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What’s Up With Forgiveness?
With our Spiritual First Aid series underway, and since the next message in our series dealing with the topic of guilt and shame, I couldn’t think of a better topic to talk about than “Forgiveness.” And truthfully, there aren’t a lot of topics that could really be considered more important.
Now this topic and these points are not something I haven’t talked about before, but sometimes it’s good to review the obvious so it doesn’t become obsolete. It’s what the Apostle Paul said about not getting tired of repeating the same subject.
“For me to write the same things to you is not tedious, but for you it is safe.” (Philippians 3:1 NKJV)
The world is filled with conflict, and that’s because the world just doesn’t get it. It doesn’t understand what forgiveness is all about, so it misuses, misapplies, misunderstands, or just misses it all together.
This morning I’d like to look at this topic of forgiveness in a three-step process. First I’d like to look at what forgiveness isn’t and what it doesn’t do. Next I’d like to look at the reason why it’s a good idea to forgive. And finally I’d like to look at how we go about this whole forgiveness process.
What Forgiveness Isn’t and Doesn’t Do
1. Forgiveness Isn’t Conditional
It’s not “I’ll forgive you if…” Actually, whenever we attach a condition to forgiveness it isn’t really forgiveness. Real forgiveness is unconditional, that is, you are placing no conditions on the other person in order to forgive them.
Forgiveness is never earned, nor is it ever deserved. Forgiveness isn’t offered based on a promise someone makes to be forgiven, rather it’s offered whether someone asks for it or even wants it.
Consider Jesus’ offer of forgiveness. It is solely based on His love, not whether we deserve it, because obviously we don’t. On the cross He cried, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” (Luke 23:34 NKJV)
We never asked to be forgiven, we weren’t even there, but Jesus offered forgiveness for our sins nonetheless. He took the initiative and forgave, and that’s exactly what we need to do. We need to forgive others not because they’ve earned it, but because of the example left to us by Jesus who forgave us.
2. Forgiveness Doesn’t Minimize the Offense
Forgiveness doesn’t pretend the offense never occurred. We’ve been hurt, so don’t say it’s no big thing, it is and it bothers us. Whenever we minimize the offense it cheapens what forgiveness really all about.
Our problem is that we come at this the wrong way. We think by minimizing the offense we’re being spiritual, but in reality we’re not. Instead, by suppressing the hurt, by minimizing it we’re hurting ourselves, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Further, we’re not doing any favors to the person who hurt us. By taking them off the hook, they never accept accountability for their actions, and as a result they don’t change their ways and may very well harm us or others again.
3. Forgiveness Doesn’t Immediately Restore Trust
The Bible tells us we are to forgive, but I’ve yet to find where it says that trust is to be immediately restored. Forgiveness doesn’t mean placing ourselves back in harms way.
And if we’ve hurt someone, don’t expect trust to be immediately restored. People say, “God’s forgiven me, why can’t they? They said they forgave me, then why can’t things go back to the way they were?”
Understand trust is earned and takes time. For trust to be restored, it takes a quality proven measure over an extended period of time. It’s called building back the trust factor.
4. Forgiveness Doesn’t Mean No Changes
Forgiveness doesn’t mean things are going to go back to the way they were, which, by the way, led up to the offense in the first place. Once harm has been done, things will never return to normal, or to the way they were.
If we lose an arm, life will never be as it once was. We’ll never get back to a normal life with two arms again. Instead a new normal will develop, one that is lived with one arm rather than two.
Forgiveness isn’t allowing things to be the same; rather forgiveness is the starting point allowing for a new beginning, a new normal.
5. Forgiveness Doesn’t Mean Forgetting
To forgive and forget is unrealistic. Forgiveness isn’t forgetting the offense; rather it’s choosing to no longer remember the offense against the other person.
First Corinthians chapter thirteen tells us love keep no record of wrongs (verse 5). When someone wrongs or hurts you, instead of writing it down for posterity, choose to no longer store it for future use. It’s choosing to no longer use it against them.
There’s something better than forgiving and forgetting, and that’s forgiving and seeing the good God will bring from the forgiveness process. Someone said, “The happiest people are less forgetting and more forgiving.”
With these out of our way, let’s take a look at three basic reasons why we need to forgive.
Why We Need To Forgive
1. God has Forgiven Us
Because God has forgiven us, we need to forgive others. This is at the heart of what the Apostle Paul says.
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you (Ephesians 4:32 NIV)
Just as God has forgiven us, we cannot withhold forgiveness from others. In the Lord’s Prayer we pray, “Forgive us our sins, just as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us” (Matthew 6:12 NLT)
The key to remember is that it’s far easier to forgive others when we realize just how much God has forgiven us. God has not only forgiven us of all our past sins, but our present as well as our future sins.
Someone once asked me how I could possibly forgive them, and I said, “How can I not when Jesus forgave me of so much more.” Therein lies an important truth. None of us will ever forgive someone else as much as God has forgiven us.
Think of it like this, when you place the pile of wrong done against you alongside the pile of wrongs you’ve done against God, you’ll realize how insignificant your pile is.
2. Resentment Doesn’t Work
To worry yourself to death with resentment would be a foolish, senseless thing to do (Job 5:2 LB)
For me, the greatest story dealing with this topic of resentment comes when King David was running for his life.
His son, Absalom turned against him and rounded up an army to defeat him. So David left Jerusalem, and on his way out of town, Shemei, a relative of King Saul, began cursing and swearing at him, kicking up dirt in disgust. Some of David’s men wanted to kill him, but David prevented them and continued on his way.
Shimei hated that David became king and Saul’s family became outcasts, and so his bitterness and resentment against David continued to grow every year and was now rearing its ugly head.
