A Bible Study by Jack Kelley
Whenever I write about forgiveness, I try to emphasize the idea that forgiveness is not something we extend because the other person has earned it or deserves it, but because the Lord has commanded it. He commanded it for three reasons. First because the failure to forgive is a sin that interrupts our relationship with Him, second because it’s an opportunity for us to show our gratitude for having been forgiven, and third because by doing so we keep His commandments.
In His parable of The Unmerciful Servant, the Lord made it clear that having forgiven us for everything, He expects us to forgive each other for the little things that get between us (Matt. 18:21-35). This is critical to maintaining our fellowship with Him (Matt. 6:14-15).
Jesus didn’t die so that bad people could become good. He died so that dead people could live. In the parable of the prodigal son, the older son criticized his father for restoring the younger rebellious son to his former position. The father, a type of our Father, didn’t justify his actions by saying, “your brother who was bad has become good” but “your brother who was dead is alive (Luke 15:32).” The father forgave his younger son and clearly desired for the older one to do so as well.
Obeying the Law or Keeping the Commandments?
The Lord’s major problem with the religious leaders of the day wasn’t that they were failing in their effort to live by the law. It was that they considered themselves successful when in fact they were leaving out the most important part.
When they asked Him the first and greatest commandment He said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” And then He said, “And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself (Matt 22:36-39).” Their pride in keeping the law had produced in them a love for themselves greater than either their love for Him or their neighbors and put them in violation of both of these commandments. For this they received no credit for their obedience to the law, but rather condemnation for failure to keep the commandments (Matt 23:13-33).
The same point is made in the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:10-14). The two men were praying in the Temple at the same time. The Pharisee bragged about himself to God, thanking Him that he was not like other men. The tax collector humbly said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Jesus said the tax collector was the only one of the two who went home justified before God. The Greek word translated justified means to be rendered righteous.
If you think you’re a better Christian than someone else because you haven’t sinned like they have, you’re in danger of becoming one of the modern Pharisees. If you’ve failed to forgive a brother because you think he hasn’t earned it or doesn’t deserve it, you’re almost there. Keep going and you’ll earn the Lord’s condemnation just like they did (Luke 6:37). Confess and you’ll be forgiven, just as they were (Acts 2:41).
Romans 2:24 proclaims, “It’s God’s kindness that leads you to repentance.” Lamentations 3:22-23 agrees. “His mercies are new every morning.” No one comes to Jesus out of a desire to obey the law, but out of a realization that we can’t. It’s His mercy we seek, not His justice. Perhaps this is why the Lord gave us a “new” commandment in John 13:34. “Love one another. As I have loved you, you must love one another.” It’s so important He repeated it in John 15:12. His kindness to us is to be expressed in our kindness to one another. Out of His love He forgave us, although He didn’t need to and we didn’t deserve it, and out of that same love we are to forgive each other.
The Greatest Gift
Of all the gifts we received from Him, the greatest is love (1 Cor 13:13). It’s the distinguishing factor by which the world will know we are His (John 13:35). Concerning this love, we are to be a channel, not a reservoir, allowing it to flow through us into each other, instead of hoarding it for ourselves. “As I have loved you, you must love one another.”
“If you love me, obey what I command,” the Lord told us (John 14:15). In so doing He reminded us of the greatest commandments. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself “ as well as His “new” commandment, “As I have loved you, you must love one another.”
When other believers sin against us they are breaking all these commandments, failing to act out of love for the Lord and a neighbor, and failing to express the Lord’s love for us. When they admit they’ve sinned and confess the Lord forgives them. When we fail to forgive them we are breaking His commandments as well, failing to act out of love for the Lord and our neighbors, and failing to express the Lord’s love for them. When we admit we’ve sinned and confess the Lord forgives us.
For I Desire Mercy, Not Sacrifice
Some Pharisees had just accused the Lord’s disciples of breaking the Law by picking some heads of grain and eating them on the Sabbath. The Lord responded, “If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.” It’s in Matt. 12:1-8 but it’s a quote from Hosea 6:6. He was saying that God views the way we treat others as evidence of our feelings toward Him. Obedience is acceptable only if it’s undertaken in response to God’s love for us. Since no one succeeds, everyone requires God’s mercy. The fact that He grants it is evidence of His love for us. Our mercy toward one another is evidence of our love for God. It goes against human nature because it comes from the divine nature, but it’s what God desires of us. He says, “Shouldn’t you have mercy on your brother just as I had mercy on you?” He’s got a point.