We spoke last week about forgiveness, and I mentioned that forgiveness is not an option, it is a command, and it comes in layers.
Colossians 3:13 (ESV Strong’s)
bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
It doesn’t say you should consider forgiving, not you should try your best to forgive, but you must forgive. Last week, I also highlighted 3 reasons to forgive… Because people are important and made in God’s image, because we have been forgiven so much and because forgiveness sets you, not the other party, you yourself free. But sometime Forgiving is really hard, sometimes it seems impossible.
FORGIVENESS HAS LAYERS
Onions have layers, and ogres have layers, but we should also understand that forgiveness also has layers. You peel away one layer, only to find another one under that, then another under that. You forgive someone, only to see them again and realise that there is more forgiveness to do.
And this multilayered aspect of forgiveness is helpful. Some things just seem to hard, and the hurt runs too deep, and the injustice seems too strong to be forgiven. The jump is too great. But as you forgive one layer and move to the next, before you know it you are forgiving deeper than ever before.
1 Peter 4:8 (ESV Strong’s)
Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.
Often the perceived sins against you are not singular, but many. The person hasn’t done one thing against you, but there was a continuous barrage of offences. But notice what it says… Love covers a multitude of sins. Forgiveness is an act of love.
BRIDE AND PREJUDICE
Here’s an example. A girl falls in love with a guy, let’s say in church. They have a relationship, and she’s thinking marriage, but he dumps her for another girl. She is hurt, but as a Christian, she forgives him. Layer peeled.
Then a month later he’s at church with a new girl. It hurts, it re-breaks her heart, but she forgives. Layer peeled. She sees them week after week, and forgives again and again. More pain, more layers. Then the guy announces his engagement.
Another layer. Another broken heart. And while she can forgive him for the broken heart, she now must forgive him for the loss of hopes and dreams, dreams she had of a life with him that now that other girl is going to enjoy. And she must forgive the other girl too.
When she forgives, only then can she be genuinely happy for them, and genuinely free herself. And instead of becoming bitter and twisted, she is full of love, bringing the Father has great joy and making her unbelievable attractive to a godly man.
FORGIVENESS, IT’S TIME TO PAY IT OFF
Pain is the currency of sin. Forgiving that person may seem impossible, but you can pay it off in small sums over a period of time. Every time we see them, or speak to them, or speak of them. It hurts every time, but if we forgive every time, then over time the debt is paid off.
My mortgage is like that. Hundreds of thousands of dollars I simply cannot pay in one hit. But graciously, and for a fee called interest, the bank allows me to pay this debt off over time with a monthly payment I can handle and afford.
If I ignore the debt and refuse to pay the instalments, it not only grows larger the bank will eventually foreclose on me. Unforgiveness and bitterness are debts we cannot afford in our lives. If we don’t forgive, the offence and hence Unforgiveness will grow and eventually destroy us! That’s why the Bible says,
Ephesians 4:31-32 (ESV Strong’s)
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Bitterness means a poison or pungent smell, a bitter root that yields bitter fruit and affects everything around it with its acrid smell. It then gives rise to a very unwholesome group of behaviours. Let’s look at them…
Wrath is THYMOS, as in Thermos, and it implies heat, sudden, explosive and angry. Clamour is KRAUGÉ, meaning an outcry, or whining. Hurt people hurt people, with their anger and with their constant replaying and crying of events, either out loud or in their own minds. This leads to slander, or in Greek BLASPHEMIA, which means evil, disparaging or injurious speech, against God or against a person, made in the image of God.
But the next verse is the one we should concentrate on. Be kind, be tender-hearted and forgive one another. I love the Greek word for tenderhearted, it’s EUS-PLAG-SCHNOS, which means compassionate, sympathetic, tenderhearted and having strong bowels.
People with strong bowels can eat anything and nothing upsets their stomach. Chillies, Trinidad Scorpions or Carolina Reapers, no problem. I’ve had anything from locusts to bee larvae, witchitygrubs, turtles, snails, etc.
Tenderhearted people can take whatever someone dishes out without becoming upset. I’m not there yet!
We are called to be kind, tenderhearted and yes, forgiving.
REASONS WE DON’T FORGIVE… WHY DRINK POISON?
