Accepting His Grace: The Forgiveness of Prayer
In 1995 Brenda Adelman’s father (whom she adored) shot and killed her mother (whom she considered her best friend) and then turned around and married her mom's sister. He was not remorseful, and, in fact, refused to talk to Brenda about what happened. O he went to jail for what he did, but his plea bargain and good behavior got him out in only two years. Apparently the court bought his story that he had only “recklessly caused his pistol to discharge directly into his wife’s head.”
As you can imagine, Brenda struggled with forgiveness, as any of us would, I suppose. I don’t know if there was any connection, but she became a psychologist. Over the years, she has dealt with many other people who struggle with forgiveness. From her own experience and from her counseling, she gives the top five reasons people give for not forgiving.
1. If I forgive this person I am condoning what he or she did.
2. My anger assures me that this person will never be in my life again. In other words, I have to stay mad at them so they can never be around me again.
3. If I forgive them, they will hurt me again.
4. Who would I be if I forgave them? Somehow, forgiveness seems to make us the doormat who is losing our identity.
5. What happened to me or a loved one was just too horrible.
If you boil all of these reasons down, you come to one over-arching conclusion: We do not want to forgive because forgiving implies losing. If we give up the grudge, we are giving up our dignity and self-respect some how.
And we are not the first people to struggle with the concept. Jesus’ disciples did as well. You remember where we are in our series. We began this little investigation into the Lord’s prayer with a discussion of it’s logistics: How, when, where, and why should we pray. Then we discovered the intimacy of prayer by learning of “Our Daddy in Heaven.” We followed that with the worship of prayer, learning of the awe of the Father’s presence. We then discovered call of the King to build His Kingdom and the provision He makes in prayer when He tells us to bring Him our daily needs.
But, perhaps no phrase is really harder to grasp and apply as this next one: Say it with me: Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be Your Name. Your Kingdom come, Your Will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and (watch) Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
Now none of us really have a problem with that first part: We all want to be forgiven. We may even think we deserve to be forgiven. But our pride really bumps up against that second part. We, very often do not want to forgive our debtors. Jesus knows our reluctance. That’s why He goes to great lengths to make sure we understand the principle. In fact, He’s so determined that we “get it” that He actually repeats and clarifies it down in vv 14-15. 14 “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.
Now, it’s like the disciples are chewing on this requirement for the next 12 chapters of Matthew, because I think they had just as much trouble with this concept as you and I do. I mean, we think to ourselves that this “open-ended” forgiveness must have some limit right? I mean, if you smack me in the face once, yes, I might let you do that and forgive. But if, every time you see me, you smack me in the face, there comes a point at which you draw the line, right?
Well, that’s what the disciples were thinking, so they diplomatically ask Jesus that question. Peter, as usual, steps up to the plate and asks the question everyone else is thinking: In Matthew 18:21 it reads,21 Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Now you’ve probably heard that the Rabbis had already ruled on this question. They said that you were obligated to forgive three times and, after that, you could take revenge. Peter, realizing that Jesus always seems to go overboard, tries to get way out ahead of Him in this forgiveness thing. He doubles what the Rabbis said and even adds one.
Jesus response is mind-blowing. He says: 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. And really, Jesus was not saying 490 times, but that your forgiveness must be limitless if you expected to receive limitless forgiveness. Now that, to our minds, seems impossible! Really??? No matter what someone does to us, we are to forgive them? Really?
Now, I’m sure when Jesus saw that, he could see the question marks in the eyes of those twelve followers, so He graciously gave them a picture which explained the concept. He says (read text - Matt 18:23-35)
Jesus, in this story, draws us the picture of an unforgiving heart and why we must avoid it, and I want you to hear Him today. You see, you may be here and you really don’t get it. You’ve always heard that you had to forgive, but you always resisted the idea. You kind of echoed some of those reason we talked about for not forgiving. You feel like keeping up the wall of a grudge keeps out the pain and even the possibility of future hurt. You may even feel like unforgiveness is the only protection you have from the person who would hurt you all over again. Frankly, throwing the door open to that possibility just seems to be beyond your ability today. I really want you to listen because you may find out not just why it’s important to forgive, but also how you can actually forgive from the very bottom of your heart. I believe that this principle is so important that, if you’ve struggled with forgiveness, these principles of scripture could lead you to a freedom you may not have experienced in a very long time.
