By Pastor Glenn Pease
Paul Aurandt tells this story of General Thomas Jackson who was the right arm of General Lee. The Confederate soldiers were so impressed with his bravery in battle as he stood out in front that they called him Stonewall Jackson. His first brigade was the most devastating war machine the South had in the Civil War. The Union Army dreaded any encounter with his troops.
In May of 1863 he pulled off a victory near Chancellorville, Virginia that made it into the textbooks. He divided his troops, and then divided them again, and made a surprise attack. The Union Army had never seen such a strategy, and they were defeated. But as Stonewall returned to his own camp his own men hearing him come through the woods opened fire. He was hit three times and died a few days later, and this ended the unbeatable war machine of the South.
So often good men die at the hands of their own troops. Our own recent history as a nation reveals how often our own soldiers perish because of friendly fire. Warfare is complicated, and it is hard to avoid mistakes. The same thing is true in spiritual warfare where the forces of light fighting the forces of darkness often shoot out the lights of their fellow soldiers. When a soldier of light comes under attack by the enemy and falls wounded on the battlefield of life because of being enticed into sin, the rest of the troops often leave them to be captured by enemy forces. This was not the strategy of General Paul. Every Christian soldier was precious to Paul, and he established a tradition in spiritual warfare that has become a tradition for American soldiers. That tradition is that you pay the cost and suffer great risk to rescue your own.
The wounded soldier may have been stupid to do what he did. He may have been disobeying orders even, and deserved to be left bleeding and dying alone for his folly, but the effort is to be made to rescue him and not leave him to the enemy. So Paul says to the Corinthians that the Christian man who has been so sinful in your midst, and who has brought grief to us all by his immoral behavior, is to be rescued from the clutches of Satan and restored to fellowship. The man he is referring to is the man who was sleeping with his step-mother, and bringing shame on the whole church, for even the pagans round about them did not condone such immorality.
The church listened to Paul and put this man out of the church, and they shunned him, but now Paul says to them that the goal is not to get rid of him and let the enemy have him. The goal of punishment is to get him to repent so that he can be forgiven and restored to the ranks of the soldiers of light. The bottom line Paul says is not to let Satan outwit us, but to outwit him, and the key weapon of spiritual warfare to achieve this goal is the weapon of forgiveness. This is a weapon that comes from the arsenal of heaven, and from the very heart of God. If God was not a God of forgiveness there would be no spiritual warfare, for all men would be captives of Satan with no hope of escape. But God is a God of forgiveness. Here are just a few texts that focus on this fact:
"Thou are to God ready to pardon, gracious and merciful. (Neh. 9:17)
Thou hast forgiven the iniquity of thy people, thou hast covered all their sin. (Psa. 85:2)
Thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive...(Psa. 86:5)
Who forgiveth all thine iniquities...(Psa. 103:3)
I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. (Jer. 31:34)
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (I John 1:9)
These do not exhaust the subject, for the forgiveness of God is inexhaustible. God knows how to use this weapon perfectly. He is the expert in forgiveness, but for us it is not automatic. We need a lot of practice before we can wield this weapon well and be effective in rescuing the fallen from the clutches of the enemy. Dr. Neil T. Anderson is the leading authority today in dealing with helping Christians and churches get released from the bondage of sin and ignorance. In his many books he makes it clear that there is no escape from bondage without forgiveness. The truth will set you free, and the truth in forgiveness is the key to getting out of almost every kind of bondage that Satan has in his bag of tricks.
In his 7 Steps To Freedom In Christ the third is forgiveness, and I want to give you the gist of his teaching, for he has helped thousands of Christians learn how to use this weapon to outwit the devil. The thing I find fascinating about his teaching is that his focus is on the forgiver, and not the forgiven. That is, the value of forgiveness is in what it does for you, and not just in what it does for the one you are forgiving. He begins by encouraging Christians to pray this prayer: "Dear heavenly Father. I thank you for the riches of your kindness, forbearance and patience, knowing that your kindness has lead me to repentance (Rom. 2:4). I confess that I have not extended that same patience and kindness toward others who offended me, but instead I have harbored bitterness and resentment. I pray that during this time of self-examination you would bring to mind only those people whom I have not forgiven in order that I might do so (Matt. 18:35). I ask this in the precious name of Jesus. Amen."
The point of forgiving is to get Satan's foot out of the door of your life so that he cannot use the offenses of the past to spoil your present and future. As long as a person holds on to a past offense it is still hurting them. If you forgive it you cast it into the past and eliminate its present impact. The Corinthian church was still feeling the pain of the punishment of this offender, and he was still feeling it. Paul feared he could become overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. There is no point in letting pain dominate your life is Paul's point. There is a limit to the value of suffering. After it has done its work it is to be eliminated. It is an abuse to go on punishing when the offender has repented. It is time then to put the pain of the past behind you, and move on to the pleasure of love and forgiveness. If you keep focusing on punishment you are in a spirit of bitterness and revenge, and you will be playing right into the hands of Satan.
