Pastor David B. Curtis

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Our Need to Forgive

Matthew 18:21-22 and 32-35

Delivered 05/21/2000

I'm sure that you have all heard the old saying that there are two things certain in life: death and taxes. I'd like to add a third certainty this morning; sooner or later we will be hurt by someone. 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 do I do when someone hurts me? How should I respond when someone insults me, disappoints me, wounds me, ignores me, takes advantage of me? It's not an abstract question. We don't have to be around people very long before we realize that we are going to get hurt.

If you have ever had someone misunderstand you, let you down, verbally attack you or abuse you; if you have ever had someone insult you, talk behind your back, take credit for something you accomplished, ignore you, or even physically strike you...raise your hand!

The truth is we live in a world where people hurt one another all the time. And the question is: what are we supposed to do with it? More specifically, how should we, as Jesus' followers, respond when someone hurts us? What can you do in response to such pain? The way I see it, we have two options - revenge or forgiveness.

Now, we all know that forgiveness isn't easy; wanting to "get even" is almost an involuntary reaction when we have been hurt.

Philip Yancey writes, "When I feel wronged, I can contrive a hundred reasons against forgiveness. He needs to learn a lesson. I don't want to encourage irresponsible behavior. I'll let her stew for a while, it will do her good. She needs to learn that actions have consequences. I was the wronged party; it's not up to me to make the first move. How can I forgive, if he's not even sorry."

You know the feeling. We have all been there. When someone hurts us, we all experience that same rush of anger, passion - the reflexive desire to strike back and make them pay for what they have done to us. Sometimes, we strike back silently as we withdraw our love, friendship, or social contact from them. I think revenge can be as simple as not speaking to them anymore. We treat them like a nonperson. Other times, we launch a barrage of retaliatory verbal cruise missiles strategically targeted to inflict maximum damage. We want to make them hurt the way we hurt... right?

As Christians, we only have one response to hurt that is honoring to God and that is forgiveness. Before we look at our need to forgive, let's begin with the observation that forgiveness is a major biblical doctrine. The Bible has a great deal to say about God's forgiveness of our sins, because that is where salvation really begins.

Psalms 130:3-4 (NKJV) If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? 4 But there is forgiveness with You, That You may be feared.
Matthew 26:28 (NKJV) "For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission [forgiveness] of sins.
Luke 1:77 (NKJV) To give knowledge of salvation to His people By the remission [forgiveness] of their sins,
Acts 10:43 (NKJV) "To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission [forgiveness] of sins."
Ephesians 1:7 (NKJV) In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace

No matter what else I may say about forgiveness, let's clearly understand that our salvation begins with God forgiving us. If God did not forgive us, we would have to pay for our sins throughout eternity in Hell. And please notice that the forgiveness of our sins is according to His grace. We didn't earn or deserve to be forgiven. Forgiveness is a matter of grace.

So, in talking about forgiveness, we must understand that we are Christians, children of God, because God has graciously forgiven us. We are the recipients of forgiveness. Now, the Bible also has a lot to say about our forgiveness of the sins of others against us. A first reason for offering forgiveness, rather than seeking revenge, is:

JESUS COMMANDS US TO BE FORGIVING.

Jesus taught that believers should forgive others, because he has forgiven us.

Matthew 6:14-15 (NKJV) "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 "But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Mark 11:25 (NKJV) "And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.
Ephesians 4:32 (NKJV) And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you.

Several points might be made regarding forgiveness. First, Christianity is supremely a religion of forgiveness; it begins with God and comes down to us. Second, God only has one solution to the problem of human sin-the act of forgiveness. If we do not accept his solution, no other will be offered. Third, God himself has shown how to forgive others. We are to do for others as he has done for us. Fourth, there is a direct connection between our own spiritual health and our willingness to forgive those who have sinned against us. And it is that last truth that brings me to the theme of this message. If I were to put it in one sentence, it would look like this: Forgiveness is not easy, but it is necessary, and must be practiced continually.

Look with me at Peter's question on forgiveness:

Matthew 18:21-22 (NKJV) Then Peter came to Him and said, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" 22 Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.

Peter comes to Jesus with a question we have all asked at one time or the other. Somebody had done him wrong, and he had forgiven him. The same fellow had done it again, and Peter had forgiven him. He did it again, and Peter had forgiven him. He did it again, and Peter forgave him again, but this time he got mad.

So he comes to Jesus with a question we can all understand, "How often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?" Peter wanted to know how much guff he had to take off somebody. He wanted to know when does one quit turning the other cheek.

Everyone has felt that way. You take it, and you take it, and you take it, and the bonehead does it again, and you say, "If he does it one more time, I'm going to cream him."

