Well in my plans for preaching Philemon, I accomplished the expositional goals that I had. I’ve shown the deeper issue in forgiveness that while Paul was exhorting Philemon to forgive Onesimus, Paul was showing him the bigger picture in what Christ did by forgiving him.
As we looked at that, however, I didn’t really address the issue of forgiveness as it pertains to us and how we are called to act toward others.
C.S. Lewis said “everyone thinks forgiveness is a beautiful idea until they have something to forgive”
So, we know that Christ has forgiven us greatly. But what about me? So, the question in my title, “Me Forgive?”.
So, this message is part of what we are learning in Philemon, yet my text isn’t in this little letter. So I consider this message an addendum to this series. Let’s take this out of the theoretical and put it in the practical. Let us move from orthodoxy into orthopraxy, from doctrine to practice, from sermon to lifestyle.
What does Jesus say about the topic? If you will allow me, I want to move us around these verses to help us answer the question. If you will walk through it with me, we will answer some questions about Forgiveness.
1st and foundational Question is …
1. Must I Forgive?
The word forgive/forgiveness is found 150 times in 127 verses in the NIV.
We are certainly happy that God forgives, but MUST I FORGIVE?
A. Do I HAVE to?
The SIMPLE answer is “ONLY if you want to OBEY Jesus.”
If your brother sins and repents, FORGIVE HIM
Forgive – aphiemi (af-ee-ay-mee) = to send away as in a divorce, to let go; to disregard; to yield up; to leave unpunished; pardon
So, the foundational answer for us is that when conditions are met, we must forgive in order to OBEY our Lord
We must divorce ourselves from vengeance. We must let the guilt go. We must pardon the one who has offended.
We must reengage the relationship. And THAT, fellow travelers is the issue. The most important thing is relationship. No one is any island. So, for the benefit of each other, we must forgive when conditions are met.
So, yes, I must forgive, but besides the command of Christ …
B. Why? Why Must I Forgive?
There is that understanding here that in this sinful world there are all kinds of things that cause people to sin. Jesus says “woe” – ouai (oo-ah-ee) = alas, woe, disaster, calamity
We should be very afraid if we are a conduit, a vehicle, by which we cause others to sin. Especially the “little ones” who follow, Jesus says it is better if we are tossed into the ocean with a concrete necklace that to cause others to sin. And then, Jesus shows us that in the area of forgiveness, we have to "watch" ourselves – prosecho = take heed, be careful about not forgiving.
Unforgiveness is a ripe bed of bacteria for sin. It is a Petri dish where all kinds of sin cultivates; and it is terribly contagious.
When we fail to forgive, sin comes to us, from us, through us, and we can cause others to sin. Hatred or contempt grows. Resentment builds in us or the one we will not forgive. Have you ever noticed that if you have hatred or disdain for someone that it then shows up in your children or spouse and they don’t even know why.
I must forgive, so that sin cannot have a foothold and I cannot infect others. The greatest defense is to defeat it by forgiving.
Before we address HOW to forgive, let’s answer another burning question …
C. How Often
Quick Answer: “As often as they ask.”
Remember that the Number, 7, is a number of Divine Perfection. In Matthew 18:21-22 – Peter asks “how many times shall I forgive my brother, Seven times?” That sounds pretty good right? Jesus says “70 TIMES 7” or if you will, perfection to the 10th power times perfection.
Here in Luke 17, Jesus says “I don’t care if this person comes back to you seven times in ONE DAY, forgive him” … and the Disciples say “Increase our Faith”
I just had to laugh when I read that. They were saying, “What?” “How?” “I Can’t” or “We Need Help”.
If you read Matthew 18:21-35, you will see that God is serious in his expectation of us forgiving because our debt was so great to him. No one owes us what we owed God. So … then …if I must forgive …
2. What is the Process of Forgiveness?
Let’s get to the nuts and bolts of it
A. What is Required?
C.S. Lewis said “real forgiveness means looking steadily at the sin, the sin that is left over without any excuse, after all allowances have been made, and seeing it in all its horror, dirt, meanness, and malice, and nevertheless being wholly reconciled to the one who has done it."
READ – vv5-6
Faith to Uproot a Tree …
Sometimes I think we miss the truth, because we are getting chocked on the unbelievable …
while ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE with God … and certainly within the will of God and under his power it would be possible to uproot a tree and throw into the sea … but we see this and we think … “I can’t do that and so I don’t have enough faith so … I certainly can’t defeat unforgiveness either”.
