies. How different would our world, communities, and relationships be if our view of forgiveness aligned with Jesus’?


Father, forgive us today as we have forgiven those around us, even our enemies. May we show Your mercy to all we come in contact with. Amen.

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