Preface

 

I am writing this book after a lifetime of experience on both sides of the issue of forgiveness. I have learned to forgive out of many situations in my life where I needed to be forgiven. It is interesting that I was less forgiving when I was a person who needed forgiveness. I have learned, and am still learning, that a life lived in unforgiveness is a precious waste of what God wants to teach us and what He has in store for us. 

At one point in my life, for a few years, I rebelled against God. In fact I was clearly in denial of the very existence of God for a time. I was doing many things that offended a number of people, in particular my family. I was living a life that was an embarrassment to them and many friends. I do not want to go into all the facts of a life of sin that has been forgiven by the Lord Jesus Christ—that I no longer dwell on—but suffice it to say I was making a fool of myself in the face of my family who were in the Lord’s work as missionaries.

During that time I found many excuses to be the way I was. I held a grudge against people who had sinned against me. I was unable to forgive myself or my father for things that had happened before he was lost in a boating accident while I was away at school. I found myself drifting away from God and into addiction and other sins. 

At my lowest point I realized that I had pretty much disgraced myself and my friends and no one really cared about me anymore. What I did not realize, at the time, was that my family and some friends were still praying for me. At that low point I did remember that childhood song I learned in church: “Jesus loves me, this I know for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to Him belong, they are weak but He is strong. Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me, the Bible tells me so”.  I was so alone in my unforgiveness yet realized that Jesus had sought me out and wanted me to return to Him so that He could clean me up and heal me. 

It was many years after I gave my life back to the Lord that I found that He had indeed healed me. But I paid a price for my unforgiveness. I was finally able to forgive those who had sinned against me and begin the process of forgetting. That was a real catharsis in my life. I am glad now that the Lord brought me through that in so few years because I would not have wanted to continue to let those things fester for the rest of my life. But some people do.

Through the years I have been presented with many opportunities to forgive. Sometimes the situation was so severe that it took me some time to forgive and start the process of healing for myself, and eventually for others. I learned that a Christian needs to forgive other people even if they have not repented of their sins. That can be really hard if we let it be hard. But if we give our burdens over to the Lord, He will carry them and that frees us up to treat other people with love, compassion, and be in the right frame of mind and heart to set them up for reconciliation with Jesus Christ. That does not mean we tolerate their sin. We simply forgive them for what they have done to us, whether perceived or real, and move on to looking for ways to redeem them. We can then present to them the “truth in love” even when we have to rebuke them. 

I am hoping that this study in forgiveness will give you many examples of how the Lord can work this issue out in your life. The research I did for this book has helped me with a number of pressing issues of forgiveness in my life.

 

In His hands,

Sandy Simpson

 

 

Introduction

 

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. (Isa 53:5)

 

This verse has been misused by many false teachers and the topic of forgiveness is a good illustration of that point. What difference does it make when God forgives us? Jesus Christ suffered and died to provide forgiveness of sins. When we believe that He is God and that his death on the cross is the only way to salvation His sacrifice is then applied to us and we are forgiven. We are not just forgiven but the process of healing then begins. We are not only healed by being born again but the healing of the effects of sin begins. Without Jesus’ grace and our faith we would not have the new birth and the starting over. We enter the world of eternal life in Christ through believing as newborns. We then begin the journey toward maturity. In that journey we begin a healing called sanctification, being set apart for God from the world, from the effects of our sin nature, and the enemy. That healing process, begun at the moment of salvation, then continues its healing effects through the span of our lifetimes.

The same is true, with regards to living out our lives in the world, when we forgive others. We cannot forgive their sins as God does but we can forgive them for sinning against us. Then the process of healing can then begin. There is an immediate aspect to it as in salvation, and an ongoing aspect to it as in sanctification. But the point is ... we must forgive for the healing to begin. Forgiveness needs to happen so that forgetting can start to unfold. Without forgiveness there can be no new start, a wiping clean of the slate. More importantly there can be no healing. Wounds of unforgiveness fester and eventually rot. I have known many people who cannot forgive and that condition causes the quality of their lives to putrify and eventually leads to physical problems and even death. Far more serious are the spiritual implications.

The healing properties of forgiveness cannot be underestimated. Just as we are healed and begin a lifelong process of healing when we confess our sins and accept God’s provision of salvation through Jesus Christ, so too a similar efficacy begins when we forgive others as Christ has forgiven us.

 

Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. (Pr 12:18) 

 

Reckless words are most often a major cause of unforgiveness. Those who are wise do not give cause for word that wound but will also forgive when they are wounded in order to bring healing, not only to themselves but to others.

 

Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. (Pr 16:24)

 

Words of forgiveness are the sweetest of all. The healing they bring can avert a lifetime of pain and sorrow. If others do not forgive you then at least you can forgive them as Christ has forgiven you.

 

-1-

 

Unforgiveness

 

Main Verses: 2: Tim. 3:1-5; Heb. 12:14-15; Eph. 4:26-27

 

I want to start out this series of lessons in forgiveness by looking at the negative … unforgiveness. This is a far-reaching  problem today and to understand the Biblical mandate on forgiveness we have to understand the sin problem of unforgiveness.

            The Bible teaches us that, particularly in the last days (the days I believe we are living in now), people will have sin problems in a number of areas. 

 

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them. (2 Tim. 3:1-5)

 

            Notice that one of the sins abounding in the end times is that of unforgiveness. I see this in evidence in the world today. A lifestyle of holding grudges, malice and revenge is taught to us by our popular cultures. Behind most violence and murder lies some form of unforgiveness. Behind suicide is often the inability of a person to accept forgiveness, to forgive someone else or to understand that God would forgive them if they repent. Some people live their whole lives destroying themselves from the inside out with unforgiveness, particularly toward other family members. There are many examples in the world of people who cannot forgive. I want to relate a story from my youth about one of my childhood friends. This story is an example of the terrible price of unforgiveness and revenge. I grew up in the islands of Palau and have many friends there. I speak the Palauan language. One night my next-door neighbor, who had been a childhood friend, came home screaming obscenities. This was a somewhat regular occurrence for him after a night of drunken revelry. His shouting was so loud that it woke me up. Sometimes when he got like this I would go talk to him to try to calm him down. I knew he would usually drink coffee with a lot of sugar to sober up. That night I was tired and went back to sleep. I awoke in the morning to a lot of commotion. I went outside and went out to the beach. There were many people there. The police were taking my friend away in handcuffs. I soon learned what had happened later that night after I was awakened and went back to sleep. My friend had been drinking and playing pool with a number of people including a detective in the police department. They began to insult each other. My friend had been a drunk and had also been smoking marijuana for many years. He had made death threats on others but had never carried them out. But that night he walked home shouting all the way, got a 22-caliber gun, went back to the pool hall and shot the officer right in the heart in the presence of witnesses. The detective died. My friend spent many years in jail for this crime. It was a big shock for me. I never thought he would do such a thing but I learned that day the awful price of unforgiveness and revenge.

            Since I grew up in the islands I understand a bit about island cultures. There is a particularly strong thread of unforgiveness that leads to malice and finally violence bred into the societies of the islands. Since the discovery of the different islands by people who had fanned out after the Tower of Babel there was a lot of competition for island groups and land. There were many wars between islands for domination, and finally when the dust settled on those wars the wars of dominance within island groups continued. Often island was against island, village against village, and clan against clan. I grew up in a village at a time when you just didn’t stroll into another village without permission. There was and still is a lot of rivalry between people from different villages and when alcohol or drugs become involved that often sets the stage for violence. If a member of a certain village is seriously injured or killed, it then often becomes a matter of vengeance for the village, clan or family. Now that many islanders are traveling to and staying in the major island commerce centers in the Pacific a new problem has been added which is really the same old problem … that of inter-island rivalry. Some island cultures foster bigotry against other islands and many false ideas about “race” are passed down from generation to generation. This provides a platform to a return to the former unforgiveness and revenge of older times. And so the cycle perpetuates itself.

            If you read the history of how the Gospel came to the islands, many times via islanders who had become believers traveling with Western missionaries, you know that one of the first things to start to change was the old pattern of unforgiveness and violence.

            There is a story of one man from a Micronesian island who had caused a lot of violence, not only in his island group, but also in a neighboring island. His name was well known and people were afraid of him. One day he was on his boat and a storm came up and blew him out to sea. He was set adrift and finally many days later spotted land. The only problem was that the mountains on the land he spotted told him he was going to have to land in the territory of  the rival island. He fully expected, when spotted, to have the people of that place come out, capture him, and kill him. What he did not know was that during the time he had been away from that island group the first missionaries had arrived there. They witnessed to the head chief of those islands and he was converted, and not only he but also virtually every other persons in those islands. They had become Christians and their attitudes about taking revenge for past wrongs had changed. They came out to the beach and greeted their former enemy with kindness and helped him. When he was finally able to return to home islands be told this amazing story of forgiveness. The root of bitterness that formerly existed between those islanders had been broken by the love of Christ in the hearts of His followers.

 

Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no-one will see the Lord. See to it that no-one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. (Heb. 12:14-15)

 

A root of bitterness or unforgiveness can become a trouble for many. It can defile whole families, whole villages, whole clans, whole islands or whole churches.

Esau allowed a root of bitterness to grow up between himself and his brother Jacob.

 

See that no-one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. Afterwards, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. He could bring about no change of mind, though he sought the blessing with tears. (Heb. 12:16-17)

 

Because of the unwillingness of Esau to forgive his brother for his own mistakes, his unforgiveness continued on to successive generations to the point where Edom came under God’s judgment.

 

This is what the LORD says: "For three sins of Edom, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath. Because he pursued his brother with a sword, stifling all compassion, because his anger raged continually and his fury flamed unchecked. I will send fire upon Teman that will consume the fortresses of Bozrah." (Amos 1:11-12)

 

When a person refuses to forgive it starts with stifling compassion and usually ends in anger and rage. A root of bitterness can start with one individual and grow into a tree of unforgiveness as it did in the case of Esau and his descendants. But a root of the love of Christ can grow into a tree of forgiveness, which can affect uncounted lives.

Sometimes a small grudge, a minor incident in the past, if held and nurtured by hatred can grow. The truth and actual impact at the basis of a grudge characteristically diminishes over time while the legend of it usually grows. Here are some illustrations of carrying a grudge that started out as a minor issue and ended in seeking revenge.

 

“Police say a 30-year grudge boiled over when a former elementary school teacher littered the driveways of former co-workers and bosses with roofing nails and splattered paint on their garage doors. Thomas R. Haberbush, 72, pleaded guilty last Tuesday to one count each of stalking, criminal mischief and criminal tampering, all misdemeanors. Police said that three former school board members, a retired principal and a retired assistant principal at Caroline Street Elementary School were among the nine victims Haberbush targeted over the past two years. Their car tires were damaged by roofing nails that Haberbush threw in the driveways, police said. "It's very bizarre to carry around a grudge for nearly 30 years," said Saratoga Springs police investigator John Catone. "At least now there can be closure for all those people he terrorized." Police said Haberbush had been angered after receiving poor work reviews. Saratoga County assistant district attorney David Harper requested that Haberbush undergo a mental health evaluation as part of the plea agreement. He also will be barred from contacting the victims in the future.” (“Man Allegedly Patient About Revenge”, Saratoga Springs, N.Y. (AP), 4/11/05)

 

“Tokyo police recently arrested a man who was upset over being denied entrance to graduate school 14 years ago. Since that day he has averaged about 10 phone calls a night—between the hours of 8 p.m. and 2 a.m.—to the former professor whom he blames for his lost opportunity. Those 14 years of annoying phone calls totaled up to over 50,000 calls.” (Source Unknown)

 

Holding a grudge also makes the person(s) doing so miss out on many blessings.

