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Forgiveness Is Conditional
Posted: Monday, March 10, 2003

By Stephen Kangal, Caroni

I have thought long and hard to identify a subject/ to strike a keynote for initiating this year's Lent Observance. I am hopeful that the theme or focus that I have chosen will guide, sustain and enlighten us as we seek to meditate on and strengthen our faith and belief in Jesus Christ. I wanted to discuss a theme that can provide a sign post, as well as a backdrop and a sense of direction, an inspiration for the rest of the Lenten observances.

Accordingly I have decided to select as my theme for discussion during Lent the doctrine or the principle of forgiveness or the act of forgiving.

The principle of forgiveness is central to and fundamental to us as we seek to conduct our work and worship as Christians. Forgiveness is not an abstract concept. It is explained throughout the pages of Bible.

Forgiving is a form of release that we accord to those around us (The Beneficiaries). It is also an indicator of the state of mind, the attitude of the person extending the forgiveness. It is also a personal attribute- a forgiving spirit that should guide and shape our interpersonal relations.

Forgiveness is achieving a sincere, permanent and honest reconciliation between two parties. Forgiving is not forgetting. Forgiving includes reconciliation between man and God that was effected through Christ's suffering on the Cross.

When we forgive we pardon. We release someone. We no longer hold them responsible for their debt or their conduct that may have blemished our reputation. We hope and pray however that they will proceed to forgive others because forgiveness is conditional- that is that they do the same towards others.

I will like to suggest that Forgiveness and the willingness to Forgive is based on LOVE.

Forgiveness is the expression of our love. It is the kind of love that comes from our Father in heaven. It is the love or the forgiveness that caused our Father to ignore the Old Testament Covenant and to send his son to atone for the sins of us all.

Forgiveness means that we must do good to all manner of men including those who "revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely."

In Matthew 5:23 Jesus advises us: "Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and remember that your brother has something against you. First be reconciled to your brother and then come and offer your gift." This is a practice among our Islamic sisters and brothers before they embark on the Haj. This is also the practice among our Hindu sisters and brothers before Divali.

We are asked to pray for those who mistreat you.(This is forgiveness)

Give to those who ask and are truly in need. We are asked to empathise with those who are in need. Empathy is central to a life based on a forgiving spirit.

In adhering to the standards of true and sincere forgiveness, we are to love, to do good, to be merciful and tolerant to others.

There are four standards of behaviour that are a corollary of Love or Forgiveness

These are:

We are not to judge- not to discriminate or to show prejudice

We are not to condemn our fellow men.

We are to forgive- to release- to cancel the debt- the ill-will

To Give- take some of our possessions and give to those who are in need or disadvantaged.

Jesus illustrated what he meant by forgiveness in the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant as found in Matthew 18: 23.

A King called his servant to settle his debt.

The servant unable to settle begged for mercy.

The King had mercy and forgave his huge debt

However the lesser servant was also unable to settle his debt owed to the servant who was forgiven. He had him thrown into prison.

The King heard and ordered the servant to appear before him asking him why when he while he (the king) had forgiven him so much he had not forgiven or showed mercy nor empathy to his fellow man.

The king recalls the servant whom he had forgiven, whose debts he had written off and orders the jailers that he be tortured until he repays his debts.

Jesus finishes his story by pointing out that those who cannot or will not forgive will not be forgiven. God has forgiven us an unpayable debt and as such no one can do us anything that we cannot forgive. According to Jesus forgiveness should be offered to the tune of seventy times 7 or unending.

Paul's writes in his letter to the Colossians at Chapter 3:12

Therefore as God's chosen people, holy and dearly beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and Forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace….

The Master Key, the Essence and the foundation to all our relationships/ our Christian life is a Forgiving spirit.

What are some of the things that we do in our interpersonal relations that disturb, that blemish, that cause our relations to get sour and become stressful and Unchristian?

We wrong one another

We offend one another

We speak against one another

We criticise one another

We judge and condemn one another

We rip and tear at one another

We strike one another with our tongue

We cause pain and hardships for one another

We disregard one another

We put down rather than build one another up.

We slander and defame one another.

We suffer physically, psychologically (stress) and spiritually( we hate and we fall short of the glory of God and we are unworthy of the forgiveness of God) when we do not forgive. There are blessings in forgiveness.

The Conditionality of Forgiveness

In Matthew 6: 9-15 Jesus taught his disciples how to pray by giving them what we know and use as The Lord's Prayer.

Jesus advised his disciples that while praying they should ask:

that their debts be forgiven or forgive us our trespasses but on condition that they have also forgiven their debtors or those who trespass against us.

He said:

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.

This is what I mean when I say that forgiveness is conditional- that is you must forgive in return. Forgiveness must not only be earned. It must be returned.

Let me conclude by drawing your attention to New Testament references to the concept of forgiveness.

Mark 11:25

When you stand praying, if you hold anything against another, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven mat forgive your sins.

Luke 17:4

If he sins against you seven times a day, and seven times he comes back and to you says, I repent forgive him.

Ephesians 4:32

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as Christ forgave you.

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