I'm sure that you have all heard the old saying that there are two things certain in life: death and taxes. A third certainty is that sooner or later we will be hurt by someone else. Unless we choose to become a hermit and live alone in a cave, we will always be vulnerable to being hurt. Sometimes people hurt us accidently, other times it is intentional. Sometimes they hurt us by their actions, other times it is by their words. At times, the wounds are superficial and heal quickly and at other times they are deep and scar us for the rest of our lives. However you want to say it, you can just be assured at sometime in your life, you are going to be hurt by another person. What in the world should you do when it happens? What can you do in response to such pain?
Paul gives us a hint in 2 Timothy:
2 Timothy 4:14-15 (NKJV) Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm. May the Lord repay him according to his works. 15 You also must beware of him, for he has greatly resisted our words.
These are the words of a person who was greatly hurt by a man named Alexander. These personal comments are shared in the last recorded words by the apostle Paul. As he gives final instructions to his son in the faith, Timothy, he reminds him that being hurt by other people is one of the hazards of being in the human race.
What exactly did Alexander do to Paul? We have absolutely no idea -- Paul never tells Timothy or the readers of his letter. The word translated "harm" is the Greek word kakos which means: "something which is depraved or evil." The word translated "much" can mean: "a large amount or something which occurs many times." Whatever Alexander did to Paul, it was no small thing. It was deeply hurtful and must have either been done repeatedly or it was something that had a long lasting effect.
Here we learn an important principle, Paul refused to dwell on what had happened to him. If he had been like most of us, he would have gone into all the gory details of how bad he had been hurt. Paul was different. He refused to throw himself a pity party to gain sympathy from others. He also refused to allow bitterness and hatred to crawl into his brain. Paul had developed the ability to remember the best and to forget the rest of the bad which happened in life. His mentioning of it was simply told to be of a warning to Timothy. And yet, in the manner in which Paul tells this story, we discover some valuable lessons of how to respond to the hurts which others will inflict upon us in the span of your lives.
I want you to understand that what happened to Paul will happen to you. People will slander you.
They will exclude you from their group. You will be criticized unjustly. Another worker might
block you from a promotion. The one person you think would never disappoint you might
someday betray you. A fellow Christian whom you love and respect may hurt you very badly.
The person who promised to love you until death may walk out on you for someone else. What
in the world can we do when other people hurt us with their words and their actions?
It would be wonderful to be able to be vaccinated from being hurt by others. I wish there was a spiritual ointment which could be rubbed on the wounds which others inflict that would take the pain away. Unfortunately, no such cure exists. Paul mentions this painful relationship so matter-of-factly that it seems that he had learned to prepare himself for the reality of such actions and responses from others. Paul had been hurt many times from those he loved.
2 Timothy 1:15 (NKJV) This you know, that all those in Asia have turned away from me, among whom are Phygellus and Hermogenes.
The word Paul uses here for "turned away" is often used by Paul to speak of turning away from truth. Paul uses this same word in:
2 Timothy 4:4 (NKJV) and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.
Titus 1:14 (NKJV) not giving heed to Jewish fables and commandments of men who turn from the truth.
Because Paul was preaching the truth, many were turning away from him. The truth causes divisions. When you stand up for the truth, those in sin or those who have a different theology will turn away from you.
2 Timothy 4:10 (NKJV) for Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica; Crescens for Galatia, Titus for Dalmatia.
I can imagine that if you weren't right with God, Paul was the last person you would want to be around. Because Demas was in sin, he turned away from Paul. Demas loved the "present world," which is a reference to Judaism. The word "world" is aion and means: "age." Demas couldn't give up his religious traditions so he stayed away from Paul.
2 Timothy 4:16 (NKJV) At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them.
Being rejected by friends, even Christian friends, because of your stand for the truth is a hurtful thing. I think we all know the pain of being rejected by friends because of our stand for the truth.
Nobody ought to ever consider the ministry unless they have the hide of a rhino. You need to be tender-hearted but tough-skinned. It is almost funny how thoughtless people can be with their remarks and actions. If you have thin-skin, you won't last long in the ministry. There are a couple of verses in Ecclesiastes that have been a big help to me in overcoming hurt caused by what others say.