It all starts here: You must really grasp the truth that, if you refuse to forgive, you will not be forgiven. This parable gives you a clear picture of why this is so. In the first place, an unforgiving person is not forgiven because an unforgiving person fails to:
DIV 1: COMPREHEND THEIR DEBT
This story is one about debt. We can see that clearly, but what we may not quite understand just how much debt is being discussed. When it says that this servant owed 10,000 talents, we might be tempted to kind of equate that with dollars, and you might say something like this. “Ten thousand dollars? Well, I got two credit cards that have that kind of a balance. What’s the big deal?”
Well, in the first place, if you say that you need to sign up for Dave Ramsey!! But, in the second place, 10,000 talents is probably speaking of silver. A talent was 30 kilograms of metal and one talent was worth 6000 denarii. If one denarius was an acceptable day’s wage for a laborer, then one single talent would represent what a laborer might hope to earn in half a lifetime. Ten thousand talents was 60 million denraii or the equivalent of 30 tons of silver. In effect, the guy owes the king more money than existed in circulation in the whole country at that time! You could say, the poor guy owed zillions of dollars. His debt was huge and unpayable.
Now, obviously, he could see that this was a huge debt, but somehow he failed to really grasp it. I know that because of what he says about the debt. In v 26, when he is confronted with the fact that he owes more money than even existed in the country his response is, The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’
Really?? You owe more than exists, and you’re going to pay it? That probably sounds like what bill collectors hear all the time. Kind of like that old redneck joke that Jeff Foxworthy tells about the guy living in a trailor park when a bill collector comes to the door. He says, “Mr. Jones, we really need you to make a payment on this trailor if you want to keep living here.” Mr. Jones knowing he is broke starts making excuses about why he can’t pay. Finally the bill collector gets exasperated and says, “Don’t you have anything to make even a partial payment? Can’t you go down to the ATM or write a check?” The old redneck says incredulously, “You’ll take a check? Well, now, I’ll just pay the whole thing off then.”
That’s the idea. This guy is making promises his wallet can’t keep. Now why is that? It’s because he, obviously, doesn’t really grasp just how huge his debt is. You see the person who is unforgiving just doesn’t get it. He doesn’t see that the reason he can’t demand the payment of the grudge against someone else is because he owes God so much more than that other person owes him.
Which leads me to the second problem an unforgiving person has with their comprehension. Not only do the not really see the immensity of their debt, they also fail to connect their debt to God with their relationship to others. This servant was blind to the fact that the way the king treated him was in any way related to how he should treat others. He missed the connection entirely. He just didn’t really comprehend his debt.
And he wasn’t the first one. People do that all the time. You’ve probably tried to share Christ with a few of them. I still remember being out one day going door-to-door here in Wilson trying to witness. I ran into a couple of college students who actually took the time to talk to me. They were really cordial until I started talking about the fact that everyone was a sinner and needed to be forgiven by the grace of Christ alone.
She couldn’t believe it. She said something like, “Do you actually mean to tell me that I am in the same condition as a murderer or a rapist. I have to be forgiven just like them? I just can’t believe that.” Those, my friend, were the words of someone who didn’t comprehend her debt, and, may I just say, that she remained unforgiven because she refused to listen any further.
You see, there really are just a couple of groups of people here when it comes to this “forgiveness” thing: Now it is not that there are “debtors” and “Non-debtors.” No! All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. There are not those in debt and those who arent, there are those who comprehend their debt and those who do not. How do you know if your eyes are blinded to your own sin?
Well, first, you may be misunderstanding your debt, if you are into Comparison. The attempt to compare yourself and your “rightness” to other people reveals a lack of understanding of your debt. God really doesn’t discount your debt because you compare favorably to your neighbor. When you compare, you misunderstand your debt.
And then, you may be misunderstanding your debt if you insist on your “rights” in the middle of a dispute. Hey, when you’re in prison, you have no rights. You and I lost our rights when we fell into sin through our Grandfather, Adam. When you’re in the middle of some argument with others and you insist on your way because you “deserve” it, you are revealing a heart that fails to comprehend its own sin.
