Jesus warns that forgiveness is a difficult thing. In one place he says “take heed to yourselves.” Watch out for this. And after hearing the exhortation, the disciples gape and plead with Jesus to give them more faith. Christian forgiveness is not for the faint of heart.
So what does Jesus teach? He says that we must forgive as often as we are asked. By the third or fourth time in the same day for the same sin, you may not trust your brother like you once did, but Jesus says you must still forgive him. You may not hold his sin against him. This means you treat your brother the way you would have God treat you. Jesus says, forgive and you will be forgiven. Forgiveness doesn’t ignore weakness. Forgiveness doesn’t ignore consequences. Forgiveness may take steps to help prevent future sin. But forgiveness means that fellowship is restored. You are in fellowship before God because the blood of Jesus is cleansing both of you.
Jesus says if you hold sin against your brother, you are asking God to treat you the same way. If you say your brother doesn’t seem sorry enough, or you’re not convinced he’s really changed, you’re asking God to judge you with the same kind of scrutiny. You’re asking God to examine whether you’re really sorry enough, whether you’ve really changed all the way. But when God saved you, you weren’t and you hadn’t. Because God’s grace isn’t like that. He forgives freely, openly, gladly just because we ask. And He doesn’t scrutinize us. All His scrutiny fell on Jesus and it was full satisfied in Him. Jesus bore our sins in His body on the tree. Jesus became the sorrow that none of us can perfectly muster. His death and resurrection are the perfect repentance that we only receive by faith in Him.
So as we gather for worship, take heed to yourselves, examine yourselves. Are you holding anything against anyone? Jesus says stop, leave your gift at the altar. First be reconciled to your brother then come and offer your gift. Get it right in your heart now and then go put it right as quickly as possible. Ask yourself: Do I really want God to treat me the way I’ve treated him or her? But in order to be faithful to Jesus we must be given greater faith.