So Peter wanted to know how long he had to wait before he could really let the guy have it. When is it okay to blow your stack? When is it okay to seek revenge?

But Peter didn't wait for an answer. He had one ready. He said, "Seven times?" Now, our temptation is to get down on him for saying that, but it wasn't such a bad idea. You see, the Rabbis taught that you had to forgive a man three times, and then you could retaliate. So Peter thinks to himself, "Well, I'll just double that and add one." Seven, after all, is the perfect number. To be perfectly honest, forgiving a man seven times is commendable. Most

of us get frustrated if we have to forgive somebody twice. By human standards, what Peter said is enormous. Forgive a man seven times. Peter didn't mean to offend. He thought by saying seven he would be extravagant.

In truth, his heart was pure, but his attitude was wrong. He wanted to put a legal limit on forgiveness. He wanted a number, a limit, a place where he could finally say, "No more Mr. Nice Guy."

Jesus answered him in verse 22, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven." That clunk you hear is Peter dropping over unconscious. He couldn't believe his ears. Seventy times seven. That's 490 times. Jesus is saying, "Peter, you've got it all wrong. You don't count the number of times you forgive someone. FORGIVENESS IS UNLIMITED."

You see, it's not that you say to yourself, "298, 299, 300. Only 190 more to go!" No!!! Seventy times seven means there is no limit to the number of times I should forgive someone else. By the time you've forgiven somebody 490 times, you've gotten into the habit of continual forgiveness.

Forgiveness is a basic ethic of Christianity, rooted in what Jesus has done for us. For some believers, particularly for those who have suffered grave hurts, to forgive seems terribly unfair. What makes it even more difficult is the fact that giving forgiveness isn't fair - it's love! The reason we give it is because Jesus gives us his forgiving love over and over again. Remember, it wasn't fair for Jesus to die on our behalf on Calvary, but he did, because he loves us.

A second reason we should forgive, is: UNFORGIVENESS IS SELF DESTRUCTIVE.

Yancey writes:

Vengeance is a passion to get even. It is a hot desire to give back as much pain as someone gave you... The problem with revenge is that it never gets what it wants; it never evens the score. Fairness never comes... It ties both the injured and the injurer to an escalator of pain. Both are stuck on the escalator as long as parity is demanded, and the escalator never stops, never lets anyone off.

Look at what God says about revenge in:

Romans 12:17-19 (NKJV) Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. 18 If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. 19 Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord.

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 dependence upon God.

If we seek revenge, we dig two graves. When Jesus forbids "getting even," he is protecting us from these consequences associated with holding a grudge and seeking revenge. Forgiveness stops this endless cycle of blame and retribution, holding to and reliving the past. How many people do you know who experience pain everyday from a wound in relationships that won't heal? Husband and wife who live together like strangers. Someone at work, at church, or in your neighborhood with whom you don't speak. A person who constantly comes to mind, and is always associated with rage. Forgiveness offers a way to end this impasse.

Believers, we must understand that failure to forgive is very costly. Notice carefully Jesus' words in this parable on forgiveness:

Matthew 18:32-35 (NKJV) "Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, 'You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me.

This pictures a Christian, he has been forgiven by God of the great debt he owed.

33 'Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?'

This is what we saw in Ephesians 4:32; we are to forgive one another "just as God in Christ forgave you." God showed us compassion in forgiveness, and we are to do the same to one another.

34 "And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. 35 "So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses."

These words are for believers. Jesus said, "What happened to that man will happen to you unless you learn to forgive one another." The torturers will come and take you away and torture you. What torturers? The hidden torturers of anger and bitterness that eat your insides out, the torturers of frustration and malice that give you ulcers, high blood pressure, migraine headaches, and lower back pain; the torturers that make you lie awake at night on your bed stewing over every rotten thing that happens to you; the torturers of an unforgiving heart who stalk your trail day and night, who never leave your side, who suck every bit of joy from your life.

Dr. Norman Walker, in his book, Fresh Vegetable and Fruit Juices, says this, "One of the most insidious causes of ulcers and cancer has been discovered in the victim's nursing resentments for a long time, all to often ever since childhood. Unless resentments are completely dissolved, they can frustrate otherwise most effective attempts to help the patient."

No wonder we are so tormented. No wonder we are so angry and bitter. No wonder we have problems. No wonder our friendships don't last. No wonder we can't get along. We have never learned the secret of unlimited forgiveness. The hidden torturers have done their work. Mark Twain said it this way: "Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet gives to the heel that has crushed it."

Giving forgiveness boils down to one fact of life: the only thing harder than giving this gift, is the alternative; holding a grudge and seeking revenge. Refusing forgiveness hurts us, and hurts others.