 

“A childhood accident caused poet Elizabeth Barrett to lead a life of semi-invalidism before she married Robert Browning in 1846. There’s more to the story. In her youth, Elizabeth had been watched over by her tyrannical father. When she and Robert were married, their wedding was held in secret because of her father’s disapproval. After the wedding the Brownings sailed for Italy, where they lived for the rest of their lives. But even though her parents had disowned her, Elizabeth never gave up on the relationship. Almost weekly she wrote them letters. Not once did they reply. After 10 years, she received a large box in the mail. Inside, Elizabeth found all of her letters; not one had been opened! Today those letters are among the most beautiful in classical English literature. Had her parents only read a few of them, their relationship with Elizabeth might have been restored.” (Daily Walk, May 30, 1992)

 

Holding grudges and taking revenge do not satisfy the soul. They actually consume the person who is holding the grudge and hurt them further.

 

“Holding grudges NEVER pays. Picture in your mind what a grudge might look like if it was a creature of some kind. It probably wouldn't look very pretty, would it? Why would we want to hold onto something like that until someone else first makes a move towards reconciliation? YOU are the one stuck with this ugly creature, not the other person. Get rid of it. It's robbing you of love, joy and peace. It's taking away your life!” (Gary Amirault)

 

“Once armies carried cannonballs with them, afraid they would meet the enemy somewhere and have nothing to shoot at it. In terms of specific gravity, grudges are about as heavy as cannonballs. But it makes little sense to carry them. Most likely, the “enemy” is unaware of your enmity, and surely would be surprised to learn that you’ve been stalking him with a cannonball in your pocket. So examine your grudges. Do what armies do when hostilities are over: unload the cannonballs and stack them on the courthouse lawn. Then marvel at how much easier it is to get around.”  (James Alexander Thom, Nuggets)

 

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To carry a grudge is like being stung to death by one bee.

—William H. Walton

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The following story is about how a woman had physical cancer. But she discovered that her real problem was a cancer of unforgiveness, and that problem was preventing her from experiencing physical healing.

 

“A few years ago, I was diagnosed with a galloping malignant secondary cancer. It was a very fast spreading cancer and although I underwent chemotherapy and radiation, I faced imminent death, and it was a terrifying experience. For the first time in my life from the depths of my soul, I cried out to Jesus, “Lord, Help me. Please, help me.”  There was no answer. One night as I lay down, preparing to face death, my 14-year-old son came to me with his Bible. He attended Sunday school regularly and had developed the habit of reading the Bible every night before going to bed. That night, he felt his mother too should read the passage he was reading. (When I look back, I marvel at our God’s compassion and the means He used to reach out to me.) Although from a Christian family background, I had never ever opened the Bible in all my life. This is what my son asked me to read that night. Mark Chapter 11 vs. 22 to 25 (The Living Bible) Jesus said to his disciples, “If you only have faith in God – this is the absolute truth- you can say to this Mount of Olives ‘Rise up and fall into the Mediterranean’ and your command will be obeyed. All that is required is that you believe and have no doubt. Listen to me! You can pray for anything and if you believe, you have it; it’s yours. But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against so that your Father in heaven will forgive you your sins, too.” These words of scripture came alive and spoke directly to me. It was as if Jesus himself was speaking to me. With childlike, simple faith I believed every word I read. I realized Jesus had the power to heal me. However, it was the last verse that He highlighted for me that night, about forgiving others. My heart was so full of bitterness, resentment and anger. These feelings were rooted in me against people who had hurt me over the years. The hurt was too deep and intense, and I had bottled it all up. Unforgiveness weighed me down, but I did not know how to deal with it. That night I asked Jesus to help me forgive and to help me let go of all the resentments buried in the depths of my being, unknown to any human being but known only to our God. It was as if a dam burst inside me and I wept through the night, reliving the agony of my unforgiving heart and as I did so, I placed all my negative feelings at the feet of Jesus. In the early hours of dawn, I experienced a peace, which passes all understanding. Jesus had cleansed me, as only He can. I felt light, as if a heavy weight had been removed. Thereafter, I said a simple one-line prayer for the healing of my cancer. After which I thanked Jesus, accepted His healing (just as the verses of Scripture said), and drifted off to sleep in the early hours of the morning. The next day, and for the next 3 weeks, my body was tested and retested. The doctors were puzzled. There was not a cell or trace of cancer in my body. This happened 10 years ago. Deep-rooted unforgiveness had become a physical cancer and Jesus set me free through His Word. He healed me physically and spiritually, changing my life and my way of thinking. Later, I went to Bible School, and today He enables me to help others know that The Word of God is living, pointing us to our risen Christ Jesus who has the power to change lives, attitudes and circumstances. There is no one like Jesus, our God of all compassion and mercy.”

 

There is no guarantee of physical healing if we forgive others. But if we wipe the slate clean with Jesus and with those we have held a grudge against that will bring us into a right relationship with Christ (if we believe in Him) and restore us to a clean heart. Then Jesus will hear our prayers and answer them according to His will.

 

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. (1 John 5:14)

 

If we are unwilling to let go of our unforgiveness then that can become a trap that imprisons us … a trap of our own devising. Unless we let go of real or perceived sins against us we remain trapped by our own lack of forgiveness.

There is a story I heard a number of years ago that illustrates this point very clearly.

 

“In Africa, there is a type of monkey that people love to have as a pet. However, they are very difficult to capture. The hunters have devised a clever way to trap them. They take a hollow log, narrow enough so the monkey can't climb in. They drill a hole in the middle (just big enough for the monkey’s paw) and drop some nuts into the hole. The young monkeys will eventually get curious about the log and when they see the nuts will reach through the drilled hole to grab them. Once they take hold of a nut they won't let go, but their paw is now too large to remove from the hole. The hunter can now simply walk up and throw his net over the monkey. The monkey values the nut too much to let it go. That, which the monkey values and holds on to, becomes the cause of his captivity.”

 

Unforgiveness is very much like this; we often hold on to that which will trap us. Unforgiveness often feels good for a time; it feels right, it seems to give us an excuse and a focal point for our life. But it is ultimately a trap.  It always creates a breach in our relationship with each other and with God.

Unforgiveness is not just a trap of our own making, but it gives a foothold to the enemy in our lives.

 

"In your anger do not sin": {Psalm 4:4} Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. (Eph. 4:26-27)

 

Our anger towards others is almost always rooted in unforgiveness. We should not let unforgiveness take control of our lives. It not only produces physical unrest at night as does worry (Ps. 77:1-5) but it can become a controlling aspect of our lives. But far more serious is that it gives the enemy an entrance into our lives for temptation (James 1:13-15, 1 Thes. 3:5). He wants us to end up as far away from Jesus Christ as possible.


-2-

 

How Must I Forgive?

 

Main Verses: Heb. 8:12, 10:17; 2 Cor. 5:18-19; Isa. 43:16-18

 

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Good to forgive. Best to forget.

—Robert Browning

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It is not an easy thing to forgive, and even harder to forget. It is impossible to forget without first forgiving. Our words and actions often leave lasting marks. This is illustrated by the following story.

 

“There was a little boy with a bad temper. His father gave him a bag of nails and told him that every time he lost his temper, to hammer a nail in the back fence. The first day the boy had driven 37 nails into the fence. Then it gradually dwindled down. He discovered it was easier to hold his temper than to drive those nails into the fence. Finally the day came when the boy didn't lose his temper at all. He told his father about it and the father suggested that the boy now pull out one nail for each day that he was able to hold his temper. The days passed and the young boy was finally able to tell his father that all the nails were gone. The father took his son by the hand and led him to the fence. He said, "You have done well, my son, but look at the holes in the fence. The fence will never be the same. When you say things in anger, they leave a scar just like this one. You can put a knife in a man and draw it out. It won't matter how many times you say I'm sorry, the wound is still there. A verbal wound is as bad as a physical one. Friends are a very rare jewel, indeed. They make you smile and encourage you to succeed. They lend an ear, they share a word of praise, and they always want to open their hearts to us.”

 

When we wound one another we can leave a lasting impression unless those sins are repented of and forgiven. We need to forgive one another as the Lord forgives us when we repent to Him. But that forgiveness from the Lord is based on true repentance, not just saying we are sorry. I often tell a story from my own life that illustrates the difference between true repentance and just saying you are sorry while continuing to do what you were doing. A friend and I were walking on the reef on an island one day. We spotted some men on the reef using crowbars to hack out live coral. This being against the law we took it upon ourselves to go over to the men. My friend announced to them “Stop what you are doing. It is against the law”. The men could not speak very good English but they kept repeating over and over “Sorry, sorry”. Then they went back to hacking at the reef. Realizing that we were not getting through to them, we went back and reported them to the proper authorities. This story illustrates the difference between simply being “sorry” and the true repentance that is turning away from sin. If they had left the reef and stopped what they were doing that would have been a real turning away (repentance) from the evil they were doing.

The Bible is clear that when God forgives sin He no longer remembers that sin.

 

For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more." {Jer. 31:31-34} (Heb 8:12)

Then he adds: "Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more." {Jer. 31:34} (Heb 10:17)

 

God is omniscient. Therefore He cannot actually forget anything (John 16:30; 21:17). Actual memory loss for God is not what these verses are talking about. Rather God chooses not to remember or hold sin against those who repent (Mr. 11:25, Ps. 79:8). Based on the blood of Christ for the remission of sin, our forgiven sins are then made by God to be as far from God as the east is from the west (Ps. 103:12). Since on a globe there is a north and south and those points have an end, while east and west have no beginning or end, this example actually means that the remembrance of our past repented and forgiven sins are no longer in existence before God. This is also a good reason to no longer allow the enemy to bring up past sins that the Lord has forgiven us. Those past sins are no longer relevant to God, nor should they be relevant to the forgiven Christian.

In our forgiving others we should follow this pattern. We must make a conscious choice, with the help of the Lord, to no longer continually bring our past sins to mind or allow the enemy to do so (2 Cor. 2:10-11). This is why Theophostic techniques, Cleansing Stream, and other programs based on worldly psychological principles fail so miserably to offer true healing. We are not told to drag up old memories but to forgive and forget. Satan is always trying to outwit us or plot against us to try to drive us away from God. We do not want to be unaware of the devices of the enemy, one of which is to cause us to live in unforgiveness. This does not mean that those we forgive are absolved of their sins. We cannot forgive sins. Only God can do that. 

In talking about forgiveness in these lessons I am not talking about “tolerance”. Forgiveness and tolerance are not the same thing. God does not tolerate sin (Hab. 1:3, Ps. 147:6). He laid the basis for forgiveness through the perfect life and perfect sacrifice of His Son (Eph. 1:7). He loves everyone and is not willing that any should perish (2 Pet. 3:9). We should have the same heart for people. We should forgive them in order that we will be treating them properly rather than pushing them away from repentance and redemption (Col. 3:12-13). One of our goals in forgiving is to set the stage for possible redemption through Christ and the forgiveness of sin, not to set the stage for further sin. 

