Nazarene Principles ©2000
#300. FORGIVENESS AS AN ATTRIBUTE OF LOVE. In the Sixth Nazarene Principle, Jesus prayed, ‘Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone indebted to us.’ (Luke 6:4) Or, as Matthew the tax-collector puts it, ‘Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.’ (Matthew 6:12) The whole prayer with its godly appeal, breathes of brotherhood and fellowship with the use of the words “our” and “us.”
#301. In this request there are two perspectives: a) ours; and, b) others. It is an admission or confession of one’s own sins as well as the sins of others. In the Christian Bible these take two forms: personal, as in offenses or sins against your person; and, material or financial, as in actual material debts. Actually, in the handful of occurrences of the Greek word group opheilemata or “debt” in the Gospels it is virtually always a financial one. (Matthew 18:24, 28, 30, 32, 34; Luke 7:41; 16:5, 7) Judging from what the Nazarene taught at Luke 6:30-35 the main thrust of this forgiveness in the Sixth Nazarene Principle is a financial obligation. We have to go outside the Gospels and the Nazarene’s teachings to find other types of “debt.” (Romans 1:14; 4:4; 13:7, 8; 15:1, 27; 1 Corinthians 7:3)
#302. The first commentary on the Lord’s Prayer and its Sixth Principle was provided by the Nazarene himself, for as soon as he has finished the prayer, his very next words are: ‘For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But, if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.’ (Matthew 6:14, 15) Paul echoes this in his own commentary: ‘Put up with one another, graciously forgiving any complaint you have just as the Lord (YHWH) forgave you.’ (Colossians 3:13)
#303. The word group “forgive” occurs over 50 times in the Gospels. It is a theme word of the Nazarene and the idea of forgiveness appears several times in his parables. (Matthew 18:23-25; Luke 7:41-50) The Greek word apsiemi literally means to “let go” or “release” from an obligation or debt. It is impossible to separate the word “forgive” from the word “love.” In Paul’s definition of love at 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, there are several expressions which would include forgiveness: ‘Love does not pursue its own things. It is not easily provoked. It quietly covers all things.’
#304. One might wonder why the Nazarene opted for the word “forgive” instead of say, “love.” First, “forgive” may be a more concrete word whereas “love” is abstract enough to carry several meanings and applications. The Greek word generally used for “love” in these contexts is the well-known agape. This word is principled love based on two things: motive and principle. Now both motive and principle can be in error and so the agape may be wrongly place. It is hard to do that with the word “forgive.” Either one forgives or does not. Either one is forgiven or not. Let us examine this matter of forgiveness in the Sixth Nazarene Principle from two aspects.
#305. OUR NEED FOR GOD’S FORGIVENESS. The idea of needing God’s forgiveness is not a new one, for the Psalms are filled with such requests, particularly on the part of David. (Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51) In the days of the Nazarene self-righteous religious leaders were want to admit any such thing and viewed themselves as perfectly correct and therefore superior to the general crowd. They viewed common folk as the sinners. (Luke 18:9-14)
#306. To admit the need of forgiveness means to acknowledge sin and violation of law, for “sin” is lawlessness. (1 John 3:5) It requires a bent of mind that is willing to change actions, attitudes, and speech. This change of mind is called “repentance.”333 Repentance, if genuine, is followed by fruitage or conversion, a turning around to a new and better course. (Matthew 3:8)
|333||REPENTANCE. The Greek is metanoia and means “to think differently, reconsider.” The word group occurs about 60 times with the Apocalypse using it most often, 12 times.|
#307. No Jew had any difficulty in understanding what sin334 was and what the Law said, for it was right there in the books of Moses and the Ten Commandments. Paul discussed it this way, ‘You, the one preaching, “Do not steal,” do you steal? You, the one saying, “Do not commit adultery,” do you commit adultery? You, the one who says he hates idols, do you rob temples?’ (Romans 2:21, 22) Sin is heightened when hypocrisy is involved. (Matthew 7:5; 23:28; Luke 12:1)
|334||SIN. Both in Hebrew and Greek the word carries the idea of missing the target or falling short of a perfect bull’s eye. At the very best a person is marred by the inability to attain perfect righteousness all of the time; or, sins because of failure to perform some godly duty --- the sin of omission. (Matthew 25:35-46) Examples are found in James 1:27; 2:15-17; 1 John 3:17.|
#308. The Book of Romans is the key source dealing with mankind’s sinful condition due to inherited imperfection from Adam’s one act of disobedience. (Romans chapters 2, 5) Paul declares the miserable and callused state of mankind, a slave to sin no matter how hard one tries to escape the practice of sin, or attain perfect righteousness.335 Paul cries out as a representative member of mankind, and particularly Israel, ‘Wretched man I am, who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.’ (Romans 7:24, 25) Try as he may, this righteous man was unable to attain perfection. He admits he struggles with habitual failure: ‘I do not understand my own actions. For I am so far from what I want to do that I find myself doing the very thing I hate… This being so, the action is no longer my own but that of Sin which is within me.’ (Romans 7:15, 17 TCN)