But I don’t think he was telling them they could or should uproot trees, I think he was comparing the tree, that they knew well, to Unforgiveness and bitterness and telling them they CAN uproot this sin in their lives. If he had been walking by a trash can he could have said “you can take this trash and throw it in the dump” and by “trash” meaning unforgiveness.
Now this word that the NIV, ESV, NASB all translate as “Mulberry” … is not just ANY mulberry but a species of it called a Sycamine … that is the Greek Word. And in the Luke 19:4 they translate this same word “Sycamore Tree” when Zacchaeus climbs it.
Anyway … I won’t belabor the point but hear it like they would have … I found some information about this tree yesterday after I was finished studying.
1)This tree, had large deep roots and so does our bitterness when Unforgiveness is left alone. 2) this tree grew fast and in DRY areas and so Unforgiveness grows easily when we are spiritually dry 3) it was a preferred wood for caskets … and so unforgiveness is a place of death 4) the fruit of this Sycamine tree was a bitter fig. Unlike its other Mulberry cousins it was bitter and could only be eaten a little at a time. So is bitterness, well … BITTER 5) This tree is only pollinated by the sting of a WASP … yep … and unforgiveness grows when we are stung
Jesus was passing by this deep rooted, dry climate growing, casket material, bitter, wasp pollinated tree … and Jesus knew the disciples didn’t think they could get rid of unforgiveness. So he compared it to this tree as they walked passed it and said, “you uproot this tree of unforgiveness, roots and all”
and the disciples hit the nail on the head . "Lord increase our faith"
1. The 1st thing we need is FAITH
Matthew Henry writes, “faith in God’s pardoning mercy will enable us to get over the greatest difficulties that lie in the way of our forgiving our brother.”
And then Jesus says that the smallest faith can do large things. I believe his point was actually a positive. Jesus wasn’t saying you CAN’T, but you CAN! I think he was telling them “You CAN do this” because 1) faith in Jesus is powerful and 2) you HAVE more faith than you think you do.
So don’t short change the power within you through Christ Jesus.
Why is faith needed? It is because we must believe that God can right the greatest wrong and can fill the deficit when we forgive and bear the weight of the offense.
Can I ask you something? Is your God Big Enough to heal the relationship?
“Increase our Faith Lord”
Warren Wiersbe says “Love motivates us to forgive but faith activates that forgiveness, so that God can use it to work blessings in the lives of his people.”
So, faith is required and then in the Practical Application … we must forgive
Even a little faith can conquer this … So take up the process … which begins with …
2. REBUKE –
look back at verse 3 for the process - “Rebuke” – epitimao (ap-ee-tee-mah-o) – to show honor; to raise the price; to rebuke; reprove; to admonish; to charge” … In this context we are to confront one who has wronged us, explain the offense but do so while showing honor for the one who has offended you.
Galatians 6:11 tells us to “restore gently” . Many of us have tried to simply forget an offense or overlook it or attack and then find we can’t get passed it.
It may be because we have failed to honorably rebuke. If I don’t speak up, then resentment may set in leading to bitterness. I become a scorekeeper. If I will not rebuke then my anger at the offense has been useless. Anger is physiological response given to us by God to motivate us toward positive action that is loving toward someone for constructive change. So, I must confront them to move in love toward the restoration of relationship. When I rebuke, I let them feel the weight of the offense.
Then the one who I have honored with rebuke needs to respond with …
3. REPENTANCE –
If I have treated them with love and honor they should respond with “repentance” – metanoeo (met-an-o-eh-o) to change one’s mind for better; heartily to amend with abhorrence of one’s past sins.
Repentance requires that this one who has offended Recognize the wrong, Confess it, that is agree, and in hatred of the sin, Turn Away from it.
And so, if this one agrees, and says “I repent” or “I intend to change this behavior” then we have no choice but to
4. Receive them … Forgive them …
But how is our forgiveness measured? How do I know if I have forgiven? What is the pattern? What is the measuring Stick?
1. “Just as God in Christ forgave us
Eph 4:32-5:2 - Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
5Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us
How did God forgive us? He recognized the work of Christ and he forgave us. When we realize that Jesus died for THEM TOO, we can Forgive them.