 

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Cor. 5:18-19)

 

In our ministry of reconciliation, when people repent, we must no longer count his sins against him just as Christ does not. On the other hand we do not want to give them some easy way to justify themselves and what they are doing through tolerance, which only sets unrepentant people up for further sin. Many modern churches tolerate sin and thus are leaving people in unrepentance. Unrepentance is rebellion. Rebellion is sin. Sin leads to death (Rom. 6:23). But if a person repents and turns to Christ for salvation and spiritual healing we are to no longer “dwell on the past”.

 

This is what the LORD says—he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters, who drew out the chariots and horses, the army and reinforcements together, and they lay there, never to rise again, extinguished, snuffed out like a wick: "Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland. (Isa. 43:16-18)

 

Israel was to forget the former things including their captivity in the past and remember God’s miraculous mercies.  When we forgive we will then begin the process of forgetting sins committed against us.

 

“In a recent chapel service bulletin from Chaplain Wendell C. Hawley, comes a classic illustration of forgiveness. When the Moravian missionaries first went to the Eskimos, they could not find a word in their language for forgiveness, so they had to compound one. This turned out to be: Issumagijoujungnainermik. It is a formidable-looking assembly of letters, but an expression that has a beautiful connotation for those who understand it. It means: “Not-being-able-to-think-about-it-anymore.” (Minister’s Research Service)

 

“Corrie Ten Boom told of not being able to forget a wrong that had been done to her. She had forgiven the person, but she kept rehashing the incident and so couldn’t sleep. Finally Corrie cried out to God for help in putting the problem to rest. “His help came in the form of a kindly Lutheran pastor,” Corrie wrote, “to whom I confessed my failure after two sleepless weeks.” “Up in the church tower,” he said, nodding out the window, “is a bell which is rung by pulling on a rope. But you know what? After the sexton lets go of the rope, the bell keeps on swinging. First ding, then dong. Slower and slower until there’s a final dong and it stops. I believe the same thing is true of forgiveness. When we forgive, we take our hand off the rope. But if we’ve been tugging at our grievances for a long time, we mustn’t be surprised if the old angry thoughts keep coming for a while. They’re just the ding-dongs of the old bell slowing down. And so it proved to be. There were a few more midnight reverberations, a couple of dings when the subject came up in my conversations, but the force—which was my willingness in the matter—had gone out of them. They came less and less often and at the last stopped altogether: we can trust God not only above our emotions, but also above our thoughts.” (Source unknown)

 

Forgetting is never immediate. But when we no longer dwell on the past we begin to forget the wrongs done to us. God instructed the Israelites to “forget the former things” concerning their captivity.  We can also live in unforgiveness by allowing past wrongs done to us to shape our life and attitudes.  God will also do a “new thing” in the life of a Christian when forgiveness is in evidence in his heart.  He will make a way in the deserts of the future if we can finally let go of sins done to us in the past.

 

“A story tells that two friends were walking through the desert. During some point of the journey they had an argument, and one friend slapped the other one in the face. The one who got slapped was hurt, but without saying anything, wrote in the sand: "TODAY MY BEST FRIEND SLAPPED ME IN THE FACE." They kept on walking until they found an oasis, where they decided to take a bath. The one who had been slapped got stuck in the mire and started drowning, but the friend saved him. After he recovered from the near drowning, he wrote on a stone: "TODAY MY BEST FRIEND SAVED MY LIFE." The friend who had slapped and saved his best friend asked him, "After I hurt you, you wrote in the sand and now, you write on a stone, why?" The other friend replied: "When someone hurts us we should write it down in sand where winds of forgiveness can erase it away. But, when someone does something good for us, we must engrave it in stone where no wind can ever erase it." Learn to write your hurts in the sand and to carve your benefits in stone. They say it takes a minute to find a special person, an hour to appreciate them, a day to love them, but then an entire life to forgive them.” (Writer Unknown)

 

The sands of time will blow away the hurts of the past if we are willing to forgive.  If we concentrate on the good attributes of a person we will be less likely to concentrate on the ways in which he  may have hurt us.  It is also useful to stop dwelling on the past so that we will not suffer in the present and future.

 

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matt. 6:34)

Then Jesus said to his disciples: "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. (Luke 12:22)

 

When we do not forgive others for things done in the past we will be more likely to worry about tomorrow.  If we cannot trust the Lord to forgive, if we cannot in turn forgive others, then the future will become a place very similar to that in which we now live.  The only way we can be free in Christ is to lay that burden of unforgiveness on the Lord, nailing it to the cross.

 

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matt. 11:28-30)

Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:23)

 

Many times we must deny ourselves in order to forgive.  If we take up the cross of forgiveness everyday we will no longer be holding grudges against people but will be laying it all at the foot of the cross.  We can lay all our burdens of the past, present and future on our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 

So how must I forgive?  Lay it all at the feet of Jesus.  Forgive and start the process of forgetting.

 

-3-

 

Why Must I Forgive?

 

Main Verses: Matt. 6:12, 14; Mark 6:15, 11:25; Luke 6:37, 11:4, 17:3-4; 2 Thes. 3:14; John 20:23 

 

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To err is human; to forgive, divine.

—Alexander Pope

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The Lord gave us a pattern of how to pray in what is called the “Lord’s Prayer”.  The amazing thing is that many people pray that prayer without thinking about the implications.  Many churches have their people recite this prayer without warning them of the covenant they are making with the Lord with regards to forgiveness.  I wonder how many never realize they may be praying judgment upon themselves when they pray the following:

 

Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. (Matt. 6:12)

 

The word for debt is “opheilema” in Greek, which means, “that which is owed” or a “legal debt”. It is also a metaphor for “offence” or “sin” according to Strongs Online Bible Greek Lexicon.  We are to forgive those who owe us a debt because they have sinned against us.  As we read on we find Jesus’ commentary on His sample prayer given to the disciples with regards to forgiveness:

 

For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Matt. 6:14-15)

 

So then this business of forgiveness is a bottom line issue for Christians! 

The Bible is replete with examples of believers who asked God to forgive the sins of their persecutors, the first being Christ.

 

Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. (Luke 23:34)

Then he (Stephen) fell on his knees and cried out, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." When he had said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:60)

So Moses went back to the LORD and said, "Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. But now, please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written." (Ex. 32:31-32)

 

God provided forgiveness for our sins on the cross.  We appropriate His grace to us in that act by believing and repenting of our sins.  God gave His only beloved Son for us.  If we are living in Christ we then must be forgiving of others who sin against us. 

 

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God's way of forgiving is thorough and hearty,—both to forgive and to forget; and if thine be not so, thou hast no portion of His.

—Leighton

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We need to learn to forgive as we have been forgiven … all the way! 

Keep in mind, again, that it is up to God alone to forgive sins against Him.  Only God can forgive sins against God such as false prophecy.  We can forgive the damage done to us by false teachers, but we cannot forgive them of their sins.  They must repent and turn to Jesus Christ.

 

And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins." (Mark 11:25)

"Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. (Luke 6:37)

 

If we forgive the sins of others God will forgive us.  This is a condition that impacts our relationship with God.  Some would say, “How can you say that?  There are no conditions on Christ’s sacrifice for us.  There are no conditions on His grace and love toward us.” But, according to the Word of God, there are conditions on our showing the fruit of the Spirit (John 15:2), and that includes forgiveness of others.  Some might call adding the condition of forgiveness “works”. But it is actually living in the fruit of the Spirit according to the Word of God.  If there is no fruit of forgiveness as an ongoing lifestyle, there is either a continual rejection of the Spirit or a sign of the lack of true salvation.  In either case if we die living a continual lifestyle of sin, then we cannot enter heaven. 

 

But all sinners will be destroyed; the future {Or posterity} of the wicked will be cut off. (Ps. 37:38)

 

Our sins must be under the blood of Christ (Eph. 1:7) for us to have fellowship with the Father (2 Cor. 5:19).  Practicing unforgiveness is a sign that a person is not regenerate (1 John 3:4, 8-9).  Sometimes a true believer may slip into a sin (1 John 1:8) such as unforgiveness, for a time, but he must repent of that sin. God is then faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). That was spoken to Christians!

 

So watch yourselves. "If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.  If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him." (Luke 17:3-4)

 

We are not to tolerate sin in a brother but rebuke him for it.  Tolerance is often mistaken for forgiveness.  It is not the same thing.  We are not to tolerate sin. 

 

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What we forgive too freely doesn't stay forgiven.

—Mignon McLaughlin

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But we can forgive those who sin against us.  Forgiveness of others is based on mercy.  We can forgive others who have sinned against us even if they have not yet repented to God for their sins.  I am not advocating being tolerant of their sins and thus enabling them to sin more.  The proof of this need to forgive is that we are also instructed by the Lord to forgive sins against us committed by our enemies!  We cannot forgive an enemy’s sin against God. We can only forgive him for what he has done to us. The benefit of our forgiveness of anyone does not mean God will forgive him or her unless they repent. But our forgiveness of sins against us will benefit us.

 

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A Christian will find it cheaper to pardon than to resent. Forgiveness saves the expense of anger, the cost of hatred,

and the waste of spirit.

—Hannah More

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We do not want our unforgiveness to cause us to sin by hating or being angry.  Sin in a brother must be rebuked so that (1) we will not be tempted to the sin of unforgiveness and (2) in order for that person to have the opportunity to repent.  He may not know of his sin unless we help him see it by being forgiving and rebuking him in love.  We will not help him see it if we do not forgive him.  That’s how the deal works.

Often forgiveness of others starts with our own repentance and a willingness to be the first one to forgive.  I offer this story, with the names changed, as proof that taking the first step of forgiveness often works to pave the way for repentance and forgiveness from the other party.

 

“Last Tuesday, along with Esther’s story, I said that forgiveness was a great gift to offer your dad this Father's Day. Betty wrote on Wednesday that she had only known Christ for less than a year and knew she had to forgive her dad for what he had done, then added: "It's not been enough time for me to fully forgive him, but I'm working on it." I wrote her and suggested that she ask her dad's forgiveness for her anger towards him. She did. The next day Betty wrote: "I asked my DAD for forgiveness for my anger towards him. He forgave me. He then asked me to forgive him. I forgave him. I'm leaving Friday to spend the summer with him." Betty. "...Forgive one another, just as God in Christ Jesus has forgiven you (Eph. 4:32).” (Source unknown)

 

We also should pray for others, even those who oppose us and oppose the Word of God, that God will grant them repentance.

 

Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will. (2 Tim. 2:25-26)

 

Though this is talking about false teachers, the precept still applies.  We need to pray that God will grant others, who are living in sin, repentance or an opportunity to repent. If someone who claims to be our brother in the Lord continues to live in sin without repentance after we have rebuked him we must then avoid him and not fellowship with him in order that he might become ashamed and open up to the possibility that he will recognize his sin and repent.

 

If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed. (2 Thes. 3:14)

 

At this point we also need to deal with a much-misunderstood passage.

 

If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven." (John 20:23)

 

This does not mean men can forgive sins.  That is God’s purview.  This verse was part of the commission to the disciples after Jesus had breathed the Holy Spirit on them.  This had to do with preaching the Gospel.  It does not mean we can forgive sins.  But if we do not forgive others sins against us we are holding something against them and that will come out in the way we treat them.  If we forgive them then we will treat them as though they have not sinned against us and they may be more likely to come to repentance before the Lord, and perhaps even to us.  But as to sinning against God, every man must repent for himself.