Ecclesiastes 7:21-22 (NKJV) Also do not take to heart everything people say, Lest you hear your servant cursing you. 22 For many times, also, your own heart has known That even you have cursed others.
We shouldn't get hurt when we hear that others have said things about us because we all have said things about others.
We would all be wise to loosen up and get our feelings off of our sleeves. Sometimes, people will hurt your feelings even when they never intended to. At other times, they will do it specifically because they know how much pain it will cause. The sad truth is that most of us will hear far more words of criticism than words of appreciation. This is just a fact of life. That certainly doesn't make it right, but it is the nature of people. I read a story about a pastor that was moving to another church. They had his reception on his final night and one of the dear senior adult ladies sat next to him weeping. Looking over at her, he smiled, put his arm around her and said, "Please don't cry. I am sure your next pastor will be a great improvement over me." She responded,"That is what they promised when the last preacher left!"
You don't have the ability to stop it but you can do what Dan Quayle suggested during the presidential campaign of 1992. Poor Dan! Can you ever remember a man so ridiculed as he was his entire 4 year term as Vice President? He was asked about that and this was his response."The press barbs and TV jokes hurt. No one likes to be ridiculed-especially a proud person like myself. But, it goes with the territory and I have decided to plow on along and ignore it. Since it is unsolicited, I do have the privilege of ignoring what people say about me."
If you have not noticed yet, the world is full of people who have risen to the top by stepping on people whom they have put down. You can even buy a book called 1,001 Clever Insults. It is a mean day in which we live and people are sarcastic, cynical and angry. You cannot stop it but you can choose to ignore the barbs and arrows aimed at you. Write it down. Being mistreated by some people is a fact of life which will happen to everybody. Don't be surprised when it happens to you, expect it.
Job 14:1 (NKJV) "Man who is born of woman Is of few days and full of trouble.
he fastest way to become embittered is to dwell on the wrong others have done to you. Paul learned to forgive and forget and go on down the road of life. We know this is what Paul must have done for he never dwells on the injury Alexander brought to him. You know that you are on the road to bitterness when you continually review and rehearse the video tape in your brain of what was done to you. It is watched, and then rewound, and watched again and again.
The effect of wrath and bitterness can be deadly. Most of us have seen the signs placed on trucks and other vessels carrying hazardous materials. The acid we carry around when we are bitter will invariably spill as much on us as it will be poured on the one who has harmed us. Anger and bitterness and stress will physically increase your blood pressure, emotionally lead you into depression, spiritually sour your worship and prayer. Socially, it will cause you to be so unpleasant that no one will want to be around you. It is like that sign they have outside of a small community in west Texas. It says,"Welcome to Stanton. Home of 3, 000 friendly folks and one old grouch".Carrying a grudge is a loser's game. When Richard Nixon was forced to resign the Presidency of the United States in 1974, he said to his staff in his farewell address, "Never hate your enemies because when you hate them, they have gotten you" The grudge you carry will end up causing more pain and frustration than the original pain inflicted on you. Jesus said:
Luke 17:3-4 (NKJV) "Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. 4 "And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, 'I repent,' you shall forgive him."
Jesus knew that if we will not forgive those who hurt us, we allow them to continue to hurt us. I know this sounds impossible to some of you but the only way to heal the pain of the past is to forgive the one who hurt you. It is imperative because forgiveness not only heals your memory but it also changes your perspective about life. It is like cutting a malignant tumor out of your inner body. It is like being a prisoner and then being set free for life. It is also the only way to break the cycle of blame and pain in a relationship in life. Without forgiveness, the cycle will go on and on.
