There’s a story of two men who were before a magistrate, to answer charges of assault and of disturbing the peace. They both had their opportunities to tell their side of the story, and each of the men had claimed to be church going “Christians”. The Magistrate said to them that he thought the Bible taught them they should have been able to settle things outside of the court. One of the men, who had a beautiful shiner of a black eye, looked at the magistrate and said, ‘Sir, that’s exactly what we were trying to do when the police car showed up!’
Forgiveness is something we talk about a lot, in church, in Sunday School, and Bible Studies, but living it out in the real world is much tougher!
Matthew 18:15-22 (NKJV):
15 “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ 17 And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. 18 “Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19 “Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” 21 Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.
One day, Jesus picked up a towel and proceeded to wash His disciples’ feet…He humbled Himself…The Lord and Master put Himself in the place of a servant…and then very clearly said, “I did this as an example of how you should do the same.” But His examples of forgiveness are even harder to put into practice in our own lives. If you have ever been struck on the cheek by someone, either verbally or physically, you know how hard it is to turn the other one. If your child or grandchild is bullied in school and the another parent has the attitude, “well if your child wasn’t such a wimp he would stand up for himself.” If someone you work with somehow manages to make it look like the project or contract that has failed was all your fault, when it was really theirs. If you get word that someone has been gossiping about your family – one of your kids, or that dress your wife wore last week, or your uncle’s drinking problem … and making them all jokes at your expense.
Things get a lot dirtier, don’t they, when they move from a sterile discussion in chapel and into the real world pig pen. A London psychiatrist once told Dr. Billy Graham that 70% of the people in treatment in England could be released if they could find forgiveness. Their problem, he said, was guilt, and they could find no relief from the grief and pressure under which they lived. Often people today are told they have nothing to be guilty about, and in some circumstances that is true. Some people feel guilty about things they have not done: things that have been done to them by responsible adults, who have abused and misused them. They need help to see who is to blame. But most people with guilty consciences don’t need to be told that they are guiltless. Deep down they know there something to be guilty for, and what they need is not to hear that they are guiltless, but that they are forgiven.
JR Ewing, the rascal we all loved to hate, from the 1980s TV show called Dallas, used to love saying “I don’t get mad, I get even,” and getting even is something we have probably all wished for at some place in our lives — if we are willing to admit it.
I heard about a university student who was told he had £5 in library fines, and could not borrow more books until he paid the fine. He pleaded poverty to no avail, so he came back with 250 2 pence coins carefully deposited in a large jar of honey.
Maybe we don’t give someone a black eye, or put pennies in a jar of honey, but we can get even by refusing to speak to them, avoiding them in the shops, making sure our comments are cutting ones, and by telling others how much right we have to be angry and hurt.
Instead of reconciliation we hold a grudge and we avoid the problem — when we really should be kneeling with a towel and wiping the slate clean, we turn that towel into a whip and get them. Forgiveness is as raw a subject as it is a real imperative. It is tough because we know:
I. IT’S HARD TO WIPE THE HEART CLEAN
Forgiveness is a matter of the heart — and it has to do with anger. Listen to Jesus’ words: MATTHEW 5:21-24
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire. Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
Jesus reminds us that this is something that has been talked about since the days of Cain and Abel — from long. long, ago, people have been told “Do not murder.” Murder is a horrible sin — Cain crossed a line when he invented it. He became angry — picked up a rock and killed his brother — and a life ended. His brother’s blood cried out from the ground. God’s Word says the whole thing began with anger: GENESIS 4:3-7
I believe Cain’s offering wasn’t acceptable from the very beginning, because his heart wasn’t right. Perhaps he was in competition with his brother — but God always views the heart above the sacrifice — and God says to Cain that he can stop it — he can choose to do the right thing — it’s not too late. But he did cross the line when his anger exploded into an murder he couldn’t take back.
The first time I ever saw a murderer was when I was a policeman. A man’s wife was having an affair, and one night the husband calmly walked into a crowded restaurant, with a loaded pistol, found his wife and that man, and simply shot him several times, before others wrestled the gun away and pinned him down. The lover died at the scene, and I was in the charge office when the shooter was brought in. He just sat there, head in his hands, staring at the floor with disbelief, but nothing could change the fact that his anger had just killed a man. I learned later that he was a quiet, unassuming, accountant, who had never had as much as a parking fine before this. Something had snapped. Imagine being the family of the man he had shot? Imagine being the man’s friends and family? How easily could they forgive him for what he had done?