 

"Therefore, O house of Israel, I will judge you, each one according to his ways, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent! Turn away from all your offences; then sin will not be your downfall. (Eze 18:30)

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due to him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. (2 Cor. 5:10)

but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. (Jas 1:14)

 

Let’s see what the commentators have to say about the meaning of John 20:23 in context.

 

Barnes NT Notes

 

“Verse 23: It is worthy of remark here that Jesus confers the same power on all the apostles. He gives to no one of them any peculiar authority. If Peter, as the Papists pretend, had been appointed to any peculiar authority, it is wonderful that the Saviour did not here hint at any such pre-eminence. This passage conclusively proves that they were invested with equal power in organizing and governing the church. … The meaning of the passage is not that man can forgive sins—that belongs only to God, {#Isa 43:23} but that they should be inspired; that in founding the church, and in declaring the will of God, they should be taught by the Holy Ghost to declare on what terms, to what characters, and to what temper of mind God would extend forgiveness of sins. It was not authority to forgive individuals, but to establish in all the churches the terms and conditions on which men might be pardoned, with a promise that God would confirm all that they taught; that all might have assurance of forgiveness who would comply with those terms; and that those who did not comply should not be forgiven, but that their sins should be retained.”

 

In other words John 20:23 has to do with the apostles founding the Church and declaring the will of God with respect to the conditions of forgiveness, which would especially include the Gospel.  Also Peter was not the only one given this commission.

 

Jameson, Faucet & Brown Commentary

 

“Verse 23. Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them, etc.—In any literal and authoritative sense this power was never exercised by one of the apostles, and plainly was never understood by themselves as possessed by them or conveyed to them. (See JFB on "Mt 16:19"). The power to intrude upon the relation between men and God cannot have been given by Christ to His ministers in any but a ministerial or declarative sense—as the authorized interpreters of His word, while in the actings of His ministers, the real nature of the power committed to them is seen in the exercise of church discipline.”

 

Again, not only Peter was given this authority but all the apostles in a ministerial and declarative sense in the Church, and not the power to forgive sins.

 

Eclectic Notes On The Bible

 

“Whose soever sins ye remit: It is a picture of the assembly that was about to be formed at Pentecost -and this is the assembly’s function. They have authority from God to retain or to remit sins - not at all as a question of eternal forgiveness, but administratively or in discipline.

 

The apostles were given the authority to retain or remit sins administratively, not in an eternal or justificational sense.

 

Eclectic Notes, JND CW 25.307f

 

“Whose soever sins ye remit: They are to be representatives of (the forgiveness of sins) now upon earth, remitting or retaining sins in His Name, and by His authority; not, surely, in relation to heaven and its blessedness, as has been monstrously claimed by the false (Roman Catholic) church; but in relation to the sphere of His earthly interests.  This is a seal upon the higher blessing into which he has introduced them; the reception of the Spirit being their qualification for it, and the condition therefore implied that they act in the power of that endowment.”

 

Since no man can forgive sins against God this verse is further explained as Jesus Christ making the apostles, and by inference every Christian, His representatives of His offer of forgiveness of sins in the world.

 

People’s New Testament Notes

 

“Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them,  etc. It will be seen at once, by a comparison with #Mt 16:19, that the keys then promised to Peter are now given to all the apostles, and all have similar power to open and shut, to remit sin, and to bind. The meaning is plain when we consider, first, the charge that the Savior was making, and, secondly, look forward and see how that charge was carried out; or, in other words, observe the apostles "remitting sins" and retaining them. It is the Great Commission to preach the gospel that the Savior gives for the first time in #Joh 20:21. It is with reference to carrying out that Commission that he speaks in #Joh 20:23. It was in order that they might present the terms of that Commission infallibly to the world that the baptism of the Holy Spirit was imparted, of which there is a foreshadowing in #Joh 20:22. The great end of that Commission was to declare to men "repentance and remission of sins" [#Lu 24:47] in the name of Christ. The following facts are manifest: (1) The Savior gave to his apostles his Commission that they might make known his will. (2) He bade them preach "remission of sins" [#Lu 24:47]. (3) He gave them a measure of the Holy Spirit, and bade them wait until "endued with power from on high" [#Lu 24:49] by the baptism of the Holy Spirit. (4) When the Holy Spirit fell, they spoke as it "gave them utterance" (#Ac 2:4). (5) They then declared, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, the terms on which "sins could be remitted." To anxious sinners they answer, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins" [#Ac 2:38]. Here, then, they, directed by the Holy Spirit, "remit" and "retain" sins by declaring the terms on which Christ will pardon. Thus, also, they do in their preaching recorded through the Acts of the Apostles the very thing that the Savior gave them power to do. This power was not imparted to a hierarchy, nor to any ecclesiastical body, but to the apostles, and was fulfilled by them in declaring to the world the conditions of pardon and condemnation under the Commission of our Lord.”

 

Finally, the keys of the spiritual Kingdom were given to Peter, then to all the apostles, then to every Christian.  Those keys are the preaching of the Gospel and the discipling of believers of every nation, the Great Commission.  We are to declare that the key to remission of sins is to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.  We are to tell people of the forgiveness available in Christ through repentance and placing their trust in Him. Why must I forgive? Because I have been forgiven much. 

We must also remember that God’s offer of forgiveness is costly but not without price.

 

“There is one eternal principle which will be valid as long as the world lasts. The principle is—Forgiveness is a costly thing. Human forgiveness is costly. A son or a daughter may go wrong; a father or a mother may forgive; but that forgiveness has brought tears ... There was a price of a broken heart to pay. Divine forgiveness is costly. God is love, but God is holiness. God, least of all, can break the great moral laws on which the universe is built. Sin must have its punishment or the very structure of life disintegrates. And God alone can pay the terrible price that is necessary before men can be forgiven. Forgiveness is never a case of saying: “It’s all right; it doesn’t matter.” Forgiveness is the most costly thing in the world.” (William Barclay in The Letter to Hebrews, Christianity Today, October 5, 1992, p. 48)

 

Jesus Christ paid the price of forgiveness in full at the cost of His life. We should learn to forgive by taking up our cross daily and following Him (Luke 9:23). In taking up our cross each day we must die to self and reach out in love and forgiveness to others.

Holding on to unforgiveness can cost us a world of hurt.

 

            The Christmas of 1949 we didn’t have a tree. My dad had as much pride as anybody, I suppose, so he wouldn’t just say that we couldn’t afford one. When I mentioned it, my mother said that we weren’t going to have one this year, that we couldn’t afford one, and even if we could – it was stupid to clutter up your house with a dead tree. I wanted a tree badly, though, and I thought – in my naïve way – that if we had one, everybody would feel better.

            About three days before Christmas, I was out collecting for my paper route. It was fairly late – long after dark – it was snowing and very cold. I went to the apartment building to try to catch a customer who hadn’t paid me for nearly two months – she owed me seven dollars. Much to my surprise, she was home. She invited me in, and not only did she pay me, she gave me a dollar tip! It was a windfall for me – I now had eight whole dollars.

            What happened next was totally unplanned. On the way home, I walked past a Christmas tree lot, and the idea hit me. The selection wasn’t very good because it was so close to the holiday, but there was this one real nice tree. It had been a very expensive tree, and no one had bought it; now it was so close to Christmas that the man was afraid no one would. He wanted ten dollars for it, but when I – in my gullible innocence – told him I only had eight, he said he might sell it for that. I really didn’t want to spend the whole eight dollars on the tree, but it was so pretty that I finally agreed.

            I dragged it all the way home – about a mile, I think – and I tried hard not to damage it or break off any limbs. The snow helped to cushion it, and it was still in pretty good shape when I got home. you can’t imagine how proud and excited I was. I propped it up against the railing on our front porch and went in. my heart was bursting as I announced that I had a surprise. I got Mom and Dad to come to the front door, and then I switched on the porch light.

            “Where did you get that tree?” my mother exclaimed. But it wasn’t the kind of exclamation that indicated pleasure.

            “I bought it up on Main Street. Isn’t it just the most perfect tree you ever saw?” I said, trying to maintain my enthusiasm.

            “Where did you get the money?” Her tone was accusing, and it began to dawn on me that this wasn’t going to turn out as I had planned.

            “From my paper route.” I explained about the customer who had paid me.

            “And you spent the whole eight dollars on this tree?” she exclaimed.

            She went into a tirade about how stupid it was to spend my money on a dumb tree that would be thrown out and burned in a few days. She told me how irresponsible I was and how I was just like my dad with all those foolish, romantic, noble notions about fairy tales and happy endings and that it was about time I grew up and learned some sense about the realities of life and how to take care of money and spend it on things that were needed and not on silly things. She said that I was going to end up in the poorhouse because I believed in stupid things like Christmas trees, things that didn’t amount to anything.

            I just stood there. My mother had never talked to me like that before, and I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I felt awful, and I began to cry. Finally, she reached out and snapped off the porch light. “Leave it there,” she said. “Leave that tree there till it rots, so every time we see it, we’ll all be reminded of how stupid the men in this family are.” Then she stormed up the stairs to her bedroom, and we didn’t see her until the next day.

            Dad and I brought the tree in, and we made a stand for it. He got out the box of ornaments, and we decorated it as best as we could; but men aren’t too good at things like that, and besides, it wasn’t the same without Mom. There were a few presents under it by Christmas day – although I can’t remember a single one of them – but Mom wouldn’t have anything to do with it. It was the worst Christmas I ever had.

            Judi and I married in August of 1963, and Dad died on October 10 of that year. Over the next eight years, we lived in many places. Mom sort of divided up the year – either living with my sister Jary or with us.

            In 1971 we were living in Wichita, Kansas – Lincoln was about seven, Brendan was three, and Kristen was a baby. Mom was staying with us during the holidays. On Christmas eve I stayed up very late. I was totally alone with my thoughts, alternating between joy and melancholy, and I got to thinking about my paper route, that tree, what my mother had said to me, and how Dad had tried to make things better.

            I heard a noise in the kitchen and discovered that it was Mom. She couldn’t sleep either and had gotten up to make herself a cup of hot tea – which was her remedy for just about everything. As she waited for the water to boil, she walked into the living room and discovered me there. She saw my open Bible and asked me what I was reading. When I told her, she asked if I would read it to her, and I did.

            When the kettle began to whistle, she went and made her tea. She came back, and we started to visit. I told her how happy I was that she was with us for Christmas and how I wished that Dad could have lived to see his grandchildren and to enjoy this time because he always loved Christmas so. It got very quiet for a moment, and then she said, “Do you remember that time on Twelve Mile Road when you bought that tree with your paper route money?”

            “Yes,” I said, “I’ve just been thinking about it you know.” She hesitated for a long moment, as though she were on the verge of something that was bottled up so deeply inside her soul that it might take surgery to get it out. Finally, great tears started down her face, and she cried.

            “Oh, son, please forgive me.”

