H ave you heard the phrase, “You can’t have one without the other?” God’s requirement for forgiveness is that we first forgive others. It sounds like a bad deal to me. I can easily ask for forgiveness from God, but God is asking me to forgive anyone who has hurt me, whether in the past or the present.
In Matthew 6:14-15, Jesus makes it noticeably clear that if we forgive others, God will forgive us, but if we refuse to forgive others, God will refuse to forgive us. As I see it, our forgiveness of others and God’s forgiveness of us are interdependent.
This was a hard lesson for me growing up. My mother lived this before my very eyes. If someone hurt me or one of my siblings, she would take us by the hand and go to that person and ask for forgiveness. I could not understand why she would do this. My mother would then say to us, “Now you can go to God and ask for forgiveness.”
I can come before God and ask for forgiveness when I forgive. So long as we brood upon a hurt, it will be almost impossible to forgive. The biblical story of Joseph illustrates this so perfectly. He was sold into slavery by his own brothers and later falsely accused of rape and incarcerated. When he finally catches up with his brothers, he finds it hard to forget. The memory of what his brothers did to him was indelibly in his mind. In Genesis 45:2, it says he wept so loudly that the Egyptians and all who were in the king’s palace and Pharaoh’s household heard him.
In Steven Spielberg’s movie “Amistad,” one of the slaves who was on trial, cries out, “Give us free.” It sounded as if he was saying, “Forgive us, please.” I have seen the movie at least three times, and I cry every time. He could have been saying, “Forgive us and be free.” Because only when we learn how to forgive will we know true freedom. To be forgiven, we must forgive, and—only through Christ who strengthens us—we can forgive.
Prayer: Lord, please help me to forgive those who have hurt me and those who have sinned against me. Help me to release them into your hands. Help me to live free of bitterness and anger over what others have done to me. Because you have forgiven me, I can forgive others and live in freedom. Amen.
Rev. Irving Rivera
Rev. Irving Rivera was born on August 23, 1950, in the borough of Manhattan, in New York City. He graduated from Zion Bible College, received his BA degree in political science from the College of New Rochelle, and did graduate studies at the New York Theological Seminary and at the Graduate School of the College of New Rochelle. He was ordained in 1977. Later, he graduated from the Blanton-Peale Graduate School Pastoral Counseling Program.
In 2005, Pastor Rivera was elected president of the RCA’s Hispanic council, giving him the distinction of being the first Hispanic to hold that office. He served as the senior pastor of the Fordham Manor Reformed Church for 33 years. He has also served on the board of trustees for Northwestern College, served the community of the Bronx as a member of the Northwest Bronx Clergy Coalition, and served as a volunteer chaplain for the Red Cross. His love for missions has taken him to India, Africa, Europe, South and Central America, Cuba, and the Caribbean.
Rev. Rivera currently serves as pastor of the Meadow Hill Reformed Church in Newburgh, New York. He is married and has one daughter and one grandson.