Forgiveness For Who? (Matthew 5:43-48)

By | January 16, 2011

Down and Dirty Discipleship #2


      Everybody does need Forgiveness. None of us are perfect, we’ve all made mistakes. There’s not one person in here who doesn’t need forgiveness for something or from someone. And there’s probably no one here who doesn’t need to forgive someone. Scripture’s clear, “We’ve all sinned and fall short of the Grace of God.”

     A third-grade Sunday school teacher was giving a lesson on the Ten Commandments. They had just finished talking about the commandment, “Honor thy father and mother.” Then she asked: “Now, does anyone know a commandment for brothers and sisters?” she asked. One little girl raised her hand and said, “Thou shalt not kill.” (1) Obviously there was something going on between her and her siblings.

     Most of the time we skate along, happy as clams, in the knowledge that our sins have been forgiven. We rejoice in the words of Paul that say: “Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ died for us while we were yet sinners. That proves God’s love for us. In the name of Jesus Christ you are forgiven.”

     However, every Sunday we pray the Lord’s Prayer. And in that prayer there is a phrase that we slide over without much thought. But it’s a phrase that can have some pretty dire consequences if we don’t obey. William Barclay says: “Of all petitions of the Lord’s Prayer this is the most frightening.” (2)

     We pray “And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  Today we’re going to look at the rest of what Jesus taught about this phrase. And it’s almost as hard as Loving our enemies. For some, it may be even harder.


      Let’s look at the passage from Matthew 6:12-15 (NRSV) Both the NRSV and The Message

[12] And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.  

[13] And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.   

[14] For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you;  

[15] but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.  

Matthew 6:12-15 (MSG)

[12] Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.  

[13] Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil. You’re in charge! You can do anything you want! You’re ablaze in beauty! Yes. Yes. Yes.   

[14] “In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can’t get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others.  

[15] If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God’s part.  


      A. I remember a few years I found an “As Is” tag in my box at church. Nobody seemed to know where it came from. As sort of a joke I put it on. We all laughed and then we got to talking about something, the newsletter, yearend reports, something. . . anyway I forgot I had it on.

     A few minutes later we had a sales rep come by to see how we were doing and if we needed anything. We stood there and talked for a couple of minutes. And I had the tag on the whole time. I had completely forgotten. When I went back to my office and sat down, that’s when I saw the tag. I starting laughing and went back to the front office and told everyone what had happened. All day long, I kept wondering what that guy must have thought. He acted like there was nothing out of the ordinary. He he kept a straight face and didn’t ask any questions about my “As Is” tag.

     “As Is” We all know what that means, no promises, no warranty, no refunds, no support. What you see is what you get and ALL you get, nothing more. “As Is.”

     “As Is” that’s how God accepts us and loves us. “As Is” no strings attached. Kind of like the car dealer a couple of years ago who had the big sale and said they’d give $1,000 trade in on anything, running or not. If it had wheels and you could get it there, they’d give you a $1,000 for it. People brought their old clunkers and beaters. Somebody brought in a broken tricycle. Another person brought in a skateboard and if I remember the news follow up correctly, some guy even brought in one of those little Hot Wheels cars that had been run over by a real car. The wheels were still intact but the toy was flat.

     As-is” denotes that the seller is selling, and the buyer is buying an item in whatever condition it presently exists, and that the buyer is accepting the item “with all faults”, whether or not immediately apparent. And that’s exactly how God accepts us and loves us. “As Is” no strings attached, “with all faults”, whether or not they’re immediately apparent.

      That’s not the way of the world. The world is like an old Ziggy cartoon. Ziggy is standing in front of the window of the Self-Esteem Clinic and the nurse says:

      “We’d like to help you sir, but we have to draw the line somewhere. (3)

     God’s love is Free. No strings attached. Offered to everyone without price.  It’s a gift from God. You can’t earn it and you can’t buy it.

      B. Robert Duval stars in a little known movie titled “Get Low” which is the main character’s slang for dying and being buried. The main character, Felix Bush went from being one of the bright stars of the town to a complete hermit forty years ago. Most of the people in the four county area only know him as the crotchety, dangerous old weirdo rumored to be responsible for all the weird and unusual occurrences around town. After forty years of a self-imposed prison term, where he punished himself to suffer by never traveling, having no family and no acquaintances Felix realizes he’s getting old and getting close to “Getting Low” and he sets out to explain what happened.

