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Building Lasting Values
“The Value of Forgiveness”
The value of forgiveness is a topic I’ve talked on many times, and the points that I am going to share I’ve brought up before, and that’s because they haven’t changed, and this is definitely one of those values that we need a constant refresher on.
Today we’ll look at the story of the unforgiving servant, and we’ll also look at the story of Job, where we will see this value and these points at work. In fact, while working through these points again, I have found several areas in my life that definitely needed these reminders. Even this week I’ve had to use several of these points in my life and ministry.
Turn to Matthew 18:21-35
I have found that people have no problem with forgiveness as long as they are on the receiving end. Whenever we do wrong our desire is to be forgiven. But whenever we need to forgive others, that’s a whole another matter, because we’re not so quick to forgive, as we want to be forgiven.
It’s like when a newspaper finds itself making a mistake or wrongly reporting the facts, their retraction is buried somewhere in the back, while the story made the front page. And there have been some real classics.
One retraction read, “In last week’s issue a picture showed some very unusual oriental dishes that were enjoyed by a party of foreign exchange students. Mi Thi Thin is a foreign exchange student who was standing at the center of the picture. We incorrectly listed her name as one of the items on the menu. We regret this error.”
Another classic was, “In a recent article we referred to the chairman of Chrysler Corporation as Lee Iacacca. This is incorrect. His name is Lee Iacocca.”
What they were trying to do is to make right a wrong, and this is what we’re going to talk about today, and that is, the value of forgiveness in our series of building values that are going to last.
There is a basic fact of life, and that is, we’re going to be hurt by someone. There are things people said and have done, where the heartache, hurt, and memory are as fresh today as the day that it happened.
And while most everyone knows they need to forgive, forgiving others isn’t something that comes easily.
Now, there’s nothing complicated about forgiveness. It’s in the application that we find the difficulty. So, let’s begin.
Why Should We Forgive?
In Matthew 18, Jesus told a story of an unforgiving servant.
Read Matthew 18:21-35
Jesus gives three illustrations or reason why we are to forgive.
1. Because God Has Forgiven Us
Notice that the unforgiving servant had been forgiven by the king. In verse 32 the King said, “I forgave you all that debt because you begged Me.”
The reason we need to forgive others is because God has forgiven us. Therefore, because we have been forgiven by God we need to learn to forgive others.
The Apostle Paul said, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32 NIV)
When we remember just how much God has forgiven us, it should help us be more forgiving of others.
However, when we don’t feel forgiven, then we really have a hard time forgiving others. And that’s because if we don’t feel forgiven, we don’t want others to feel forgiven either. If we don’t feel the grace of God, then we’re not going to be gracious to others. If we don’t feel set free, then the last thing that we want to do is to help set others free. That is just a part of our sinful nature.
But when we live in the light of God’s love, grace, and forgiveness, realizing that God has forgiven us because of what Jesus Christ did upon the cross, then it makes it a whole lot easier to forgive others.
And the reality is that we will never forgive anybody more than what God has already forgiven us for. And so, we forgive because God has forgiven us.
2. Resentment Doesn’t Work
Notice in Jesus’ story that the unforgiving servant wasn’t very forgiving. He held the debt of the other person against him until every last penny had been paid, but such an unforgiving spirit only led him to his own prison sentence.
Resentment is no different, and it is very self-destructive. Resentment always hurts us more than the person we’re resenting.
Now, if anyone had a right to be resentful it would have been Job. He was a godly man, and didn’t do anything wrong, but in a single day he lost everything, both his wealth and his family, with the exception of his wife who told him to curse God and die. And then there were his three friends who told him that he was a sinner, and the proof was because of what was happening. If anyone had the right to be resentful it would have been this guy. But throughout his ordeal he revealed that resentment doesn’t work.
Look at what Job teaches us about resentment.
a. Resentment is Unreasonable
“To worry yourself to death with resentment would be a foolish, senseless thing to do.” (Job 5:2 GN)
Resentment is unreasonable, foolish, illogical, irrational, and just plain dumb. Thinking about holding onto resentment as an unreasonable thing to do reminded me of a Three Stooges sketch where Mo kept hitting Curly on the chest. So Curly says, “I’m going to get even with that guy.” So he takes a stick of dynamite and straps it to his chest and says, “Next time he slaps me it’s going to blow his hand off.”
b. Resentment is Unhelpful
“You may tear your hair out in anger, but will that cause the earth to be abandoned? Will it make rocks fall from a cliff?” (Job 18:4 NLT)
We’re only hurting ourselves with anger and resentment. Resentment always hurts us more than the person we’re resenting as we become more and more miserable to live with and be around. Further, resentment never changes what’s happened. It’s stewing without doing, and never solves the problem. So, while we’re miserable and resentful, those we are resenting are out having a good time, never knowing that we’re sitting at home miserable because we’re resenting them.
