When we are growing up, most of us are taught to memorize many things. Whether it was in school or at home or at church or in clubs such as the Boy Scouts, we were taught to memorize certain passages, such as our nation’s national anthem or the Pledge of Allegiance or the Constitution or the Scout Promise or lines of Shakespeare’s plays or Bible scriptures. A few words from any of those may instantly bring back to mind old thoughts and memories.
If I were to say the words “to be or not to be,” most people would be able to complete the rest of the sentence, “that is the question,” from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. If I were to say the words “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” most Americans would be able to complete most of the sentence from the U.S. Declaration of Independence, “that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” If I were to say the words “forgive us our debts,” most
Christians would be able to complete the sentence from the Lord’s Prayer, “as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
Most people can instantly recite many words and passages from memory. Do we, however, stop to consider the real meanings of the words that so easily flow out of our mouths? Let’s look once again at the familiar words of the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9. There are only five, short verses.
So many Christians know it by heart that we can very easily slide right over those few verses and not realize the importance of the specific words. For example, look again at verse 12.
What does that mean? There are four important words there. Do you know what “forgiveness” is and do you know what it is that is to be forgiven?
Before we look at the Greek words translated into our English word “forgive,” let’s make sure we’re all on the same page in our understanding of what it means to forgive and what the subject of forgiveness entails.
According to Webster’s Dictionary, forgive means: 1) to give up resentment against or the desire to punish; to stop being angry with; to pardon; 2) to give up all claim to punish or exact penalty for (an offense); to overlook; 3) to cancel or remit (a debt).
Webster’s definition of debt is : 1) something owed by one person to another or others; 2) an obligation or liability to pay or return something; 3) the condition of owing; 4) theologically, a sin.
Let’s look to see if the Greek words equate with our understanding of the English words.
The Greek word translated debt is Strong’s number 3783. It is opheilayma [o-fi-lay-mah] and it means “that which is owed, a debt.” We can see that’s in line with our English understanding.
The Greek word translated forgive is Strong’s number 863. It is aphiaymi, [af-ee-ay-mee] and it means “to send away, leave alone, or permit.” Well, that’s a little bit different than our understanding of the English word, forgive.
The one Greek word aphiaymi occurs 100 times in the New Testament and is translated as allow, leave, left, let alone, or permission, and forgive. Most of the time, though, it is translated as forgive or left.
So, we can see that the concept of the word for forgiveness also incorporates permission and leaving alone. That’s important to recognize because we’ll discover that forgiveness also has to do with sending away and letting go of offenses.
We’ve now defined the words but we still don’t know much about them until we explore how they are used in scripture. The usage and context of a word can show us much about the real meaning. Verse 12 stated, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” but verse 14 goes on to elaborate on putting forgiveness into action and what God requires of us.
If we’re required by God to forgive, leave alone or end away men’s transgressions, just what is a transgression? The Greek word for “transgression” is Strong’s #3900 parap’toma. It means a side-slip (lapse or deviation), i.e. (unintentional) error or (willful) transgression. As we’ve seen in previous sermons on sin, “paraptoma” is one of several words used in scripture to define sin. As such we know that it shows a characteristic of sin in that it can be a slip or lapse, a missing of the mark done either unintentionally or willfully.
If we are to forgive or send away the debts or transgressions of another what are the conditions of that forgiveness? Is it bounded by a certain amount of time or given number of offenses? We can gain more insight into that question by examining another parable of Jesus found in Matthew 18:21.
So, here we see that there virtually no “statute of limitations” regarding a finite amount of time or number of occurrences under which we are not obligated by God to forgive our brothers. We are, however, shown another aspect that makes forgiveness even more binding on us in verse 35.
Not only are we commanded to forgive our brother, we are told that if we don’t forgive our brother “from the heart,” we will not be forgiven by God.
Think about that.
It’s really an extension of the same concept we read in the Lord’s Prayer, where we were instructed by Christ to ask for God’s forgiveness only to the degree, and in the same manne4r in which, we forgive others.
In Mark 11:25, we see the interdependency of human forgiveness and God’s forgiveness stated by Jesus in another context.
Are we just to blindly forgive and be repeatedly walked on like a doormat? There is prescribed manner in which to address sins or offenses by our brothers. It is found in Matthew 18:15. Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of unnecessary “deeds of the flesh” exhibited by professing Christians because they did not follow God’s commanded procedures.
When people don’t follow these steps in this particular order, trouble usually ensues. Look at it again. First, go to your brother in private. That’s a one on one issue in private. In many cases, that will be enough. If it doesn’t remedy the situation, though, your are to go back to your brother with two or three other people along as witnesses. Only now, in the second step, is anyone else beside you made privy to your brother’s sin. If the second confrontation doesn’t work, only then are you to take the issue to the more public arena of the church. If he doesn’t listen to the church as a whole and repent of his sin, only then is there an end to patient procedures. You are to then disassociate yourself with your brother and treat him as an unrepentant sinner. It’s obvious though, that forgiveness is to always be kept right at the door. We should be ready and willing to show forgiveness to any brother at any time who turns and repents from his sin.
In many cases, people of God’s church have willingly denied themselves the sure and peaceful way to resolve their conflicts by not following God’s prescribed steps. When an issue arises, they may automatically jump to step number three by trying to take it to the church, in the form of the ministry. Not only is such a move out of step, it’s not complete because taking a brother’s sin to the minister is not what Christ said to do. Remember, the sequence of events goes from a very private confrontation to a more and more public arena. If you skip the first, most private step, you undermine the foundation of the whole process and doom yourself to failure.
There’s more to it, though, than most Christians think because they take verses 15 through 17 in isolation and don’t consider the whole context of Christ’s passage.