I’ve said that Unforgiveness is like drinking poison hoping the other guy dies. If you fail to forgive, you are causing great harm to someone, and most often that someone is actually you!
So why don’t we just forgive? Why drink the poison? Why hang on to it? If we hurt ourselves, what makes us hang onto Unforgiveness even when we know we are hurting ourselves? Here’s 5 reasons we refuse to forgive…
1. WE THINK OUR UNFORGIVENESS HURTS THEM
We hold onto Unforgiveness often because they deserve it. We think we are justly punishing them, but in reality they often don’t even know! We hurt only ourselves.
Romans 12:19 (ESV Strong’s)
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
James 1:20 (ESV Strong’s)
for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
Don’t try and punish someone by withholding forgiveness. They might not deserve your forgiveness, but you do!
2. WE THINK FORGIVENESS SOMEHOW CONDONES THE ACT
Something inside us tells us that if we forgive someone else for what they have done to us, rather than try and punish them, we let them off the hook and somehow we support or justify what they did.
1 Peter 3:12 (ESV Strong’s)
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer.
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
There will be a reckoning, either in this life or the next. That’s God’s problem, not yours.
Romans 14:12 (ESV Strong’s)
So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.
Forgiving someone does not mean you agree with their actions or words.
3. WE THINK FORGIVENESS MEANS CONFRONTING THEM
Sometimes forgiveness is withheld because we fear having to confront the perpetrator.
But I’ve continually said forgiveness is about setting you free, not them. Sometimes you may have to confront them to talk, to bury the hatchet, but most often you don’t need to.
They don’t have to know that you’re forgiving them, but Forgiving them changes how you treat them and respond to them.
Confronting them, and telling them what you are forgiving them for, is usually counter-productive. They react angrily, or confused, or even mockingly.
Matthew 7:6 (ESV Strong’s)
“Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.
Forgiveness is a pearl, because it sets you free. You most often don’t have to tell the other party, so don’t let this stop you forgiving. Telling them is often one final dig at them.
But here’s the thing… When you forgive privately, it changes you and you behave differently towards them, and this can open dialogue with them and heal wounds.
4. WE’D RATHER FEEL UNJUSTLY TREATED THAN FREE
Sometimes we would just rather suffer because we feel justified in our suffering. Withholding forgiveness hurts ourselves, but at least we feel justified in that.
1 Peter 2:20 (MSG)
There’s no particular virtue in accepting punishment that you well deserve. But if you’re treated badly for good behavior and continue in spite of it to be a good servant, that is what counts with God.
Would you rather feel unjustly wronged or free? Your choice.
5. OUR FEELINGS WON’T ALLOW US TO FORGIVE
As humans, we often live by our feelings, and we allow them to be in control.
Ever had a bad day simply because you woke up grumpy, and it lasted all day. I’ve had bad days because my football team lost, and I’ve been upset all day!
Jeremiah 17:9 (ESV Strong’s)
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?
We cannot and must not be a slave to our feelings. We must let God’s wisdom overrule our heart and how we feel. You may not feel like you can forgive, but what you will discover is that forgiveness is not about your feelings, it’s about a decision.
FORGIVE IN BITE SIZED CHUNKS.
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. How do you pay off a mortgage? One instalment at a time. How do you forgive a great wrong against you? One layer at a time.
I know it is hard to forgive a great wrong, especially one that has been there for a long time, but if we are to be tenderhearted and strong bowelled about it (gutsy), we need to find a way to forgive.
We can start right now, by simply making a decision.
I’ve seen warring couples who don’t love each other any more, and some of you might be like this, make a decision, a commitment to honour their vows. They commit to forgiving and changing how they react to each other, even though the feelings are not there. But then, once they commit to change and obediently do it, the feelings soon follow.
So my challenge to you today is to make a commitment to forgive. It’s not the whole story, it’s just a chunk, but can you commit to forgiving? God will honour that chunk. If you are obedient, if you commit to forgiving one small act, then He will lead you on a path into true, deep forgiveness.
But it starts with a decision.
Deuteronomy 30:19 (ESV Strong’s)
I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live,
Choose life today. Choose to forgive today, even a small act. We all have to deal with forgiveness, often of people we are close to. Might be years ago, might be this week, but forgiveness is an ongoing act. Let’s take this step together.