Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 6:15 “But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your
Father forgive your trespasses.”
Jesus here highlights again the importance of His petition in the Lord’s Prayer on forgiveness. By reiterating the truth of verse 14, this time in a negative way, He heightens His emphasis, driving His point home even more forcefully.
Maybe no virtue is more winsome in a Christian than forgiveness. When David had within his power the opportunity to take revenge on Saul, but refused to do so, the latter confessed, “You are more righteous than I; for you have dealt well with me, while I have dealt wickedly with you” (1 SM 24:17 NAS). “It is more comfortable to love a friend, but more honorable to love an enemy” (Trapp).
Forgiving others gives evidence we have actually received into our beings a life characterized by the traits of divine grace. Forgiveness is a good quality, one wherein we most resemble God. It is a grace-cluster, exhibiting in one deed several of the chief Christian virtues: humility, self-denial, love, peace-making.
On the other hand, refusal to forgive slams heaven’s door in our own face. Be not surprised at this. Unforgiveness is gravely threatened by Jesus because it is actually many evils in one, a sin-cluster manifesting several traits of evil: nursed anger, hatred, cruelty, a spirit of rancor, contempt for God’s commands, pride in thinking it beneath our dignity to take an affront. No wonder Neil Anderson considers unforgiveness Satan’s most common way of gaining a foothold in Christians’ lives.
Forgiveness heals, but unforgiveness destroys one’s very self. Charles Allen tells how the poet Edwin Markham once hated a banker who had violated a trust, leaving Markham penniless. Bitterness so consumed Markham that he absolutely could not write poetry any more. He sat at a desk trying to write, but found himself instead doodling, drawing circles. He finally cried, “I’ve got to forgive him, or I shall die!” Looking at his doodled circles, he thought of the great encircling, forgiving love of God, and said aloud, “I forgive him!” He then immediately wrote:
He drew a circle that shut me out–Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win: We drew a circle that took him in.
Released from the bondage of his own bitterness, Markham began to write poetry again, and during the next twenty years penned his most famous masterpieces.
Who do you and I need to forgive, a parent, a child, a sibling, a former employer or employee, a past business partner, an ex-spouse? Release it, and be free.
Matt. 6:16a “Moreover when ye fast,. . .”
Fasting is the third spiritual discipline Jesus deals with here. In almsgiving (6:1-4) we take an outward look to bless others. In prayer (6:5-15) we take an upward look to honor God. In fasting (6:16-18) we take an inward look to deny self.
Biblical fasting is voluntary abstinence from food for spiritual reasons. It denotes our need to abstain regularly from many pleasures. No believer can spiritually thrive apart from constant self-discipline. The call to be a Christian is a call to self-denial. Jesus assumed we would fast, saying “when” ye fast, not “if.” The mindset is taken for granted. Saying yes to God always entails saying no to self.
In every believer, our body is the home of our spirit. A body provides the realm in which each spirit has to operate. Our bodies are the instruments through which our spirits have to receive and distribute Godly stimuli. God has to be able to pass through our physical minds to get His will into our hearts. Then our spirit has to be able to operate through our physical body to get its assigned work done.
The physical body is thus the conduit through which the power reaches our inner spirit, and the conduit through which the spirit responds to this power and does what is has been empowered to do. Our body can thus be either obstacle or passageway. Fleshly passions and indulgences can choke the inward and outward flowing of spirituality. The instrument must be maintained, kept sharp and useful, well oiled, keeping off rust and dust. Otherwise, the craftsman-spirit is crippled.
This is the philosophy behind fasting. It is to help us get God’s will into us that His work might come freely out of us. In fasting we are working on the conduit, the instrument, stripping away clogging crud to keep the pipe open and free.
Often we have to clear away clutter, to cut out underbrush, to quiet passions to hear a loftier sound, to deny flesh to open the way to a higher spirituality. We have to abstain from earthly things in order to be more sensitive to heavenly things, to deny self normal good things so as not to be distracted from better things. Fasting is emptying ourselves of self in order that we might be full of God. “Acquaint thyself with this duty, thou that wouldst be acquainted with God” (Trapp).
Despite the obvious benefits we can receive from fasting, we Protestants rarely practice it, for two basic reasons. First, we recoil from the excesses and abuses often displayed in decreed fasts such as Lent and not eating meat on Friday.
Second, we are not highly interested in self-denial. We live in a culture rushing with headlong fury into a fun-fix. Our society has a pleasure addiction. Obsessed with personal gratification, we do not deem self-denial a viable option.
One reason we are not accomplishing more great things for God is that our lives are over-wrought and clogged up with little things. It is easy to become overly self-indulgent. We ever need to be asking ourselves, what have we recently denied ourselves for the cause of Christ? It is especially hard to deny ourselves what is readily available, thus we must regularly take inventory, pondering what we have lately done without in order to foster spiritual growth in ourselves. Fasting, keeping self from food, or denying ourselves any ordinary creature comforts, would give us a chance not only to talk of self-denial, but actually to practice it.