There are so many things God will not do for us. One of them is that he will not forgive others for us.
If we were to value our salvation, we would also value the forgiveness of our sins. If we are overwhelmed by the abundant mercies of God, it must be because we recognise that we are sinners who received forgiveness from God.
Paradoxically, the greater the sinner we were before we met Christ, the more zealous we often are as believers. When we recognise how far gone and undeserving of mercy we were, we are more inclined to live a life of deep gratitude and devotion to God as believers.
That is probably why God sometimes waits for four hundred years before bringing deliverance; as he did with the children of Israel in Egypt. That is why Jesus sometimes waits for thirty-eight years before healing a sick man; as he did with the paralytic at Bethesda. That is why the goodness of God often leads us to repentance. (Romans 2:4). When we are delivered, we break down and cry because it is clear that we are so undeserving of it. We know full well we could never have achieved it on our own.
Imperative to forgive
As believers, we must never forget for a single moment that we were forgiven. We must never forget that we received the forgiveness of sins. The forgiven must forgive. When Christians bear malice; when we divorce our wives and husbands instead of seeking reconciliation; when we are bitter against our neighbours for perceived wrongs done to us; it shows we don’t have eternal life operating in us.
Joseph was quick to forgive his brothers. God required Job to forgive his vicious friends. When he did, the Lord redeemed all his losses: “The LORD restored Job’s losses when he prayed for his friends. Indeed the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before.” (Job 42:10). Even so will the Lord redeem all the losses of those believers who forgive from the heart any and every wrong done to them.
It should be abundantly clear, therefore, that the unforgiving spirit is one of the most heinous of sins. It is one transgression God himself will not forgive. The Lord would not have a relationship with someone who bears grudges. Peace must be restored with all before our relationship with the Holy Spirit can flourish. When we were at enmity with the Lord, there was no relationship with him. Similarly, if we are at loggerheads with our neighbour, Peter warns that our prayers may be hindered. (1 Peter 3:7).
Jesus says: “Whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.” (Mark 11:25-26).
Jesus says furthermore: “If you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24).
This scripture is hardly addressed in the churches today out of concern it might affect negatively the size of the offering-basket. But when we ignore it, or fail to appreciate its importance, we do so at our own peril. Jesus gives an example of a servant who was forgiven his debts but then grabbed someone indebted to him by the throat, insisting: “Pay me what you owe me.” That servant forfeited the grace of God.
Jesus says: “Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. So my heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.” (Matthew 18:32-35).
How do we grab people by the throat? We do so when we condemn a sinner; when we reject those who do not meet our standards; when we are vindictive; when we speak unkindly of others and mock or laugh at them. When this happens, we disqualify ourselves from God’s mercies. It shows we don’t understand salvation. It shows we don’t know the kind of spirit we are now made of.
Jesus teaches: “Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.” (Luke 6:37-38).
This scripture has been largely distorted by pastors and preachers. It has been presented as a formula for getting financial rewards from God by giving money to the church. But while the pastoral path to abundance is formulaic; the godly path to abundance is through character-formation. Jesus is looking for a change in our posture towards others and not for an increase in our material possessions.
Judge not; condemn not; forgive and give. These four principles have to do with everything that concerns our Christian walk. Giving touches the core of all life’s relationships. If we are slow to give, we will be slow to forgive.
Let me point out here that there is a difference between forgiveness and forbearance. Putting up with someone is not forgiveness. We are required to forgive even an intentional offence, and not merely put up with it. After we have forgiven someone, we are then required to bear with that person, even if he continues to offend.
When Peter understood the centrality of forgiveness to the Christian walk, he asked Jesus: “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18:21-22).
There are so many things God will not do for us. One of them is that he will not forgive others for us. We have to forgive them ourselves. This is a mandate Jesus gives to his disciples: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’” (John 20:23).
The injustices we endure are designed to serve as reminders that we should not be unjust to others. The man who did not forgive in Jesus’ lesson was sent to tormentors. People who don’t forgive tend to be sick. Some sicknesses have their basis in the long-term impact of bitterness, anger, resentment and hatred. The human body is not created to bear the burden that comes from bearing grudges and keeping malice.
“Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking diligently lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled.” (Hebrews 12:14-17).