To Forgive

In yesterday's writing we saw Jesus come face to face with the paralyzed man...the man whose greatest physical need was to be healed...and He offered him forgiveness of his sin before He did anything else.  Why?  Because Forgiveness is our greatest need.  That statement is double true.  We must not only be quick to ask God for forgiveness of sin but we must also be quick to grant forgiveness to others who have wronged us.  Let's look at a few Bible texts on this matter (Note - this will be a longer post than normal but if you will stick with it you will be glad you did). 

Let me tell you some thing you already know…you will be sinned against. You'll be hurt, talked about, misunderstood, falsely accused, and unfairly judged. Further, this will not only happen by people who do not claim to be Christians but by people who do. When that happens you can choose to carry a list. You can give way to the temptation to punish the other person OR you can be more like Jesus…you can be a forgiver…and even a forgetter…like the story of The founder of the American Red Cross…this person was asked to remember a time when they were wronged very horribly…a time that had been very public and everyone remembered it.  When asked if they remembered it they responded that they ‘distinctly remembered forgetting it’.  I bet you already know that a big part of forgiving is choosing to change the way you remember something.  

Forgiveness is a tool to help you live a life of confidence instead of guilt and joy instead of bitterness.  I will define forgiveness as ‘you giving up your right to hurt another person for hurting you’.  Don’t get me wrong – this is NOT EASY – if it were, everyone would be doing it!

Jesus taught about this issue in several ways and we will look at a few of them below.  This is crucial…it is vital…it is important.  Put your ears on.  Open up the Word to Matthew 6: 9-15.  This is the Model Prayer and in it we learn some powerful things about forgiveness:

Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.

Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6:9-15, ESV)

I’m sure the disciples were glad to learn how to pray.  I bet they were tracking real well with Jesus teaching…but I wonder how many double takes they got when they got to the section on forgiveness.  Sure, we should ask God for forgiveness…but wait a minute.

Let’s start here:  God offers Forgiveness to us thru the riches of His Grace (Ephesians 1:7).  He tells us to forgive one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you (Ephesians 4:32). Our forgiveness was earned by the substitutionary death of Christ on the Cross.  His blood shed for us…and nothing else.  

But there seems a big contingency on that forgiveness being given to you.  Two actually:

1. You must ask for it.  Don’t get me wrong, Christ died for us ‘while we were still sinners’ (Romans 5:8) but Jesus included it in the ‘how to pray’ because it is required.  To feel guilt/conviction of wronging God and to turn/repent of that sin.  It is available to us already...Christ has bought it on the Cross because God's Love and Grace desired to give it to us...yet for us to take hold of it we must ask for it.  Just as when a person has wronged us...we should offer forgiveness (our part) quickly and freely and not contingent upon anything they have done or not done.  However, for them to truly experience that forgiveness they must take hold of it by repenting (their part).  If they do not repent then they won't experience the full affect of your forgiveness but that will not affect you because you have already offered it.  You aren't held by any bitterness, resentment, etc. 

2. You must give it.  It is bold and in red in my Bible…how about yours?  Have you marked thru this area?  I recommend you highlight it instead.  Read it with me:  If you DO NOT forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (emphasis mine).  Let’s break it down this way.  James 2:13 says ‘He shall have judgment without mercy who shows no mercy.’  I don’t know about you, but to me that sounds about as horrible as anything I can imagine.  This is not a work to earn your salvation.  This is a proof/fruit of a saved person…the ability to forgive shows that you ‘get’ God’s Grace and you ‘give’ God’s Grace.  Simply put, every time you sit down to pray to God for forgiveness of YOUR SIN you should stop and contemplate any unforgiveness in your own heart.  

Jesus is the model forgiver just as He did from the Cross (Father forgive them, they know not what they are doing. Luke 23:34)  If He can offer that in those circumstances then how dare we say that we just can’t do it.  The power of Christ empowers us to do this.  Do not insult the grace of God by saying ‘I can’t’. 

Instead, face it.  It may be the hardest thing in the world for you but first look at yourself and what Christ is willing to forgive…then look at the other person and say ‘With the grace given to me I give to you and may Christ have grace upon us both.’

Here is where I will get many questions from folks.  They just can’t see how ‘some people’ deserve their forgiveness because of how horrible they have treated them.  Here is a motto I want you to adopt on this: When you meet a person who treats you worse than you treated Jesus Christ then you can discuss unforgiveness. Guess what – there never will be one! 

The only person that can afford not to forgive is the person who will never need forgiveness.  It is well said "He who cannot forgive breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass."

Listen. Grudges do not get us where God wants to take us.  Keeping a list of people who you choose not to forgive or a list of wrongs done to you doesn’t hurt anyone more than it hurts you…both here and now and there (heaven) and later (forever). 

An unforgiving spirit is in the same category as stealing or blasphemy.  It is a great and dire sin.  Forgiveness is expected of a Christian and should be the norm, not the exception.  