Several years ago, Charles Swindoll told the story of his search for a seminarian student to join his staff for the summer as an intern. He traveled to Chicago to interview a student who had been recommended to him. In the context of their conversation, it became clear to the pastor that this was a young man with a servant's heart. He probed to discover how his heart had become so tender for the Lord, and he told the following story:
This young man had begun the previous summer in Chicago praying that God would open a door of ministry for him in a church. In spite of his prayers, no doors were opened and he found himself facing the reality that he needed a job--any job--he could find. He checked the want ads in the paper and all he could find was a job driving a bus on the south side of Chicago. It was nothing to brag about but it would pay enough for his tuition in the fall.
After learning his route, he was put on his own - a rookie driver assigned to drive in one of the most dangerous parts of the city. It wasn't long until he would discover just how dangerous it truly was. A gang of tough teenage boys spotted this young driver and began a daily harassment of him. Several mornings in a row they got onto the bus, walked right past him without paying and ignoring his warnings. They would ride until they decided to get off and all the while they would make sarcastic and obscene remarks to him and about him to other riders on the bus.
One morning, he had enough. When the gang got on as usual without paying, he spotted a policeman on a corner and pulled the bus over and reported the offense. The policeman got onto the bus and told the kids to pay or to get off. They paid but unfortunately, the policeman got off and the gang stayed on. When the bus turned a corner or two, the gang began to assault this young seminary student. When he awakened from the beating, blood covered his shirt, two of his teeth were missing, both eyes were almost swollen shut, his money was all gone and the bus was empty. No passenger had remained to help him. He returned to the terminal and was given the weekend off. He went to his little apartment by himself and stared at the ceiling in disbelief. He was so angry, so hurt, so sad and so disillusioned that God would allow something like that to happen to him. "Where in the world had God been when all of this happened?", he asked himself a million times. On Monday morning, he decided to press charges. With the help of the officer who had encountered the gang and with the assistance of some passengers who later came forward and who were willing to testify against the gang, the thugs were rounded up and taken to the county jail. Within a few days, the preliminary trial was held before a judge. The young man and his attorney walked into the courtroom and they passed the angry gang members who glared across the room at him with hatred. He couldn't help but stare at them and wonder what could cause them to be so cruel, so heartless and so cold. And inexplicably, his emotions began to change from hatred and bitterness to pity and brokenness for those young men.
Their attorney stood and entered a plea of guilty on behalf of the gang when suddenly this young seminarian stood to his feet and asked for permission from the judge to speak to the surprise of his attorney and everyone else in the courtroom including the judge.
He said, "Your Honor, I would like for you to total up all of the days of punishment against these young men - all the time due to them to be sentenced - and I request that you allow me to go to jail in their place."
Swindoll recounts that the judge was so shocked that he didn't know whether to wind his watch or throw it at this seminarian! Both attorneys were stunned. The student looked over at the gang members whose eyes were as big as saucers and said, "I am doing this because I forgive you for what you did to me".The dumbfounded judge regained his composure and said, "Young man, you are out of order! This sort of thing has never been done before!" To which this young student smiled and said; "Oh yes, your honor...yes it has. It happened almost 2,000 years ago when a plain Jewish man from Galilee paid the penalty for all the wrong mankind had done by being beaten and mocked and spit upon and then executed on the cross of Calvary". And then for the next few minutes, without interruption, he told the court how Jesus Christ forgave our sins providing the forgiveness of God to everyone who would receive it. He was not granted his request but he visited the gang members in the jail and led most of them to faith in Jesus Christ and began to develop a significant ministry to others like that gang on the south side of Chicago.
Forgiveness of other people is the first and foremost step of regaining healing and wholeness in your life when others have hurt you. The way we can forgive others is by remembering that God is working through their actions, even their evil actions, for our good.
Genesis 50:20 (NKJV) "But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.
Romans 8:28 (NKJV) And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
2 Timothy 4:14 (NKJV) Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm. May the Lord repay him according to his works.
I am afraid that we sometimes have given people the impression that if you love God enough, you will just forgive the person and go on as if nothing really happened. What we have failed to state is that, yes, often what that person did to you was indeed terrible and should be punished. That is the reason we hurt so badly. We know that an injustice has been done and that it should be punished. I think that is only human nature and it is a lie if someone tries to tell you such feelings are wrong and are sinful. That proves you are a human being! But, be very careful at this point. It is one thing to acknowledge that God ought to punish that person, and a far different thing to decide to become God and do the punishing for him. Forgiveness does not mean that the injustice did not occur or that it should not be punished. But it is coming to the place and point of trusting that God is much better at administering justice than we are. Forgiveness means deferring the scales of justice to him.
