In this episode we will be exploring the topic of Forgiveness, some practical ways to demonstrate forgiveness, and the humility and kindness required when we concede to overlook the faults and aggression of others.
Yeshua stated it this way:
Matthew 6:14-15 “For if you forgive men their wrongdoing, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive people, neither will your Father forgive your wrongdoing.
The overarching theme where this verse is tucked into the Sermon on the Mount is all about avoiding hypocrisy. Don’t expect something of someone else (including God) if you are not willing to subject yourself to the same principles. If you expect to have God forgive you when you have wronged him, then you should be forgiving of those around you who have wronged you.
But what does this type of forgiveness of other people look like? How can it be enacted in practical ways? Yeshua provides a couple of examples that include a brother who has an offense against you, and an adversary who is taking you to court.
Matthew 5:23-26 “Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent.”
From this insight, Yeshua is teaching us that a primary aspect of forgiveness looks a lot like reconciliation. By this standard, reconciliation with all others must take place prior to worshiping God or seeking his forgiveness. Seeing how these two concepts are tied together so closely, we can therefore say forgiveness is the root and foundation of all reconciliation. This is a requirement if we are to be asking God for forgiveness.
Additionally, there are two distinctive aspects of reconciliation that Yeshua brings to our attention here: reconciliation with a brother and reconciliation with an opponent. Let’s take a closer look at both of these distinctions in more detail.
When we are talking about reconciliation with our brothers, most of us are likely familiar with another famous passage that Yeshua teaches about forgiveness which involves some math: seventy times seven.
Matthew 18:21-22 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked him, “Lord, how often do I have to forgive a brother who wrongs me? Seven times?” Jesus answered him, “I tell you, not just seven times, but seventy times seven.
Okay, now on a technical note, the phrase seventy times seven could also mean seventy-seven times. But I think it can be shown that whether seventy-seven or four hundred and ninety times, Yeshua is speaking in a figure of speech known as hyperbole. He is clearly exaggerating for the sake of emphasis, but it’s an exaggerated emphasis worth making.
The point is that no matter how many times someone offends us or does something wrong by us, we, as believers, as followers of Messiah, are obligated to forgive them. This is not an option for those claiming to be in the kingdom of God. This is a hard teaching which is why it is not practiced as much as it could or should be.
By contrast, if someone is not a believer, they are not likely to pay any attention to this concept, and simply respond in kind when someone offends them. They will lash out, hold a grudge, seek retaliation, or basically do anything that does not require them to concede their position or their pride. Yet, as believers, forgiveness of those who have offended us is a non-negotiable directive of Yeshua that must be adhered to.
For many years when I considered this passage, I had the idea that I would only have to forgive someone if they came to me and asked for forgiveness. If they didn’t, I wouldn’t have to consider actively forgiving them. However, as I’ve grown, I’ve learned that we must take all of Yeshua’s teaching into account if we are to be his followers. In his teaching, there is no room for that kind of petty distinction. Our verse for study today rules out that option when it says:
“Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.
Notice it says when YOU remember that your brother has something against you, you would be obligated to drop what you were doing, even if you were in the process of offering a sacrifice at the temple. That conveys two things: firstly, an obligation for reconciliation, and secondly, a sense of urgency in resolving conflict with all others at all times.
Additionally, there’s a third aspect that I touched on a few moments ago: there is no point in conducting acts of worship if we have unresolved conflict with others. From God’s perspective, this a kind of hypocritical schizophrenia that is not welcome in his kingdom. Time and time again throughout his teachings, Yeshua and his followers emphasize how deeply religious hypocrisy is hated by God. Look at some of these examples.
Matthew 23:28 – “So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
Luke 12:1 – He began saying to His disciples first [of all,] “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.
1 Peter 2:1 – So get rid of all evil behavior. Be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech.
James 3:17 – But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.
Maybe you hadn’t realized it, but unresolved conflict in your life while claiming you are a child of God is hypocrisy, and God is not honored by that type of dichotomy.
Now that I’ve stabbed you with that truth, allow me to twist the knife further by saying that this type of forgiveness is not only a requirement for our brothers and those close to us, but is also a requirement for those who may be adversarial to us, as well. So if you think it’s hard to forgive a brother, how much more do you think we need to rely on God’s strength to forgive an enemy?
While we might be able to comprehend how forgiveness of those closest to us is essential, we tend to bristle at the suggestion that those who can be considered our enemies or our adversaries are also to be recipients of the same level of forgiveness from us.
At the root of this reconciliation and forgiveness is a characteristic that perhaps we had not considered: respect. When we forgive and give people the benefit of any doubt, we are essentially respecting their perspective and their known or unknown motives, and we are responding with kindness rather than vindictiveness. From a practical standpoint, I freely admit this is one of the most difficult of all biblical principles to put into practice.
