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Sermon 2019-09-22 Ross Woodhouse


Forgive One Another

I want us to explore today what the Bible says on this, what Jesus specifically says, how he would have us respond with forgiveness and why.

I want to say this is a delicate matter/topic for many.  There has been betrayal, trauma, stress, broken relationships, deep pain as a result of actions toward us. Or ours toward others.

Yet I say to you, tenderly, but emphatically, one in which the Bible could not be more clear on. Some of us in this room have been treated very badly by other Christians.

In some of those cases, forgiveness has never been sought for others’ actions toward you.  Conversely, there may be some here who have never asked for the forgiveness of the person or people you have wronged (sinned against). For clarity purposes, I also want to say there are no degrees of sin against us requiring our need to forgive. Sin against us is sin, and sin we commit toward God and others is sin.

General James Oglethorpe once said to John Wesley, “I never forgive and I never forget.” To which Wesley replied, “Then, Sir, I hope you never sin.”[1]When we genuinely confess our sin against God, he is “faithful and just…” (see 1 John 1). His forgiveness is full and free and immediate…no matter what we have done, and He says, forgive one another!

I’ve discovered the Bible has a huge amount to say on the matter of forgiveness. We won’t cover all the bases, nor answer every question you have. However, 2 summary statements to begin with:

  1. I don’t believe Biblically there is ever a case to withhold forgiveness for another, or not to receive forgiveness from another.
  2. I believe that God by his Spirit grants us the strength.

We will look again at this text and others but I want to jump straight in first and look at these key verses…

“…and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12)

“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15) 

What questions might arise from these verses alone on the matter of forgiving one another?

What is forgiveness? Who says I should forgive and why should I? What’s at stake if I don’t forgive others’ sin?


What is forgiveness?

Forgiveness, that which God extends to us through the person of Jesus, that which is such a central part of salvation, in the context of our discipleship can often be the hardest act (thing to do). But is this an area we radically misunderstand God, his word (which is so clear on this matter) and Jesus’ sacrifice for us and how that act translates into our forgiveness of others?

It’s delicate because I understand and have seen the pain that we as Christians cause one another and those that are not Christian cause (“forgive them they know not what they do” – Jesus). That we cause each other such pain and that we are unaware of such actions (and why) is a separate message. But inevitably it is because of our sinful nature and more specifically I would suggest the number one obstacle to forgiveness, pride.

There is an interesting and relevant portrayal of a marriage in the novel Love in the time of Cholera. The author tells the story of a marriage that disintegrates over a bar of soap. It was her job to keep the house in order, stock up the towels, sort the bathroom out making sure there was soap. The one day she forgot. He said (exaggerated!) “I’ve been bathing all week without soap”, she denied it, but she had in fact forgotten.

Despite that she did not back down, her pride took over and for 7 months they slept in separate rooms, “even when they were old and placid” writes the author, “for the barely healed wound could begin to bleed again as if they had been inflicted yesterday.” How can a bar of soap ruin a marriage? Neither partner was willing to say “stop, this cannot go on, I’m sorry, forgive me”[2]

[3]Jesus says “this then is how you should pray” … “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12).

So when Jesus taught his disciples to pray for forgiveness as they forgive others, was he meaning something like this: “Father, forgive me for my failure today to forgive Manny. I was in the wrong, in a bad space and I responded poorly to what he said, I got really angry at him and have had a grudge against him all week, even thinking about how I might get him back and embarrass him.

I even wanted to remind him of all the times he treated me poorly. But today Lord you reminded me of your constant mercy and grace toward me. So I went to him and apologized and asked for his forgiveness (Mark 11:25). I do not want to hold a grudge any longer. Deal with me in my selfish indignation. So I pray Lord, forgive my failure to forgive “John” today and let me not fall into that temptation again.”

Matthew West song[4]

“It’s the hardest thing to give away, and the last thing on your mind today, it always goes to those who don’t deserve. It’s the opposite of how you feel, When the pain they caused is just too real, takes everything you have just to say the word…Forgiveness.

It flies in the face of all your pride, it moves away the mad inside, it’s always angers own worst enemy. Even when the jury and the judge, say you gotta right to hold a grudge, it’s the whisper in your ear saying ‘set It free’…Forgiveness.

It’ll clear the bitterness away, it can even set a prisoner free, there is no end to what its power can do. So, let it go and be amazed, by what you see through eyes of grace, the prisoner that it really frees is you. Forgiveness.