That may be the most difficult thing in life to do. We readily can identity with Cornelius Vanderbilt, the first American to build a fortune of more than $100 million dollars. He did it by beginning with $100 from his mother. He built his fortune in the shipping industry and later in the railroads. He once was double-crossed by two partners and went into a towering rage. He uttered this often quoted blast; "You have undertaken to cheat me. I won't sue you, the law is too slow. Instead I will ruin you!" Have you ever felt that way? I have, but we would do well to let God's word guide us at this dangerous intersection.
Romans 12:19-20 (NKJV) "Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord. Therefore "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head."
The word "avenge" is the Greek ekdikeo which means: "to vindicate one's rights, to punish a person." We are not to try to punish someone who has wronged us even though that is the natural response. Rejecting vengeance is not natural; we can only live like this supernaturally as we walk in dependance upon God. In our flesh, we all take joy in someone who gets even. There is a story about a truck driver who dropped in at an all-night restaurant in Broken Bow, Nebraska. The waitress had just served him when three swaggering, leather-jacketed motorcyclists--of the Hell's Angels type--entered and rushed up to him, apparently looking for a fight. One grabbed the hamburger off his plate; another took a handful of his French fries; and the third picked up his coffee and began to drink it.
The trucker did not respond as they probably expected. Instead, he calmly rose, picked up his check, walked to the front of the room, put the check and his money on the cash register, and went out the door. The waitress followed him to put the money in the till and stood watching out the door as the big truck drove away into the night.
When she returned, one of the cyclists said to her, "Well, he's not much of a man, is he?"
She replied, "I can't answer as to that, but he's not much of a truck driver. He just ran over three motorcycles out in the parking lot."
We laugh at a story like that. We love stories like that, don't we? That's because we're sinful and in our flesh we love revenge! May God help us to be more like Him.
Vengeance is God's job, not ours. The effects of holding a grudge are very serious. Modern medicine has shown that emotions like bitterness and anger can cause physical problems such as headaches, backaches, allergic disorders, ulcers, high blood pressure, and heart attacks, to name just a few. When we do not love our enemies but strike back at them, we are usurping Gods's prerogative to mete out justice. God says, "Vengeance is mine; I will repay." By seeking revenge, we really inflict great harm on ourselves. Let's trust Him to make things right and be willing to suffer the wrong.
The person who is able to take the wrong without bitter resentment or slandering is reflecting one of the most beautiful characteristics of Jesus Christ that you will ever see. That is exactly what our Lord was like-- He gave up his rights (Philippians 2:5-11). He took wrongs and he was defrauded; he did it patiently and without reacting. Peter said of Christ,
1 Peter 2:23 (NKJV) "who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously;"
Jesus committed himself to God knowing that God was in control and His will and purpose were at work both in what He gained and what He lost. Forgiveness and non-retaliation are beautiful traits of Christ likeness that a believer can display.
Mark it down, whenever a Christian sets out on a course to exact revenge and repay evil for evil and wrong for wrong, that person has begun to play God. Perhaps, you are thinking, "David, you don't have any idea what it feels like to be really wronged". Oh, yes I do! And I'm sure that all of you know what it feels like also. Nearly everybody in this room could show some scars from our wounds this morning. God's word speaks to us in a timely fashion. The scripture says:
Ephesians 4:32 (NKJV) And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you.
To forgive means: "to give up a claim; to cease bearing resentment". The most important nine words in that verse are these: "Just as God, For Christ's Sake, has forgiven you". Never forget that no one will ever wrong you like you wronged God. And yet, for the sake of what Christ did for us at Calvary, God has chosen to forgive each and everyone of us. As recipients of his marvelous grace, how can we do any less to those who may have wronged us?