Together in Christ: 'A Hard But Liberating Truth' — Matthew 6:14-15

Monday, December 11, 2023

[As Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he emphasized this crucial truth:] "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."
— Matthew 6:14-15 NLT

Key Thought

Based on email feedback from over twenty-six years of online ministry and daily devotionals, the most challenging spiritual necessity for most people is to forgive those who have hurt, wounded, and taken advantage of them. Nevertheless, this is the one focused command that Jesus tied to His model prayer, the Lord's Prayer. In addition, Jesus came back to a similar teaching stressing the essentiality of forgiveness later in His ministry. [1] Today's verses are Jesus' follow-up to the portion of the prayer that says:

"…and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. [2]

At first glance, Jesus' words seem to make God's forgiveness of our sins conditional on our forgiving those who sin against us. In a sense, this is true because God has blessed us so that we can be a blessing to others. [3] A better image, perhaps, is a geographical metaphor used over the centuries that comes from Israel's topography, the comparison of the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. The Sea of Galilee is fed by the blessings of rain that run into its watershed. The Sea of Galilee is rich in abundant life and shares its waters with the Jordan River, which flows out of it and blesses the whole valley with water and abundant life. However, the Dead Sea receives the blessings of the Jordan River, and because it is over 1400 feet below sea level, the water isn't shared and stagnates. Its high salt concentration means little or nothing lives in or close to it.

When we refuse to forgive, we stagnate the forgiveness God longs to give us. We hold onto our bitterness and hurt, clogging our hearts to receive the life-giving grace God longs to give us that can refresh our souls as we bless others. As I have heard it expressed, "Forgiveness is releasing the captive bird from its cage, then realizing that we were the captive bird." Until we forgive others, we can't experience God's full, free (for us), loving, and undeserved forgiveness of God. When we do not forgive, we hold ourselves captive to the past and our bitter resentments.

We are correct when we say," I can't forgive and forget!" But God doesn't command us to forget. Only the Holy Spirit, over time and based on our commitment to and actions of forgiveness, can erase the pain of past offenses. So, let's take the first steps toward our souls' freedom. Let's begin forgiving others while we ask for the Holy Spirit to empower God's love [3] to help us forgive. Let's ask the Spirit to help us release our captive souls from the cages of our bitterness, hatred, and resentment. As Paul, the apostle, said:

And do not bring sorrow to God's Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.
Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.
[1] Matthew 18:15-35.
[2] Matthew 6:12.
[3] Romans 5:5.
[4] Matthew 6:12 — which implies what Jesus' commentary at the end of the prayer makes explicit.
[4] To a world in the clutches of evil (Genesis 6:5-6), God made a promise to Abraham that was to be fulfilled by God's people — Genesis 12:1-3. Jesus' followers are called to live into this promise and be God's blessing to others — 1 Peter 3:9.
[5] Romans 5:5.
[6] Ephesians 4:30-5:2.

Today's Prayer

Father, I confess that I battle with bitterness and resentment toward some people who have wounded me or those I love. Please forgive me as I ask for Your help to forgive them. O, Lord God, I want to be a conduit * of Your blessings so that others may receive Your grace and I can feel the wonder of Your work through me. I ask this prayer in the authority of Jesus’ name for Your glory to be seen and not my goodness, Your grace to be experienced and not my satisfaction. Amen.

* Paul reminded us that we cannot out-give God. As we share His blessings, He pours more blessings into us, so we have more to share as conduits of His grace — 2 Corinthians 9:11.

Related Scripture Readings

  • Matthew 18:15-35
  • Ephesians 4:17-5:2


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Illustration of Matthew 6:14-15 NLT — [As Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he emphasized this crucial truth:] "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."

About This Devotional

Together in Christ is a daily devotional that focuses on what Scripture teaches about godly living in relationships.

'Together in Christ' is written by Phil Ware.

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2007, 2013, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.