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Mt. 6:12,14-15; Mk. 11:25; Lk. 17:3-4
Duration:19 mins 14 secs

 

What would you do if you could have five minutes alone with the man who brutally raped and murdered your daughter?  Bob and Goldie Bristol had that chance. Their only daughter, Diane, had been assaulted and killed while selling encyclopedias door-to-door.  Now they were to meet her murderer face-to-face…alone. Do you know what they did? They took that five minutes to tell him that they forgave him!

I was surprised when I read that.  If I were faced with the same circumstances as the Bristols, I wonder whether I could react the way they did.  Could you?

Society, both non-Christian and Christian, has become geared to seek revenge.  Forgiveness is not the norm. We cheer people in the movies and on television when they exact punishment for crimes against themselves, or their against loved ones.  I myself am fond of those movies where the bad guy gets his just deserts in the end. Movies like "The Equalizer," "The Punisher," "Taken," "Death Wish," "The Magnificent Seven."  (I'm like, "Yes!")  Freida calls those "revenge movies."

Revenge and vigilantism is popular.  And not just in the movies, but in real life!  Road rage, school shootings, political protests that become violent are all becoming more and more prevalent.  Neither is that limited only to non-Christians.  One 75-year-old female church member called the Bristol's act of forgiveness "one of the most atrocious, unforgivable acts [she had] ever heard of hidden under the guise of Christianity."  She went on to accuse them of secretly hating their daughter and planning her death ...all because they forgave her attacker.

Forgiving one another is one of the least popular and least practiced aspects of Christianity.  We're all for forgiveness when we need to be forgiven.  But when it comes to others, we're much better at judging, harboring grudges, and seeking revenge.

What do you do with anger in your heart?  Do you forgive it, forget it, and get over it?  Or do you think about it, dwell on it, mull it over in your mind, relive it, and daydream about revenge?  Do you speak of it to others?  Does anger burst from your lips like puss from a boil?

The Sunday School lesson had to do with love and forgiveness.  One young boy told his teacher, "I don't hate anybody.  But if I ever decide to start, I've got the fellow picked out."

Clarence Darrow, the famous criminal lawyer, once said, "Everyone is a potential murderer.  I have not killed anyone, but I frequently get satisfaction out of obituary notices."  Oh, be careful, my friend!  If those sentiments accurately describe you too, then your righteousness isn't deep enough.  1 Jn. 3:15 = "Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him."

How do you handle disputes with others?  Do you focus on revenge … or reconciliation?  Are you trying to get things patched up … or are you just trying to "get even" –to "make 'em pay" for what they did, or extract your "pound of flesh"?  

To extend forgiveness is not the natural response.  It is, however, the Christian response!  It is the Christ-like response.  Even while He was being nailed to the cross, Jesus prayed, "Father, forgive them…" (Lk. 23:34).  You are never more like Jesus than when you forgive from the heart those who mistreat or offend you.  Someone has observed; "Doing an injury puts you below your enemy; revenging one makes you even (or equal) to him; but forgiving him sets you above him."

There are at least 10 clear commands or statements about our obligation to forgive others recorded in the New Testament.  Three of them were read as our beginning Scripture text. In addition...

 

  • Mt. 18:21ff = "21Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, 'Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me?  Up to seven times?'  22Jesus answered, 'I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.'" (or some translations say "seventy times seven")  What follows, is then the "Parable of the Unmerciful Servant" who was forgiven a great debt, but then refused to forgive a small debt, and was consequently condemned.  Jesus concludes; "35This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart."
  • Lk. 6:37 = "…Forgive, and you will be forgiven."
  • 2 Cor. 2 (in the context of a sinful church member who had been put out of the fellowship and then repented) = "6The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him. 7Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow." (2Cor. 2:6-7).
  • 2 Tim. 3:1-5 lists "unforgiving" as one of the marks of wicked people in the last days.
  • Eph. 4:32 = "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you."
  • Col. 3:13 = "Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you."

 

In addition, there are numerous warnings about anger, hatred, wrath, bitterness, and the like.  1 Jn. 2:9 for example, says, "Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness."

Luke's account of the "Model Prayer" Jesus taught His disciples to pray reads, "Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us." (Lk. 11:4).  It's worded as though the one praying this prayer has already forgiven his offenders--that he did so (and does so) almost immediately.  No doubt, that's the way Christ wants His followers to pray this prayer. After all, He took the initiative in our forgiveness when He died upon the cross.  "While we were still sinners" Ro. 5:8 says, "Christ died for us."  Of course, Matthew's more familiar wording of the model prayer is "Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors." (Mt. 6:12).  Consequently  some have said, we are to forgive "as much as," "as often as," and "as soon as" we would like to be forgiven by God.

I have often heard Christian people say of  someone who mistreated or offended them, "Okay, I forgive him for what he did, but I will never forget it!"  That's a bit like burying the hatchet, but leaving the handle sticking out.  When I hear that statement I think, that's a lie! It may be impossible for us to perfectly forget as God can (and does).  But as long as we refuse even to try to forget an offense, then we have not truly forgiven!  

  • Dwelling on wrongs,
  • being cold & aloof to an offender,
  • giving up on a relationship or friendship,
  • inflicting emotional pain,
  • gossiping,
  • lashing back,
  • seeking revenge against one who hurt us,
  • or just secretly rejoicing when we hear of some misfortune to our offender;

These are all indications that we have not truly forgiven.  Those actions may provide a perverse pleasure for the moment, but they exact a high price in the long run.  As someone once said, "Unforgiveness is the poison we drink, hoping others will die."

So then, how do we forgive?  When the hurt is so great, what can a person do to overcome anger and the desire for retaliation?  