I want to finally set it free, so show me how to see what Your mercy sees, help me now to give what You gave to me, show me how to love the unlovable, show me how to reach the unreachable, help me now to do the impossible…Forgiveness.”


What is forgiveness? It is recognizing when we need to forgive, we forgive. It is recognizing when we have failed to forgive – and that is sin – we forgive. And if Jesus is our example, it is full and free forgiveness, not in part. Forgiveness, therefore, is not offering your forgiveness or receiving forgiveness then continuing to harbour feelings thoughts and actions as if we haven’t.

One of the obstacles to Biblical forgiveness is thinking that there are degrees of sin (hierarchy of sin) as if the worse the sin against us, the harder it is or the less likely I am to forgive. We may think we have more justification in withholding forgiveness, or the time it takes to forgive, dependent on the “level” of sin against us.

Think of it this way: when we come before Jesus and ask him to forgive the rotten things I have thought and done, or not done, we ask “forgive me Lord”, He, forgives. (“faithful and just…”). He does not say, “wait, hold on a moment, that’s a bad thing you’ve done I’ll come back to you in a few days when I’ve thought about it” No…

We’ve clearly defined what forgiveness is, how about what forgiveness is not?

It is not feeling good about sin against us and the awful things others have done toward us. Because we realize that forgiveness does not always mean an absence of consequences. God grieves our sin[5], we grieve sin. [6]

That there is pain and grief, and are often consequences, are not to be mistaken however for FULL and FREE forgiveness. Forgiveness is the act, it is decisive, it is a conscious decision – “today you will be with me in paradise” said Jesus to the thief – but in the event of a moral failure (e.g.) consequences may mean rebuilding of trust. Here again, I’m reminded we are good at seeing the great “specks” of sin when we have many “logs” in our eyes.


Why do I forgive?

Like love a couple of weeks ago, when I appreciate the enormity of what Jesus has done for me, I then can forgive. If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator; If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist; If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist; If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer; But our greatest need was forgiveness, so God sent us a Saviour[7].

If I cannot forgive, I have mistaken what Christ has done for me: forgiven me and given me eternal life. Wow! Why we freely and unreservedly and unconditionally offer forgiveness to others comes down to one simple reason: Jesus has forgiven the rotten and awful sin of mine. In fact, he died for my forgiveness.

My 10 gazillion-dollar debt (for my sin), He paid. But what about those who are our debtors? Do we forgive because Christ forgave us? Or do we withhold the very forgiveness that has been offered us, the very grace that has been offered us? Are there ever occasions we are not required to forgive? [8]

“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15). Do these verses mean, that our sin (debt – plural?) remains unforgiven by God as long as we remain unforgiving of others sin?

Let’s look at this parable in Matthew 18 – The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant…

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven times. 23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. The servant whose debt of 10,000 bags of gold (talents)[9] was completely forgiven. That same servant was then unwilling to forgive another servant a debt of 100 silver coins (denarius)[10]. We can easily see the comparison Jesus was making.

Jesus’ principle of forgiveness is that grace through forgiveness to another is without limit. Jesus’ other point is clear in that his disciples are not to count the number of times we forgive. Rather, the parable teaches, we are to forgive much because God has forgiven, us, much! Forgiveness of others ought to be in proportion to the forgiveness shown us – which obviously far, far exceeds what we could ever do – but that’s the measure.

Do these verses mean, that our sin remains unforgiven by God as long as we remain unforgiving of others sin? I’ll answer that, this way: according to the parable, there are consequences for withholding forgiveness, when we have been forgiven much.

How can we, and why should we approach God for his mercy when we knowingly are harbouring resentment and wrongs done against us? I believe God sees our plea for His forgiveness as hypocrisy. Why? We’re asking him to do something I don’t believe in; we’re asking God to do something we’re unprepared to do.

“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:30-32

If we have not got “rid of…” (see Ephesians 4:30-32), all “fruit” of NOT forgiving, we grieve the Holy Spirit. We cannot harbour unforgiveness, bitterness, anger etc. toward others and expect things to be good with God.  Being clean and clear in our hearts toward God requires clean and clear in our hearts toward others.

“Create in me a clean heart O God, and renew a right spirit in me.” (Psalm 51)

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:12-13) 

We are to forgive because through Christ God forgives us. We forgive because to not forgive puts our own forgiveness in God at risk if we do not (see Matthew 18:35).[11]


What about forgiveness for the person who hasn’t repented – and yet has asked for forgiveness?

