Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The "Secret" Teaching of Jesus

Hiding in plain site is a teaching from the lips of Jesus that I would venture to guess most Christians have never heard before. Or, if they have heard it before they've simply dismissed it as being one of those "hard sayings" and laid it on the pile of other verses which seemingly defy understanding.

No matter what denomination or tradition you come from, I'm certain you've memorized the passage where Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray:

"Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespassees as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."

Frankly, I'd be willing to bet that it would be easy to find unbelievers who could repeat this passage without much trouble. Aside from John 3:16, it's probably the most oft quoted verse in the New Testament from the mouth of Jesus.

That's why the verse immediately after this section is called the "secret" teaching of Jesus on the subject of forgiveness. Because even though it's just one verse beneath this famous quote, it's largely unknown by those who call themselves followers of the One who said it.

Here's the "secret" teaching:

"For 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." - JESUS (Matthew 6:14-15)

What's that?! Is Jesus suggesting that our forgiveness is conditional? Wait a minute. I never once heard a single sermon on such a thing in my entire life. How can it be?

Is Jesus forgetting that "if we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness"?(1 John 1:9)

And what about the fact that the Psalms tell us that "as far as the east is from the west, this is how far he has removed our sins from us"?(Ps 103:12)

Obviously, there's something going on here that we're missing. What could it be?

The reason this teaching from Jesus seems so strange to our ears - other than the fact that we've probably never heard a sermon on this in our lives - is that we often forget that unforgivness is a sin.

If we hold a grudge against someone, that is a sin. If we refuse to repent of our sin, and if we do not stop practicing this sin of unforgiveness, we cannot be forgiven of it.

Simply confessing that we have sinned in some general sense and then expecting to be forgiven of even those sins which we have not repented of is presumptuous to say the least. In order to receive forgiveness, we have to honestly confess our sins to God and we need to repent of these actions which hurt our relationship with God - and which also hurts us as well.

Jesus and the rest of the Apostles make it very clear that our love for God is reflected in the way we love - and forgive - one another. These two things are forver linked together. As Jesus said, when asked what the greatest commandment in the Law was:

" 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." – Matt 22: 34-40

I love that Jesus throws in a bonus answer. Even though they did not ask him what the second greatest commandment was, he tells them anyway. Probably because he wanted to make this very important point: Loving God and loving others are "like" one another.

“We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. - 1 John 4:19-21

See? We cannot love God if we do not love - and forgive - our brothers and sisters.
Love, for a follower of Jesus, is what marks us. We are to be known for our love. We are commanded to love. We are expected to practice loving until we become experts at loving others and then we are to teach others how to love like Jesus loved us.

"My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." – John 13:33-35

If we cannot love that person who has wronged us, then how can we love God? If we cannot forgive the person who has hurt us, then how can we honestly say that we ourselves have known forgiveness?

"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 whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you." Colossians 3:12-13

How much have you been forgiven? How good did it feel to have that weight lifted off of your shoulders?

Let go of your unforgiveness and repent of this sin which holds your own soul captive.

As a wise man once said, "Holding a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting it to hurt someone else."

The person you set free when you forgive is in the mirror. Have mercy.


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