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“Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’ 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.” Matthew 6:12-15
Forgiveness should be a top priority in our prayer life. When we first come to Christ, we do so with a penitent heart in order to be set free from the life of sin that has consumed us.
But as we continue to grow in Christ we should also be asking forgiveness in prayer because none of us is perfect. Even saved we regularly commit sins. Hopefully these are either unwitting or at least not premeditated. Many will be left over habits that we will need the Holy Spirit to help us conquer. But our desire should to be overcome the sinful nature, to become less and less like sin and more and more like Christ with each passing day.
God never tempts us to commit these sins, they are the result of our own evil desires at work within us [James 1:13-15].
Now, many people today refuse to think of themselves as evil. Understandably. In the scheme of history, we have seen overwhelming evil in the world and we’re not anywhere near that bad.
But remember, evil in scripture is anything contrary to the perfect and holy goodness of God.
Our desire to be our own god, to choose right and wrong for ourselves–patterned after Satan’s lie in the Garden–is itself evil [Genesis 3:5]. And we ask God in His wisdom, never to lead us into paths where the desire to live contrary to His will can take root. Moreover, we ask Him to completely deliver us from Satan–the progenitor of evil. To deliver, literally means to liberate or to set free from. We pray so that God can completely set us free from the enemy whose only desire is to steal, kill and destroy us [John 10:10].
It’s interesting that Jesus notes temptation and evil in conjunction with forgiving others. When we refuse to forgive others, we are giving in to the temptation of our own evil–contrary to God–desires. We are living as though we were captives of the evil one rather than liberated by Christ.
When we refuse to forgive others, we are setting ourselves up as finite gods, taking matters into our own hands. And we have the free will to choose to do it too. But the result is not good. When we withhold forgiveness, we deny God’s image in us, we deny God’s sovereignty and trample the mercy He so freely gave us [Matthew 18:21-35; Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13].
If we can’t forgive, then we can’t be forgiven [Mark 11:25-26].
Do you have something against someone else? Does someone have something against you? Both are your responsibility to resolve. In the case of the other person’s bad feelings, as far as it depends on you restore the peace [Romans 12:18]. Forgive them and love them and wait for the time their heart is ready to reconcile.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteousness. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:43-48
Do apple trees grow lemons or thistles in drought conditions? Of course not! Then neither should we, as Christians, grow cantankerous with those who hate us or mistreat us. It’s the same principal.
Only, unlike the apple tree, we have free will.
We get to choose whether we will do what God created us to do–love everyone like ourselves, no matter what–or not.
The command to, Love your neighbor, should be easily recognizable as the second greatest commandment in scripture [Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:36-40; Mark 12:28-34; Luke 10:25-28]. But the saying, hate your enemy? Where did that come from?
Scripture cross references cite Deuteronomy 23:6. This passage specifies who may and may not enter into the assembly of God’s people back in the Hebrew desert wanderings and into the Promised Land. Interestingly, the Ammonites and Moabites are specifically excluded and the Israelites are told not to seek peace with them or fortune from them. Apparently, this translates as hating enemies because these two nations were notorious foes to God’s people and refusing to seek peace is hateful.
But again, God had a purpose for the original order to stay separate from the Ammonites and Moabites. It wasn’t so that people could decide for themselves who to treat hostilely. It was so that ungodly ideas and practices would be kept out of the sphere of influence.
So Jesus brings the command back to its original intent. Love people. All people. Don’t become like your enemies by living alongside them, but do treat them with the love of God and do pray for them. By this, they will recognize us as God’s children. And God will receive the glory and the honor for our loving response in hard times.
You see, God’s love doesn’t distinguish between believers and unbelievers. He offers it freely and equally to all. Not everyone recognizes or accepts it, but that doesn’t change the fact that God gives it. And it’s the same with His mercy, His creation, et al.
We too, having been made in God’s image, shouldn’t distinguish between people who are nice to us and those who aren’t. As Christians, we should respond generously with love and mercy to all.
But what on earth does this have to do with perfection? Perfect simply means, complete. While we can never attain to God’s complete knowledge, love, mercy, et al in this life, we can be made complete in Him. We can let His love and mercy flow through us to everyone around us.
Are you a conduit of God’s love and mercy? Or do you dispense in favoritism?
“If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” Matthew 5:29-30
Jesus is still talking here about the command not to commit adultery. But He hyperbolizes the practical application of it.