From Christ’s own words we can see that one of his purposes in coming to earth was “to save that which was lost.” Jesus goes on to liken the lost one to a sheep that has gone astray. The shepherd of the flock shows such concern over even the least of his sheep that becomes lost that he is willing to leave the 99 others who have not gone astray in order to go find the one who has gone astray. It is in this context and with this background that Jesus then delivered the prescribed procedure for dealing with a brother’s sin.
In Luke 17:1, we can see that the subject of forgiveness is not totally in one direction.
So there must be recognition of the sin or offense on the part of the brother. It is our duty to confront our brother over his sin, and if he repents, to forgive him. Verse 4 goes on to say that our duty, in the eyes of God, is to forgive virtually without limit when our brother comes to us in repentance.
Contrary to the attitude displayed by Cain when he asked God, “am I my brother’s keeper,” it’s clear to see that, to a certain extent we are our brother’s keeper. When we witness our brother sinning, it is our responsibility to bring it to his or her attention.
There should be balance, however. We are neither to remain aloof when witnessing sin nor are we to pry into our brother’s daily personal life. In 2 Thessalonians 3:11, Paul addresses the subject of idle men. Notice, however, he finishes with a reinforcement of our personal responsibility toward our brother.
So God expects us to keep a proper balance. We are responsible for exhorting our brothers to help them put away their sin yet we are not to be busybodies.
The other Greek word used by Christ for forgiveness is aphesis [af-es-is]. It is Strong’s #859 and it is defined by Thayer’s Greek Lexicon as 1) forgiveness or pardon, of sins (letting them go as if they had never been committed), remission (forgiveness) of the penalty and 2) release from bondage or imprisonment. In fact, in Mark 1:4, aphesis is even used to describe what John the Baptist was preaching in his ministry.
In describing what the apostles in the New Testament church would be doing after his death, Jesus used the word aphesis to show that they would be preaching a gospel about a pardon or a release from the bondage of sin.
When the time came in Acts 2:37, we see that the gospel message actually preached by the apostles was, indeed, one about the release from the bondage of sin.
In Ephesians 1:3, even the apostle Paul chose to use the same word when addressing the subject of our newness of life in Christ.
In Acts 13:36, when Paul was addressing the Jews in the synagogue at Antioch, he used the word aphesis again.
David often asked God for forgiveness or pardon. The word he used is Strong’s # 5545 salach, and it means to forgive or pardon. We can find it in Psalms 25:11.
We can also find it used in Psalms 103:2.
In Daniel 9:9, Daniel used a form of the same word to describe God’s nature.
It’s clear to see that our God is one of compassion and forgiveness and we owe him the same in our lives by following the steps he has prescribed in extending forgiveness to our brothers. So far, we have addressed forgiveness on a human, physical level. How, though does God look at forgiveness on the spiritual level and can we learn anything from the spiritual that can apply to the physical?
In Hebrews 8:8, the new covenant to be implemented in the world tomorrow is outlined for us and shows us how the Father will treat our sins at that time.
In the world today, we hear the phrase “forgive and forget.” While people in the world may temporarily “forgive” others, they seldom “forget” about an issue of offense. It’s much like the old saying “no one forgets where he buried the hatchet.” That’s not, however, how our Father looks at our sins. Look at verse 12 again.
God will not just be merciful and forgive our sins; He will not remember them. He will forget them.
That restatement of the new covenant God will establish with His people is a quotation of Jeremiah 31. So, we can see it is held out, both in the Old Testament and again in the New Testament, as God’s promise of the wonderful and the forgiveness that awaits us.
In Isaiah 43:25, God again states that he will not remember our sins but this time that reason for forgiveness is a bit different.
It is God’s own sake and for his own purpose that He is willing to forgive and to forget our sins. If God is willing to forget our sins upon our repentance, isn’t it incumbent upon us to likewise forget our brother’s sins upon his repentance?
We’ve learned many things about forgiveness today. While there are other scriptures showing different aspects of God’s forgiveness, the scriptures we saw today shed more light upon what God expects of us and how we are to use and to dispense forgiveness. Forgiveness includes mercy and compassion but the real meanings of the words show well as the “pardoning” of the “release from bondage” of the penalty of sinning.
We saw that there is a God-ordained, step-by-step process for conflict resolution regarding a brother’s sin. That process goes from a very private, personal issue to a more and more public confrontation to ostracism by the boy of believers or the ecclesia. In any event, though, it is our commanded duty to be willing and ready to forgive a brother at any time if he is willing to repent and ask for forgiveness. To obey or circumvent God’s prescribed process is to ask for failure at resolutions.
As also described by Christ in Matthew 18, we saw that God cares for each of us as a shepherd cares for his sheep. He is jealous to guard every one and doesn’t automatically dismiss the few wanderers in order to safeguard the bulk of the flock. In fact, He cares for them and He expects His shepherds to care so much for the lost sheep that they should be willing to temporarily abandon the flock to search for the lost sheep and to rejoice at the finding and return of the lost sheep.
Is that the duty of the shepherds only? No, it is also our duty and our responsibility.
There is a way for each of us to be involved in the process of forgiveness extended to a brother. In fact, our personal involvement is so important to God that He has built a reward into that process. We all want rewards, don’t we?
Well, we should always keep in mind the reward that God promises each of us in James 5:19. If we follow the process prescribed by God, we are assured of gaining more of God’s favor. After all, we can never have too much of God’s favor.
Now, go and do likewise.
This sermon was taken from a sermon originally given by Philip Edwards and is being repeated with his permission.
Sermon given by Wayne Bedwell
17 August 2013
Sermon originally given by Philip Edwards
10 November 2007
Copyright 2007, Philip Edwards