Spiritual Practice

Forgive Us as We Forgive

Will Penner

“Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12, NRSV). Wait a minute! Can we lobby to get that changed to “Forgive us way more than we forgive others”?

I think Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness is one of the most difficult in scripture. Reversing it would be easier: “Help us to forgive others as you forgive us.” Most of us would find the change more palatable, but that’s not how Jesus taught his disciples to pray. In The Lord’s Prayer, we ask God to forgive us as we forgive others.

If I am completely honest, I want God to be far more gracious to me than I am to others, especially when I feel as if they have wronged me or the people love. The teaching is hard because holding on to resentment comes so naturally to us. Forgiveness is difficult because it goes against the grain of human nature and of societal mores.

Jesus was gracious to people who didn’t deserve it. He showed grace to crooked politicians and prostitutes. More than that, he chose to hang out with them, to make them friends. Even when he was betrayed, mocked, beaten, near death, he demonstrated a forgiving spirit.

Name Calling FTR  TSP 79167637Jesus did judge religious people, however. The Scribes and Pharisees were the most influential people of faith, yet Jesus repeatedly called them out regarding their attitudes and behavior toward others. He used language like “hypocrites” and “brood of vipers” in describing them (Matthew 23:29, 33, NRSV).

When he saw how moneychangers in the Temple were cheating people who were on their way to worship God, he got so angry that he braided a whip and charged through the area, cursing them, turning over tables, and generally making a mess (John 2:13–16).

Peter was probably Jesus’ most devout disciple. Jesus told him, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18). But earlier, he had said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things” (Matthew 16:23, NRSV).

dv1644029Some of Jesus’ harshest words were reserved for the religious people of his day, not because of their attempts to observe the law but because they looked down on others. To be sure, we should hold ourselves to a high standard of behavior, striving toward perfection in the way we live; but Jesus seems to care about our attitude more than our adherence to religious rules.

In the Sermon on the Mount, not long after The Lord’s Prayer, Jesus clearly states, “With the judgment you make you will be judged” (Matthew 7:2, NRSV). He goes on to ask, “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3, NRSV). By contrasting a speck with a log, Jesus drives home the point: When we judge others, it’s hard to focus on developing our own character—or to focus on serving others.


devozine Reconciliation FTR TS 92830769DIG DEEPER

TRY A JUDGMENT FAST: For the next thirty days, fast from judging others. Every time you begin to feel judgmental or to speak or look judgmentally at other people, begin a silent prayer for them. Ask God to bring them peace or to show you how you can be of service to them. The key isn’t to stop thinking about others but to change our thinking, conforming our minds more and more to the image of Christ.


Will Penner is a husband, father, teacher, youth worker, author, and speaker in Fairview, Tennessee, who is trying to get out of the log-finding business and get into personal speck hunting.

—from devozine (July/August 2015). Copyright © 2015 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.

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