I’ve been doing a series called What Price, where we have asked what price, revival, or holiness, or wealth or unity. Today, it’s going to get personal as I ask the question – what price forgiveness?
They say to err is human, to forgive divine, but if you overlook or shovel forgiveness under the carpet you can and will destroy yourself. Forgiving is not an optional extra to the Christian life, it is absolutely central. Forgiveness is not something promoted in the world, and it is sometimes seen as weakness, but to the believer, forgiveness is an absolute necessity, and desperately needed in this unforgiving world. As Paul said,
Colossians 3:13 (ESV)
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.
Ephesians 4:32 (ESV)
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
“There’s a Spanish story of a father and son who had become estranged. The son ran away, and the father set off to find him. He searched for months to no avail. Finally, in a last desperate effort to find him, the father put an ad in a Madrid newspaper. The ad read: Dear Paco, meet me in front of this newspaper office at noon on Saturday. All is forgiven. I love you. Your Father. On Saturday 800 Pacos showed up, looking for forgiveness and love from their fathers.”
WHY BOTHER TO FORGIVE?
Every one of us has been hurt. People have said or done things to us that have caused us harm, and much of it in our eyes has been a perceived injustice. But if we are the one who has been wronged, if we are the victim, why should we be the ones to forgive? Shouldn’t the bad guy apologise first? Isn’t that fair?
Jesus never promised that you would not be hurt, but He was pretty clear about how He expects us to behave when we are hurt. He said
John 15:18 (ESV)
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.
And Paul said,
2 Timothy 3:12 (ESV)
Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
Jesus was so intent on our forgiving others that when the disciples approached Jesus and asked Him to teach them how to pray, part of the Lord’s prayer is…
Matthew 6:12 (ESV)
and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
Just to make the point, Jesus goes on to say,
Matthew 6:14-15 (ESV)
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.
The Greek word for forgiveness is AP-HEIMI, made of 2 words, APO meaning to separate and HEIMI meaning send forth. So forgiveness literally means to send away, let it alone, for Disney fans, let it go, or, for Beatle fans, Let it be! We think that forgiveness is benefiting the person who has hurt us, somehow justifying or validating what they did, but the meaning is more about us letting it be for us, not holding onto it but letting it go and being set free!
And make no mistake, God is serious about forgiveness. It is so serious that Jesus says if you fail forgive, you will not be forgiven!
JUSTICE, REVENGE AND VINDICATION
If something unjust happens to us, we feel justified in not forgiving and thereby somehow punishing them for the wrong they have done. If fact, we feel like if we forgive them, we somehow have let them off the hook, and in some way validate or excuse their actions or bad behaviour.
Beware this sense of injustice, that we have been wronged and someone has to pay. Many people use perceived injustice to justify lack of forgiveness. Interestingly, judging, condemning and unforgiveness are wrapped together
Luke 6:37 (ESV)
“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven;
We are so often quick to judge and condemn others, but we expecting leniency when we sin, right? And we all sin. We are quick to condemn those we see as sinners, people in sexual sin, in prison, mistreat others or are hateful, but we sin too! Don’t judge others for sinning differently to you!
Revenge is a dish best served cold, but despite this the world serves it up regularly. So many TV shows are about someone wronged who seeks revenge. If you get on FB and share some wrong done to you, rarely will anybody recommend forgiving and walking away. They will say fight for your rights.
And that’s what our society is all about…fighting for your rights. The idea of forgiveness and love has been crowded out by demands from minority groups that they be allowed to do whatever they want. But God says,
Hebrews 10:30 (ESV)
“Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.”
Getting the revenge we might want is not what God wants, and the truth is that seeking revenge rarely ever works out well. The Lord wants us set free by forgiving the other party, and then it’s over to Him.
Question: You trusted Him for forgiveness of your sin and salvation, can you not trust Him to vindicate you? Forgiveness gets us to move out of the way and allows God to deal with the situation.
Vindication is defined as “The act of clearing someone of blame or suspicion.” When I have been attacked in the past, I have recognised the frustration that if I try to defend myself, I make myself look guilty.
When we are wronged, our job is to trust God, ask for His forgiveness and not set about trying to defend ourselves. His job is to vindicate us.
Psalms 26:1-2 (ESV)
Vindicate me, O LORD, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the LORD without wavering. Prove me, O LORD, and try me; test my heart and my mind.
Many times in my life I’ve been unjustly accused, especially as a pastor (the number of people whom God seems to give words for me to do things their way). I’ve been accused of everything from mishearing God, misquoting Scripture through to lying. As someone who tries to walk in integrity, these accusations hurt, even though they are untrue, it is tempting to retaliate against those accusing me.
But God has shown me again and again to forgive, bless not curse them, and let God vindicate me. He always does. Nehemiah showed this brilliantly when he refused to meet, consult with or cave into threats and false accusations. He just kept going, and after 150 years the ask was rebuilt in 52 days!
Romans 12:14 (ESV)
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.
THE DANGER OF UNFORGIVENESS
It’s hard to bless those who hurt you. Let me say again, forgiving doesn’t justify what they have done, it doesn’t make their actions ok. Forgiving is a direct command of Scripture, but in obedience to Christ there is great release and blessing.