Forgiveness is the language that God has used to communicate His great love for you.  It is the language He also requires you to speak in…both in asking for forgiveness from Him and granting it to others.  What say you learn to do it now so you aren’t ‘lost in translation’?

Let’s look at the next text  (in two parts) where Jesus details forgiveness and unforgiveness and what is truly at stake.  

Matthew 18:21 - 21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.

We often look for the escape clause in Grace.  There isn’t one.  Peter wants to know the limits of the grace that is expected of him.  The normal answer a Rabbi would have given him would have been 2 times with the third time being the straw that broke the camels back.  That is pretty gracious after all.  Peter stretches and says 7…the complete number.  Yet, 490 is Jesus’ answer but His point here is ‘stop keeping score’.  

Jesus takes Peter’s best and most gracious idea and expands it exponentially. Another way of viewing Jesus teaching here is that we, as believers are challenged ‘not to become weary in doing good’ (Galatians 6:9).

Waiting for a person to hit the magic ‘unforgive’ button is a dangerous way to keep record of wrongs and is not a good spirit.  It is one of the marks of being unloving in 1 Corinthians 13.  How do you feel when someone keeps tabs on your mistakes?  Now, Verse 23-35 gives a powerful story to drive home the how our Father in Heaven truly feels about this...

Matthew 18: 23 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. 32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

 How did you feel about the master who gave such a great gift of forgiveness?  Does that immeasurable gift (some calculate those 10,000 talents as ‘billions of dollars’) give you the picture of the great and vast forgiveness that God has afforded you in Jesus Christ?  

Now, how did you feel about the servant who didn’t learn to do the same?  Wasn’t he a disgrace to his master?  Bitterness and Unforgiveness from a child of God disgraces Almighty God.  When your children fuss and fight is disgraces you.  This is blatant sin that must be dealt with.  

Please remember that any wrong done to you is ‘very small’ in the light of eternity and in the light of the forgiveness God has offered to you through Christ.

Maybe you need to picture that poor servant who begged for forgiveness.  Did you know that it is incredibly painful to need forgiveness and not get it.  Imagine the people on your own ‘unforgiven’ list…now imagine them begging for forgiveness and you not granting it.  Think of the pain you are responsible for…you have placed them in prison to pay a debt when God has freed you from the prison of sin and the eternal prison of hell for much worse.  God’s Word tells us that this behavior is ‘Wicked’ in God’s eyes.  This wickedness carries a high cost.  In this parable, the man was sent back to the prison that he had been pardoned from originally.  No wonder so many ‘Christians’ do not experience the joy of Christian living…they have missed a critical step in their growth.  The have freely received the Free Gift of Salvation but are going around asking for high payments from everyone else.  It’s not too late.  Today can be the day to get rid of this root of bitterness.

When you Forgive -   Don’t bring it up again.  Bringing it up again, even to ‘tell others how you have forgiven a person’ proves you have not ‘let it go’ (imagine Disney soundtrack here).  In Isaiah 43:25 we learn that God ‘blots out our sins’ and then He ‘remembers them no more’.  That is powerful.  Many of you think you have laid down something that you still carry with you.  You say you have forgiven a person but every time their name is mentioned, your neck gets red.  Friend, that is a problem that must be dealt with.  You may not be as gifted as God Almighty in this…but you are gifted ‘BY’ God Almighty in this…

The Results of Forgiveness are powerful! You are set free!  You are restored (to the other person and to God).  So, you can stay in the prison you have built for yourself because of that wrong the offending party has done (or you think they have done) or you can break free of it and live that joyful life Jesus bought for you at the Cross.  Your choice.  This is what it looks like to give up your right to hurt someone else for hurting you.  

Now, many of us have instead learned a way of living that comes from the premise 'an eye for an eye'.  This was true in Jesus' day as well: 

Matthew 5:38-41 - [38] “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ [39] But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. [40] And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. [41] And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 

In His teaching to the people during the Sermon on The Mount, Jesus now addresses another secondary law – one that had been put into place for protection and one that held behind it a lot more than it spoke.  You have heard someone say ‘the punishment should fit the crime’ and this law is where they get that concept. This law was in place to maintain justice and purge evil.  It is the basis of the court system we now have in place.  It should have prevented evil because its very nature taught a lawbreaker that whatever they did could and would be done back upon them.  It was imposed by civil authorities not by individuals.  That is where the people had gone astray.  

It comes from Deut 19:20-21, Leviticus 24:17-23 and Exodus 21:24.  A legal system to make sure there would be equal punishment that would take away any incentive of acting wrongly.  

To make sure that individuals did not take matters into their own hands, cities of refuge where put into place. 6 of them all around the Holy Land – where if someone committed a heinous act (specifically murder), that they would not be retaliated on by an individual and would be safe until the court could hear their case.  