            “That time and that Christmas have been a burden on my heart for twenty-five years. I wish your dad were here so I could tell him how sorry I am for what I said. Your dad was a good man, and it hurts me to know that he went to his grave without ever hearing me say that I was sorry for that night. Nothing will ever make what I said right, but you need to know that your dad never did have any money sense (which was all too true). We were fighting all the time – though not in front of you – we were two months behind on our house payments, we had no money for groceries, your dad was talking about going back to Arkansas, and that tree was the last straw. I took it all out on you. It doesn’t make what I did right, but I hoped that someday, when you were older, you would understand. I’ve wanted to say something for ever so long, and I’m so glad it’s finally out.”

            Well, we both cried a little and held each other, and I forgave her – it wasn’t hard you know. Then we talked for a long time, and I did understand; I saw what I had never seen, and the bitterness and sadness that had gathered up in me for all those years gradually washed away.

            It was marvelously simple.

            The great gifts of this season – or any season – can’t be put under the tree; you can’t wear them or eat them or drive them or play with them. We spend so much time on the lesser gifts – toys, sweaters, jewelry, the mint, anise, and dill of Christmas – and so little on the great gifts – understanding, grace, peace, and forgiveness. It’s not wonder that the holiday leaves us empty, because when it’s over, the only reminders we have are the dirty dishes and the January bills.

            The great gifts are like the one gift – the gift that began it all back there in Bethlehem of Judea. You can’t buy them, and they’re not on anybody’s shopping list. They come as He came – quietly, freely, unexpectedly – and if you’re not careful, you’ll miss them entirely. (“Hugs for the Holidays” by John William Smith, Copyright © 1997 by Howard Publishing Co. Inc. 1-800-8585-4109.)

 

-4-

 

How Much Must I Forgive?

 

Main Verses: Matt. 18:21-35; Luke 15:11-32

 

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Forgiveness is giving up the possibility of a better past.

—Unknown

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Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. {Or seventy times seven} (Matt. 18:21-22)

 

The point is that we must always be willing to forgive our brothers in the Lord.  Again I am talking about forgiving those who have sinned against us, not forgiving sins.  We cannot forgive anyone’s sins.  We cannot forgive sins against the Lord such as false teaching and false prophecy.  But we can and must forgive our brothers in the Lord in love (1 John 4:21) so that we will obey the Lord, that we will have a right heart toward them (Matt. 18:35) and so that we might open the door of repentance for them with the Lord. It is on that basis that the Lord will forgive us.

 

"This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart." (Matt. 18:35)

 

Our forgiveness needs to be genuine.  Sometimes we put on a false front of forgiveness but we have not forgiven totally from the heart.  God knows the heart and motives. (Pr. 16:2, 1 Cor. 4:5)  We must ask God to search our heart to be sure we are not holding a grudge against others (Lev. 19:18), even plotting revenge because of malice (Eph. 4:31).  Revenge belongs to the Lord. (Rom. 12:19)

 

"‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbour as yourself. I am the LORD. (Lev. 19:18)

 

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Never does the human soul appear so strong as when it foregoes revenge, and dares forgive an injury.

—E. H. Chapin

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Deconstructing The Parable Of The Prodigal Son

(Luke 15:11-32)

 

First, an amusing true story of forgiveness that applies to the parable of the prodigal.

 

“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.” (Bits & Pieces, October 15, 1992, p. 13)

 

Let’s take a look at the parable.

 

Jesus continued: "There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. (Luke 15:11-13)

 

This parable was, for the Jews, a story about accepting the Gentiles if they repented of their sins because the Father accepted them.  The Father is God, the older brother represents the Jews, and the younger brother represents the Gentiles.  It is interesting that Jesus was again castigating the Jewish religious leadership, namely the Pharisees and teachers of the law (v. 2) yet even the disciples themselves did not understand the import of this parable.  The fact is that God created this world and created all life.  But the Gentiles did not really know the Father and departed into “wild living”, meaning sin and rebellion.  They went far away from God to the point where the Bible says they “did not know God” (Gal. 4:8, 1 Thes. 5:4) and were “without hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12).  The younger son did not know his father.  He did not understand the blessings and protection he was granted if he would only trust the father and live in his household.  The younger son was given his inheritance even though he no longer wanted a relationship with his father. 

One other side note of this parable is that the sons do not represent Jesus Christ.  The Father is God.  Jesus is again equating Himself with God.  It is Jesus Christ who has created all life (John 1:3; 1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:16-17; Heb. 1:2; Rev. 3:14 (cf. 21:6 on "beginning"); on "through" and "in" cf. Rom. 11:36; Heb. 2:10; Acts 17:28; cf. also Isa. 44:24).  It is Jesus Christ who sustains all life (Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3).  It is Jesus Christ who has all the attributes of God.

 

1. All of them: John 1:1; Col. 1:15; 2:9; Heb. 1:3
2. Self-existent: John 5:26
3. Unchangeable: Heb. 1:10-12; 13:8
4. Eternal: John 1:1; 8:58; 17:5; Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:2
5. Omnipresent: Matt. 18:20; 28:20; John 3:13; Eph. 1:23; 4:10: Col. 3:11
6. Omniscient: John 16:30; 21:17; cf. 2:23-24
7. Incomprehensible: Matt. 11:25-27

 

The younger son in the parable represents those who sin against God (in particular Gentiles).  He leaves his home without regard for his father, proving he does not love him, understand him, or care about him. 

 

After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no-one gave him anything.  "When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!  I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ (Luke 15:14-19)

 

This is a picture of the depths of sin and uncleanness.   This younger son, representing Gentile sinners in particular, because of his choice to be out from under the protection and care of his father in order to satisfy all his fleshly lusts, ends up in a pigsty.  The Jews would have viewed this as the lowest place you could end up because pigs were considered unclean.  After having spent all his money, having sunk to the lowest point in his life by laboring in a pigsty apparently for no compensation, and ultimately starving to death, he woke up. He realized that he would be better off being a servant to his father, whom he assumed had already disinherited his son.  This shows that even though he had repented he still did not understand his father. He needed to return to his father to understand the forgiveness that was in his father’s heart. 

What he did not realize was that his father had already forgiven him.  Our Father forgave us even though we were far away from Him (Eph. 2:13) through His Son Jesus Christ and His sacrifice on the cross for the forgiveness of sins.  But just like the younger son we have to come back from the land of sin, repent, and offer ourselves to Jesus Christ as a servant. 

This also shows the character of God in forgiveness.  If we as believers wish to take on the character of God then we will forgive others regardless of whether or not they repent of their sins.  Though the younger son had sinned against the father, he was not holding those sins against him in his heart.  His heart had already forgiven the son.  We must also be ready to accept those who have sinned against us by preparing our hearts with forgiveness. This does not mean that God forgives that person of his sins.  He must repent and come home to God (believe in the Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sin).  Salvation is always there and God is ready to forgive, but a person must repent of sin and believe in order to be saved.  But if someone who has sinned against us comes back to us in repentance and we hold a grudge against him or her, God will not forgive us. 

 

So he got up and went to his father. "But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. "The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ {Some early manuscripts son. Make me like one of your hired men.} "But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate. (Luke 15:20-24)

 

Notice that the father saw the son a long way off and had compassion for him.  This shows again that the father had already forgiven the son in his heart.  Fathers in that culture would never run to their sons.  But this father did.  God runs to us when He sees us returning to Him in repentance.

 

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Pet. 3:9)

In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost. (Matt. 18:14)

 

God does not want any of his creation to be lost.  Yet many will be lost because they were unwilling to repent and turn to Christ.  Many will because they are unwilling to forgive others as God has forgiven them. 

 

Luke 15:25-32  "Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ "The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ "‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’"

 

The older brother was unwilling to forgive his younger brother as his father did.  As you remember, the older brother represents Israel.  Israel was supposed to be a witness to the Gentile world, but most of the Jews had a disdain for Gentiles, many times even when they were clearly repentant (Luke 7:39, 18:11, 19:7).  The older brother refused to have fellowship with his younger brothers.  The older brother did not have the same forgiving heart as his father.  The older brother had all the advantages and did not stray far from the father, but he had strayed very far away in his heart.  Oftentimes it is easier to return to God from a life of abject sin than from a heart of unforgiveness.  This is why it is vitally important that we forgive our brothers.  Note the parable of the “Unforgiving Servant”.

 

"Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents {That is, millions of pounds} was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. "The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, cancelled the debt and let him go. "But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow-servants who owed him a hundred denarii. {That is, a few pounds} He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. "His fellow-servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ "But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened. "Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I cancelled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow-servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. "This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart." (Matt. 18:23-35)

 

God has sent forgiveness in His Son.  It cost God dearly to forgive our sins.

 

“Forgiveness is free to the offender but costly to the Forgiver.  Jesus used the parable (of the Unforgiving Servant”) to give us God's perspective about forgiveness. He described a king who forgave his servant's massive debt—it amounted to what would be millions of dollars today. But the servant turned right around and refused to forgive a fellow servant's debt of around ten dollars. When the king heard about it, he was enraged. He sent the servant he had forgiven to the torturers in the prison. "This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you," Jesus explained, "unless you forgive your brother from your heart" (Matt. 18:35). In Jesus' story, the king freely forgave his servant, but he absorbed the cost. In the same way, God forgave us, but He absorbed the debt of our sin when Christ died on the cross in our place. Like Him, we are to give forgiveness freely to the sinner, even though it is costly to us.” (A Disease Called Unforgiveness, by Vickie Kraft , MABS, Chapter 7)

 

We must repent of our grudges and malice against our “debtors”, in other words forgive others.  It may cost us something to do so, in fact it may cost us a great deal.  Forgiveness is a free gift of God’s grace through Jesus Christ, but it was very costly. 

We can only appropriate God’s gift of forgiveness to ourselves if we are willing to follow His example and forgive others.  We cannot absolve their guilt for them, nor should we.  But the process of forgetting sin really begins when a person repents and turns. 

It is clear Biblical teaching that those who are living a continued lifestyle sin of unforgiveness will not experience the forgiveness of Christ and will be “handed over to the torturers”, so to speak.  We will be in a prison of our own hypocritical unforgiveness until we repent and make things right.  Richard Hoefler’s book “Will Daylight Come" includes a homey illustration of how sin enslaves and forgiveness frees.

 

“A little boy visiting his grandparents was given his first slingshot. He practiced in the woods, but he could never hit his target. As he came back to Grandma’s back yard, he spied her pet duck. On an impulse he took aim and let fly. The stone hit, and the duck fell dead. The boy panicked. Desperately he hid the dead duck in the woodpile, only to look up and see his sister watching. Sally had seen it all, but she said nothing. After lunch that day, Grandma said, “Sally, let’s wash the dishes.” But Sally said, “Johnny told me he wanted to help in the kitchen today. Didn’t you, Johnny?” And she whispered to him, “Remember the duck!” So Johnny did the dishes. Later Grandpa asked if the children wanted to go fishing, Grandma said, “I’m sorry, but I need Sally to help make supper.” Sally smiled and said, “That’s all taken care of. Johnny wants to do it.” Again she whispered, “Remember the duck.” Johnny stayed while Sally went fishing. After several days of Johnny doing both his chores and Sally’s, finally he couldn’t stand it. He confessed to Grandma that he’d killed the duck. “I know, Johnny,” she said, giving him a hug. “I was standing at the window and saw the whole thing. Because I love you, I forgave you. I wondered how long you would let Sally make a slave of you.”  (Richard Hoefler, “Will Daylight Come”)

 

Please be aware that the sin of unforgiveness, just like any other lifestyle sin, will not bring us the reward of eternal life.