Really, when you get right down to it, the very act of holding a grudge communicates that we really don’t understand what we owe to God.
So where are you with this? Are you in the middle of some conflict with another person. Do you feel as if they have wronged you somehow and are you having trouble forgiving them? If that’s true, may I tell you the biggest problem in that situation? It’s not them, its you. When you and I are unforgiving, we’re really failing to comprehend our debt. But there’s something else an unforgiving person does. An unforgiving person fails to
DIV 2 EXPERIENCE GOD’S GRACE
Now this is the heart of the matter, literally! A person who is unforgiving, really is unforgiven because they demonstrate through their unforgiveness that they’ve never really experienced the grace of God. One commentator said of this parable:
A person who has truly experienced the mercy and grace of God by responding to the presence of his kingdom will be transformed into Jesus’ disciple, which, in a most fundamental way, means experiencing a transformed heart that produces a changed life that gives the same mercy and grace one has received from God (cf. Isa. 40:2). Such a transformation will be evident in the words and actions of a disciple’s life (12:33–37;3:8, 23 5:17–20 A person who has not truly experienced God’s grace and mercy will not experience his forgiveness. He will, like the first servant, accept the personal benefits, but it will be only superficial. It will not penetrate a hard and wicked heart to produce transformation.
The bottom line was that, while this servant had superficially accepted the perceived benefit of the Master’s forgiveness, he had not experienced the grace of transformation. If he had, he would have forgiven. Because he had not, he did not forgive. Jesus disciples don’t just mentally know about His forgiveness, they spiritually experience it to the point that they are changed.
So my question to you this morning is this: Have you every experienced grace? I know you say you prayed the prayer and that your sins were forgiven, but I rather suspect that many people have never even been spiritually convicted that they really are sinners in the first place and because they haven’t really connected with their debt, they don’t connect with their forgiveness. They do not experience grace. So, Have you experienced grace?
You might say, “Well, how do I know for sure? How can I tell that I’ve really connected with God’s grace.” Well, let me give you three things that characterize someone who truly experiences grace: In the first place, when you have truly experienced grace, you seek for relationship and not for relief. That is not what this guy did. What was his immediate reaction to being forgiven this great debt? Look at v.28 “But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’
It sounds to me like this guy didn’t let any grass grow under his feet. You would have thought that he would have wanted to stay around the king and express his gratitude. You would have thought he would have wanted to get to know this one who forgave the great debt, but not so! The very first thing he does is to god into collection mode. He goes out looking for relief. He’s been forgiven the debt, but he wants some income, so he finds some guy who owes him a pittance of what he owed and demands payment. He seeks relief not relationship. That’s backwards. When you truly experience grace, you seek relationship not relief and then . . .
You seek mercy, not justice. When you truly experience grace, something changes in your heart. You comprehend your forgiveness and the immense mercy you’ve been shown and something inside you wants to show mercy. Listen! I’ve heard it said, at times, about certain Christians that they are “mercy showers.” Sometimes it is said almost in derision, as if that is a bad thing! Listen show me a Christian who is not a mercy shower, and I’ll show you a Christian who may have never experienced grace! When I have experienced grace, I seek mercy, not justice.
And then, when I experience grace, I seek integrity, not pretense. Jesus sums up the meaning of this parable in v 35 and his summary echoes those verses we read that followed the Lord’s prayer. He says,“So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you . . . does not forgive his brother his trespasses.” Is that what it says? No, not exactly. What did I leave out? That’s right, from the heart. You see, we sometimes claim to “forgive” someone, but really all we’ve done is refused to openly retaliate. We don’t show our anger outwardly, we just internalize and build a wall of defensiveness around our lives to keep them out. Listen! That is not forgiveness! That is pretense. This forgiveness that reflects grace gets down into our hearts. We forgive from the heart. We take down the wall. We seek integrity, not pretense.
One man, whose stepfather had abused his family growing up, carried around a boatload of anger. On the battlefield in Viet Nam, he became almost obsessed with vengeance and he vowed that the first time he saw his stepfather upon his return to the states that he would kill him. He would make him pay for what he had done to his family. But when he returned a few months later, he became a Christian and, began to put his stepfather out of his mind.