Verse 32 begins, “Be Kind and Compassionate” -- Love and Empathy drive us to forgive. Because we SO Love, we must FEEL what they are going through and desire to restore the relationship in the same way that God also SO LOVED us that he gave his Son, Christ Jesus, for us to reconcile us to him.
So, what should WE do? Ephesians 5:1 says that we should “Be imitators of God as dearly loved children”
We should be like a child that dresses up in Mommy or Daddy’s clothes and pretend to be them. Or like one who dresses up and plays like their hero.
When I was a boy, I tried to hit a baseball like Steve Garvey and play 3rd Base like Ron Cey, Kick a football like Tom Dempsey, throw one like Terry Bradshaw, and catch one like Lynn Swann. I tried to play soccer like Pele and shoot a basketball like John Havlicheck. And of course I wanted to hit a golf ball like Jack Nicklaus. I wanted to sing like Stevie Wonder and Lionel Richie and write like Andrae Crouch, I wanted to preach like my Dad and Billy Graham.
People, we need to try and forgive like God and love like Jesus Christ.
Micah 7:18-19 – Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.
What Does It Mean to Forgive Another?
In his book Caring Enough To Forgive - Caring Enough To Not Forgive, David Augsburger suggests that forgiveness is a “journey of many steps” taken carefully and thoughtfully, the steps including:
- To see the other as having worth again, regardless of wrongdoing;
- To see the other as equally precious again, in spite of the pain felt;
- To cancel demands on the past, recognizing that changing the unchangeable is impossible;
- To work through the anger and pain felt by both in reciprocal trusting and risking until genuineness in intention is perceived and repentance is seen by both to be authentic;
- To drop the demands for an ironclad guarantee of future behavior;
- To touch each other deeply, to feel moved by warmth, love, compassion, to celebrate it in mutual recognition that right relationships have been achieved.
Can we learn to love and to forgive? Yes, when the focus is off of ME. Then I stop keeping score because I WANT the relationship MORE than holding on to Anger or Hurt. Now, you may desire to forgive but you ask … perhaps, a very important question …
3. What If They Won’t Repent?
Jesus said “watch yourselves” … but I cannot control the actions of another.
Matthew 18:15-17 teaches how to address a sin against you and that is
- Go and show them their fault …
if they respond … then restoration happens
If not …
- Take some people back with you and try again still with love and compassion.
You don’t gang up on them, you just multiply the love …
If there is still no response,
- Tell the church.
This doesn’t mean to gossip, it means to enlarge the circle of love and concern with a desire for restoration. Let me also warn, that “telling the church” must involve going to the Pastor and Leadership for proper order and letting them lead the process. The Pastor and leadership can lead in how to handle it in the most honoring way.
But if they still don’t respond … do I have permission to STAY MAD? No, I must ...
A. Release The Anger
Remember the purpose of anger is to move you toward loving constructive action. If they won’t respond, you must give it over to God. If you hold the anger it will lead you toward all kinds of sin
Proverbs 29:22 "An angry man stirs up dissension and a hot tempered one commits many sins”
Dr. Gary Chapman, in his book Anger: Handling a Powerful Emotion in a Healthy Way, says we need to 1) release them to God and 2) Confess any personal sin
Romans 12:9-10, 14 "Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse."
Speaking about Jesus, 1 Peter 2:23 says "When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly."
Jesus left it in God’s hands because he alone judges justly. And in 2 Timothy 4:14 Paul said Alexander did me great harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done
If you hold your anger, frustration, disappointment, disgust, or whatever you call it, you will only hurt yourself, so give it to God.
Then we must be honest and confess any personal sin in regards to the way you have handled it through possibly sinning in your anger or slandering then to others. We have to get rid of sin related to the anger.
Colossians 3:8 But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.
Anger leads to rage which is out of control anger and that leads to hatred in your mind, leading to you talking bad to others about them.
We must be ready to forgive, willing to forgive, but we cannot force forgiveness, if they refuse to repent.
So then, I have to release them to the Lord by continuing to pray for them, love, and care for them.
I am not bound to forgive because they do not desire it. what then do I do with the relationship?
Back in Matthew 18:17b it says “If he refuses to listen, even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan”
B. Treat As an Unbeliever
What does that mean? Well, how does God treat unbelievers? He LOVED US! While we were Still Sinners, Christ died for us. Jesus ate and hung out with Tax Collectors and Sinners … YET His CLOSE Relationships were reserved for those who walked with him in serving God.