HOW DO WE FIND THE POWER TO FORGIVE?

Colossians 2:13-14 (NKJV) And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, 14 having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.

A Christian is uniquely empowered to forgive, because we are personally aware that Jesus died to forgive us; forgiving us while we were still his enemies. What's even more amazing to me, personally, is that Jesus goes on forgiving me day after day as I dip into the well of his grace. Once we realize the enormity of God's grace, and how undeserving we are of it, we find the supernatural power to offer forgiveness to those who don't deserve it.

Forgiveness is one of the most powerful weapons in our Christian arsenal to impact our violent bitter divided society and world. Forgiveness is power, a power that flows from the cross of Jesus, who said to those who hurt him: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

Think of the impact on our community, and upon our own personal lives and relationships if we, as a church family, become increasingly committed to set people free through forgiveness. Giving forgiveness ignites our church with irresistible power.

Now, someone might say, "I can forgive, but I can't forget?" Almost all of us have experienced the problem of forgiving someone the best way we know how, and then discovering that angry thoughts still fill our minds.

In pondering this problem, my mind ran to a verse in the Book of Hebrews which speaks of God's forgiveness of our sins. Surely if we have trouble forgetting, what about God who never forgets anything?

Hebrews 10:17 (NKJV) then He adds, "Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more."

Underline that last phrase, "I will remember no more." Does God have a memory lapse? How can the Omniscience God forget? To "forget" or "remember no more" means: "to not hold it against them." God doesn't forget that we have sinned, but he doesn't hold it against us.

I'm sure you've heard the old adage, "forgive and forget." We don't have the ability to forget wrongs that were done to us. Can you make yourself forget something? I can't. Forgiveness doesn't mean forgetting. To forgive is to treat the person as though the offense was not committed.

Forgiveness is a choice we make. It is not a feeling, or a mood, or a passing notion. Forgiveness does not mean we somehow wipe out of our mind the record of what happened. Forgiveness means we choose not to hold it against them. Forgiveness means we choose not to dwell on those things. It also means we choose not to hold a grudge against someone who has wronged us. So in that sense, to forgive means: "to choose to not hold it against them."

That, of course, raises another question. Isn't it a common experience for Christians to be troubled by angry thoughts even after forgiving someone? The answer is, "Yes."

In one of her writings, Corrie Ten Boom tells of some Christian friends who wronged her in a public and malicious way. For many days, she was bitter and angry until she forgave them. But in the night, she would wake up thinking about what they had done and get angry all over again. It seemed the memory would not go away. Help came in the form of a Lutheran pastor to whom she confessed her frustration after two sleepless weeks. He told her, "Corrie, up in the church tower is a bell which is rung by pulling on a rope. When the sexton pulls the rope, the bell peals out ding-dong, ding-dong. What happens if he doesn't pull the rope again? Slowly the sound fades away. Forgiveness is like that. When we forgive someone, 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 awhile. They're just the ding-dongs of the old bell slowing down."

So it's not surprising if after forgiveness, for a while the memories keep coming back. If you refuse to dwell on them, slowly they will fade away.

Because when you forgive, you let go of the rope, and the force is gone out of your anger.

Chances are, as I have been speaking today, there has been a face or a name that has been coming to mind. It's the face of the person who hurt you. A spouse, a parent, a teacher, a co-worker, a friend who wounded you; a competitor in the marketplace. Chances are good that it's even someone here in the church. Some of you are feeling the conviction of the Lord right now, because you are aware of someone that you have not forgiven. Some are saying, "I can't, I can't forgive them. You don't know what this person has done to me." Listen to me believer, listen carefully, you can't afford not to forgive. Listen again to the words of Jesus:

Matthew 18:32-35 (NKJV) "Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, 'You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. 33 'Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?' 34 "And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. 35 "So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses."

We can't afford not to forgive, the cost of not forgiving is way to high. Why not go to God right now, and ask Him for the strength to forgive that person.

The message of this text is clear: not forgiving some one who has hurt you will cost you dearly. In that sense, I wish to put forward a novel idea. You ought to forgive those who have hurt you-not for their sakes but for yours. I suppose when you get down to it, that's why we don't forgive. We hope that by nursing our anger, we can somehow strike a blow for justice against those who have hurt us. In the end, we hurt ourselves more than we hurt the other person.

When it comes down to it, there are two very good reasons to forgive that have nothing to do with the other person: 1. You should forgive because God has commanded it. 2. You should forgive because you will pay a very high price for unforgiveness.

In short, we should practice forgiveness for God's sake and for our own sake. That ought to be enough to motivate any of us.

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