Wednesday, September 03, 2003

Jesus on Prayer 7

Jesus model prayer contains an interesting request. We are to ask the Father to forgive us to the same degree that we forgive others. After finishing the prayer, Jesus answers the anticipated question.

An Important Condition

Anyone following Jesus' instruction on prayer closely would have noticed that we are to prayerfully link our receiving forgiveness from the Father to our forgiving others. It is not a command from the Father to us. It is rather to be a request from us to the Father. This is, indeed, a strange thing and one that would prompt the question, "Did you really mean that my forgiveness is based on the degree to which I forgive/" Jesus answers this anticipated question this way:

For if you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive you your sins. (Matthew 6:14-15, The Net Bible)

Jesus states in very direct terms that what we are to pray is the way things are. There is actually incredibly good news here. There is no one who has done as much damage to me as I have done to the kingdom of God--or would do if given enough time for my self-centered attitudes and actions to propagate. So I if I come before the Father bearing no grudges for anything done to me, then I can ask Him to bear no grudge against me. Jesus prayer assumes that I have forgiven others before coming before the Father.

There are two important parables that back up this reality. This first even raises the ante by saying that we must forgive from the heart:

For this reason, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his slaves. As he began settling his accounts, a man who owed ten thousand talents was brought to him. Because he was not able to repay, the lord ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, children and whatever he possessed, and repayment to be made. Then the slave threw himself to the ground before him, saying, ‘Be patient with me, and I will repay you everything.’ The lord had compassion on that slave and released him, and forgave him the debt. After he went out, that same slave found one of his fellow slaves who owed him one hundred silver coins; then he grabbed him by the throat and started to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe!’ Then his fellow slave threw himself down and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will repay you.’ But he refused. Instead, he went out and threw him in prison until he repaid the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were very upset and went and told their lord everything that had happened. Then his lord called the first slave and said to him, ‘Evil slave! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me! Should you not have shown mercy to your fellow slave, just as I showed it to you?’ And in anger his lord turned him over to the prison guards to torture him until he repaid all he owed. So also my heavenly Father will do to you, if each of you does not forgive your brother from your heart. (Matthew 18:23-35)

The second is a story that includes a parable and shows that the degree to which we love the Lord can depend on the degree to which we have been forgiven.

Now one of the Pharisees asked Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. Then when a woman of that town, who was a sinner, learned that Jesus was dining at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfumed oil. As she stood behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. She wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with the perfumed oil. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him, that she is a sinner.” So Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” He replied, “Say it, Teacher.” “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed him five hundred silver coins, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.” Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then, turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house, you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss of greeting, but from the time I entered she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with perfumed oil. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which were many, are forgiven, thus she loved much; but the one who is forgiven little loves little.” Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:36-50)

The issue of forgiving others comes down to two things. The first is gratitude. We have been forgiven an enormous debt. Even the smallest and most petty of our self-centered mischief does real damage to the kingdom of heaven. We need only to look at the fallout from Adam and Eve's simple disobedience to know that the debt that we owe is our lives. Our forgiveness cost the Father the life of His Son in exchange. Our forgiving others is simple gratitude. How dare we not! The second is that by forgiving, we emulate the character of the Father. By this we honor His name. Our Father is known for His mercy and forgiveness. When we show mercy and forgiveness we strive to be like Him. In this way we give honor to His name.

Someone might now be asking, "Am I saved if I do not forgive others?" Since this prayer model seems to be a daily prayer by inclusion of a request for daily bread, then this would seem to be a daily request for forgiveness of what we have done wrong that day. It is operational forgiveness. It is what Jesus meant when He told Peter, "The one who has bathed needs only to wash his feet" (John 13:10). But even placing this aside, salvation does not depend on us. Paul in Ephesians writes:

For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not of works, so that no one can boast. For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

Saved by grace which comes by faith which is, itself, the gift of God. We can contribute nothing to our salvation, which is all the more reason to gratefully forgive those who have wronged us--whether they seek that forgiveness or not.

Besides, we do not want to live unforgiving lives. It is like drinking poison and saying to our offender, "There! Take that!" We only slowly kill ourselves, our relationships, and our contact with the Holy Spirit.

Along these lines, I recommend that you read "The Hiding Place" by Corrie Ten Boom. In that book, you will find the depths to which we as Christians are able to forgive.

Thursday: The Lord's Prayer and the Beatitudes

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>

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