In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught what we should pray for. In a part of that model prayer, He said, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). He then went on to teach about the importance of forgiving others. He said, “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matthew 6:14-15).
In the parable of the unmerciful servant, Jesus tells of a servant who, owing a great deal of money to a king, begged for mercy. The king showed compassion for the servant and forgave his debt. The servant later found a man who owed him a small amount of money. This man begged for mercy but the servant had him sent to prison. The king, upon hearing of his hypocrisy, rebuked the servant for his lack of compassion and turned him over to “the tormentors” until he had satisfied his debt. The king revoked the forgiveness of debt previously granted because the servant wouldn’t reciprocate the compassion shown him. Jesus summarizes the moral of this parable with these sobering words, “So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.” (Matthew 18:23-35)
The charge is clear—I must forgive everyone who has wronged me or forego receiving forgiveness of my sins from God. I need God to forgive my sins, but to qualify for His mercy I must be willing to forgive those who have wronged or hurt me.
A disciple must follow Christ’s example. He said, “I am the way…” ( John 14:6), “Come and follow me” (Matthew 19:21), and be “even as I am”(3 Nephi 27:27). And what did Christ show me to do? He forgave others. Perhaps the ultimate expression of His forgiveness was when He pleaded with the Father for His crucifiers: “Father forgive them…” (Luke 23:34). If He can forgive those who cruelly put Him to death, can’t I forgive those who have hurt me to a much lesser extent?
When I don’t forgive someone, I may think I am hurting them but I am only harming myself. Not only will I lose the forgiveness of my sins, but my inability to forgive prevents me from moving on with my life. The energy tied up in anger, bitterness, grudges, envy, and judgments keeps me mired in past; it distracts me from what I must be doing now.
My focus on past wrongs of others prevents me from rising to my full potential. James E. Faust said, “If we can find forgiveness in our hearts for those who have caused us hurt and injury, we will rise to a higher level of self-esteem and well-being” (James E. Faust, “The Healing Power of Forgiveness”, Ensign, May 2007). The ability to forgive is a virtue. Forgiveness shows charity. Paul taught that charity “suffereth long, and is kind…envieth not…vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up…seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked” (1 Corinthians 13:4-5). These are attributes often needed to be forgiving. Paul also taught, "Be…kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you" (Ephesians 4:32).
I hope that I can be charitable to those who have wronged me and forgive them as I hope and pray that my Heavenly Father will forgive me of my wrongs.