Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven (Luke 6:37).
I once had a friend who worked with me take a few of my customer checks. (Even though it is not his name, I will call him John.) Several weeks passed before I began to wonder where the checks from these customers were. I contacted my bank and was told that the checks had been cashed, with a small amount deposited into my account. The endorsements were forged and I could tell it was John’s handwriting.
As soon as I knew what happened, I confronted John and he admitted taking the checks. John said he needed money and he did not think I would miss a couple hundred dollars. He promised to pay the money back when he could, but several months passed and I received no payment. At the time, I was a law student and knew my rights under the law, but what was I to do? What would you have done?
I wondered if I should pursue legal action so John would be held accountable. But I knew it was very unlikely I would collect anything from him because he still had no money. Apart from loosing the money, I was offended and upset that he would do this to me and show no remorse. It began to really bother me. In fact, I knew it was hindering my relationship with the Lord. I felt like my prayers were being hindered because of the lack of forgiveness in my heart, and they were. Jesus tells us that we must forgive before we pray.
Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them. And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. (Mark 11:24-26)
By His Spirit, God spoke to me and said I needed to forgive John. Based upon the principles taught by Bill Gothard on how to turn bitterness into genuine love, I also knew I should invest something into John’s life. So, I forgave John and sent him a check for an additional amount. What was the result? I WAS FREE! I had a genuine love for John again, and my relationship with the Lord was more intimate. What is even more amazing is that several months later John asked to purchase a house trailer I owned for a few hundred dollars more that what I paid! God recovered for me what I could not recover for myself, but He was only able to do it when I forgave my offender.
Why did Jesus emphasize so strongly the need to forgive? The bottom line is that unless we forgive others, we will not receive and experience the forgiveness God offers us. Consider Jesus’ words when He taught His disciples how to pray:
After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6:9-15)
This is not to say that forgiving others is the means of salvation, but the Bible does say that not forgiving others blocks experiencing and living in the kingdom of God. Jesus also made it clear that if we do not forgive, we give ground, or the right, to Satan to torment us with things like fear, doubt, lust, and anger. Consider the parable of the wicked servant.
Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven. Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt. But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt. So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses. (Matthew 18:21-35)
This passage also makes it clear that our obligation to forgive is not a one-time decision. In fact, Jesus tells us that we must continue to forgive our offenders, even if they offend us repeatedly. How can we do this? How could Jesus say while hanging on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34)? How could Stephen say while he was being stoned, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge” (Acts 7:60)? There is only one answer: the love of God, both in us and through us.
When we begin to comprehend the magnitude of God’s love and forgiveness toward us manifested by the surrender of His life to be the propitiation for our sins, we realize we have no “standing” to hold a grudge, be bitter, or be angry about anything someone else may do.
Concerning the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and anointed Him with expensive ointment, Jesus said, “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little” (Luke 7:47). This means that he who is forgiven much, loves much. For each of us who are saved by grace through faith, much is forgiven, and our response is much love for God and for others. There is just no place for “unforgiveness” in the life of a disciple of Jesus.
The Apostle Paul emphasized that forgiveness is a love response to Jesus. It is something we do if we love Him, because if we love Him, we will keep his commandments (John 14:15, 21, 23).
And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:32)
Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. (Colossians 3:12-14)
What are the promises associated with the command “Forgive”? It is freedom from the tormentors of the devil, which include depression, anger, lust, and bitterness. It is freedom from the physical ailments associated with bitterness and envy (Proverbs 14:30, 16:24). It is remaining in the state of being “forgiven” and experiencing the fellowship of the Lord. It is being free to love and to be a vessel through which the light and life of Jesus will shine. Forgiving is an opposite of judging, and when you forgive you will also be fulfilling the command to judge not.