All negatives have their proper role in the Christian life, but they are only temporary, and they are to be quickly replaced with positives. Any negative that is prolonged will aid the enemy in spiritual warfare. If you have any negative attitude that goes on for a long time, you can count on it that it is a defect in your life, and you are letting Satan have an advantage over you. But Christians will often protest: "You don't know how much I was hurt by so and so. I just can't let it go, for it was terrible." But the fact is, because you can't let it go you are allowing the hurt to go on and be magnified over and over. They hurt you a weeks worth of pain, and because of your lack of forgiveness you have multiplied it into a year, or even decades of pain. The magnifying and multiplying of pain is not the work of the kingdom of light. It is the work of the kingdom of darkness. As long as you persist in letting past offences affect your present, you are, in that area of life, in bondage to the enemy.
Dr. Anderson deals with the protest of the Christian: "Why should I let them off the hook? You may ask. That is precisely the problem-you are still hooked to them, still bound by your past." Then he says something profound. "You don't forgive someone for their sake; you do it for your sake, so you can be free. Your need to forgive isn't an issue between you and the offender; its between you and God." In other words, forgiveness is a weapon by which you outwit the devil, and eliminate any foothold he may have in your life. It blows to pieces the sins, the mistakes, the follies of the past, so they cannot control or obstruct your present and future. Dr. Anderson says in conclusion: "Freeing yourself from the past is the critical issue."
If you want freedom from bondage, then learn to wield well this weapon of forgiveness. It is a Satan smasher, and it destroys the devil's devices. It pulverizes his use of the past, and it fractures his formations. It shatters his schemes, and it ruptures his resources. It demolishes his demonic delight in destroying your peace of mind. The victorious Christian life is a life where forgiveness plays a major role. If anyone in all of history had reason to hold a grudge and be filled with resentment it was Jesus. He did nothing but good, and He loved all people. He brought joy and healing wherever He went, and He proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God, and yet He was despised and rejected.
Our human nature would love to see a Rambo-like ending of this story where Jesus rips His hands from the cross, grabs the sword of the Roman soldier and begins, like Samson of old, to slay the enemy. A field of dead and bleeding Pharisees and Saducees seems more fitting than one dead and bleeding Savior with two dead thieves beside Him. The only problem with that scene is that Satan would have been the victor. The kingdom of darkness would have won that day, but Jesus outwitted the devil. He died with not one note of bitterness and revenge. He cut Satan's influence out of His life completely with the weapon of forgiveness. He prayed, "Father forgive them," before He died, and He entered death and Satan's kingdom ready for hand to hand combat with no bondage whatever which would have given Satan an advantage.
Jesus died totally free and victorious by means of the weapon of forgiveness. That is why His sacrifice was accepted by God for atonement for the sins of the world. By means of forgiveness Jesus was the only perfect and sinless sacrifice that could be acceptable. If Satan could have gotten Jesus to hold on to a grudge, and gotten Him to cling to bitterness and resentment, he could have derailed the whole plan of salvation. Jesus knew his schemes, as did Paul, and that is why they won with the weapon of forgiveness, and that is how we will win the battle as well.
We have something in common with God. We have the capacity to forgive those who offend us, hurt us, and defy us. We have the power to forgive sin. Not only can we do it, we are obligated to do it, for God gave us this ability, and if we do not use it we will not receive forgiveness from God. In Luke 6:37 Jesus said, "Forgive, and you will be forgiven." Jesus adds these words after the Lord's Prayer in Matt. 6:14-15: "For if you forgive men when they sin again you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." If you are not a forgiver, you are not forgiven. It is that simple.
Jesus calls us, not just to be forgiven sinners, but to be forgiving sinners, and if we do not obey this order of our supreme commander we betray His cause and support the enemy forces. Not all Christians soldiers are issued all the weapons of spiritual warfare, and not all have all the gifts, but all Christians are issued the weapon of forgiveness, and they are expected to use it effectively. That is what Paul is teaching the Corinthians in this passage. The goal is not punishment, for that is a means to the end, and the end is forgiveness and restoration of the sinner to fellowship with the forces of light. This was no petty sinner he was dealing with. This is a matter of major moral failure, and yet Paul says the goal is to not let Satan have any victory, but get back to a place where the past is overcome, and the present is as good as it could have been if he had never fallen.