|335||PERFECT RIGHTEOUSNESS. Compare Philippians 3:6.|
#309. THE SIN OF COMISSION. There are those sins of commission which are direct violations of God’s commandments regarding sexual morality, theft, lying, slander, covetousness and greed. Most cultures, no matter how primitive, carry similar bans or taboos.336 The Nazarene gives his own list of those attitudes and actions which spiritually defile an individual in Matthew 15:18, 19 and Mark 17:20-23. They include:
|336||TABOOS. Note the Universal Human Conscience at Romans 2:14, 15.|
#310. Paul also gives a list similar to the Nazarene’s when he evaluates the condition of those who have turned away from God: ‘Therefore God abandoned (the apostate Jews) to impurity, letting them follow the cravings of their hearts, so they degrade their own bodies with one another. For they substituted a lie for the truth about God, reverencing and worshipping the creature in preference to the Creator. God, therefore, handed them over to disgraceful passions. Their women exchanged natural for unnatural intercourse. Also, the males, leaving the natural use of the female, were ablaze with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men, and are paid in their own persons the fitting wage of such perversion. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, He abandoned them to depraved thoughts, to improper conduct. They are filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, depravity, greed, maliciousness, stabbers-in-the-back, God-haters. They overflowed with insolent pride and boastfulness and their minds teemed with diabolical inventions, scoffing at duty to parents, devoid of conscience, false to agreements, without affection and without pity. They were fully aware of God’s penalty for these crimes. Not only are they guilty of them but they applaud those who do them.’ (Romans 1:24-32)
#311. In Romans chapters two and three Paul makes it clear that these very sins, no matter in what generation of history they occurred, will not escape God’s judgment. There is another type of sin, however.
#312. THE SIN OF OMISSION. There are sins of omission stressed by the Nazarene in matters of human decency. The parable of the sheep and goats, which describes the parousia-Judgment at Matthew 25:31-46, is an example of this kind of sin. The “goats” are guilty of failure to act in a humane way to persons in need of warmth, food, drink, hospitality, care of the sick, and visits to Christ’s brothers in prison.
#313. As if commenting on this parable, James writes regarding this sin of omission: ‘If a fellow Christian is cold, lacking sufficient clothing, or lacking daily food, and yet you say, “Go in peace and keep warm and eat well,” but you fail to give them their physical needs, what is the profit to you? If one knows how to do good and does not do it, it is a sin.’ (James 2:15, 16; 4.17)
#314. The beloved Apostle John writes in a similar vein, ‘Whoever has the worldly means to sustain life and sees a Christian in need, but shuts the door of affection, how does the love of God reside in such a person?’ (1 John 3:17) So, whereas many a Christian has been heard saying, “As long as I don’t hurt my neighbor,“ such a hypocrite is guilty by the sin of omission. There are many great commandments which many dread to break but think nothing of ignoring the plight of those in need. This is not the Nazarene way. Such a disciple ought to spend a couple months getting reacquainted with the Mountain Teachings of the Nazarene and then make a concerted effort to walk daily in this way.
#315. Such an attitude of love and forgiveness may be daunting to a modern reader so used to the mutual greed and self-centeredness in a materialistic and Me-First environment. Not only has Christianity drifted from the Nazarene’s teaching on what could be called doctrinal matters, it has also left those Nazarene Principles which appeal to love and kindness and forgiveness. If you cannot find it in your heart to change your character and personality to fit the requirements of the Nazarene then you best try some other path where your selfishness and greedy life-style will be accepted as the norm. The Christ cannot reside in the same heart where lust, greed, selfishness, egocentricity, or deceit, have already taken up residence.
#316. “Sin” is a word which has come into much disuse. Doctor Freud eradicated it and the modern religions of the world have behaved in such dastardly fashion they can no longer speak of morals and commandments and sin without extreme embarrassment and chuckles from the audience. In this modern period there is every tendency to blame others for our own sins, so certainly there is no need to ask God’s forgiveness, for we are not at fault. Because you came from such a dysfunctional family, or were abused, or suffered some terrible social injustice, or were born into abject poverty, or eat an improper diet --- you remain completely innocent of any wrong. Everyone is wrong, but me! This attitude of blaming others is not new. In began with Adam who blamed both his wife and God for his own failure. (Genesis 3:12, 13) Another aspect of the Sixth Nazarene Principle will demonstrate how to gain God’s forgiveness.