It has been said that when we hold onto a hurt it’s like taking fire to our chests, or swallowing poison. It’s going to kill us, which leads me to my next point.
c. Resentment is Unhealthy
Job could have been a case study on the danger of holding onto bitterness, but he knew that it would be unhealthy to do so.
The writer of Hebrews said, “Looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled.” (Hebrews 12:15 NKJV)
Holding onto bitterness and resentment causes us to fall short of God’s grace, which in itself is reason enough not to be resentful, but it is also unhealthy because it defiles not only us, but everyone around us. And all they’ll want to do is to get away from us as quickly as possible.
Research has shown that having resentment, or an unforgiving spirit, is the single most destructive emotion we can have. It has all sorts of emotional and physical ramifications. When we say someone is a real pain in the neck, we may literally start having neck pain. They also say that most back problems are a result of stress, and some of that stress comes from holding onto resentment.
Unforgiveness keeps us bound up inside and ties our stomach into knots. It may not be what we’re eating that’s making us sick, maybe what’s making us sick is what’s eating at us. Therefore, resentment doesn’t work.
3. Because We Need Forgiveness
Forgiveness is a two-way street. We can’t expect to be forgiven if we are unwilling to forgive. This is exactly what Jesus says at the end of the “Lord’s Prayer”
“For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15 NKJV)
This is what we see with the unforgiving servant. He was unwilling to forgive the servant who owed him money, which led to the king not to forgive the debt he owed him.
We can’t receive what we’re unwilling to give, and what we sow is what we’re going to reap. Therefore, if we’re unforgiving then we shouldn’t expect forgiveness in return.
A man came to John Wesley and said, “I could never forgive that person.” Wesley replied, “Then I hope you never sin. When you are unforgiving, you’re burning the very bridge you need to walk across.”
Now, while I may not know what has been done, or the extent of the hurt, what I do know is that in the end we are only going to be hurt worse by not forgiving. Therefore, for our own good we need to forgive.
The problem is that we have faulty concepts and misperceptions about forgiveness does, and What Forgiveness Doesn’t Do? So what doesn’t forgiveness do?
1. Minimize the Offense
Forgiveness doesn’t pretend the offense never occurred; neither does it say that it’s no big deal and that’s because it was a big deal. It really did hurt. Whenever we minimize the offense it cheapens what forgiveness really is.
As Christians we come at this the wrong way. We think that to minimize the hurt that we’re being spiritual, but that is the furthest thing from the truth. Forgiveness is spiritual, not minimizing the offense. God tells us to forgive, but He never says to minimize the offense.
Further, we aren’t helping the person who harmed us by letting them off the hook. By minimizing the offense they never accept responsibility, thus allowing them to continuing hurting us and others by their actions.
2. Immediately Restore Trust
The Bible says that when someone hurts us that we are to forgive them, but the Bible doesn’t says that trust is to be immediately restored. Forgiving someone doesn’t mean that we place ourselves back in harms way.
Trust is earned and therefore takes time. For trust to be restored, a quality proven measures needs to take place over an extended period of time, and when they commit themselves to this process, they are rebuilding trust.
And if you’ve hurt someone, don’t expect for that trust to be immediately restored. Time and again I’ve heard it said, “I’ve asked God to forgive me, why can’t they just get over it? They said they forgave me, so why can’t things go back to the way they were?” This leads me to the third thing forgiveness doesn’t do.
3. Mean There Won’t Be Changes
A lot of people are reluctant to forgive because they think that when they do they’ll continue to be hurt. But forgiveness doesn’t mean that things are going to go back to the way they were, which is what led up to the offense in the first place. Once harm has been done, things will never return to normal.
Think of it this way: If you lost an arm, life will never be the same. You’ll never get back to the normal life you had with two arms. Instead, there is a different kind of normal; a new normal, a normal life lived with one arm instead of two.
Forgiveness, therefore, isn’t allowing things to be the same; rather, forgiveness is the starting point that will allow for a new beginning, and a new normal.
4. Forgiveness isn’t Forgetting
To forgive and forget is unrealistic. Forgiveness isn’t forgetting the harm that has been done; rather it is choosing to no longer remember the offense against them.
As we looked at last week in the value of love, it says that love keeps no record of wrongs (1 Corinthians 13:6). When someone wrongs us, instead of writing it down to remember it again and again, we need to choose to no longer keep a running record of it. In other words, we choose to no longer use it against them.
And so, forgiving isn’t about forgetting, instead it’s about forgiving the way God has forgiven us. Forgiveness is choosing to love, and in love no longer holding the sin against them.
