FORGIVENESS (LESSON 3)
All this month we are learning what the bible says about forgiveness. Here is a question for you: Have you ever been so mad at someone because of something that that person did to you, that you thought to yourself, "I will never forgive them. And I'm going to remember what they did for as long as I live"? Or have you ever had hatred in your heart over something someone did and you wanted to get that person back, execute some kind of revenge on him or her? Maybe you had the attitude of "An eye for an eye." Well, what if the person, in either one of those examples, came to you and apologized? Would you forgive them?
Well, tonight we are going to look at verses in the bible that show us a few things on forgiveness. We are going to find out when and if it is okay not to forgive someone. We are going to read about why and how often we are supposed to forgive others. And, lastly, we are going to read about what happens if we hold on to feelings of hatred and ideas of revenge.
First let's address the question, "Do we have to forgive in every circumstance?" The answer is No, you don't. You're probably thinking, Really? Well, let's read what the bible says about this. Luke 17:3, "Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and IF he repent, forgive him." Did you catch that? "If he repent, forgive him." Let's read another bible passage that says something similar.
Matthew 18:15-17, "Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it to the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican."
There are many verses on the importance of forgiveness, but somewhere along the way people got it in their head that always, no matter what, you have to forgive people. But God did not put that heavy of a burden on us. He does not expect us to be superhuman. There are times when you have the right to feel wronged by someone. That does not mean that you hate them, want to harm them, and are going to "pay them back," but it also doesn't mean that you have to just forgive someone who will not repent, does not care that they have wronged you and has an attitude of, "I don't care what I did to you. I'm not sorry." (Read the above verses again if that is still not sinking in.)
Does God just automatically forgive every sin? No. If He did, then Jesus would not have had to die on the cross as payment for sin. If you are someone who does not care that you have broken God's commandments or offended God, then God will not just say, "It's okay. I forgive you." No, you must admit that you have done wrong, come to God seeking His forgiveness, and turn from your sins. THEN if you are of a sincere heart, God will forgive you. 1 John 1:9 tells us, "IF we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." And Psalm 32:5 reads, "I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin."
God's forgiveness comes after someone repents. And God's Word shows us that we are to give people the opportunity to repent so that we can forgive them and mend the relationship. We are not to hold a grudge, and we are not to have the attitude of, "I will never forgive and never forget." So, yes, there are times when we do not have to forgive, but we should make the effort and be forgiving of someone who is sincerely sorry.
Why does God want us to forgive others? And is there a limit? Do we give a person three chances, and that's it? Someone once asked Jesus the question, "Lord, how many times do I have to forgive?" Let's see what Jesus told the person. (Read and explain as you go)
Matthew 18:21-22, "Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven."
Matthew 18:23-27, "Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt."
Matthew 18:28-30, "But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellow servants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. And his fellow servant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt."
Matthew 18:31-35, "So when his fellow servants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellow servant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses."
* When you accept Christ as your Lord and Savior, you are supposed to be a changed person. It's as though you were a slave or a prisoner who has now been set free. What kind of person would you be if after you were set free, you went around enslaving and imprisoning other folks? As much as we are able, we are to show others the same mercy and grace that God shows to us. To do otherwise, makes you out to be selfish, ungrateful, someone who God looks down upon as a person who should not be forgiven himself.
In the above bible account, we see people coming, humbling themself, saying, "Give me another chance." If you know that God gave you a second chance (even though you didn't deserve it), shouldn't you be willing to give someone else a second chance?
Ephesians 4:32, "And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you."
Matthew 6:14, "For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."
Don't be like the man who wanted to be treated one way, but then went around abusing, accusing, and not forgiving the man who asked him for a second chance.
Are we ever allowed to take matters into our own hands and seek revenge against someone? No. We are never to take vengeance into our own hands. God will bring down judgment and justice on those who sin and who are unrepentant of their actions! We are to trust God and let Him be the judge and jury and executioner. Romans 12:19 tells us, "Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord." Psalm 37:8, "Cease from anger, and forsake wrath: fret not thyself in any wise to do evil." Ecclesiastes 7:9, "Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry: for anger resteth in the bosom of fools."
Now, there is a difference between self-defense and taking revenge. If someone breaks into my home, I have every right to defend my property and my family. I don't have to stand there saying, "Jesus loves you" while someone steals my stuff. But if, for example, my daughter is killed by a drunk driver and the person's only punishment is doing community service, I can't take it upon myself to get in my car and go run that man or woman down. I must trust that God will bring justice to the situation and punish that person if they never repent of their sin of murder.
God wants us to leave these matters in His hands because He knows that hate and anger can consume you, become an obsession, and be a heavy weight to bear. Satan would love nothing better than to have us hating and harming each other. But God's Word tells us,Ephesians 4:26, "Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: neither give place to the devil." When you crave revenge, you are opening your heart up to the devil himself. You are putting a wall between you and God and not trusting that God is righteous and in control.
It is okay to want justice, but, again, leave that up to God. God doesn't miss a thing. He knows of every wrong ever committed. God's Judgment Day is coming. Hebrews 9:27 tells us, "It is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment. And 2 Corinthians 5:10 reads, "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad." Psalm 7:12, "If he turn not, he will whet his sword; he hath bent his bow, and made it ready." God's judgment is righteous, and He is the only one who can or should mete out justice.
Let's end these lessons on forgiveness with an example of tremendous forgiveness shown to people. This is when Jesus was being crucified. Jesus had been whipped, beaten, spat upon, falsely accused, made fun of, and now he is hanging on the cross. Let's see what happened.
Luke 23:33-34, "And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left. Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots."
Jesus, who is God, showed compassion and forgiveness beyond what I can even imagine. And on that day, at least one life was changed by Jesus' words of forgiveness. There were two men being crucifed on either side of Jesus. At first both men were making fun of Jesus and saying disrespectful things to Him. But then one of the men, when He witnessed how Christ expressed forgiveness even while he was suffering, realized that Jesus truly was God in the form of a man. And this thief's heart was changed, and he said these words, Luke 23:40-43, "But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise."
Jesus' attitude of forgiveness had quite an impact on this man's life. This thief went from being guilty, punished, and on his way to hell to someone who recognized who God is, saw his own sinful condition, and then asked Jesus to be his Lord and Savior. Maybe if we tell others who Jesus is and share with them how they can be forgiven and live our lives with a forgiving attitude, someone else will turn from their sins and see Jesus living in us and ask what they must do to be saved!