 

If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him. (1 John 2:29)

Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. (1 John 3:4)

the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. (1 John 3:8)

By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother. (1 John 3:10)

 

If a Christian claims to love his brother, he will forgive his brother.  If he continues in a lifestyle of unforgiveness, which is “practicing sin”, then God will reject him and he will be destroyed as his master the devil will be destroyed.  A person who lives a lifestyle of unforgiveness is “not of God” according to 1 John 3:10.  If you cannot forgive your brother, and even forgive your enemy in your heart (Matt. 5:43-45), because loving your enemy entails treating him fairly and without bias, then you are likely not a child of God.  That is the harsh truth of what John is saying.  If we continue in unforgiveness perhaps we need to test ourselves to see if we are in the Faith (2 Cor. 13:5).  True faith will come out in works (James 2:27).  The works or fruit of the righteous include forgiveness.  Let’s look at the acts of the sinful nature as opposed to the fruit of the Spirit to understand that, even though forgiveness is not listed as a fruit of the spirit in Gal. 5:22-23 we can see both the roots and the fruit of unforgiveness in the list of the acts of the sinful nature.

 

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal. 5:19-21)

 

The roots of unforgiveness are hatred, jealousy, dissensions (divisions or unresolved arguments), factions (one group against another group), and envy among others.  The result of allowing these roots of bitterness to grow ends up in a tree of discord (disunity) and fits of rage.  In Micronesia unforgiveness almost inevitably leads to hatred, disunity and finally fits of rage.  The malice of unforgiveness held in the heart can end up in the actions of hurting or killing people out of revenge.  The point is that it all starts with an unwillingness to forgive.

How much must I forgive? 

 

“Chuck Swindoll reports that a seminary student in Chicago faced a similar forgiveness test. Although he preferred to work in some kind of ministry, the only job he could find was driving a bus on Chicago’s south side. One day a gang of tough teens got on board and refused to pay the fare. After a few days of this, the seminarian spotted a policeman on the corner, stopped the bus, and reported them. The officer made them pay, but then he got off. When the bus rounded a corner, the gang robbed the seminarian and beat him severely. He pressed charges and the gang was rounded up. They were found guilty. But as soon as the jail sentence was given, the young Christian saw their spiritual need and felt pity for them. So he asked the judge if he could serve their sentences for them. The gang members and the judge were dumbfounded. “It’s because I forgive you,” he explained. His request was denied, but he visited the young men in jail and led several of them to faith in Christ.” (Source unknown)

 

As Christians we are commanded to practice righteousness, which means we are to continue to forgive our brothers even, if necessary,  at great personal cost.

 

-5-

 

Who Must I Forgive?

 

Main Verses: 2 Cor. 2:7, 10; Col 3:13; Eph 4:32; Gal. 6:1-3

 

Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. (2 Cor. 2:7)

If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, (2 Cor. 2:10)

 

We must be especially quick to forgive our brothers who repent (2 Cor. 2:7).  If others in the Church forgive people we are to also forgive them.  We are not to hold against them forever what they have done in the past.  We must lay that down and wipe the slate clean.  This usually means that person must be restored over time.  A person who has sinned must not be immediately put back into leadership in the Church.  He must be restored to fellowship, but they must also be discipled and observed over time to be sure they will not be falling back into a lifestyle sin.

We are to forgive because we do not want the enemy to gain a foothold in the churches and in individual Christians.  Some of the devices of Satan, of which we are to be aware, are these: he tempts to disobedience (Gen. 3:4-5), he wants saints to slander God (Job 1:9-11), he removes the good seed (13:19), he sows tares among the wheat (Matt. 13:38), he promotes lying, lust and murder (John 8:44), he produces false miracles (2 Thes 2:9) in order to deceive, he inflames unrelenting anger (Eph. 4:26-27) and he wants us to be unforgiving (2 Cor. 2:5-11).

 

Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Col. 3:13)

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Eph. 4:32)

 

Our model is Christ.  He forgave our sins when we were still sinners.  But when we repented of sin He forgave us.  Whenever we sin, if we confess our sins, He will forgive them.  We need to have the same attitude of forgiveness.  We need to forgive as the Lord has forgiven us.   That is the pattern of a true believer.  If we harbor unforgiveness for our brothers in the Lord then we are not living a Christ-like life.  Our brother’s sins become a sin for us and may cause us to commit the sins of slander and gossip, which end in malice, revenge and hatred.

A good example from the Bible of forgiveness is found in the story of Joseph.  I heard a preacher once claim that there was no such thing as forgiveness in the Old Testament.  But there are many examples of forgiveness, both by God and by men.  Joseph had been sinned against by his brothers.

 

This is the account of Jacob. Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them. Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made a richly ornamented robe for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him. Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. He said to them, "Listen to this dream I had: We were binding sheaves of corn out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered round mine and bowed down to it.” His brothers said to him, "Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?" And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said. Then he had another dream, and he told it to his brothers. "Listen," he said, "I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me." When he told his father as well as his brothers, his father rebuked him and said, "What is this dream you had? Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?" His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind. Now his brothers had gone to graze their father’s flocks near Shechem, and Israel said to Joseph, "As you know, your brothers are grazing the flocks near Shechem. Come, I am going to send you to them." "Very well," he replied. So he said to him, "Go and see if all is well with your brothers and with the flocks, and bring word back to me." Then he sent him off from the Valley of Hebron. When Joseph arrived at Shechem, a man found him wandering around in the fields and asked him, "What are you looking for?" He replied, "I’m looking for my brothers. Can you tell me where they are grazing their flocks?" "They have moved on from here," the man answered. "I heard them say, ‘Let’s go to Dothan.’" So Joseph went after his brothers and found them near Dothan. But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him. "Here comes that dreamer!" they said to each other. "Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams." When Reuben heard this, he tried to rescue him from their hands. "Let’s not take his life," he said. "Don’t shed any blood. Throw him into this cistern here in the desert, but don’t lay a hand on him." Reuben said this to rescue him from them and take him back to his father. So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe—the richly ornamented robe he was wearing—and they took him and threw him into the cistern. Now the cistern was empty; there was no water in it. As they sat down to eat their meal, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with spices, balm and myrrh, and they were on their way to take them down to Egypt. Judah said to his brothers, "What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood." His brothers agreed. So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt. When Reuben returned to the cistern and saw that Joseph was not there, he tore his clothes. He went back to his brothers and said, "The boy isn’t there! Where can I turn now?" Then they got Joseph’s robe, slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood. They took the ornamented robe back to their father and said, "We found this. Examine it to see whether it is your son’s robe." He recognised it and said, "It is my son’s robe! Some ferocious animal has devoured him. Joseph has surely been torn to pieces." Then Jacob tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned for his son many days. (Gen. 37:2-34)

 

Now it might seem to some that Joseph should have kept his visions to himself.  But his dreams were true prophetic dreams and God would surely implement them.  What his brothers did to him was no fair compensation for their anger at his revelations.  So Joseph was sold into slavery and we know the miraculous story of how the Lord brought him from slavery to prison to the Pharaoh and finally to the second highest position of authority in Egypt.  Joseph had to go through all this in order to save his family from the famine God had shown Pharaoh in a dream. Joseph interpreted that dream with God’s help and was put in charge of collecting food to save Egypt and the very brothers who had betrayed him.  Joseph was able to accomplish all that he set his hand to because of his faithfulness to God.

But I want you to notice that Joseph had already forgiven and begun to forget what his brothers had done to him.

 

Joseph named his firstborn Manasseh {Manasseh sounds like and may be derived from the Hebrew for forget.} and said, "It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household." The second son he named Ephraim {Ephraim sounds like the Hebrew for twice fruitful.} and said, "It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering." (Gen. 41:51-52)

 

Joseph named Manasseh because he credited God with helping him to forget what had happened.  To forget you have to forgive.  But that did not mean that his brothers had repented.  They would need to be tested to see if they had repented of their crime against both Joseph and Jacob.  So when they came up to Egypt to get food because God had worked through Joseph to provide food there, Joseph found out that they were there and put them to the test.  But even though God had him test his brothers he was full of compassion for them.  After seeing them for the first time Joseph did this:

 

They did not realise that Joseph could understand them, since he was using an interpreter. He turned away from them and began to weep, but then turned back and spoke to them again. He had Simeon taken from them and bound before their eyes. (Gen. 42:23-24)

 

After they came back a second time and brought Benjamin with them Joseph reacted this way:

 

Deeply moved at the sight of his brother, Joseph hurried out and looked for a place to weep. He went into his private room and wept there. (Gen. 43:30)

 

Finally, after the brothers admitted what they had done to Joseph and Joseph saw that they had repented, he cried so loudly that everyone heard him.

 

Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, "Make everyone leave my presence!" So there was no-one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh’s household heard about it. (Gen. 45:1-2)

 

Joseph was crying during this time of testing because he had a heart of compassion as a result of having already forgiven his brothers for what they had done.  When he could finally reveal himself there was a great flood of relief and joy at being reunited with his brothers because of their repentance.  Finally Jacob asked his sons to ask Joseph to forgive them but it is clear he had already done so.  Joseph makes it clear that only God can forgive sin, but that Joseph had already forgiven them for sinning against him personally.

 

This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father." When their message came to him, Joseph wept. His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. "We are your slaves," they said. But Joseph said to them, "Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children." And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them. (Gen. 50:17-21)

"This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. (Zec 7:9)

 

Joseph not only forgave his brothers, as he acknowledged that the Lord was helping him to put it all in the past before this testing came to pass (Gen. 41:51), but was also able to take the step of gently restoring his brothers in love.  A person will not take the step unless he has forgiven those who have sinned against him in his heart.

 

Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. (Gal. 6:1-3)

 

We must restore those who have repented and forgive them as Christ promised to forgive.  But we need to watch ourselves that we do not fall into sin.  Is this talking about falling into their sin?  Perhaps.  But I think one of the sins we may fall into is to continue to hold something against that person because of his sin, thus practicing unforgiveness.  We are to affirm our love for our brothers in the Lord by restoring them, carrying their burdens, and fulfilling the law of Christ, which is grace.

We must even forgive our enemy and those who persecute us.

 

————————————————————————–

He, who cannot forgive a trespass of malice to his enemy, has never yet tasted the most sublime enjoyment of love.

—–Johann Kaspar Lavatar

————————————————————————–

 

Jesus taught us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matt. 5:43-44).  There is a great story about how Korean Christians learned to love their enemies, Japanese Christians, after the Japanese had persecuted and killed so many during the war.

 

            “Shortly after the turn of the century, Japan invaded, conquered, and occupied Korea. They overwhelmed the Koreans with a brutality that would sicken the strongest stomach. Many Koreans live today with the physical and emotional scars from the Japanese occupation.

            “One group singled out for concentrated oppression was the Christians. Evangelical churches were boarded up, foreign missionaries ejected, many pastors were jailed, and church meetings forbidden. The "Land of the Rising Sun" spread its influence through a reign of savage brutality. Anguish filled the hearts of the oppressed—and kindled hatred deep in their souls.

            “One pastor persistently entreated his local Japanese police chief for permission to meet for services. His nagging was finally accommodated, and the police chief offered to unlock the pastor’s church . . . for one meeting.

