In his nonfiction travel book, Edinburgh: Picturesque Notes, Robert Louis Stevenson tells the story of two unmarried sisters who shared a single room. The sisters had a falling out over a particular matter of theology. The disagreement was so bitter that they never spoke to each other again. Rather than moving into separate residences, however, they remained together in the single room, but separated the room down the middle with a chalk line. Each sister had access to half the doorway to leave and receive visitors and half the fireplace to prepare their food.
One wonders how often these sisters—professing believers—prayed the words of the Lord’s prayer, without ever really thinking of what they were praying: “And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us” (v. 4a).
We have taken time over the last couple of days to consider the Lord’s Prayer as recorded in Luke 11:1–4. We have seen that it begins by establishing the purpose of prayer, which is that God’s name will be hallowed as his kingdom comes (v. 2). This purpose, we saw yesterday, informs the petition for provision (v. 3). It also informs the petition for pardon in v. 4a.
The local church is God’s appointed instrument to carry out the Great Commission. But the local church runs on the wheels of relationships. A church that finds itself in the grip of bitterness and unforgiveness cannot hope to be effective in the Great Commission. A church in which sin is not taken seriously, and in which repentance is not expressed, will never be instrumental in God’s kingdom work.
Satan strongly desires to derail us from our commitment to the Great Commission. One of his most effective strategies is to embroil us in bitterness and unforgiveness. The Corinthian church learned this first hand. When a formerly disciplined member repented and asked to be restored to fellowship, the Corinthian Christians were tempted to withhold forgiveness. Paul urged them otherwise: “Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs” (2 Corinthians 2:10–11). Unforgiveness is a strategy of Satan to derail the church. We must not allow him to minimise our Great Commission focus by tempting us to unforgiveness.
Sadly, churches are often like the one-roomed home of the Scottish sisters. Members withhold forgiveness and wallow in bitterness while remaining in the same congregation. It is unhealthy. It is sinfully dishonouring to Christ, who purchased our forgiveness with his own blood.
This petition, therefore, sets before us two challenges.
First, are you honest about your own sin? Are you willing to own up where you have failed? Our effectiveness in the church’s disciple-making mission will be effective or hampered to the degree that we are willing to own up to our own sin, confess it, and make right with God and others.
Second, are you quick to forgive the wrongs of others against you? Gospel ministry is easily hampered by bitter unforgiveness. Bitterness has no place in the church of God, or in the Christian’s life.
As we pray for God’s name to be hallowed and his kingdom to come, let’s work hard to ensure that we are vessels fit for the Master’s use (2 Timothy 2:21) and that our churches are places characterised by the forgiveness of sin that we preach to a lost world.