Four years passed. Being forgiven and transformed by God’s grace made it possible to let go of the anger and bitterness, and he really never even thought much about his stepfather. But then, his stepfather showed up. His wife, being the loving person she was let him in. As they sat and talked, he remembered what he had vowed in Viet Nam and he said “I made a vow in Vietnam that the first time I saw you, I would kill you. Today is that day.”
He said, that he would never forget the look of terror that came over his stepfather’s face. He started to sweat and slide down on the couch. But then he went on “But I now know that I’m no better a person than you. God has forgiven me. And if he can forgive a sinner like me, I can forgive you. I will not allow you to hurt my family again, so don’t think that this is made out of weakness. Rather, I forgive you because I have been forgiven.”
This man then wrote:
I may not have been as abusive as my former stepfather. I may not have hurt people in the same way he had hurt our family. But I had also abused and hurt people in my own self-seeking way. When I came to that awareness, I knew that I needed mercy and forgiveness. And in receiving the gift of life that Jesus extended to me through his work on the cross, extending mercy and forgiveness to my former stepfather was a natural response. My vow had been the rash, irresponsible reaction of a deeply hurt, bitter young sinner. However, my ability later to forgive came from the eternal, loving act of grace in Jesus’ sacrifice for my sin. I discovered that the key to forgiveness is to stop focusing on what others have done to us and focus instead on what Jesus has done for us.
See, when I have truly become a disciple and truly experienced forgiveness, then I am transformed into a person who must forgive. But, if I have not truly experienced grace, one of the greatest signs of that will be that I will refuse to forgive. You see, an unforgiving person is not forgiven because an unforgiving person fails to comprehend their debt and experience God’s grace. But last of all, an unforgiving person fails to
DIV 3: UNDERSTAND THE CONSEQUENCES
EXP - PERSONALLY
Sprinkled throughout this parable are several consequences for our unforgiveness that affect, not only ourselves personally, but the church corporately. The most obvious personal impact of unforgiveness is the one that we’ve already touched on: When I refuse to forgive, I am unforgiven. We’ve covered that so thoroughly that we need not say any more about it.
But there are other personal impacts of unforgiveness. The first is isolation. When I refuse to forgive, I really forfeit my communion with God. I think its safe to say that this unforgiving servant really had no relationship with the King after his imprisonment. He was isolated.
And that’s not all, he was also tortured. v 34 says, And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. While torture for debt was disallowed by Jews, Romans commonly used it. In the case of unpaid debt, friends and relatives would have taken raising money to pay much more seriously if they knew that their relative was being tortured until they paid.
When we refuse to forgive, we think we are torturing others, but the person we really are torturing is ourselves. Isn’t that true? We think we’re hurting someone else, but we’re really just hurting ourselves.
In the frozen arctic tundra of Alaska, the eskimos have a very interesting and effective way of capturing wolves. They take a razor sharp hunting knife and coat it with the blood of an animal. As the blood freezes, they dip the knife again and again, coating the knife with frozen blood until the blade is totally hidden, then they place the knife, blade up in the snow. Along comes a wolf who, smelling the blood begins to lick the frozen, blood©covered knife. He licks tentatively at first, not quite sure of what he’s found. But soon the taste of blood begins to make him crazy and he licks faster. Numbed by the cold of the ice, he doesn’t even feel the blade of the knife cutting his own tongue. Soon the blood he is feasting on is his own. He literally "licks" himself to death!
That’s a picture of the torture of unforgiveness. We hold on to our grudges and our hurts but we only torture ourselves
But, really, the pain goes beyond ourselves. It did in this story. You’ll notice that when the servant is unmerciful with his fellow servant, that something happens around him. Look at v 31 So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, (watch this!) they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. That word means to be exceedingly saddened and upset. The unforgiveness of the servant caused grief for those around him, just like it does today.
One guy named George was having marital problems and on one night, hee passed a breaking point and emotionally exploded. He pounded the table and floor. "I hate you!" he screamed at his wife. "I won't take it anymore! I've had enough! I won't go on! I won't let it happen! No! No! No!"
Several months later George woke up in the middle of the night and heard strange sounds coming from the room where his 2-year-old son slept. He went down the hall, stood outside his son's door, and shivers ran through his flesh. In a soft voice, the 2-year-old was repeating word for word with precise inflection the climactic argument between his mother and father. "I hate you ... I won't take it anymore ... No! No! No!"