So, how can we experience the freedom that comes through offering forgiveness?
1. Recognize We’re Imperfect
Whenever we’ve been hurt we tend to lose our perspective about who they are, and who we are. We tend to dehumanize them forgetting that they are human beings just like us, having the same faults that we have.
“For there is not a just man on earth who does good and does not sin.” (Ecclesiastes 7:20 NKJV)
There isn’t a single person that doesn’t blow it. So, we’re all in this together. We all have intentionally and unintentionally wronged people, and we’ll do it again, because no one does good and does not sin.
Further, we need to admit that unforgiveness is a sin. We need to admit that our anger and bitterness is a sin that needs to confessed. And the Bible says that when we do confess, God is faithful and just to forgive and cleanse us (1 John1:9).
2. Relinquish Right To Get Even
This is the heart of forgiveness. It’s saying that while we have a perfect right to get even, we voluntarily give up that right.
Forgiveness, also, isn’t a one-time event. Offering forgiveness is an ongoing process. Now, right before Jesus told the story of the unforgiving servant, Peter asked Jesus how often should he forgive someone, which was the catalyst for story, and Jesus reply was, “Seventy times seven.” In other words, we are to forgive an infinite amount of times until the job of forgiveness is done. When is that? It is when we reach the point that it doesn’t eat our guts out every time we think about it.
“Dear friends, never avenge yourselves. Leave that to God.” (Romans 12:19a NLT)
We are not to avenge ourselves for the wrongs others have been done; instead we are to release our right to get even and let God settle the score His way, because in the end God will have the last word.
3. Respond To Evil With Good
“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (Luke 6:27-28 NIV)
We are to love, do good, bless, and pray for those who hurt us. This is one of those verses we don’t like reading, or remembering, when we’ve been wronged. We want those verses that say, “Break their teeth in their mouth, O God” (Psalm 58:6a), or “Set a wicked man over him…let him be found guilty…let another take his office…let the creditor seize all that he has” (Psalm 109:6-11).
But what God says is that we are to love, do good, bless, and pray for those who hurt us. And so, the forgiveness process begins when we respond to evil with good. And this begins when we pray for their good, that God will bless, forgive and save.
4. Refocus on God’s Plan
Instead of focusing on the offense, or the person that has offended us, we need to refocus on God’s purpose for our lives, which is always greater than the pain or problem we’re presently experiencing.
As long as we continue to focus on the person who hurt us, then we’re allowing that person to control us. And, if we don’t release that person through forgiveness, then we’re going to end up resembling them. It’s a law of life! We become exactly like what we focus on.
Think about it, whenever we say, “I’ll never be like so-in-so, or I’ll never be like my parents;” that’s exactly who we become like.
Job, who had every reason to be offended and to have resentment, gives us three steps for refocusing our lives back onto God after the offense has occurred.
“Put your heart right, reach out to God then face the world again, firm and courageous. Then all your troubles will fade from your memory, like floods that are past and remembered no more.” (Job. 11:13-16 LB)
And so, according to our verse, the first thing we need to do is to put our hearts right with God, which means to release and forgive the person who hurt us.
Jesus said, “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things.” (Matthew 12:35 NKJV)
If we treasure unforgiveness in our hearts, then it is sin and evil. But when we get our hearts right with God and forgive, then goodness will flow.
Next, reach out to God. This means we need to seek God out in this forgiveness process, because we don’t have enough power or love to forgive on our own. We need to ask the Holy Spirit to come and empower us to live lives of forgiveness instead of resentment.
The prophet Jeremiah said, “O Lord, I know the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps.” (Jeremiah 10:23 NKJV)
Finally, we need to face life again. We have to stop withdrawing into a shell, and stop building walls, so we never let anyone get close. When we do, we are cutting ourselves off from love, which is what we need the most, and in the end our hearts are going to shrivel up and die. So we are to resume living life, not as a victim, but as a victor in Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit will empower us to be overcomers.
To forgive calls for a decision. We choose to forgive.
Forgiveness isn’t a feeling, because if it were, then none of us would ever forgive, because none of us we’ll ever feel like forgiving someone who has hurt us.
And so, we need to forgive others, and when we do we’ll receive the fullness of God’s forgiveness for our lives.
And so, why do we need to forgive? First because God forgave us, and then because resentment doesn’t work, and finally because we need God to forgive us.
How do we go about this forgiveness process? First it is by recognizing that we are all human, and thus imperfect. Next we’re to release our right to get even, and to respond to the evil done against us with good, and we do that through praying for God to bless, forgive, and save them. And finally we need to get our focus off the offense, and refocus onto God and His purpose for our lives.
And so, I think we all can see that this value of forgiveness is vital if we truly want to build up the house of God within us.
Wednesday Evening Bible Study