This is easier said than done, but if it was easy it would not be hard to be a Christian soldier. Anybody could do it, and Christians would have nothing distinctive to offer a fallen world. There are some notable successes, but there are many failures to use this weapon of forgiveness well. I was recently shocked to learn that one of my favorite Christian authors was a fallen saint who had been restored to the ranks of the soldiers of light. Many of you may know Jamie Buckingham. He has authored dozens of excellent books.
When he was a young pastor in South Carolina he yielded to lust and had an affair. It was devastating to him and his family, and he was dismissed from the church. He moved to Florida, and because he was a powerful personality he convinced a large church to call him as their pastor. He had a great honeymoon time there, but then the rumor followed him of his secret sin. He was soon asked to leave that church as well. The rumors were packed with half truths and lies that made a shameful sin even worse. His ministry had come to a pitiful dead end, and he would have been lost to the kingdom of God.
He saw a contest for Christian writers one day and decided to submit a story of a missionary friend. Out of 2000 submissions he was a winner, and this lead to his being offered an assignment by a major book publisher. A whole new world opened up to him, and he became one of the most effective Christian authors of the 20th century. He wrote Where Eagles Soar. In it he describes his fall, rebirth, and restoration as a soldier of the cross. Here is one of his paragraphs: "Perfection still eludes me. I am still vulnerable. But most important, I am no longer satisfied with my imperfection. Nor, thank God, am I intimidated by it. I reached the point of recognizing that God uses imperfect, immoral, dishonest people. In fact, that's all there are these days. All the holy men seem to have gone off and died. There's no one left but us sinners to carry on the ministry."
Had he not been forgiven for his failure and folly he would have been lost to the kingdom of God, and his talent may have been used to the kingdom of darkness. This happens when Christians do not know how to use the weapon of forgiveness. They force the fallen Christian to forsake the church and find their fellowship in the world. This means that Satan wins the battle. This happens often as Christian soldiers shoot their own wounded and abandon them on the battlefield to be taken captive by the enemy. Paul says not to let this happen even to the worst of Christian offenders like this man who was so offensive that he had to be put out of the church.
There was only the one church in Corinth, and so if you intended to be part of the church you had to deal with the sin issues in that body. It was a social issue, but today it is often a personal issue, and Christians need to deal with forgiveness on an individual level. Today discipline is not effective, for the sinner can just go off to another church and the church does not deal with forgiveness and restoration. This means that self forgiveness has become a major factor in modern Christianity. Many sins never become public, and so they are never dealt with like the one Paul refers to here. Paul deals a lot with the open sins known by the body, and so he writes in Eph. 4:32, "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." He writes in Col. 3:13, "Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you."
Forgiveness was a major message of Paul, and he preached it everywhere, for it was at the heart of the Gospel. But we need to turn to John to see the need for personal and private forgiveness. In I John 1:9 we read, "If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness." The Jewish Talmud says, "There is no happier person in all of Jerusalem than the one who has brought a sin offering to God's alter and leaves the temple feeling forgiven." Unfortunately, the world is filled with Christians who cannot see the sufficiency of Christ's offering on the cross to atone for all sin. The result is that they cannot forgive themselves for their failure to be what they know they ought to be. There is a vast number of Christian soldiers who are crippled and out of action because they do not know how to use the weapon of forgiveness to achieve their own healing and restoration. That is why the world is so full of Christian counselors.
Leslie Weatherhead, the great English preacher and counselor, dealt with many such Christians. The walking wounded who cannot be of much service to the cause of Christ because they are trapped in one of Satan's snares and are unable to forgive themselves. A young Christian girl had been engaged to a dentist and the dentist died. She became physically and mentally ill, and could not function as a person let alone as a soldier of the cross. Wheatherhead suspected sin and in counseling he learned that she had had sex with the dentist, and now she felt unworthy to even have another relationship. He led her to see the grace of God and experience forgiveness. She was set free from her bondage, and she went on to marry a young man and have a happy marriage. Here was a prisoner of war set free to live the life of grace.
There are millions of Christians who go through this bondage to Satan, and they are paralyzed and ineffective as Christians because they cannot experience forgiveness. Jesus knew this would be a problem all through history. That is why He instituted the Lord's Supper. He knew Christians needed to keep coming back to the cross and to what He did there for them. He knew Christians would fall in the battle of life, and they would be wounded in the warfare. As we meet again around the Lord's Table and celebrate His sacrifice for sin, let us recognize that this is our spiritual warfare medical center. This is where the Great Physician heals our wounds and mends our brokenness, and where he restores us to a state of readiness to march again for His cause and glory. Let us confess our sins and be cleansed, and go forth to help others to conquer as we wield the weapon of forgiveness.