Freely you have received; freely give. (Matthew 10:8)
Dr. Watson was complimenting Sherlock Holmes on a brilliant observation no one else had noticed.
“Of course,” Holmes remarked. “It’s what I do.”
Forgiveness and grace – that’s what we believers do. Here is one page from Ruth Bell Graham’s 1989 book Legacy of a Pack Rat:
“Someone has said, ‘If there had not been a Stephen, there might never have been a Paul.'”
“A tribal war was raging in Uganda. The soldiers led a line of prisoners to a bridge over a crocodile-infested river where they could shoot them and dump their bodies into the water for the crocodiles to dispose of.
“Among the prisoners that day was a young Christian. When his turn came to be shot, he asked permission to say a word first. ‘Make it quick,’ his captors ordered. The young man looked at them calmly, without fear.
“‘I am a Christian,’ he said. ‘I am not angry with you, for the same Jesus Whom I shall see in a few moments died for you as well. I forgive you. May you accept His forgiveness also.’
“They shot him. Turning to the next in line, they recognized a man from another tribe. ‘What are you doing here?’ they demanded. ‘We are not at war.’ And he was abruptly dismissed.
“But that young man was never the same again. He spent the rest of his life sharing his new discovery of the risen, transforming Savior.
“He had watched a Christian die.”
As followers of Jesus Christ, you and I are not perfect, only forgiven. After receiving God’s grace, we are sent into the world to bless others. We do this by extending our own forgiveness and love to those who might otherwise deserve censure and condemnation.
Anyone can exclude and condemn; grace includes. Grace surprises. Scripture establishes two standards for the forgiveness Christians offer to others:
1) As Christ has forgiven us. (Ephesians 4:32 and Colossians 3:13)
If Jesus has cut corners and hedged on His forgiveness to us, we may do the same to others. However, Colossians 2:11-15 gives a long list of what His forgiveness accomplished.
2) As we want God to forgive us. (Matthew 6:12 and Luke 11:4)
We get to decide. We just have to figure out to what extent we want to be forgiven for our sins, and then do the same to others. Nothing could be simpler.
If you will, He will. (Matthew 6:14) If you don’t, He won’t. (Matthew 6:15)
The channel through which we receive grace and forgiveness from God is the same one through which we extend it to others. If we clog it up by refusing to forgive others, no further forgiveness will be forthcoming for ourselves.
If we do not forgive, we will not be forgiven.
Among the most inexplicable traits of humans that surely must exasperate the Lord is our unwillingness to give to others what Christ has so freely extended to us. Jesus told of a fellow who was relieved of an astronomical debt, but who then had a man arrested for an outstanding debt of a few dollars (Matthew 18:21-35). The human heart is constantly setting new records for harshness and blazing fresh trails for callousness.
Oxymoron: An unforgiving Christian
“Pastor, I’d like you to pray for my brother.” Sitting in my office, Leslie told of his brother going off to do military service years earlier. Something happened during his absence that caused the brother to sever the relationship with all family members except his mother. “We never knew what it was,” Leslie said. “He has refused to take our phone calls and our letters are returned unopened.”
I said I would pray for God to break the heart of his brother and save him. He said, “But Pastor – my brother is a deacon in that Baptist church where you preached recently.” I was stunned.
I told him, “I cannot tell you whether your brother is saved or not, but I do know this. Your brother has not had a prayer answered since he was in the service.”
He who forgives pays
To forgive is to absorb the debt incurred by the other. “Jesus paid it all,” we sing in church.
John Ortberg tells of a young IBM executive who lost ten million dollars in a risky business venture. He was called into the office of the legendary Thomas Watson, the founder and head of IBM for forty years. “I guess you’ve called me in for my resignation,” the young man said.
“Here it is. I resign.”
Watson said, “You must be joking. I just invested ten million dollars educating you; I can’t afford your resignation!”
He who forgives pays. Maybe that’s why we find forgiveness so difficult.
God in Heaven looks at you at me, sinners all, and says, “I just invested Calvary in you; I can’t afford your resignation.”
He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him freely give us all things? (Romans 8:32)
God has too much invested in us to stop now.
“Forgiveness is God’s invention for coming to terms with a world in which people are unfair to each other and hurt each other deeply. He began by forgiving us. And he invites us all to forgive each other.” (Lewis B. Smedes, quoted in Love Beyond Reason by John Ortberg, 1998)
The only thing we have to offer the world they can’t get anywhere else is grace.
When we fail to offer grace, our sin is enormous, our Lord is betrayed, and our own hearts shrivel.
Help us, Lord, to get this right.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Joe McKeever, joemckeever.com, is a speaker, author and a cartoonist whose work is featured in Baptist Press and other media. He formerly was director of missions for the New Orleans Baptist Association and pastor of First Baptist Church in Kenner, La.)