For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. Matthew 6:14-15
Neither – How easily we gloss over and diminish the harsh reality of Jesus’ teaching! You won’t hear much about this condition of forgiveness these days. We simply can’t imagine that God would withhold His forgiveness. Our view of God is the plastic Santa, ready to accommodate any indiscretion. But this is not the view of our Messiah. There is more than one unforgiveable sin. In fact, there are as many unforgiveable sins as there are injuries, slanders and insults against us that we will not forgive. It’s very hard to hear but the words are about as plain as they can be. If you refuse forgiveness toward another, do not expect God to forgive you no matter how many times you walk the aisle or raise your hand or say a sinner’s prayer. Forgiveness comes with conditions.
The first thing we need to clear up is the meaning of forgiveness. The Greek verb is aphiemi. It does not mean to ignore, to pretend it never happened or to just go on in life acting as if it doesn’t matter. It literally means “to send off, to release, to hurl, to pardon.” The offense is real. The debt is due. The damage has been done. Forgiveness means confronting the truth of the injury and absorbing the cost (emotional, physical or otherwise) in order to clean the record and settle the bill. The goal of forgiveness is to leave in peace. Jesus clearly understood this because a large number of His parables concerning the ethics of the Kingdom are about debts due and payments made. So, it simply isn’t adequate to think that if we just let it go we have accomplished forgiveness. Not talking about it doesn’t resolve the matter.
The second thing we need to notice is that forgiveness is not a one-time event. Luther said that the life of a believer was one of constant repentance. Yes, there is a point where we turn the corner and experience the overwhelming grace of God in transforming renewal, but that does not take care of the category of forgiveness. Frankly, each of us needs God’s forgiveness every day, and if we believe what Jesus says, our stubborn refusal to provide the same grace to another is cause for serious spiritual decline.
Finally, there is the word oude, a combination of “not” (ou) and “even” (de). Obviously, it’s pretty strong. If you don’t show behavior that resolves and releases the things that go wrong with others (the meaning of “trespasses”), then you have a serious issue with God. You put God on the defensive because your actions insult His generosity. In fact, God is more likely to come to the aid of the sinner who offended you than to your aid. Why? Because a truly broken and humble heart does not slander the character of God’s grace by refusing to forgive. God has used enemies in the past to bring about repentance. There is no reason whatsoever that He would not do so again.
Jesus’ words are chilling. We would rather not hear them. We would just as soon pretend that things have been swept under the rug and can be forgotten. But that is hypocrisy. Claiming God’s grace without reflecting the same is unforgiveable. Now what will we do?