So, if someone refuses the blessings of a relationship we should show great love, dignity, respect, kindness, and pray constantly for them. But you are not required to extend to them the blessings of the relationship they had before the offense.
Of course our actions should be proportionate to the actions. And there are certainly times when there are even legal consequences. In some cases, justice still may have to be served. That is even true when forgiveness is asked for and granted, they still may be held responsible. In Numbers 14:20-22, God was dealing with his people who had continually doubted and disobeyed him and in response to their request for forgiveness, God said “I have forgiven them … yet not one of the men … who disobeyed me … will ever see the land of promise.”
There were consequences for their actions but God still forgave them and mended the relationship.
So if they refuse to Repent you, release the anger, and treat them as an unbelieving and so still we must
C. Desire Their Salvation / Reconciliation
Continue to offer them Christ
Continue to Pray for them
Continue to Hold Out the Hope for Reconciliation
Hebrews 3:13-4:7 – teaches us that as long as it is still called TODAY there is an opportunity for Salvation. And so, as long as it is Today, there should still be the Hope for Repentance and Reconciliation if they will Respond to the Rebuke in Repentance and thus we receive them back into Right Relationship.
As we conclude today, you might be thinking of some cases in your life where if you do what I’m telling you to do, you will be tempted to think you have gone ABOVE AND BEYOND the Call of Duty. And you will be wanting a Big Pat on the Back.
But as Jesus closes this instruction, look at what he says about what our attitude should be … Jesus is just playing out a typical situation.
He says if you only had ONE servant whose job it was to care for the fields and then cook and serve dinner, should they get a special “thank you” at the end of the day for simply doing their job? He says they should consider themselves unworthy of special treatment because they had “only done our duty”
Child of God, Forgiveness is our DUTY.
To love as we have been loved, we must forgive as we have been forgiven, and serve as we have been served, expecting no special treatment because it IS our duty.
Don’t look around for someone to “wow, look at you, you have given great forgiveness” … NO … the only thing we should expect is that when we enter Heaven we will hear our Father say “Well Done, Good and Faithful Servant, as I forgave you in Christ Jesus, you have forgiven others”
Jesus will say “As I have love you, you have loved each other and so shown the world that you are mine, that’s MY servant, that’s MY disciple”
Forgiving His Son’s Murderer
Rev. Walter H. Everett answered the phone, unprepared for the words he heard: “Scott was murdered last night.” Walter’s anger toward his son’s killer raged through him like a violent riptide, growing even worse when a plea bargain resulted in a reduced sentence for the attacker. He wrote:
My rage was affecting my entire life. “How am I going to let go of this anger?” I wondered. The answer came the first time I saw Mike, almost a year after Scott’s death. Mike stood in court prior to his sentencing and said he was truly sorry for what he had done.
Three-and-a-half weeks later, on the first anniversary of Scott’s death, I wrote to Mike. I told him about my anger and asked some pointed questions. Then I wrote, “Having said all that, I want to thank you for what you said in court, and as hard as these words are for me to write, I forgive you.” I wrote of God’s love in Christ and invited Mike to write to me if he wished.
Three weeks later his letter arrived. He said that when he had read my letter, he couldn’t believe it. No one had ever said to him, “I forgive you.” That night he had knelt beside his bunk and prayed for, and received, the forgiveness of Jesus Christ.
Additional correspondence led to regular visits during which we spoke often of Mike’s (and my) growing relationship with Christ. Later I spoke on Mike’s behalf before a parole board, and he was given an early release. In November 1994, I was the officiating minister at his wedding.
When asked about his early release, Mike says, “It felt good, but I was already out of prison. God had set me free when I asked for his forgiveness.”
Can I truly forgive? I had wondered if it were possible. But I’ve discovered the meaning of the Apostle Paul’s words: “For freedom Christ has set us free.”
Folks this isn’t easy, you might even be saying … “Lord Build My Faith”
And that’s the right prayer to pray. But let me encourage you, you HAVE the faith, if you have faith to believe that Jesus CAN and HAS forgiven you through his cross and provided an eternity in Heaven, then you certainly have enough faith to believe that you can forgive … The question is will you work the process, in order to reap the harvest? I am so glad that Jesus did for me …