PULPIT TODAY SERMONS
Robert D. Pace
Forgiveness is a word we both love and hate. It’s a tremendous grace as it regards what God does with our confessed sins. When God forgives our sins it’s like He presses the delete button on His Heavenly computer. And when He forgives us He doesn’t send our sins to a temporary recycle bin just in case He needs to remind us of them. They’re totally removed from His records! That’s what we love about the word forgiveness. But there’s a facet of forgiveness that’s more difficult for us to deal with. And that’s when God asks us to forgive those that trespass against us.
(Illustration) It reminds me of the story of the man that loved dogs. He went in front of his house and began pouring a walkway to the street. As he was nearly finished a dog trounced right though the middle of the wet cement. Since he was a dog lover he overlooked the dog’s inability to recognize wet cement so he calmly re-smoothed the walkway. Knowing it could happen again he placed rope along each side of the walkway. But a few minutes later the dog pounced over the rope and again splashed through the cement. His patience dwindled but he didn’t retaliate; he chased off the dog with loud words. Again, he smoothed out the concrete and incredibly enough, the dog sneaked behind him and leaped flat-belly into the middle of his work. The man stormed into the house, grabbed his gun, when outside and shot the dog! His neighbor witnessed everything that happened and rushed over to his friend and said: “I thought you loved dogs.” The man responded, “I do love dogs. But that’s in the abstract. I hate dogs in the concrete.”
Do you treat “forgiveness” the same way? Do you dislike forgiveness when God asks, in a concrete fashion, for you to pardon others? The reason we struggle with forgiving others is because it operates contrary to human nature. When someone offends us there’s a natural tendency to be offended . . . and even retaliate! That’s what our sin nature desires to do. This is why Shakespeare said “to err is human but to forgive is divine.”
It’s much easier to bear a grudge than implement the law of grace and pardon someone. It’s much easier to brood and make people sweat than to release the offense and offer mercy. God possesses certain incommunicable attributes that mankind never claim. The Bible describes God as omnipotent, omniscient, sovereign, and transcendent. Man, in this life and the hereafter, can never be like that. But, there are communicable attributes of God that we can share:
- God is love and we can allow this virtue to flow through us.
He is merciful, longsuffering, and kind and He wants us to exhibit these qualities.
And then, God is forgiving and He certainly wants us to emulate that!
(Transition) There are reasons God commanded us to extend forgiveness. And believe it or not, God isn’t trying to persecute us; He’s trying to bless us! Here is the most important reason the Bible commands us to forgive:
1. God is prevented from forgiving us when we refuse to forgive others. Jesus said: “if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. (15) But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
2. But there is another reason God wants you to forgive. People that don’t forgive others are plagued with misery. Unforgiveness prevents spiritual rest; hinders worship; and impedes prayers. You simply won’t be able to shake a constant inner gnawing if you bear grudges and refuse to forgive!
(Illustration) The story is told of Ron Cotton being imprisoned in 1984 for two rapes he didn’t commit. The court sentenced him to fifty-four years. He was filled with anger and hatred toward prosecutors, police, and his accusers. But he was born again in 1987 and began to change. He realized a commitment to Christ meant he should release his bitterness, so he forgave everyone involved. In 1998 he won a new trial and the DNA evidence convinced the court of his innocence. But he had already won his freedom in 1987. His soul was freed the moment he forgave.
3. A third reason we should forgive is because James 5:16 says unforgiveness can cause physical sickness. James said: “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”
Did you know that modern medicine has discovered that a bitter spirit can seriously affect our health? Doctors report that unforgiveness disturbs the nervous system, hinders the digestive process, and heats the blood in the heart so that the entire body is first overheated and then falls into depression. That’s not to mention how unforgiveness sours our disposition and distracts from our work.
But here’s the beauty of forgiving others: When you forgive, God allows you to duplicate His divine nature to forgive also! If you could peer into the “spiritual dimension” when you forgive, you would probably see a rush of angels gather around you and polish you with the radiant beauty of the Lord Jesus Christ! You would witness a renewed application of God’s glory illuminating your entire being and realize how much more you reflect the image of your Creator.
(Illustration) When I was growing up with my brother, he and I engaged in the normal routine of sibling rivalries. One recurring confrontation took place at the dinner table. There was always certain food that I enjoyed and my brother disliked and vice-versa. But that didn’t matter to Mother! Mothers want everybody consuming what’s prepared without discrimination of taste! Mothers expect you to eat what they prepare because: “It’s good for you!” So when one of us enjoyed a vegetable that nauseated the other, we would get that sinister look in our eyes, peer across the table, and say: “Eat it, it’s good for you!” Well, do you know why God wants you to forgive? “It’s good for you”! It’s good for your body, soul, and spirit.
(Quote) I don’t know who authored this statement but it is forever true: “Unforgiveness is the cup of poison served to your enemy that when they drink poisons you, not them!”
I love the way Jesus took the opportunity to teach the beauty of forgiveness to His apostles. Peter and the apostles gathered around Him and asked: “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times” (MAT 18:21)? I think Peter may have sincerely thought he had it figured out when he calculated the number of times we should forgive. But Jesus startled them with His answer.
The Rabbis taught that forgiving someone three times was sufficient. Nothing in the Jewish Talmud required people to forgive more than that. Knowing this, Peter doubled that number and then added one extra for good measure! Peter figured he was really impressing Jesus with his answer. But Jesus said to Peter: “No, not seven times, but seventy times seven.” That’s 490 times! The point Jesus made was: ‘Don’t count, Peter, just forgive!’