            “Word traveled quickly. Long before dawn on that promised Sunday, Korean families starving for an opportunity of unhindered worship made their way to the church. They passed the staring eyes of their Japanese captors, but nothing was going to steal their joy. As they closed the doors behind them they shut out the cares of oppression and shut in a burning spirit anxious to glorify their Lord.

            “The Korean church has always had a reputation as a singing church. Their voices of praise could not be concealed inside the little wooden frame sanctuary. Song after song rang through the open windows into the bright Sunday morning.

            “For a handful of peasants listening nearby, the last two songs this congregation sang seemed suspended in time.

            “It was during a stanza of "Nearer My God to Thee" that the Japanese police chief waiting outside gave the orders. The people toward the back of the church could hear them when they barricaded the doors, but no one realized that they had doused the church with kerosene until they smelled the smoke. The dried wooden skin of the small church quickly ignited. Fumes filled the structure as tongues of flame began to lick the baseboard on the interior walls.

            “There was an immediate rush for the windows. But momentary hope recoiled in horror as the men climbing out the windows came crashing back in—their bodies ripped by a hail of bullets.

            “The good pastor knew it was the end.

            “With a calm that comes from confidence, he led his congregation in a hymn that served as a fitting farewell to earth and a loving salutation to heaven. The first few words were all the prompting the terrified worshippers needed. With smoke burning their eyes, they instantly joined as one to sing their hope and leave their legacy.

 

            Alas! And did my Savior bleed? And did my Sovereign die?

                Would he devote that sacred head for such a worm as I?

 

            “Just before the roof collapsed they sang the last verse, their words an eternal testimony to their faith.

 

“But drops of grief can ne’er repay the debt of love I owe:

Here, Lord, I give myself away ' tis all that I can do!

At the cross, at the cross where I first saw the light,

And the burden of my heart rolled away—

It was there by faith I received my sight,

And now I am happy all the day.

 

            “The strains of music and wails of children were lost in a roar of flames. The elements that once formed bone and flesh mixed with the smoke and dissipated into the air. The bodies that once housed life fused with the charred rubble of a building that once housed a church. But the souls who left singing finished their chorus in the throne room of God.

            “Clearing the incinerated remains was the easy part. Erasing the hatred would take decades. For some of the relatives of the victims, evil had stooped to a new low, and there seemed to be no way to curb their bitter loathing of the Japanese.

            “In the decades that followed, that bitterness was passed on to a new generation. The Japanese, although conquered, remained a hated enemy. The monument the Koreans built at the location of the fire not only memorialized the people who died, but stood as a mute reminder of their pain. Hatred choked their joy. It wasn’t until 1971 that any hope came.

            “A group of Japanese pastors traveling through Korea came upon the memorial. When they read the details of the tragedy and the names of the spiritual brothers and sisters who perished, they were overcome with shame. They returned to Japan committed to right a wrong. There was an immediate outpouring of love from their fellow believers. They raised ten million yen ($25,000). The money was transferred through the proper channels and a beautiful white church building was erected on the sight of the tragedy.

            “When the dedication service for the new building was held, a delegation from Japan joined the relatives and special guests. Although their generosity was acknowledged and their attempts at making peace appreciated, the memories were still there.

            “Hatred preserves pain. It keeps the wounds open and the hurt fresh. The Koreans’ bitterness had festered for decades. Christian brothers or not, these Japanese descendants represented a ruthless enemy.

Speeches were made, details of the tragedy recalled, and the names of the dead honored. It was time to bring the service to a close. Someone in charge of the agenda thought it would be appropriate to conclude with the same two songs that were sung the day the church was burned. The song leader began the words "Nearer My God to Thee."

            “But something remarkable happened as the voices mingled on the familiar melody. As the memories of the past mixed with the truth of the song, resistance started to melt. The inspiration that gave hope to a doomed collection of churchgoers in a past generation gave hope once more.

            “The song leader closed the service with the hymn "At the Cross."

            “The Japanese could not contain themselves. Tears that began to fill their eyes during the song suddenly gushed from deep inside. They turned to their Korean spiritual relatives and begged them to forgive.

            “The guarded, callused hearts of the Koreans were not quick to surrender. But the love of the Japanese believers—unintimidated by decades of hatred—tore at the Koreans’ emotions.

 

                “At the cross, at the cross where I first saw the light, and the burden of my heart rolled away . . .

           

“One Korean turned toward a Japanese brother. Then another. And then the floodgates holding back a wave of emotion let go. The Koreans met their new Japanese friends in the middle. They clung to each other and wept. Japanese tears of repentance and Korean tears of forgiveness intermingled to bathe the site of an old nightmare.

            “Heaven had sent the gift of reconciliation to a little white church in Korea.” (Tim Kimmel, Little House on the Freeway, pp. 50-54)

 

What an incredibly freeing experience it is to forgive even your enemy. There is a story from the mission field that goes as follows.

 

“On the Lord’s day a group of missionaries and believers in New Guinea were gathered together to observe the Lord’s Supper. After one young man sat down, a missionary recognized that a sudden tremor had passed through the young man’s body that indicated he was under a great nervous strain. Then in a moment all was quiet again. The missionary whispered, “What was it that troubled you?” “Ah,” he said, “The man who just came in to this meeting killed and ate the body of my father. But now he has come in to remember the Lord with us. At first I didn’t know whether I could endure it. But it is all right now. He is washed in the same precious blood.” And so together they had Communion.” (Source Unknown)

 

Can we recognize repentance in others?  Can we forgive a new brother in Christ who was our former enemy?

 

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Forgiveness is me giving up my right to hurt you for hurting me.

—Anonymous

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Can we forgive those who sin against us?  If not we cannot be an effective witness to them.

 

“Charlie Hainline is a layman at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He is a man who radiates the love of Christ, and is serious about sharing his faith with others. One year, his goal was to lead 1650 people to faith in Christ (5 a day)! Once, he was out witnessing with a couple of other folks, and though he didn’t share the gospel, he sat there and smiled broadly as a teammate did. When the teammate was finished and asked if the person would like to trust Christ and receive the gift of eternal life, the person replied, “If being a Christian would make me like him (point to Charlie), I want it!” Charlie’s life wasn’t a bed of roses by any means. His daughter was kidnapped, killed, and her head was found floating in a canal. When the murderer of his daughter was caught and convicted, Charlie went to jail in order to witness to the man.” (Source Unknown)

 

Forgiving others in our hearts allows us the freedom to be an effective witness for the Lord.

 

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You will know that forgiveness has begun when you recall those who hurt you and feel the power to wish them well.

—Lewis B. Smedes

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Who must I forgive?  My brother continually and even my enemy.

 

 

-6-

 

When Only God Can Forgive

 

Main Verses: Jer. 27:15; Rom. 16:17; 2 Thes. 3:6, 14-15; 2 John 1:10

 

Only God can forgive sins.  We can forgive someone who sins against us in our hearts, but they can only be justified before the Father by God forgiving their sins through Jesus Christ.

 

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace (Eph. 1:7)

in whom we have redemption, {A few late manuscripts redemption through his blood} the forgiveness of sins. (Col. 1:14)

 

There are some sins that are against God alone.  There are some sins that have nothing to do with us; therefore they are sins directly against God.  This would include private sins that do not affect anyone else (sins of which we are not aware).

Some public sins such as false teaching and false prophecy are especially against God but can also be against us.  The cultic nature of false teachers can have a harsh effect on the faith of a true believer if he is caught up in their web of lies.  Our job is to recognize through Biblical and Holy Spirit discernment that we have been deceived (Matt. 24:4-5, 10-13, 23-26), repent of that sin, then move on to forgiving that false teacher in our hearts for how he has sinned against us.  We do that so that we can move on to the next step, which is to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15).  We would have no reason to have love and compassion for a false teacher if we had not forgiven him  in our own hearts for what he has done to us first. 

 

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One forgives to the degree that one loves.

—Francois de La Rochefoucauld

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Then we are to rebuke them (in truth and love) being careful not to be fooled by them.  If they truly repent publicly for lying in the name of the Lord and prove that repentance over time, we can then restore them and accept them as our brothers in the Lord.  If they are unrepentant after being rebuked we are commanded to get away from them. Private sins are another matter, but public sins like false prophecy must be rebuked in public.  There are three reasons for this: (1) that an unbeliever will know the difference between what is true Christianity and what is false Christianity; (2) that the false teacher may be ashamed publicly for what he has done publicly and possibly repent of those sins to the Lord and ask for forgiveness from those he has deceived; and (3) that believers will be warned away from them if the do not repent. Notice that the false prophets are especially sinning against God by lying in His name.

 

Then the LORD said to me, "The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I have not sent them or appointed them or spoken to them. They are prophesying to you false visions, divinations, idolatries {Or visions, worthless divinations} and the delusions of their own minds. (Jer. 14:14)

"I have heard what the prophets say who prophesy lies in my name. They say, ‘I had a dream! I had a dream!’ (Jer. 23:25)

‘I have not sent them,’ declares the LORD. ‘They are prophesying lies in my name. Therefore, I will banish you and you will perish, both you and the prophets who prophesy to you.’" (Jer. 27:15)

For they have done outrageous things in Israel; they have committed adultery with their neighbours’ wives and in my name have spoken lies, which I did not tell them to do. I know it and am a witness to it," declares the LORD. (Jer. 29:23)

 

False prophets and false teachers pretend to speak for God when in actuality they are lying and have not heard from God.  God has told us what to do about these false teachers.  We are to rebuke them, then mark and avoid them and warn others to avoid them also if they do not repent to God.  We are to have no fellowship with them so that they may be ashamed and possibly repent.

 

To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn. (Is. 8:20)

 

Then we are to mark and avoid them.

 

Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. (Rom. 16:17)

 

The word "divisions" in Rom. 16:17 is “dichostasia” or dissentions. A similar word translated as “divisions” in Titus 3:10 is "hairetikos" which means "heretic" or  "a divisive follower of false doctrines".  If false teachers do not repent, we are to reject them as heretics after they have been admonished a couple of times.

 

A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject; (Tit. 3:10)

 

We are to have no part of  their works except to expose them.

 

Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. (Eph. 5:11)

 

We need to name names so that we can warn others about heretics specifically, just as Paul warned the churches about certain men.  We must separate ourselves from them.

 

"Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you. (2 Cor. 6:17)

 

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"Neither when we have chosen our way can we keep company with those who go the other way.  There must come with the decision for truth a corresponding protest against error."

—Charles Haddon Spurgeon

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We are commanded to keep away from them.

 

In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us.  (2 Thes. 3:6)

If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother. (2 Thes. 3:14-15)

 

We must turn away from them.

 

Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. (2 Tim. 3:5)

 

We should not even let them in our house or give them our blessing.

 

If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. (2 John 1:10)

Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. (Rev. 2:16)

 

We must repent of our sins and repent of our association with false teachers such as the Nicolaitans in Rev. 2:15.  God will take care of judging false teachers.  We must disassociate ourselves from them and disfellowship them.  That is what Jesus was addressing when He told the church of Pergamum to stop listening to the followers of Balaam and the Nicolaitans.  God will judge the false teachers in the end.  We must rebuke them and if they are unrepentant avoid them.  We can pray for them and even forgive them in our hearts for the damage they have done to us personally, but we cannot forgive them publicly because that would just enable and embolden them.  The goal is repentance.  We can pray that they will repent and the Lord will forgive them, but until they stop lying in the name of the Lord we can do nothing but obey the Lord and stay far away from them (2 Thes. 3:6).