George realized that in some awful way he had just passed on his pain and anger and unforgiveness to the next generation. ... Apart from forgiveness, the monstrous past may awake at any time from hibernation and devour the present--and even the future.
Listen, when you refuse to forgive, understand that you aren’t just causing pain for you and the unforgiven party, you’re causing pain for the church too!
For one thing, your unforgiveness divides us. The question of Peter and this parable come right after Jesus talks about discipline within the church and emphasizes the need to deal with disagreements and problems quickly and correctly. When we do not, and we allow unforgiveness to reign, division enters.
And that division leads to a loss of fellowship. In the middle of offense, it is extremely difficult to have any kind of meaningful fellowship
So will you evaluate your own life? Are you walking around with the personal consequences of unforgiveness. Are you being tortured by your own resentment and bitterness? Aren’t you tired of it? I’ll tell you that one of the greatest reasons that you are hurting so badly is because you are not experiencing the grace of God. I know that because, if you are refusing to forgive, listen to me: you are not forgiven. You may be in church and you may even be a leader in this church, but if you’re carrying the baggage of unforgiveness, you are still carrying the weight of your sin. Isn’t it time to let it go?
And what about the corporate consequences of unforgiveness? Do you realize that if you are refusing to forgive that your bitterness is dividing this body? Do you realize that nursing a grudge or building up walls against others makes you a church wrecker! It could be that the revival we need is being delayed because of your bitterness. It could be that breakthrough we’ve been looking for is stymied by your determination to make someone else pay. Isn’t it time to let go? Haven’t you been on the torture wrack of revenge long enough?
The only way you can pray “Forgive me my debts” is to also say, “I forgive my debtors.”
Yvonne Pointer was one of ten children born to "a wonderful mother and father," although she admits that she was the worst one of the kids. She was the girl who was always suspended, the one who wanted to try drugs, dropped out of school, and was pregnant at 16. She did everything my parents did not want me to do."
For three years, a friend of her father's continually tried to reach her. He was part of their church, and he would come to where she was getting high and say, 'You need to change your ways.' He was a thorn in her flesh." But there came a time when "the high turned on her and people turned on her. When it did, she remembered the words of her father's friend, went to church, and cried out to God. That was May 4, 1975 and she never forgot her encounter with Jesus Christ."
However, less than ten years later, Pointer experienced what some say is the greatest pain on Earth: the loss of a child. On December 6, 1984, her then 14-year-old daughter Gloria, the oldest of her three children, was raped and murdered while on her way to school in Cleveland, Ohio. "After she died,” she said, “I would spend hours in the church building when no one was there, because it didn't make sense to me," she admits. "I had come through drugs, through street life—and now this? I could not fathom this would happen to a Christian. But because I had that personal experience with God, I went to God."
People from the church rallied around her, washing clothes, cooking, and c leaning when she didn't have the strength. Slowly, a new sense of direction emerged. "In the beginning it was all about the injustice done to my child. Period." Pointer says. "But soon I became aware of other families in similar situations." She wrote letters, talked to police, to reporters, to anyone who would listen. She hoped to find "a celebrity or somebody important" to help.
She says: "I spent five years looking for a famous person to come to Cleveland and help us. In the meantime, I did the work I wanted that person to do because they never got here." In that period, she co-founded Parents Against Child Killing, which later morphed into Positive Plus, a women-helping-women organization. "We started out with mothers who had lost children," Pointer clarifies, "but I found out pain is pain is pain. If your husband walked out and left you with five babies, that's pain. We felt we could find solutions by helping each other."
Today, Pointer's "day job" is in Cleveland's community relations office, but she's also a writer, speaker, and tireless advocate for child safety, receiving numerous honors for her work. She even speaks in prisons, sharing the love of God with inmates. "I found hatred too heavy a load to carry. Would I want the person who murdered Gloria over for Sunday dinner? No. But if I didn't forgive him, unforgiveness would kill me, too," she says quietly. "Forgiveness releases you to live."
And I believe that Christ knew this. He knew that in order to really live, you not only have to be forgiven, you have to forgive!