Yet people had fallen into the gutter and decided they could interpret the meanings of the law – and this one seemed to leave room for any person to act out in vengeance – in retaliation – for most any crime committed – they actually believed scripture was permitting it.  Forget the truth’s of scripture speaking of God as judge and not man – forget the prayers of David asking God to take vengeance because David knew better than to do it himself – forget the hard work of grace and forgiveness – let’s just get off in the sinful flesh and make ourselves feel better by lashing out at the person who has done wrong.  

Jesus is calling us to put our Christian faith into action…or maybe it would be better spoke for us to put our faith into in-action – the action of doing nothing!!! 

He lived this out in His own life and in His own body.  Cursed, beaten, bruised, crowned with thorns, ridiculed, reviled, pierced…all the while with this prayer on His lips – Father, do not hold this against them!  Come on now, we can do better than, I’m going to get even!!! 

Jesus’ has called us to a higher standard of living with the Christian life.  We are to follow Him along the Calvary Road – taking up our cross daily and following in His footsteps.  Yes, that may mean swallowing a few acorns along the way – that does mean passing up the opportunity to ‘get even’ or to ‘tell someone just what your thinking’ or my favorite ‘how the cow ate the cabbage’…does a cow actually eat cabbage anyway?

Turning the other cheek isn’t just about letting your enemy get another crack.  (BTW – A slap on the face in that culture was more of an insult than an attempt to harm). To turn the cheek means you remain close.  BTW – why would we be so close to our enemy to allow them to do this?  Because God’s Great Commission is clearly telling us to live amongst those that need Him and share His love with them.  We get next to our enemy and we share God’s love – seasoned with God’s grace.  There will be times that when we do that – the world will hate you for it – why? – conviction of a life lived with more purity and care than they might can muster without God’s Spirit within them.  So they react and when they do we are to resist the urge to throw it right back at them and instead we are to take it –we are to give sacrificially even if they have taken our coat – whether by theft of maybe we have given it because of a supposed need – we are to give the very shirt off our back…and not with a grudge but with a smile.  

We are called to persevere with those that we don’t understand – you know there are people we just have a hard time understanding in each of our lives – and God puts us next to them and it can feel like we are nearly forced to walk a mile with them – God says go even further – further than your comfortable Christianity would have you to go – further than your neighbor or your family would understand – further – all the while imagining that you are carrying that cross Jesus’ told you to pick up daily and follow Him. 

Now, just in case you thought this only applied to how you treat other believers or to tough family members Jesus again radically changes our narrow viewpoint of what it means to live the Christian Life.  LISTEN – 

Matthew 5:43-48 - [43] “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ [44] But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, [45] so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. [46] For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? [47] And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? [48] You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Now, Jesus’ is again clearing up a topic – ‘they heard it was said’ to love neighbor and hate enemy’ but God’s law never prescribed hate of our enemy.  That was manmade.  Jesus is giving us true interpretation of the law and calling some people out in manipulating it to their own advantage.  Many in the culture of the day had spurned love for hate…permitting harsh treatment to someone else based on their differences.  There is a major world religion today that would call people to this same thing – saying that if someone does not believe the same as you then it is ok to trick them, steal from them and even harm them physically.  Sad story – big deception.  I prefer our Savior who looked upon those who crucified Him and humbled Himself.  Emptying Himself of all right of retaliation in order to gather upon Him the sin of the world – yours and mine – in order to fulfill all the law – all the prophets…so that today we could sit here as a people called by His name and called by His Word – to act unlike the world around us.

True, it is easy to love the lovely – the meek – the similar…even the ungodly do that – that does not make you special – it makes your normal.  Jesus didn’t die so you could be normal.  He died so you could live a supernatural life.  Our God ensures that the sun rises on the evil and not just the good – He sends rain on not just the righteous but the unrighteous.  

He said even the tax collectors can do that!  I wonder what poor Matthew – the author of this Gospel we are reading – was thinking about that statement as a former tax collector?  Probably, he was thinking – true – my Savior knows my heart.

This is a call to holy living – living after the example of Christ.  When verse 48 tells us to be perfect because our Father is perfect we may recoil – because perfection seems so impossible – but hear this – God is telling you that you are His child and every child should mimic after the traits of His parent if that child loves His parent.  Jesus’ lays out the path of perfection and says ‘walk this path’.  Yes, this is an unattainable standard but we are to strive for it in the knowledge that Christ did fulfill this requirement in His own perfect life.  Other translations replace perfect with mercy and one good translation uses the word complete which may be the most accurate.  Just as Christ completes/fulfills the law and prophets – we are enabled to be complete (lacking nothing) so that we can strive to walk as he walked.

Could unforgiveness be holding your own relationship with God back?  Yes, it could!  Is it time to stop hurting someone else for hurting you?  Yes it is!  Can you do this without God's Spirit guiding you?  No you cannot!  Let God's Spirit guide you to speak in the sweet language of Forgiveness today and everyday!