In Biblical culture, anything on the right side of the body was considered honored [Mark 16:19; Acts 7:55-56; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1]. While the left hand was typically considered dishonored because of its hygienic function. So if the eye–which is the lamp that lets light into our whole body [Matthew 6:22]–and the honorable eye at that, gazes lustfully at others, we’re guilty of the sin of adultery.
Remember that God is transcendent. As humans, we tend to see good and bad, right and wrong in spectrums. We qualify things as kind-of-good and not-so-bad. But God does no such thing. Either it’s of God or it’s sin. Lustful eyes are symptomatic of a sinful heart.
So again, if the most honorable light source in our life fixates on sinful passions, we would be better off living this finite life half-blind, so that we don’t miss out on eternal life.
Now obviously, the struggle with lust can’t be associated with only one eye. We use both to look. So both are the offenders. Just like a person isn’t likely to commit sins of theft or adultery with one arm tied behind their back. But even if one did, the whole person would still be guilty of theft. By using a hyperbole–an exaggerated statement or claim not meant to be taken literally–Jesus emphasizes His point. It is the sin that needs to be cut out of our lives by whatever means necessary.
God made a covenant of circumcision with the patriarch Abraham and His chosen people, Israel [Genesis 17:1-25]. After the Exodus and throughout the New Testament, God let the people know that true circumcision needed to be of the heart [Deuteronomy 10:16 & 30:6; Jeremiah 4:4; Romans 2:25-29].
You see, circumcision is physically removing some unnecessary flesh that could create health problems. But we need to cut the love-of-this-world-flesh off of our whole heart–intellect, will and emotion–because it only leads to spiritual health problems. Jesus’ command to gouge out an offending eye or to cut of an offending hand has the same meaning.
Does God really want people to go around maiming themselves? Not at all! But He does want us to understand the seriousness of sin, to repent of it and to flee from it [Isaiah 59:2; Acts 2:38; 1 Corinthians 6:18]. In the end, it’s better for us to miss out on the emptiness of this finite life than to spend the rest of eternity regretting our lack of self-control.
We all struggle with a particular sin or another [Romans 3:23]. But we can ask the Holy Spirit to empower us to flee from it or to miraculously heal us and cut it out of our life. What sin are you in? Will you willingly give it to God? Or eternally regret it?
“Therefore if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5:23-24
Jesus is still talking here about the command not to murder. Remember that the seeds of self-superiority, bitterness and anger can grow into full-blown murder if not repented of and removed from the heart.
But also, when we don’t forgive others the sins or wrongs they have committed against us, God doesn’t forgive our sins [Matthew 6:14-15; Mark 11:16].
More important than fulfilling religious rituals–like giving offerings, taking communion or even regular church attendance–is that we love God and love our fellow human beings.
So when it doesn’t seem like our prayers are being answered, when we feel far from God, when our worship seems to bounce back at us from brass heavens, when the Holy Spirit convicts us and we remember that we’ve done something to upset someone else, then we need to go make things right with that person before trying to get ourselves right with God again.
Here we see that it is not just the responsibility of the offended to freely give forgiveness, but it is up to us to know when we’ve done something to offend someone. To be self-aware of our words and deeds and how they effect others’. God’s grace isn’t a license to walk around willfully or even inadvertently offending others.
We are responsible for making sure that we live at peace with everyone as far as it depends on us [Romans 12:18]. And we are also responsible not to put stumbling blocks–like thought seeds that can lead to murder–in other people’s lives [Romans 14:13].
When we do our part, no matter how others respond, then God’s blessings will flow freely, unhindered, in our lives. Because God’s kingdom is about righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit [Romans 14:16].
Have you offended someone? Can you think of anyone who holds something against you? Have you done everything you can to bring peace and forgiveness to the matter? Have you yourself forgiven the offended person?
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” Matthew 5:17-18
In His day, people were trying to figure Jesus out. False prophets were not uncommon in Israel in the past [Jeremiah 14:14 & 23:16; Lamentations 2:14; Ezekiel 13:9 & 22:28; Hosea 11:6; Matthew 7:15; Acts 5:26-29 & 13:6]. So was this guy from Galilee really a miracle-working prophet of God? Was He possibly even the promised Messiah?
And if Jesus was a prophet or the Messiah, what was God’s directive? Was He instituting a new order through this audacious preacher-prophet-teacher-healer?
Jesus knew their hearts and minds [Matthew 12:25; Luke 5:22, 6:8-10 & 11:17]. He answered their questions before they could ask them out loud. No, God is not changing His plan of redemption. Yes, the Law and the Prophets still matter in the eternal scheme of human history. Yes, I am the fulfillment of everything that you have studied and heard. No, this world will not last forever. No, God isn’t rewriting the game rules. Yes, everything God said would happen will happen.