(Parable) This is the very point Jesus made in The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant. Jesus described two servants that owed their master money. One servant owed mere pocket-change, while the other owed 10,000 talents. It’s strange that Jesus just said “10,000 talents” without regard to whether He meant silver or gold. Since He was illustrating an inconceivable deficit He probably meant the gold denomination. According to U.S. standards, 10,000 talents of gold equates to 9,000,000 ounces. Gold today sells for about $1300 an ounce. That means 10,000 talents of gold equals approximately $8 trillion dollars! An astronomical debt that’s impossible for anybody to pay!
Consider these two debts another way. One man owed about twenty dollars—something that could easily be carried in his pocket. You don’t even feel the weight of a $20 bill in your wallet. But 10,000 talents of gold would involve 17,200 people carrying thirty pounds of gold each.
(Insight) When God asks men to forgive each other, it amounts to an offense of about $20.00. But when God forgives men of their offenses toward Him, it equates to an $8 trillion offense! That means, since God has freely forgiven our infinite indebtedness, we should seek to reflect His image and forgive our debtors.
The fact is, there will always be offenses in life. We’re going to get insulted, betrayed, and persecuted. Nobody lives without absorbing the shock of offenses. And the person that never feels the throb of indignation or the hot flash of anger is dead! God made us emotional creatures!
- It’s alright to get mad. It’s not alright to let “the sun go down upon your wrath!”
It’s alright to be hurt and disappointed because someone betrayed you. It’s not alright to let hurts and disappointments settle into your heart and fester into a “root of bitterness.”
People are going to gossip, lie, and offend you. That’s what Jesus meant when He said “It is inevitable that offenses will come.” But it is not alright to retaliate against the offenses of others toward you.
Let God defend you! Romans 12:19 says: “Do not take revenge . . . but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.” The Bible says, “give no place to the devil.” If you let animosity, resentment, or anger find a resting place in your heart, you’re giving “place to the devil.”
(Illustration) Many years ago I remember an employee that worked for my dad in his furniture business. I was about twelve years old. After working two or three years for my dad Art began staying late at work. And it wasn’t long until my dad discovered Art had covertly deceived him. Art had copied my dad’s customer files, called those customers, told them my dad was closing his furniture business, and he would take over the accounts. As a youngster, I became angry at Art. I would lie in bed and imagine the harm I could do to him. But even as a boy the Holy Spirit convicted me of an unforgiving spirit. I had to forgive Art for his actions against my dad.
The Principle of Forgiveness
Maybe during this sermon somebody has been replaying a crushing offense that has seemed impossible to release. You would like to settle it but you don’t know how. I want to help you understand “The Principle of Forgiveness” because it’s like many other tenets of the Bible: There are times an offense against you is so great, it takes the divine power of the Holy Spirit working through you to extend forgiveness. You can’t forgive from human strength alone; it takes God’s help. That’s why Jesus said: “without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Just as you can’t be Born Again, healed, or manifest the “Fruit of the Spirit” without God’s power, there are times when you can’t forgive without God’s pronounced assistance.
When you understand this Principle of Forgiveness you realize it’s the only way you can fulfill Christ’s command to “forgive your brother from your heart” (Matthew 18:35). True forgiveness is not a glib rush of words saying: “Oh, don’t worry about it!” True forgiveness is an act of heart. It comes from the deepest part of our being. The power of the Holy Spirit must be present or it makes forgiveness impossible! Only the Holy Spirit can cleanse your heart from the pollution of bitterness, resentment, and revenge. And when you understand this Principle you discover forgiveness is a work of God’s grace manifesting itself through your life. That’s why you should invite the Holy Spirit to help you offer forgiveness. He makes the impossible, possible!
Forgive and Forget?
Do you know what we really struggle with about the forgiveness process? Whenever we extend forgiveness and believe the issue is resolved, the offense somehow reappears and reminds of the hurt. The episode gets mentally replayed again and again. So how do we deal with this?
What we need to understand about the memory of offenses is this: Nobody but God can “forgive and forget!” It’s normal for the brain to retain grief and pain from the past. A memory of an incident doesn’t mean you didn’t offer forgiveness. That’s human! A memory is an opportunity to reaffirm your commitment to love and forgive and reflect Christ’s image. And this is also where forgiving “seventy times seven” is applied.
(Illustration) In 1974 ten-year old Chris Carrier was kidnapped and burned with cigarettes, stabbed, shot in the head, and abandoned. Amazingly, he recovered and only suffers from blindness in his left eye. Twenty-two years later David McAllister, a seventy-seven year-old, confessed to the crime from a nursing home. Chris became a Christian at age thirteen and later entered the ministry. Until he was saved he had recurring nightmares and couldn’t sleep through the night. But Chris found peace the moment of his conversion. That’s why he ministered to his abductor everyday in the nursing home in the final days of his life. Chris said: “it would be selfish not to share that same peace with David McAllister.” Do you see what forgiveness does? It reflects a genuine work of grace within our lives.
Before I finish this message, let me give you two tips on how to avoid an unforgiving spirit:
1. One, don’t be easily offended.
There will be occasions when your friends and relatives won’t send you a Sympathy Card when you were sick. Instead, thank the Lord you recovered and remember to contact someone else when they are suffering!
- Maybe nobody noticed your new hairstyle. Just be thankful you have hair!
Maybe you weren’t invited to the party. Throw a party and invite those that overlooked you!
There are 1001 reasons to get offended in life. You can avoid offenses when you concentrate more on God’s Word than you concentrate on offenses. Psalm 119:165 says: “Great peace have they who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble.”
2. And then, secondly, you can avoid an unforgiving spirit by realizing how important forgiveness is to the Christian Faith. Remember, forgiveness is the crowning jewel of your faith and it reflects a genuine work of grace in your life.