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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?
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Five to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” Matthew 5:38-42
Remember that Jesus came not to abolish the Law of Moses, which did in fact contain the phrase, Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth [Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20; Deuteronomy 19:21]. In each instance, the prescribed punishment is to be equal to the crime or the injury visited on another person. A punishment should fit the crime, not exceed it.
In other words, the phrase was meant to deter people from hurting others to begin with, so that they wouldn’t suffer the same pain they inflicted. Instead, common cultural practice perverted the phrase to justify revenge, excusing private vengeance outside the court of law.
A slap on the cheek wasn’t about personal injury, it was an insult. A punch in the pride.
In the Old Testament, it was illegal to keep someone’s cloak from them overnight, because it was commonly used as a person’s only blanket. A knee to the need for self-preservation.
And under Roman law, Roman soldiers were allowed to force someone to carry the soldier’s belongings for them, but only for the distance of one mile. An attack on time.
But Jesus pushes this command to its heart intent.
1) Leave vengeance to God [Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:19].
2) Love our fellow human beings, even when–maybe especially when–they aren’t loving us in return.
After all, blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth [Matthew 5:5]. In his pride the wicked man does not seek [God], so we Christians should not be like the wicked [Psalm 10:4]. We should not let our pride well up and keep us from seeking God’s will in any and every instance.
God alone is our protector and provider [Philippians 4:19]. When others wrong us, we look to Him for our safety and well-being, not to ourselves.
And we should be leaving time in our daily lives for divine appointments such as these opportunities to show the love of Christ to the lost and dying, to the wayward and wicked.
Our choice to love in these humbling circumstances is just like Jesus’ meekness and silence as He was led before His executioners [Isaiah 53:7; Acts 8:32]. And our selfless attitude is a light, that possibly, may be the very thing to win the wicked person to Christ.
Do you settle your own scores? Or do you respect God’s equality system and act in loving self-discipline?
“Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.” Matthew 5:25-26
And Jesus is still talking here about the command not to murder. Though we should keep short accounts with everyone, this time the subject is our dealings with non-believers.
Whatever the spiritual difference we may have with others, God’s grace does not exonerate us from misdealings with the world. Whether business or personal affairs, all should be done as unto the Lord [Colossians 3:23; Ephesians 6:7]. In so doing, we bring glory and honor to God and may win some to His saving grace [1 Peter 2:12].
So first of all, we should do everything in our power not to end up in a legal situation. Obey policies and procedures of our workplace. Don’t slander, gossip, lie, steal, accept bribes or otherwise act corruptly [Exodus 20:15-16 & 23:8; Leviticus 19:11; Deuteronomy 4:16; Proverbs 17:23 & 26:20; Romans 1:29; 2 Corinthians 12:20; Colossians 3:9; James 4:11]. Pay back our monetary debts and give people the things that belong to them [Romans 13:8].
But if we do find ourselves in a situation where we have wronged an unbeliever, we need to do everything we can to settle the matter without court arbitration. It is our responsibility to take responsibility for our actions–whether knowingly or unknowingly wrong–and make restitutions for them. When we can be honest, act in integrity and swallow our pride. We can submit ourselves to whatever consequences befit the situation.
But if we try to distort honesty, if we pervert integrity and act pridefully, then we will surely have to stand trial in the world’s courts. Then, the consequences for our actions will be so much worse.
Whether we choose to settle the issue out of court or in court, we will still have to make our wrong right. But settling in court may mean that we are subject to more severe penalties than just correcting the misdeed.
Do you already have a job? Do you do your job with honesty and integrity that brings glory to God? Do you keep short accounts with everyone, but especially your unbelieving coworkers?
“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?
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.” Matthew 5:13
Analogies abound as to what it means to be the salt of the earth. Preservative. Healing. Ice melt. Flavor enhancer. Et al. But did you know that most of the salt in Israel came from the Dead Sea? This is important because this salt was full of impurities–other elements or minerals that mixed with or attached to the sea salt. And it was the impurities that caused the salt to lose its saltiness or salt-like qualities.
Impurities chemically changed the salt so that it couldn’t preserve food. So that it couldn’t heal wounds. So that it couldn’t melt ice [if that had been a thing in Israel, though it wasn’t]. And so that it couldn’t even make food taste better.
While valuable enough that people actually traded in salt at one time, impurities made the salt absolutely useless. No good for anything!
So it is with our faith. Pure faith in God preserves this world from the decomposition of sinfulness. It heals lives. It melts the ice of unbelieving hearts. It magnifies God in the eyes of the world, intensifying their understanding of His goodness.
But when we allow impurities–the love of self or money, worldly ideas and the like–to creep into our lives, then our faith becomes ineffective. When our faith mixes with and is essentially changed by ungodly influences, it loses the ability to keep others around us from sinful ways. It loses the ability to heal the hurting. It loses the ability to affect hearts for God. It loses the ability to give glory to God in a lost and dying world.
Impurities make our faith of no earthly effect.
How pure is your belief in God? Does the truth of His Word work in and through you to effect righteousness? Or have you allowed worldly impurities to make your faith useless?
“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].