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Forgiving Others - A Donelson Fellowship Pocket Paper

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Forgiving Others

| A Pocket Paper
The Donelson Fellowship
______________Robert J. Morgan
Robert J. Morgan

See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many (Hebrews 12:15). I can't think of a more unpleasant beginning to my message today than by describing a clogged-up commode. Suppose you went into a restroom to find a commode had been used again and again without anyone having bothered to flush it. It is filled with malodorous waste and filth. A virtual roll of toilet paper has been dropped into it. Suppose, being a brave (or a desperate) soul, you edged close enough to flush it. But the drain was so clogged that the water backed up, spilling the entire mess across the floor. That is a picture of a human heart that refuses to flush away its anger, resentment, and bitterness. The unhealthy debris builds up and backs up until the person's life becomes toxic and repulsive. Then it spills into other people's lives. That's why Ephesians 4:32 says, "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other just as in Christ God forgave you." Colossians 3 says, "But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice... Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you." Yet forgiveness doesn't come easy for us, and we occasionally come across situations in life in which we aren't even sure forgiveness is appropriate. I have a friend who told me his harrowing experience. He and his wife and daughter were at home one evening when a man burst into their house, waving a gun. He robbed them at gun-point, then, with his gun pointed at the teenage daughter, he warned the father that if he tried to interfere his daughter was a dead woman. Then, with his finger on the trigger of the gun, he raped the girl before fleeing. Would you advise that family to forgive their attacker? You can see that we are not dealing with an easy subject. Yet the Bible deals with this topic in a sensitive and wise and comprehensive way. A thorough study of the subject of forgiving others would take many weeks. For today, I would like to share just three elements that help make up the chemistry of forgiveness. First, we must all learn that true love overlooks the many small, daily offenses that are bound to occur. Almost all of us have a few sharp edges here and there. Most of us have some rough patches to our personalities. We sometimes rub each other the wrong way, or we get miffed at each other, or we neglect each other, or we say something without thinking. There are about 10,000 ways we can offend another person, and there are an equal number of ways in which we can get our feelings hurt. It's especially true if we're a little insecure or if we have a low self-image. We take things personally and become defensive and easily offended. Roommates get out of sorts with each other. Husbands and wives rub each other the wrong way. Fellow-workers on the job take little jabs at each other. Church members think one another stuck up or snobbish. But as we grow in the Lord Jesus Christ, we increasingly tend to overlook small, daily offenses more and more. Paul summed up his attitude in five little words: "But what does it matter?" He said, "It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice." Peter said, "The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins" (1 Peter 4:7-8). Proverbs 12:16 is my favorite verse on this subject because it is so plain-spoken: A fool shows his annoyance at once, but a prudent man overlooks an insult. And Ephesians 4:2 says, "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love." The phrase "bearing with..." is a translation of a Greek word coming from the verb "to put" connected with the preposition "up." It literally means, "to put up with." I told one of my daughters recently that one of the most important techniques to learn in dealing with people is the power of a well-timed shrug. Shrugging your shoulders is usually better than swinging your fists or wagging your tongue. I've found that is no limit to the number of things I can shrug off. Why? Because true love flushes away a multitude of small, daily offenses and keeps the sludge of anger, hurt, and bitterness from backing up into the plumbing system of the soul. The second element of forgiveness involves more serious offenses. The Bible teaches that when someone comes to us with contrite, repentant hearts, asking our forgiveness, we are obliged to forgive them just as we ourselves have been forgiven by God. The Lord brings this up at both the beginning and the end of his ministry. In his first sermon, he taught us to pray, "Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us" (Matthew 6:12). And near the conclusion of his ministry he broached the subject in greater detail. He said in Matthew 18 that if someone commits a serious offense against us and we confront them and they repent, we should forgive them completely. Peter asked, "How many times should we forgive them? Seven times?" "No," replied Jesus. "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times." Then he proceeded to tell Peter the parable of the unmerciful servant. A servant owed the king a large amount of money, millions of dollars, and the king could have tried to extract the money in ways unspeakably cruel. But when the servant cried out for mercy, the king forgave the debt. Going his way, the servant was approached by a man who owed him a few dollars. "Have mercy on me," said the man. "I will pay you back when I can." But the servant had the man thrown into prison until he could repay the debt. Jesus said, "Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said. 'I canceled all the debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed." Then Jesus added these alarming words: That is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart. Corrie Ten Boom provided us perhaps the best and most widely-used illustration of this. Corrie was imprisoned during the war years in a concentration camp, humiliated and degraded, subjected to strip searches, and forced to shower before the ogling eyes of leering guards. Her dear father died at the hands of the Nazis, as did her beloved sister Betsy. Corrie miraculously survived the holocaust, and after the war she became a roving missionary for Christ. She preached and shared the Scripture all over the world. Then on day, she was speaking in Munich. After the sermon, she saw a man coming toward her with outstretched hand. "Ja, Fraulein, it is wonderful that Jesus forgives us all our sins, just as you say." She remembered his face. He was one of the leering, lecherous, mocking SS guards who had humiliated and abused her. Her hand froze by her side. She could not forgive. She thought she had forgiven, but she suddenly realized she could not forgive this particular guard, standing there in solid flesh before her. She sent up a silent, urgent prayer, "Lord, forgive me, I cannot forgive." Her hand was suddenly unfrozen. The ice of hatred melted. Her hand went out. She forgave as she had been forgiven. We have an obligation, based on the forgiveness of Christ. It is by his grace that we have the grace to extend the grace of divine forgiveness. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other just as in Christ God forgave you. The third element in the chemistry of forgiveness involves the impenitent who offended us, hurt us, or abuse us. They have never apologized, and perhaps they are even scornful of their high-handed evil. Perhaps they enjoy tormenting us and twisting the knife in our backs or pouring salt in our wounds. Here I believe we have two biblical options. First, we may choose to forgive them if we feel we should. Jesus prayed for his executioners, saying, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." Stephen prayed as he was being stoned to death, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." A couple in our church (I'll call them Tom and Mary) told me their story. When they were first married, Tom's first wife, who still angry and embittered, decided to do everything possible to make life miserable for Tom. She repeatedly took him to court, tried to ruin him financially, sought more and more alimony and child support payments, and refused to give him any visitation rights. Tom and Mary developed very hostile feelings toward this woman. But they were both new Christians, and they wanted to handle their attitudes in a way that would please the Lord. They didn't know what to do, but they decided to ask God to give them forgiving spirits. They decided to pray for this woman, and to pray for her happiness. They didn't pray for God to change her heart or make her a Christian. They just prayed that she would be happy. Tom and Mary prayed for a solid year, and they discovered that it is very difficult to remain angry or envious at someone you are earnestly praying for. Yet during that time, the situation became harder and harder to deal with. But one day they received a surprising phone call from the woman. She had found the Lord, and instantly the whole situation totally changed. They were able to work through all their circumstances, and a working friendship developed among them that has continued for thirteen years. So the Lord may give us the grace and the wisdom to forgive even those who seem to have unrepentant hearts. Still, when you study this subject carefully in the Bible, you discover that God's own forgiveness of sinners is not carte blanche, but is extended only to those who repent. Biblical forgiveness is conditioned by repentance. For God to forgive everybody for everything with no demands of contrition or repentance would betray his own holiness and justice. The Bible says, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins..." (1 John 1:9). Jesus said, "Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3). We are not told that we must pardon everyone for everything. Robertson McQuilkin wrote in his booklet on forgiveness, "Though love may sometimes choose to forgive, it is not obligated without repentance." What, then, do we do with people who abuse, hurt and betray us and never come seeking forgiveness? We make up our minds to turn them over to the Lord, and in so doing, to release the resentment and bitterness that can so easily clog up the plumbing of our souls. Romans 12:17ff says: Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written, "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. On the contrary, "f your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. This is what happened in the case I told you about earlier about the man who broke into the home and raped the daughter at gunpoint. If something like that happened in my home, I don't think I could ever forgive the man who would do it should he remain impenitent. Even if he confessed his sin and begged forgiveness, it would take the divine grace of Jesus Christ for me to forgive him. With no confession, no contrition, no repentance on his part, I'm not sure that I should even contemplate forgiving him. But neither would I want my family to go through the rest of our lives encumbered by rage and bitterness. So this particular family came to the point of kneeling down and praying, "Lord, the man who did this to us has never been caught, and perhaps he never will be. There is nothing we can to do extract justice and judgment. But you know who this man is, where he is, and you have told us to leave room for your wrath. We ask you to settle this account. We turn it over to you, and we ask you to flush the rage out of our hearts by your grace. We release the man into your hands, and in so doing we also release the rage and bitterness. Perhaps the Lord will convert those who have hurt us. Perhaps he will condemn them. In any case, when we leave it in his hands, we can turn the corner and get on with ourl lives. This week Pete Peterson was confirmed as the first United States post-war ambassador to Vietnam, and he will soon be traveling to Hanoi to represent the United States. Peterson was last in Hanoi as a prisoner of war. He was tortured and interrogated, detained for over six years in the infamous Hanoi Hilton. But he said that from the moment of his release "I just resolved that I would leave my hate at the gate and start building a future." Several years ago, I read the story of a pastor in Zaire. In these more recent days, as we've seen the bloodshed and destruction of Zaire, I've wonder what has become of him. His name was Botembo Isako. He was a soldier, a military man in his country. After basic training, he was assigned to a military police unit in Muanda. He lived an evil life, doing drugs, committing immorality, and misusing his authority against civilians. One day he was assigned to security detail at a soccer game. Being in charge of his unit, he sent his men inside the stadium while he remained outside bullying people and forcing them to give him their watches, jewelry, and money. He approached a 17-year old and searched him. The youth had nothing but a little book. In a rage, Botembo beat the boy until the lad finally managed to get free and run away, badly hurt and drenched in his own blood. But as he fled, he shouted back, "God bless you. May the Lord forgive you." Botembo laughed. After the game he went home and surveyed his loot. He saw the little book and discovered it was a New Testament. He began to read it, and for the first time in his life, he started feeling guilty for his evil ways. He could hear the young man's voice, saying over and over, "God bless you. May the Lord forgive you." The more he read the little book, the more he began to change. His family noticed, unsure what to make of it. Shortly afterward, Botembo fell ill and was rushed to the hospital. There he continued to read his stolen New Testament until he finally crawled out of his hospital bed, knelt in the floor, and begged God for forgiveness. When he asked Jesus Christ to be his Savior, he said, "...a truck-load of guilt fell off my heart and I turned my life over to God." That day he decided to leave the army, and today he is serving the Lord as a pastor in Zaire, always on the lookout for a 17-year old with a missing New Testament. I wonder if someone here needs a spiritual plumber. Your heart is all clogged up by anger, bitterness, hurt feelings, or an unforgiving spirit. God has forgiven you of your sins against him through Jesus Christ. But you haven't extended his grace toward others. Perhaps there is someone you need to forgive from your heart. Or perhaps there is someone you need to commit into God's hands, releasing years of anger, bitterness and resentment. The grace of God demonstrated in Jesus Christ is a plunger that can unclog the heart. It can clear the pipes. It can free up the pipelines to once again convey the fresh, sparkling waters of the Holy Spirit. So take advantage of it. Discover the power of forgiveness. Discover the truth of Hebrews 12:15 which says, See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. ----

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