I guess we’re talking about two ways of forgiving:

  1. Forgiving others when they have repented…this is for both parties the fullest expression of love and forgiveness
  2. Forgiving others when they haven’t forgiven or won’t…[12]


We’ve seen already there is a clear biblical case that covers both scenarios, either way, we are asked to forgive. No doubt the second scenario – forgiving when the other person does not admit fault, no repentance or even apology – certainly makes it harder.


Relevant texts:

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:12-13)

“Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Corinthians 13:7)

“Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” (1 Peter 3:9)


The key here is doing everything we, individually, are responsibly obliged before God to do to reconcile a matter, to be clean and clear in our hearts before God. It is us being proactive, not waiting for the other person (“Blessed are the peacemakers”). Meaning, we engage in the scriptural process (Matthew 18; James 5, etc.). We are to relate to the other person who has not repented, nor recognized any wrong being done, by not “returning evil for evil, but rather, blessing them (1 Peter 3:9)


When do I know I have forgiven?

God is our Father. He absolutely validates our hurt and our pain, He sees everything that happens to us, but for anyone of us to remain in a state of unforgiveness toward others (which is sin!), potentially remaining bitter and resentful as a result, is not how God wants us to live our days.

How do I know when I have forgiven my brother or sister from the heart? (Matthew 18:35)

When we seek reconciliation (Romans 12:8); when we can pray earnestly for them and bless them (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:28); when we can grieve at their troubles and hard times (Proverbs 24:17); when we mean them no harm (Psalm 139:24[13]; 1 Thessalonians 5:15); when we can resist any sense of revenge on them (Romans 12:19)


Is God’s forgiveness alone, enough for us?

Personal reflection: how much do I believe and trust in the fact that God knows our hurt, and our betrayal, the insults and the cheating etc.[14] That God sees, and hears and understands…feels, and is well able to care for us. Is all that, and that Jesus died, and that the comforter the Holy Spirit is in me, not enough?

If it is not enough then my affection and my hope and my heart are people-oriented more than God-oriented. If my life is a living sacrifice to God (Romans 12:1-2) and I am being transformed by the renewing of my mind, conformed to Christ, then the state of my heart toward Christ is the most important thing! God who never fails us must be more real to us than people, who do fail us.

“For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God…. When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” (1 Peter 2:19, 23)

God is sympathetic, he is not aloof, but present. He sees when we love and forgive those who hurt us when we return good for evil. He sees when we are obeying him.


What forgiveness does.

Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. (James 5:16). If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.  (1 John 1:9)


What does forgiveness do?

It honours God

It purifies (cleans) us

It heals relationships

It’s doing what Jesus has done for us



Who do you need to forgive today?





Forgive others

Receive forgiveness from others

Receive Jesus’ forgiveness



[1] Galaxie Software. (2002). 10,000 Sermon Illustrations. Biblical Studies Press.

[2] Adapted from: What’s so amazing about grace, Yancey, P. 97-98

[3] Context is very important here to understanding forgiveness. Look at where Matthew has placed the Lord’s prayer then verses 14-15. Immediately following matters like settling matters with a brother (5:21-26) eyes being plucked out that cause lustful sin (5:27-30) unfaithfulness (5:31-32) love for enemies (5: 43-48) and provision for the needy (6:1-5).

[4] Adapted from

[5] See Genesis 6:6; Isaiah 63:10; Ephesians 4:30

[6] In Hebrews 8 we are told God remembers our sin no more and four chapters later (Hebrews 12) he “disciplines” and “chastens (v.6)”. David was forgiven of his sin with Bathsheba and for killing her husband Uriah but not without consequences for his sin (see 2 Samuel 12). God’s discipline of us does not mean he has not forgiven. Same applies with us.



[9] A talent was worth about 20 years of a day labourer’s wages.

[10] A denarius was worth about a day of labourer’s wages.

[11] But does God expect us to never, even for a moment hold a grudge, be bitter, angry, initially not forgive? We’re not that perfect are we that we never fall short of Gods best for us. I believe the scriptures are pretty clear on this. However, the position I tend to take with such matters is its best to err on the side of caution, doing everything to be right with God, and others (confess sin, asking for forgiveness – James 5:16), rather than risking not being right.


[13] See if there is any offensive way in me. (Psalm 139:24)

[14] See Hebrews 5:14 “we do not…”