Most people never get to that point — but Jesus makes it very clear that unforgiveness begins in the heart.
I tell you anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.”
Cain was cursed and made to wander the earth. A long custodial sentence awaited the accountant from Bulawayo. A life of bitterness and disappointment are the judgment of the angry…at least here on earth. Cursing others as “fools” who can go to Hell is a dangerous heart place. That’s why when it comes to forgiveness we should try to:
II. WIPE AWAY THE GRUDGE IMMEDIATELY AND PERSONALLY
“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault…just between the two of you. Paul even tells us the attitude we should have as we go… “You who live by the spirit should seek restoration gently…watching yourself…” (Gal. 6:1)
The scriptures we’ve looked at deal with issues between fellow believers…and adversaries (our enemies)…and in both circumstances God’s Word says it’s better for **you** to take the first step, with a gentle heart than to ignore it — or end up in very deep trouble. Have you ever noticed that if you ignore sin, it never gets better? The deadly cancer simply grows and in the process, more people get injured, hurt or killed — and that can be either physically or spiritually. When we ignore sin, it destroys relationships. It destroys compassion, and at its worst it threatens our very lives.
The best thing to do is to avoid the temptation to gather a group around you who will reinforce how right you are to be so angry, to be thinking so much of getting even. The better thing to do is to keep it between you are the others involved. Try this personally, first, and if that gets nowhere, then ask two or three spiritual leaders to help you deal with things in a Christ-honouring way. Even though you still want to get even.
I don’t have all the answers…but anger and unforgiveness are like drinking drain cleaner and hoping it poisons someone else.
Stormie Omartian once said “Forgiveness doesn’t make the other person right — it makes you free.” Phillip Yancy has written a wonderful book titled “What’s so Amazing About Grace?”, and in it he says: “At last I understand: in the final analysis, forgiveness is an act of faith. By forgiving another I am trusting that God is a better justice-maker than I am. By forgiving I release my own right to get even and leave all issues of fairness for God to work out. I leave in God’s hands the scales that must balance justice and mercy.”
III. PURSUE FORGIVENESS AS AN ACT OF WORSHIP
We are never more like Jesus than when we pursue forgiveness — it’s why He lived, died, and rose again. Unity between brothers and sisters in His family is what He prayed for just before he went to the cross — and on that cross He prayed for His enemies forgiveness. I know you and me are not Jesus — and I know reconciliation isn’t always going to happen — because we cannot choose how other people will act or respond. Let me ask this though: when we suddenly remember or realise that a brother or sister has something against us, who do you think is behind that thought? Especially when you’re trying to worship God?
It’s the work of the Holy Spirit. Telling us how it is. Reminding us our relationship with God simply cannot be joyful, clean and free unless we are right with our brother or sister. “You cannot love God who you have not seen unless you love your brother whom you have seen.” (1 John 4:20)
Forgiveness shows people God’s love like no other gift. Before and during the second world war, Japan had invaded and captured Korea, and the Japanese treatment of the Korean people was cruel and extremely barbaric. The true story emerged later, of a church pastor, his name was Son, who was persecuted by the Japanese occupiers because he would not participate in Shinto worship. Later, when the communist uprisings and riots were happening, John and Matthew, his two eldest boys, were grabbed by some communist youth, ridiculed by a mock trial, for being Christians, and in a wave of hysteria, the young communist youth leaguers took the boys outside and executed them.
How could Pastor Son and the remainder of his family, thank God? Could you? How would you feel? The amazing thing that happened was that not only did Pastor Son manage to thank God for the tragedy of his martyred sons, but sought out those who killed them, and demanded they would not be beaten, but would be freed so he could proclaim the gospel to them. The dead boys’ sister Rachel, had discovered where one of her brother’s killers was being held, and that he was probably going to be executed for what he had done. He father pleaded with the authorities, and actually asked for the boy to be released into his custody. The family took him in, with love and compassion, forgave him for what he had done, and treated him as their son and brother. Could we do that? And yet it is possible when motivated and inspired by the example of Christ.
The boy grew to understand forgiveness, became a Christian himself, and went on to become a powerful evangelist and pastor himself. What a remarkable story of forgiveness and strength. “God’s forgiveness is not for decoration it is for use.” —Eduard Schweizer. Let’s Pray.