First, understand that forgiveness is not the same thing as indifference to wrong, nor is it agreeing with the wrong.  Jesus forgives our wrongs, but He certainly isn't indifferent to them, nor does He agree with them.  "Forgiveness doesn't excuse their behavior; forgiveness prevents their behavior from destroying your heart!"

By definition, forgiveness means to grant a pardon for something or someone; to cease to blame or feel resentment about an offense or offender; to cancel or let off a debt.  It is to "let go" of an offense.

A man was telling his friend about an argument he'd had with his wife.  He said, "Every time we have an argument, she gets historical."  The friend replied, "You mean 'hysterical.'"  "No," he insisted, "I mean historical.  Every time we argue, she drags up everything from the past and holds it against me."

Do you ever mentally pack up the offenses of others so you can use them as ammo the next time a  confrontation occurs. Do you file your hurts away for future reference; never really intending to throw them out altogether?

The Apostle Paul tells us that "Love…keeps no record of wrongs." (1 Cor. 13:5).  And the Psalmist declared; "3If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?  4But with you there is forgiveness…" (Ps. 130:3-4).  Sins that have been dealt with in true forgiveness are not carried forward.

 In his book, The Peacemaker, Ken Sande suggests that sometimes God enables us to forgive completely, and all-at-once in a single decision.  But when there has been a deep wrong, the hurt it creates is not always so quickly or easily healed. A Christian may have to bear the effects of another person's mistake, insensitivity, cruelty, or sin over a long period of time.  Mr. Sande suggests, "This may involve fighting against painful memories, speaking gracious words when you really want to say something hurtful, working to tear down walls and be vulnerable when you still feel little trust, or even enduring the consequences of a material or physical injury that the other person is unable or unwilling to repair." (From an excerpt of Ken Sande’s book, The Peacemaker, which appeared in Samaritan Ministries Newsletter, date unknown.)

Fortunately, our wills control our actions, and our actions have the power to change our emotions.  That is, if we act in a forgiving manner, even if we don't at first feel forgiving, and as we determine to obey God regardless of our feelings, the feelings with which we struggle often change.  Forgiveness is a choice!  It's just not a natural choice, nor is it usually an easy choice.

Barry Zoeller, once the Director of Advancement at Ozark Christian College, offered this little self-test in the college newsletter some years ago:

"I know I've forgiven when…

  • …I no longer have the fruit of unforgiveness in my life.
  • …I can talk about my offense without getting angry, resentful, or bitter.
  • …I can talk about my offender without getting a knot in my stomach.
  • …I can wish my offender good.
  • …I can revisit the scene of the event without having a negative reaction.
  • …I can be joyful and do good to those who have hurt me." (Barry Zoeller, Compass, OCC Newsletter, Spring 1992.)

Returning to Mr. Sande's book; "Forgiveness may be described as a decision to make four promises:

  1. 'I will not dwell on this incident.'
  2. 'I will not bring up this incident again and use it against you.'
  3. 'I will not talk to others about this incident.'
  4. 'I will not let this incident stand between us or hinder our personal relationship.'

He even summarizes these four promises in a little poem designed to help children remember them:

"Good thought,

Hurt you not.

Gossip never,

Friends forever."

"By making and keeping these promises, you can tear down the walls that stand between you and your offender."

 

Conclusion:

Forgiveness, according to Corrie Ten Boom, is like letting go of the rope that is ringing a bell in a tower.  As long as you keep pulling, the bell keeps ringing. And when you let go, the bell may continue to ring for a while.  Momentum is still at work. But if you keep your hands off the rope, the bell will slow and eventually stop.

It is like that with forgiveness.  When you decide to forgive, the old feelings of unforgiveness may continue to assert themselves from time to time.  After all, they have lots of momentum. But if you continue to affirm your decision to forgive, that unforgiving spirit will slow, subside, and will eventually be still.  Forgiveness is not something you feel.  It is something you do.  It is letting go of the rope of retribution.

If anybody knows about forgiveness, it is Miss Ten Boom.  Her experiences as a young girl in Hitler's death camps demanded she learn the lesson of forgiveness or be consumed with hate.

One day a visitor leaned on the old fence around a farm, while he watched an old farmer plowing with a mule.  After a while, the visitor said, "I don’t like to tell you how to run your business, but you could save yourself a lot of work by saying, 'Gee' and 'Haw' to that mule instead of fighting it with those reins."

The old farmer pulled a big handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his face.  Then he said, "Reckon you're right, but this mule kicked me five year ago and I ain't spoke to him since."

A grudge is always harder on the one who holds it than the one it's held against.  Don't let bitterness turn to unforgiveness or you will pay dearly for doing so. One Dr. Wayne Dyer has said, "Forgiveness is the most powerful thing you can do for yourself.  If you can’t learn to forgive, you can forget about achieving true success in your life."  Or as someone else has said, "To forgive is to set the prisoner free and then discover the prisoner was you."

When we forgive, we do not try to teach the offender a lesson first, or demand some form of restitution before we forgive.  Instead, we transfer the responsibility for any appropriate punishment to God. "'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' says the Lord." (Ro. 12:19; See also Heb. 10:30; and Deut. 32:35).  And forgiveness does not mean there will be no consequences, no cost to be paid, or no loss to bear.  But consequences, costs, and losses are left to the discretion of God. Meanwhile, what we gain by forgiving far outweighs the cost of holding onto a grudge.  When we forgive, we free ourselves from a burden we can't bear.  We experience the joy that comes from being obedient to God. And we eliminate a barrier that hinders our walk with Him.



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