The Law of Moses was more than just the ten commandments, though they get the most attention. There were people in Israel whose whole life’s work was to study and interpret the law–experts akin to modern day lawyers. But the Law was meant to show people their sinfulness [Romans 7:7-8 & 8:3]–not to redeem them from it. The Prophets also came to make people aware of their sin, yet they too were powerless to save anyone.
Jesus came to complete the work began in the Law and the Prophets. He came to redeem people from their sin. As long as the Creation endures–and it is going to pass away one day [Revelation 21:1]–the Law and the Prophets will still show people their sin and Jesus will still, by God’s grace through our faith, reconcile the repentant to Himself.
It’s interesting to note that Jesus refers to the alphabet in these verses. When He says the least letter, it is the Hebrew yodh or the Greek iota, both literally the smallest letters in their respective alphabets. And the least stroke refers to the horn a little letter flourish, like the bottom curve of a lowercase j. God didn’t change his mind or His plan on even the smallest detail.
As the author of life [Acts 3:15], God never needs to brainstorm, draft or revise. He never needs to eat His words or print a retraction or buy a bottle of whiteout. He doesn’t backspace or delete.
The Word of the Lord stands forever [Isaiah 40:8; Matthew 24:35; 1 Peter 1:25]. Are you standing on that Word?
“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16
Our good deeds can never save us–works without faith leads to death. But our good deeds might save others.
God is good. And we were made in His image to do good [Ephesians 2:10].
And God is light [1 John 1:5]. He sent His fully God Son, Jesus, as a fully human life to be a light of God’s love to a lost and dying world [John 1:4]. But the sin-darkened world did not understand the light of Christ [John 1:5].
Yet we are made in God’s image to be light. To do good–according to God’s standard of goodness–so that others may see and come to recognize the truth of God and the saving grace of Jesus Christ.
The good we do, we do not do of our own spiritual ability. It is the Holy Spirit who works in us [Philippians 2:13]. Without such deeds, our faith–absolute certainty in what we hope for but cannot see–is dead [James 2:17]. It is not a living tree that can produce the fruit of the spirit and bring glory to God in heaven [Matthew 3:19, 7:19 & 21:18-22; Mark 11:12-14; John 15:1-4].
When we first come to know Jesus as our savior, His Word is like a fire shut up in our bones [Jeremiah 20:9]. It burns within us, a light yearning to spill into everyone around us, so that they too may know the truth and be set free from sin.
But if we are embarrassed or ashamed of the light within us, if we keep the truth of God to ourselves, it’s like sticking a lamp under a bowl. No one will see the light, and eventually, the lamp burns up all the oxygen under the bowl and snuffs itself out.
So living as a Christian who never does what God’s Word commands is like living dead in the shadows. We walk around like spiritual zombies, suppressing the life of the spirit within us so that we can blend in with the truly spiritual dead all around us.
Do you live as light? Does God’s goodness shine through all you say and do? Or are you holding back the truth in an effort to fit in with the lost and dying?
“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.'” Matthew 5:10-12
It seems a contradiction to be extremely joyful while being persecuted. Yet, despite the trials of life and the adversity of fellow human beings, when we are filled with righteousness and living it, the joy of the Lord is our strength [Nehemiah 8:10]. We know by faith that the righteousness of Christ redeems us from death, reconciling us to God.
But those who deny God, don’t understand this joy in all things, this peace that passes understanding. It perplexes and incenses them, incites them to mistrust, and even hate, those who live by faith in Christ.
Even in this we can be extremely joyful, understanding that this life is temporary. And that by trying to save and promote ourselves in this temporary life, we lose out on eternal life [Matthew 16:25; Mark 8:35; Luke 9:24].
It’s not just a cliche saying about sticks and stones. When we are persecuted, sticks and stones may truly break our bones. But we don’t have to let the insults and lies and persecution hurt us spiritually. We can find rest in Christ. We can accept the peace He gives. We can fix our eyes on the Lord our salvation. And we can take extreme joy in knowing that we join a great cloud of witnesses who have come before us–who lived and died by faith [Hebrews 12:1].
Are you facing difficult times because of your faith in God? Do others insult you or give you a hard time because you live by God’s Word? Take heart, Jesus has overcome this world [John 16:33]. Cast all your cares on Him and find rest [1 Peter 5:7].