From this story several reasons arise as to why holding onto resentment doesn’t work
a. It is Unreasonable
When we hold onto anger and resentment, not only is it unreasonable, but as we see in our story, it’s completely illogical. Here’s Shimei spewing out all this bitterness at David and David’s army. Talk about a no-brainer, one man against an entire army.
Ironman yes, but Shemi!
But then I consider some of the dumb things I do in my anger and bitterness. The sad thing is that when we hold onto and vent our resentment, trying to get even with someone, it never truly solves the problem.
Fact: When we try to get even it only escalates the conflict.
Choosing forgiveness involves weighing our need to get even against our need to move on with our lives. David could have chosen to get even, but instead he chose to move on and was successful. When we allow resentment to take hold, we are choosing to remain where we are, locked in a vicious cycle of hate and bitterness, and never knowing the freedom that forgiveness brings. But when we choose forgiveness, we can move on in freedom with the life God has purposed for us.
b. It is Unhelpful
Solomon had it right. He said,
Do not hasten in your spirit to be angry, for anger rests in the bosom of fools (Ecclesiastes 7:9 NKJV)
Shimei held onto his grudge for about 20 years. Did it help him? It didn’t change what happened, nor did it correct the supposed wrong. Instead it made him a miserable person to be around.
Fact: Holding onto resentment hurts us more than the person we’re resenting.
Holding onto resentment is like holding onto red hot coal hoping to throw it at the person who hurt us, only to realize that we’re the ones who are getting burned in the process.
David wasn’t pining away for those 20 years because Shimei was holding a grudge. He probably didn’t even know about it.
This is the same for us. The people we’re holding resentment against aren’t sitting at home anxious and worried about what we’re feeling. They probably don’t even know, and while our lives are on hold because of resentment, they’re out having a good time.
c. It is Unhealthy
Unforgiveness is deadly. Resentment finally cost Shimei his life. Studies confirm that bitterness and hatred are dangerous emotions. It attacks our bodies like no virus ever could. When we hold onto anger and bitterness our body keeps score and physical illness is a result.
Fact: It’s not so much what we eat as it’s what’s eating us
Holding onto resentment is like picking a scab and letting the wound bleed and get infected. Our mind becomes a video recorder that keeps playing the same event over and over again.
Instead of following God’s word telling us love keeps no record of wrongs, we laminate our hurt and hang it up to view on a daily basis.
D.L. Moody said, “A great many people seem to embalm their troubles. I always feel like running away when I see them coming. They bring out their old mummy, and tell you in a sad voice, ‘You don’t know the troubles I have.’ … My friends, if you go to the Lord with your troubles, He will take them away. Would you not rather be with the Lord and rid of your troubles, than be with your troubles and without God?”
The third reason we need to forgive is because
3. We Need Forgiveness
For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins (Matthew 6:14-15 NIV)
Jesus is telling us that if we want God’s forgiveness, we need to forgive others. Again this is what Jesus told us in the prayer He taught to the disciples.
And forgive us our sins, just as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us (Matthew 6:12 NLT)
Do we realize what we’re praying? We’re asking God is to forgive us as much as we forgive others. Now there’s a scary thought. Do we really want God to forgive us as much as we forgive others?
Please understand, there’s no way we can make it to heaven based on our own good works. None of us are good enough, and that’s because we all sin and need God’s forgiveness.
But here Jesus ties God’s forgiveness to our forgiveness of others.
How Can We Forgive?
1. Refocus on God
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God (Romans 12:2 NKJV)
Let’s not allow ourselves to be molded by the world; that just keeps us focused on the hurt rather than the healing. Rather, we are to be transformed through renewing our mind; in other words, keep the focus off of ourselves and onto God.
Fact: Whatever you focus upon will control your life.
2. Recognize We’re All Imperfect
For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice (Romans 7:18-19 NKJV)
We’ve all blown it, which goes along with what the Bible says in that everyone has sinned, or is a sinner, and that there is no one who is righteous enough to stand before God on their own. We all fall short of God’s glory, short of His holy and righteous standards for life.
Fact: We’ve all wronged others
This is why we need a Savior. The Bible says that we have been made perfect through the sacrifice Jesus made.
3. Release Your Right to Get Even
This is the heart of forgiveness. It’s saying that while we have every right to get even, we voluntarily choose to give up that right.
Now, how many times are we to forgive someone? Answer: as many times as it takes!
Jesus says we are to forgive others 70 time 7 times. Now, he’s not putting the automatic number, 490 times, rather He’s saying, “Forgive them until the job of forgiving is done.”
How will you know when that is? When you think about the other person and what they did, and it doesn’t’ eat your guts out.
Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord (Romans 12:19 NKJV)
Your job is to forgive, and then let God take it from there.
Fact: When we fail to release, then we’ll resemble those we’re resenting.
Can you imagine looking in the mirror and seeing the person who hurt you every day? Can you imagine doing to others what others have done to you?
4. Respond to Evil with Good
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21 NKJV)
Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you” (Luke 6:27-28 NKJV)
The secret of knowing when we’ve forgiven someone is when we begin to pray for them. But not the kind of prayer that goes like, “Lord, break the teeth in their mouth, and may the IRS audit them forever.” Or “Lord, give them a case of hemorrhoids and put a recall on Preparation H.”
Instead it’s praying for their good and that God would save and bless them.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, said, “No one is beyond redemption.”
Some people say only an extraordinary person can truly forgive. Tutu’s daughter, however, said, “Yes … yet we all have the capacity to be extraordinary.”
And so, today let’s be extraordinary people and begin the forgiveness process.
Wednesday Evening Bible Study