#317. A WILLINGNESS TO FORGIVE. We have seen how love and forgiveness are kissing cousins. When we forgive others there is a sudden rush of pleasant relief, an exhilarating sense of our own forgiveness, as if there were more “credit” to the forgiver than the forgiven.
#318. Read the parable of Matthew 18:21-35 and the Nazarene’s answer to Peter’s question, ‘How many times must I forgive my brother?’ Such a powerful illustration to drive the point home regarding the need to forgive! The Nazarene summarizes it, ‘Just so my heavenly Father will treat you if you do not forgive everyone in your heart of hearts.’
#319. Another parable, and the circumstances in which it is given, is among the most heart-rendering the Nazarene ever gave. It is recorded in the Gospel of Luke 7:36-50) we see the Nazarene reclining at table with a Jewish Pharisee and likely other guests. During the supper a notorious woman enters and begins to bathe the Nazarene’s feet with her profuse tears and then wipe them with her hair. The self-righteous Jewish rabbi thinks to himself, “How could this man be a prophet and let this sinner touch him?” There may have been a look of disgust, for Jesus responds by relating a parable:
#320. ‘Two persons were debtors to a lender. One was in debt for ($5,000 US)337 and the other ($500 US). Neither could pay their debts, so the lender forgave both of them. So, which one will love the lender more?’ To this Simon answered, ‘The one forgiven the most.’ Acknowledging this to be correct, the Nazarene turned to the woman and continued: ‘You can see this woman? I came into your house but you provided no water to wash my feet. But she has washed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. There was no warmth in your greeting, but she, from the moment I came in, has not stopped covering my feet with kisses. You gave me no oil for my head, but she has put perfume on m feet. That is why I tell you, Simon, that her sins, many as they are, are forgiven; for she has shown me so much love. But the man who has little to be forgiven has only a little love to give.’338 (PME)
|337||DEBT. $5,000 would roughly equal 5 years’ income, impossible for a slave to repay from debtor’s prison.|
|338||LOVE TO GIVE. Another rendering is: “He that is forgiven little, loves little; he that is forgiven much, loves much.”|
#321. This knowledge of our debt to God, which amounts to a figure we can never repay ourselves, and which he is willing to forgive upon our own repentance and conversion, ought to move us to take a kindly and forgiving view of others. The person who carries Christ with him into his daily life will discover how easy this becomes when self is pushed into the background. When the focus is taken off self and turned onto others, forgiveness becomes a natural reaction to any offense experienced throughout the day. Forgiveness breeds tolerance and tolerance breeds patience, which is tendered with a warm smile.
#322. “I AM SORRY.” There is the need to learn to say, “I am sorry. Forgive me.” Not a, “Okay, okay. I’m sorry. There! Are you satisfied?” Just as forgiveness needs to be genuine, repentance also needs to be from the heart and not forced out begrudgingly. Luke 17:34 has the Nazarene teaching, ‘Watch yourself! If your brother sins, give him a rebuke, and if he repents, forgive him. Though he sin seven times a day against you and he returns each time and pleads, “I am sorry,” you must forgive.’ And Paul later writes, breathing the same fresh air from the Nazarene’s mouth: ‘Put on the garments that suit God’s Chosen People. Be merciful in action, kindly in heart, humble in mind. Accept life and be most patient. The Lord’s generosity to you must be loving, for love is the link of the perfect life.’ (Colossians 3:12-14 PME) The perfect description of forgiveness.
#323. If you would live the “perfect life” practice the above for one day. Set aside a single day a week to become this kind and forgiving person. “This is my day to become more Christ-like,” tell yourself. Make forgiveness a daily pattern of your life: at home, at work, at the market, on the road, at school. Remember, today may be the final page in your own Book of Records, that log God is keeping upon which He will render a decision through His own Son on Judgment Day. (2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 20:12-14) Remember, also, the Nazarene taught, ‘Stop criticizing others. For exactly as you criticize others, you will be criticized.’ (Matthew 7:1 WMS) The measuring tape you use with others will be the same one used to measure you on that Day. How happy you will be when this “last page” of your personal record is filled with forgiveness. Make it your prayer every morning that this new page be one you are confident God will approve. Pray continually, “Forgive me, Father, just as I forgive others.”
#324. After the model prayer of the Nazarene, seek God’s forgiveness. Freely admit your sins and failings to Him, begging forgiveness, while you assure Him, this same kind of forgiveness you have already exercised in behalf of your neighbor. Then you can sleep in peace and walk in daily life with the sure knowledge you stand forgiven before God. (Romans 8:35-39)
Nazarene Commentary 2000©
Mark Heber Miller
©2000 All Rights Reserved