If we actually do this with others, won’t this open us up to be taken advantage of? Very possibly, yes. Some people will see that we are not offering any resistance and will walk all over us. However, if we truly enact active kindness and not just mute submission, what is more likely to happen is something that we are taught from the torah, or instruction of God, when we are kind to our enemies:
Proverbs 25:21-22 – If your enemies are hungry, give them food to eat. If they are thirsty, give them water to drink. You will heap burning coals of shame on their heads, and the LORD will reward you.
The apostle Paul echoes this same sentiment when he writes:
Romans 12:17-21 – Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the LORD. Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.” Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.
By being good to those who are opposing us, we are going against those natural instincts to retaliate. It is an unexpected response, and can cause them to recognize that they were acting foolishly. The metaphor of the burning coals being heaped on their head is a challenging one, but one that is meant to illustrate how recognized truth can be painful because it involves a recognition of one’s own wrongdoing. It typically takes something unusual to happen in order to shake us out of our destructive habits. When someone is nice to another person who has been only angry and mean with them is certainly one way to make that person sit up and take notice.
I’m sure almost everyone could share a story about someone who was sincerely nice to someone who was mean to them, and the person was won over to friendship, or at least, to stop the oppressive behavior. There is no guarantee that will happen, but it does happen. And regardless of the outcome, it is our biblical obligation to do so.
Yeshua makes another point about the necessity of reconciling with our adversaries:
Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent.
Reconciliation even in legal matters is a best practice that we are admonished by Yeshua to demonstrate. We can recognize that when things have become legal battles, that communication, trust, and forgiveness have broken down. Yeshua instructs us to get ahead of this type of entanglement by agreeing with, or making friends with our opponents. The word here can be vague in English; it implies a “giving of oneself wholly.” To my way of thinking, if you are giving yourself wholly to your opponent, then you are essentially conceding the dispute, and you are choosing rather to bear the injustice.
This is a difficult position to maintain, but it is a precedent that Paul has set among believers who disagree:
1 Corinthians 6:6-7 – But instead, one believer sues another–right in front of unbelievers! Even to have such lawsuits with one another is a defeat for you. Why not just accept the injustice and leave it at that? Why not let yourselves be cheated?
What?! Let yourselves be cheated? Paul obviously is out of touch with our current societal standards of personal rights. Or is it rather that our current societal standards are out of touch with the perfection of God’s ideal?
While Paul is admonishing this practice among believers, Yeshua seems to be implying that we should activate this same practice indiscriminately with everyone, even an adversary who would take you to court. We have to remember that in Yeshua’s day, any type of legal court was essentially held at the whim of the judge. You could have an airtight case and still end up having the ruling go against you. Then what would be the result? You would be innocent, you would have stated your case, but you would still be in prison.
Yeshua’s admonition for reconciliation, or “settling out of court” is a safeguard and a protection for the early believers. If they practiced this, it would potentially protect them from an unjust verdict. There was no guarantee that a trial would be fair, and if they were to pursue their rights, they were putting themselves in jeopardy of imprisonment. It would go better for them if they settled or reconciled out of court. They would avoid a potential further injustice, and be demonstrating a measure of love and forgiveness toward an adversary that could potentially change their heart, as well.
Matthew 5:44-47 – But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that.
As Yeshua also teaches here, by exhibiting kindness to our adversaries, we are providing them something they need, just like our Father provides sunlight and nourishing rain to all, because he knows these are basic needs, and especially so in an agrarian society. When we act the same way, we are responding as our Father would want us to respond. We are then allowing any legitimate vengeance or retaliation to come from him and him alone, since only he knows the hearts and true motives of all. Most of the time, we may also discover that no vengeance or retaliation is necessary, simply because we didn’t possess all of the facts at the time. This includes adversaries and anyone we may know to be holding something against us.
God values reconciliation over proving our personal “rightness” in any situation. Forgiveness requires humility, humility with our brothers and sisters and humility with our adversaries. Our strength in this area can easily be perceived as foolishness and weakness by the rest of the world, but if that’s the case, we are in good Company:
1 Corinthians 1:25, 27-28 – This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength. … Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important.
The relationships we have are mirrors of our heart actions towards others. People will typically be to us what we are to them, and vice versa. So when we take Yeshua’s command to heart and break the cycle of mirroring behaviors, we have an opportunity to create new relationships, and these relationships can bear fruit for God.
Remember, God desires that we approach him without hypocrisy. God is always looking for our hearts to be pure and consistent in all ways with everyone; this includes those close to us and those who would maintain an adversarial position towards us. When we demonstrate humility and forgiveness with all others, we are taking a positive stance in a negative situation in which God has an opportunity to work and be glorified. Because then we are truly behaving like his children, and reaching out to the unreceptive, just like he does.
Well, once again, I hope I’ve been able to provide you some ideas and concepts to meditate on further. We need to keep in mind that if we are to truly overlook the faults of others, we need a measure of humility and understanding because we don’t know everyone’s motives. One of the clearest ways we can respect others is to forgive them when they have wronged us. Let’s keep our focus on reconciliation with all others in which God is glorified, because then we are mirroring his actions to an unreceptive world.
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