     From what I’ve seen and the reviews I’ve read this is a great movie dealing with the stubbornness of pride, forgiveness and the Grace and Mercy of God. But Felix didn’t get it at first. WATCH

      A lot of people don’t get it at first. They struggle with it. But the simple truth of the Gospel is, we can’t buy forgiveness. Forgiveness is free. But neither can we experience the full benefit or the fullness of God’s redeeming Grace if we’re filled with an Unforgiving Spirit.


      A. The burden of Unforgiveness or the Unforgiving Spirit may very well be worse than the burden of our own sin. You see, having an unforgiving spirit is kind of like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. It doesn’t make sense and it really only hurts us.

      Comedian Buddy Hackett once said he was quick to forgive and didn’t bother carrying grudges. His reasoning was this: “Sure, I’ve had a few arguments with people, but I never carry a grudge. You know why? While you’re burdened down and miserable from carrying that grudge, they’re out dancing.”

      John Meier in his article The Vision of Matthew in Christianity Today, wrote, “A Christian cannot win God’s forgiveness, but [they] can lose it by refusing to extend it to [others].” (4)

     That’s what this passage is all about. An Unforgiving Spirit is burdensome and gets in the way of our living the Christian life to the fullest. An Unforgiving Spirit is kind of like carrying a recycle bag of hurts and pain.

     B. There is an old legend that illustrates, in part, what I’m talking about. Three men came to town. Each one carried two sacks; one tied to the front and the other on their back.

     One man carried all the bad things that happened to him in the front sack. He carried the good things in the rear one. Obviously he spent most of his time viewing the bad things. And as a consequence of only viewing the bad things that had happened to him, he struggled through life, head down, depressed, each step of the way he was drug down. Every day he trudged every step. Every waking moment weighed him down. As a result he didn’t make much progress in life.

     The second man kept the good things of life in the front and while he could view all those good things and think about them with pleasure, he continued to accumulate all his mistakes and errors and load them in the sack on his back. As we all know, blessing are light and refreshing. They lift the heart and spirit. The sack on his back was heavy and burdensome and soon overcame even the buoyancy of all those blessings. It not only slowed him down but it nearly crippled him. And for some unknown reason he couldn’t or wouldn’t put it down. And while this man did make progress in his life but he couldn’t enjoy it because the weight on his back kept robbing him of that joy.

     The third man kept all his blessings and all the positive events of his life in the front sack. Unlike the other men, the second sack, the one he was carrying on his back, had a hole in the bottom. He put all the bad experiences of life in that sack. He put all the mistakes and errors of life in that sack. Anything negative in his life went into that sack. But it wasn’t long before the things he had placed in the sack, fell out. As a result, he carried no weight on his back. And the buoyancy of the all the blessings in the sack of blessings pulled him forward in life. (5)

     An Unforgiving Spirit is like those first two sacks; it can drag you down, weigh you down and cripple you spiritually.

     Our challenge and the Down and Dirty Discipleship we’re called to live is hard. It’s hard to let go. It’s hard to let that burden drop. It’s hard to let that wound be healed. It’s hard to set the other person free and claim the freedom of the redeemed and forgiven as our own. It’s hard because we know we don’t deserve it. It’s hard to forgive others because we have to push ourselves and our pride and our anger and our frustration and all those other feelings and emotions aside and submit ourselves to Christ and His way, the Kingdom Way of living.

     It’s hard but if we don’t do it, we can’t and won’t experience the fullness of God’s Redeeming Grace. And that would be kind of like getting to take one small taste, one small bite of your very most favorite and most delicious food and then being told that was it, no more. Why would you want to do that? Just like loving our enemies, forgiving those who have hurt us, sinned against us, wounded us beyond measure, trespassed against us, is an act of the will and a faithful act of obedience.

     It’s an act of will which we can’t do by ourselves. We need God’s help. But with God empowering us, inspiring us, leading us through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, we can forgive others in the same way we are forgiven.

     Remember what the Angel told Mary when he informed her she would bear a son, “Nothing will be impossible with God.”