 


-7-

 

When Must I Forgive?

 

Main Verses:  Heb. 4:7, 3:15; Rev. 22:12

 

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Life to me appears too short to be nursing animosity or registering wrongs.

—Charlotte Bronte

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Sometimes we can live in the past by not forgiving.  We should not be living in the past but rather living in the present having learned our lessons from the past.

 

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Do not say, “Why were the former days better than these?” You do not move ahead by constantly looking in a rear view mirror. The past is a rudder to guide you, not an anchor to drag you. We must learn from the past but not live in the past. —Dr. Warren W. Wiersbe

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There is no time better than today to settle the past by asking for the Lord’s forgiveness through confession and repentance, and forgiving others for sins against us in the past.

 

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To escape the distress caused by regret for the past or fear about the future, this is the rule to follow: leave the past to the infinite mercy of God, the future to his good providence; give the present wholly to his love by being faithful to his grace. —Jean-Pierre de Caussade in The Joy of the Saints

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We are faithful to the grace of God by exercising grace and mercy ourselves to those who have wronged us in the past or present.  The first step in that process is forgiveness.  But in order for us to be able to reflect and live the grace of God we must start that process of forgiveness today.  When we hear the voice of God through His Word and the indwelling Holy Spirit we must respond by not hardening our hearts and dwelling on hurtful things of the past.

 

Therefore God again set a certain day, calling it Today, when a long time later he spoke through David, as was said before: "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts." {Psalm 95:#7,8} (Heb. 4:7)

As has just been said: "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion." {Psalm 95:#7,8} (Heb. 3:15)

 

Though these verses are talking about Israel rebelling against the Lord, the point is that we need to turn back to the Lord today.  Unforgiveness is one of the ways we harden our hearts.  In 2 Tim. 3:2-5 the list of sins of people in the end times shows that they have hard hearts toward God and do not love Him.  There are many examples of hard hearts in the Bible.  A good example was Saul.  He obviously held unforgiveness in his heart for David even though he stopped his murderous intent toward him more than once.  Yet he continued to hold on to his hatred of David till the end.  We must repent today and forgive today … the sooner, the better.  The time is short.

 

What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. (1 Cor. 7:29a)

"Behold, I am coming soon! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy in this book." (Rev. 22:7)

"Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. (Rev. 22:12 )

 

The Lord is coming soon.  That is even truer for us today than it has been in the past because we are living in the end times.  If we continue to hold on to unforgiveness we may end up with that sin held against us when the Lord returns or if we die with that sin unresolved.  This is serious business demanding an immediate response.  Many people claim that they are “working on forgiving” someone.  That is just an excuse to put it off and continue to use it as a crutch to try to justify their own problems.  But forgiveness is something we actually have control over.  I am not saying it is easy and can be achieved without the Lord’s help.  But it is an issue that must be addressed because we do not want to be harboring a lifestyle sin.  Those practiced sins should be the first to go if we are truly followers of Christ.

Another important aspect of forgiving people as soon as possible is that we can miss out on God’s blessings because of focusing on ourselves instead of forgiving others quickly. This is illustrated in this story called “Paid In Full—Missing God’s Blessings Because Of Unforgiveness”.

 

            “A young man was getting ready to graduate from college. For many months he had admired a beautiful sports car in a dealer's showroom, and knowing his father could well afford it, he told him that was all he wanted.

            “As Graduation Day approached, the young man awaited signs that his father had purchased the car. Finally, on the morning of his graduation, his father called him into his private study. His father told him how proud he was to have such a fine son, and told him how much he loved him. He handed his son a beautifully wrapped gift box.

            “Curious, and somewhat disappointed, the young man opened the box and found a lovely, leather-bound Bible, with the young man's name embossed in gold. Angry, he rose his voice to his father and said "with all your money, you give me a Bible?" and stormed out of the house.

            “Many years passed and the young man was very successful in business. He had a beautiful home and wonderful family, but realized his father was very old, and thought perhaps he should go to him. He had not seen him since that graduation day. Before he could make arrangements, he received a telegram telling him his father had passed away, and willed all of his possessions to his son. He needed to come home immediately and take care of things.

            “When he arrived at his father's house, a sudden feeling of sadness and regret filled his heart. He began to search through his father's important papers and saw the still gift-wrapped Bible, just as he had left it years ago. With tears, he opened the Bible and began to turn the pages. His father had carefully underlined a verse, Matt. 7:11, "And if ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Heavenly Father which is in Heaven, give to those who ask Him?"

            “As he read those words, a car key dropped from the back of the Bible. It had a tag with the dealer's name, the same dealer who had the sports car he had desired. On the tag was the date of his graduation, and the words PAID IN FULL.

            “How many times do we miss God's blessings because we can't see past our own desires?” (Source Unknown)

 

This young man had held a grudge against his father and in the end he lost both his father and the car he desired because of anger.  The prodigal son also stormed out on his father.  His father had given everything he asked.  The father’s later forgiveness was based on love, not on what he could get out of his son as the prodigal had done.  The prodigal had to learn some hard lessons and missed out on the love and forgiveness of his father until he repented and returned home.  Sometimes if we fail to forgive we will not have the opportunity to make things right with those we are unwilling to forgive because they have already passed on, as the “Paid In Full” story illustrates.

 

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Life, that ever needs forgiveness, has for its first duty to forgive.

—Edward Bulwer Lytton

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We all need forgiveness.  If we expect to be forgiven we need to take the bold step of forgiving others ourselves.

 

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The brave only know how to forgive.

—Sterne

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Only God can give us the boldness and bravery to forgive others.  He will help us with this problem if we keep our hearts pliable instead of hardening them towards the Lord and others.  When we do not want to forgive we are also hardening our hearts toward God.  We can fool ourselves sometimes and think that our relationship to the Lord is what it should be without realizing fully our unwillingness to become more and more like Him by forgiving others.  This is a crucial issue for Christians.

 

-8-

 

Conclusion

 

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Forgiveness is the final form of love.

—Reinhold Niebuhr

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Rather than live in unforgiveness we should be living the abundant life available to us through Jesus Christ.

 

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10)

 

Fullness of life comes with a conscience that is free of the clutter of grudges from the past.  Unforgiveness can be replaced by living in the present without being held back by the past or worrying about the future.

When we carry around our unforgiveness with us it soon becomes a burden too heavy to bear, both for us and for those we are unwilling to forgive.

 

“A teacher once told each of her students to bring a clear plastic bag and a sack of potatoes to school. For every person they'd refused to forgive in their life's experience, they chose a potato, wrote on it the name and date, and put it in the plastic bag. Some of their bags were quite heavy. They were then told to carry this bag with them everywhere for one week, putting it beside their bed at night; on the car seat when driving; next to their desk at work. … The hassle of lugging this around with them made it clear what a weight they were carrying spiritually, and how they had to pay attention to it all the time to not forget and keep leaving it in embarrassing places.  Naturally, the condition of the potatoes deteriorated to a nasty slime. This was a great metaphor for the price we pay for keeping our pain and heavy negativity! Too often we think of forgiveness as a gift to the other person, and it clearly is for ourselves!” (Anonymous)

 

If we cannot forgive another person it is an indication that we do not fully believe that Jesus Christ, through His blood shed for us on a lonely cross, can entirely wash away sin.  If Jesus has washed away our sin, then His blood is sufficient for others.

 

“One night in a church service a young woman felt the tug of God at her heart. She responded to God's call and accepted Jesus as her Lord and Savior. The young woman had a very rough past, involving alcohol, drugs, and prostitution. But, the change in her was evident.  As time went on she became a faithful member of the church. She eventually became involved in the ministry, teaching young children. It was not very long until this faithful young woman had caught the eye and heart of the pastor's son. The relationship grew and they began to make wedding plans. This is when the problems began.  You see, about one half of the church did not think that a  woman with a past such as hers was suitable for a pastor's son.  The church began to argue and fight about the matter.  So they decided to have a meeting. As the people made  their arguments and tensions increased, the meeting was  getting completely out of hand. The young woman became very upset about all the things being brought up about her past. As she began to cry the pastor's son stood to speak. He could not bear the pain it was causing his wife to be. He began to speak and his statement was this: " My fiancee's past is not what is on trial here. What you are questioning is the ability of the blood of Jesus to wash away sin. Today you have put the blood of Jesus on trial. So, does it wash away sin or not?" The whole church began to weep as they realized that they had been slandering the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. Too often, even as Christians, we bring up the past and use it as a weapon against our brothers and sisters. Forgiveness is a very foundational part of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. If the blood of Jesus does not cleanse the other person completely then it cannot cleanse us completely. If that is the case, then we are all in a lot of trouble. “What can wash away my sins, nothing but the blood of Jesus.”. (Bruce Waitman)

 

We cannot forgive others unless we truly believe that the blood of Jesus Christ fully covers the repented sins of the past.  We are to follow the example of Christ as well as the Apostles.  Paul admitted his sins and the Christians, having witnessed his repentance, forgave him.  The following fictitious story illustrates this Biblical truth.

 

“The roosters are crowing and Mrs. Stephen slips out of bed to wake the children for breakfast. It's an important day. One by one they make it to the table, even little Stephen, Jr., who's not yet in school. They are finished and ready for school and mother gives them final instructions. "Be home early," she says, for tonight the gospel meeting begins and the Stephens are all going. "Supper is ready," she yells, as the kids play in the living room. The children sense that something is on mom's mind, but they can't figure out the worried look on her face. Mrs. Stephen finishes dressing the last one and they're on their way. They take the short-cut to the meeting place because they are late, but not too late for mom to point out, as they pass, the place where their father had died for Jesus. This was not the first time they had seen it, but she didn't want them to forget. In the building, one of the deacons points to vacant eats. "Sit down," Mrs. Stephen whispers sternly to Stephen, Jr. The preacher begins his sermon on forgiveness. The audience seems hypnotized as they listen intently. "I am Chief of Sinners," he says. Anna, the eldest, whispers, "Mom, who is the preacher?" She had already noticed the tears in mom's eyes. "That's brother Paul of Tarsus," she said, "he helped kill your father.” (Mark Phillips)

 

Notice the result of forgiveness in the Biblical story.

 

When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. He talked and debated with the Grecian Jews, but they tried to kill him. When the brothers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus. Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord. (Acts 9:26-31)

 

Our witness to the world is predicated on our willingness to forgive.  When repentance is in evidence, then times of refreshing come from the Lord (Acts 3:19).  We as brothers and sisters in the Christ can then enjoy a time of peace, be strengthened, encouraged and grow in the fear of the Lord.

 

How must I forgive?  We are to forgive and forget.

 

Why must I forgive?  We are to forgive others as the Lord has forgiven us.  He will continue to forgive us if we forgive those who have sinned against us.

 

How much must I forgive?  We are to forgive our brothers always and even love our enemies.

 

Who must I forgive?  We are to forgive our brothers in the Lord and even our enemies because we are told to love them and pray for them.

 

When only God can forgive?  Only God can forgive sin.  We are to forgive those who sin against us so that we help open the door for their repentance and reconciliation with the Father.

 

When must I forgive?  Today!