Did Jesus’ statement ever strike you as strange?
In the Lord’s prayer, there seems to be a condition in Jesus’s teaching about forgiveness.
“Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Matthew 6:12.
But then, Jesus commented, “If you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Matthew 6:14, 15. I have often struggled with this commentary. It’s obviously about relationships, hurt feelings. But is God’s forgiveness toward us conditional on our forging others? Doesn’t God always forgive, redeem, and transform?
The Bible doesn’t avoid topics we find uncomfortable. All too often, we find ourselves in a painful situation. Maybe a family member or a brother or sister in the local congregation made a comment we found distasteful. What they did hurt us, offended us! Soon, we talk about it with someone. Afterward, we get hurt again and a simple disturbance is now a dissatisfaction!
We get offended! And if things don’t get sorted out, then we dislike that person enough to stop talking with him or her. We don’t include them in our conversations or invitations to our homes. Things can escalate. When they do, we find ourselves gradually separating from that brother or sister, or even a whole group of people, by now. An actual conflict has taken hold.
In dealing with conflicts, I’ve used a simple chart to discern how far along heightened emotions have come. Where do you start? (This chart is not mine; I can’t recall who created it!)
In Stage 1, we live well with everyday conversation and discussion. At Stage 2, conflict grows into irritation.
In Stage 3 conflict, irritations take on sinful contours. This may include anger, frustration, loud discussions, a party spirit, rage, bitterness, brawling, slander, and malice, then the ground is set for separation. Sinful behavior now holds us in its grip. (Ephesians 4:31,32)
At this point, it’s time to pray the Lord’s prayer!
Before we get into Stage 4 Conflict! We need repentance. “Forgive me for my debt as I have forgiven my debtors.” The common phrase is, “it takes two to tango.” How hard it is to step back! We need to ask the Lord to show us our heart condition the way he sees it! We need to apologize. We need reconciliation. Ephesians 4:32 states it best: “Be kind and compassionate toward one another, forgiving each other just as in Christ God forgave you.”
I wrote an entire novel about this topic. In Inn of the Open Door: A Chronicle of Philadelphia, a Jewish woman, Abigail, is still traumatized by the death of her children in the destruction of Jerusalem. Her niece, Miriam, has married a Roman soldier, the very picture of her enemies. This story, set in the Seven Churches of Revelation, looks at steps bringing the families to forgiveness and reconciliation.
C. S. Lewis wrote:
One man may be so placed that his anger sheds the blood of thousands, and another so placed that however angry he gets he will only be laughed at. But the little mark on the soul may be much the same in both. Each has done something to himself which, unless he repents, will make it harder for him to keep out of the rage next time he is tempted, and will make the rage worse when he does fall into it. Each of them, if he seriously turns to God, can have that twist in the central man straightened out again; each is, in the long run, doomed if he will not. The bigness or smallness of the thing, seen from the outside, is not what really matters. 1
In situations of everyday conflict, we need the humility to forgive others and to admit any wrongdoing on our own part. Holding onto grudges impedes restoration of broken relationships. We would do well to heed Paul’s admonition in 2 Corinthians 13:11: “Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.”
Apologies matter! When conflicts arise, let’s once more pray the Lord’s Prayer.
By David Phillips, Interim Executive Director
1. C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Rev. and Amp. Ed. (New York: Harper San Francisco, 2009), p. 93