      A. Let’s talk about the apostle Peter for a minute. As you study Scripture you come to realize that Peter really gave this teaching about forgiving others some serious thought. If you remember, in Matthew 18, Peter came to Jesus and asked, “How many times should I forgive someone who has sinned against me, seven times?”

     Now, Peter was being magnanimous. Jewish law at the time pretty much taught that you only had to forgive someone once. But what does Jesus say? “Not seven times, Peter but seventy times seven or seventy-seven times.” There’s two ways to interpret that. But whichever one it is, both were symbolic ways of talking about an infinite number of times. It was like saying, “As many as it takes.”

     And that was Good News for Peter. After crucifixion and resurrection Peter carried a whole boatload of guilt It was eating away at him. It was probably getting in the way of his other relationships. That morning on the beach with the Risen Jesus when they were sitting and eating a breakfast of grilled fish and bread; I can imagine Peter sitting there with the smell of a charcoal fire all around, thinking, I’m glad I was wrong. I’d have used up all my chits by now. I’m glad I was wrong.

     When Jesus asked him three times, “Peter, do you love me?”; Peter finally got it. The chains and weight of the burden of his sin and denial dropped and he was set free. Jesus set him free through forgiveness.

     Forgiving Others not only Frees them, it Frees us to experience the fullness of God’s Grace.

     B. One of the most incredible examples of this that I’ve seen is a true story made into a short documentary titled “The Heart of Texas.” It’s a heartbreaking but inspiring story as well. It’s about an event that changed a town.

      Grover Norwood and Ulice Parker, each dedicated Christian men, were friends. From opposite sides of town and different economic situation a spark of friendship grew. Into the midst of that friendship came the news that Grover Norwood’s four-year-old daughter joy was hit and killed by a hit and run driver. It wasn’t long before police found evidence that the driver was Ulice Parker. He felt a bump that night in his old beat up truck but didn’t know what it was. What happened afterward changed both men, their families and entire community. WATCH

      What the Rev. Clay Spears said there at the end is so true. “Only God can do that.” We remember what the Angel told Mary, Jesus said much the same thing to the disciples when they were talking about salvation. “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.” Matt 19:26

     I can tell you, from personal experience, forgiving others IS hard. It took nearly ten years for me to forgive someone. I tried to pray every day. But some days I couldn’t so I told that to God. There’s a part of me that wanted to be obedient but I couldn’t let go. There were other days when I was simply going through the motions trying to be obedient. But eventually it happened. I ran into that person and realized that I no longer held any animosity, that I had actually forgiven the. For me it was a struggle, but with God it was Possible.


      I want you to experience some of what I felt and what others have felt when they laid down the burden of an unforgiving spirit toward someone. Maybe you’re not ready to let go yet, but please try.

     I’ve given everyone a piece of paper and a paper sack. Here’s what I want you to do. I want you to take the blank piece of paper and hold it over your heart like you were saying the Pledge of Allegiance. In a minute I want you to pray silently as I pray. I want you to think of that person or situation and transfer them or it to that piece of paper. Move them from your heart to that little piece of paper.

     Now, I want you to hold it in your hand and with your finger, not a pen or pencil, but with your finger so no one can see what you’re writing, I want you to write their name or it’s name. Now I over that, I want you write forgiven.

     We’re almost done. Open the paper sack. Now take that piece of paper which symbolically bears both your hurt and your forgiveness and slip it into the bag. Then take that sack and fold over the top, then fold it again so nothing gets out. Then wad that puppy up. Squash it and wad it like trash. Now bring to the Trash Can and throw it away.

     Don’t let it burden your heart or your soul again. Give it to God, give it to Christ. Let it go. Throw it into the trash heap at the foot of the cross where the sins of all humanity were tossed.

     Then return to your seat free from that weight.


This is the Word of the Lord for this day.



1. Jack Sedberry (Family, Ten Commandments) Leadership Vol.19,#4

2. Barclay’s Daily Study Bible (NT).

3. Ziggy by Tom Wilson , Jan 8, 2007


4. John P. Meier, The Vision of Matthew, Christianity Today, Vol. 47, No. 5

5. H. Norman Wright, The Perfect Catch (Bethany House, 2000)  Leadership Vol. 22, #1


Other References Consulted