We should also recognise the danger of unforgiveness.
Hebrews 12:14-15 (ESV)
Strive for peace with everyone. (Which involves forgiveness), and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;
If you refuse to forgive another, a root bitterness is planted, and this root grows into a tree that controls your life. The fruit of this tree is criticism, anger, selfishness, hatred, revenge, and ultimately despair and misery. Ever met someone who refuses to forgive another? They become bitter and twisted.
If you have held onto unforgiveness, however justifiable you might think it is, then you may need this root dug out, however painful that might be! Some of you are still angry, and have driven away people you love in your stubborn anger.
FORGIVENESS – HOW MANY TIMES?
A special mention for the people who find themselves being hurt time and time again by the same person. Once again, it’s not fair, they are not changing, and you might well ask, how many times should I forgive this person?
The disciples asked Jesus exactly that question. Jewish rabbis taught that forgiveness need only be extended three times. So, Peter may have thought he was being generous by suggesting that he forgive [his] brother or sister seven times. But Jesus’ reply blew him out of the water…
Matthew 18:21-22 (ESV)
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?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.
By saying, seventy times seven, though, Jesus insisted that forgiveness has no limits. Keep forgiving. Does your forgiveness have no limits? Jesus then relates a parable, citing a servant who had an unfathomable debt in the millions of dollars and was condemned, with his family, to prison.
Matthew 18:26-27 (ESV)
So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.
Then this same servant found another who owed a days wages
Matthew 18:29-30 (ESV)
So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt.
Matthew 18:32-35 (ESV)
Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
Jesus is pointing out that our debt to God is infinitely greater than our brother’s or sister’s debt to us. Recognising that positions us to receive from God the very thing that others desire from us: mercy and forgiveness.
STEPS TO FORGIVENESS
So what price forgiveness? You have to give up your right to be angry, and choose to forgive and love the one that hurts you.
To struggle with forgiving another who has unjustly wronged you is normal, but not only is forgiving a command, it sets us free from the control that person has over us by our Unforgiveness. Unforgiveness is like us drinking poison hoping the other guy dies. It mostly hurts us, not them. Most of the people you refuse to forgive don’t even know about it, yet you are churned up inside.
How can we begin to forgive someone who has hurt us?
1. ADMIT YOU ARE HURT
Pretending it doesn’t hurt achieves nothing. In fact, hiding or ignoring it multiplies is and drives the root of bitterness deep into our soul.
Psalms 38:16-17 (ESV)
For I said, “Only let them not rejoice over me, who boast against me when my foot slips!” For I am ready to fall, and my pain is ever before me.
When cleaning the kitchen floor I use to teach my girls to sweep the last bit under the fridge. That worked very well, until years later when we moved the fridge and saw an unbelievable mess. Sweeping in under never solves it, it accumulates it.
2. OFFLOAD THE PAIN
Matthew 11:28 (ESV)
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
You are not built to carry the pain of Unforgiveness for long. It will kill your spiritual life, it will make you sick and it will eventually kill you. One study suggested over 60% of cancer patients had significant unforgiveness, and illnesses like blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and of course mental health conditions have a huge percentage of Unforgiveness.
1 Peter 5:7 (ESV)
casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
3. SURRENDER THE RIGHT TO GET EVEN
If you feel unjustly treated, this is a hard one. What cost forgiveness? To forgive, you have to give up the right to get even. You have to forgive and leave the result with the Lord. You can be confident that, either in this life or the next, God will vindicate you.
Romans 12:19-21 (ESV)
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.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Surrender the right to get even and bless them instead.
4. FORGIVENESS – CHOOSE TO BE SET FREE
You can choose to forgive someone who has hurt you, and it will set you free. You may not feel like forgiving them, but forgiveness is a choice to be obedient to Christ. It’s an act of the will, not a feeling.
Galatians 5:1 (ESV)
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
Unforgiveness causes bitterness, and this is slavery. When we forgive another, we set them free but more importantly, we set ourselves free. Most of the time they don’t even know or give a thought about you, but you torture yourself by refusing to forgive. Forgiving sets you free!
THERE IS A BLESSING IN FORGIVENESS (FORGIVING OTHERS)
Forgiving another who has wronged you allows incredible blessing to flow into your life, and through your life to others.
Ephesians 4:31-32 (ESV)
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.
Letting it go, letting it be and forgiving others sets you free.
Romans 8:28 (ESV)
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
Yes, even your pain, your attack, the horrible Things done to you. If you forgive, God can and will use it all to His glory.
One of the greatest examples of forgiveness I have ever witnessed and been a part of involved my wife Fiona.
I’ve asked Fiona to share a real life testimony of forgiveness, and the power of forgiveness used by God to pour His blessing upon many people.
Some of you here hold on to unforgiveness today, and today is the day you can choose to forgive, let it go and be set free.
FORGIVENESS – QUESTIONS
WHY DOES GOD INSIST ON US FORGIVING THOSE WHO HURT US?
HOW DOES FORGIVING OTHERS SET YOU FREE?
WHAT DO YOU NEED TO FORGIVE TODAY?