Faithlife Sermons

The Threat of an Unforgiving Heart

Sermon  •  Submitted
0 ratings
· 2,937 views
Notes
Transcript
Sermon Tone Analysis
A
D
F
J
S
Emotion
A
C
T
Language
O
C
E
A
E
Social
View more →

Matthew 18:21-35

The Threat of an Unforgiving Heart

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me?  Up to seven times?”

Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.  As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him.  Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

“The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘  Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’  The servant’s master took pity on him, cancelled the debt and let him go.

“But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii.  He grabbed him and began to choke him.  ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

“His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’

“But he refused.  Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt.  When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened.

“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I cancelled all that 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.

“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”

“H

as Matthew eighteen been ripped from your Bible?”  The question was actually the title of an article forwarded to members of the church.  The article was offensive and needlessly confrontational.  It failed to help people grapple with the serious problems then confronting the church.  Instead of rebuke the people would have benefited from encouragement through instruction.  Though the question was meant to confront the assumed failure to apply verses fifteen through twenty to the challenges then facing the congregation it strangely ignored a parable which Jesus recited in that same chapter to clarify our responsibility as children of the Kingdom.

Today I speak to you with a pastor’s heart.  I seek to heal not only the hurt from conflicts immediately past, but I long to see us seize freedom from conflicts long past.  How much of our present behaviour is reactionary?  I wonder how much past hurt influences our lives now?  A teasing remark made about our size when we were in elementary school can have an incredible impact on our perception of who we are now.  An angry statement made by a parent can condemn a child to perpetual questioning of her value in society.  Marriages have crumbled because of thoughtless words spoken or hurtful charges levelled in one moment of rage.  The annals of church history are littered with names of the once powerful who are now set aside because they could not drain the bitter poison seeping from festering wounds suffered at the hands of thoughtless people.

The manner in which we deal with hurtful events from our past affects us physically and emotionally.  Failure to grant forgiveness results in a living hell.  Though years have fled, rejection, verbal wounds and emotional scars can ensure that we never achieve full usefulness in God’s work.  Difficult circumstances from years long past can still make our adrenaline flow and make our pulse rate soar.  I suspect that more than a few of us spend sleepless nights replaying scenes of battles fought in days long past.

Those same bitter experiences can have a detrimental effect on us spiritually.  Recall the warning of the author of Hebrews: See to it … that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many [Hebrews 12:15].  The New Century Version translates the latter part of that warning with these words: A person like that can ruin many of you.  Unresolved bitterness may well cause trouble and may well defile not only you who hold onto that bitterness, but defile others as well.  Unresolved bitterness is almost always the result of a failure to forgive another, and it destroys individuals, couples, even entire congregations.  For this reason Jesus spoke so often and so passionately about the need to forgive others.

The Parable Jesus Told — The story as Jesus told it is relatively simple, though there are some details which His original hearers would have assumed and which you would not necessarily know.  Let me go over the story one more time with you to ensure that you understand what was said.  Understanding what Jesus said will permit us to draw conclusions which may have immediate application in our own lives.

The king in the story had decided to settle accounts with his servants.  There was no particular reason given for choosing to settle the debts owed to this particular king, but it was within the king’s prerogative to seek settlement of debts whenever he chose.  Among the debts owed the king was one debt which is said in our text to have been ten thousand talents.  That figure doesn’t make much of an impact on us since few of us measure our wealth in talents.  This debt was roughly ten million dollars in silver content.  Obviously purchasing power was much greater then when compared to this present day.  The point is that this servant’s debt was so massive that he could not pay it even if he lived seven lifetimes over and gave all he earned to the king.

Unable to pay, the king ordered that not only the man but also his wife and children all be sold into slavery and the funds from the sale of their persons applied to the man’s debt.  Confronted with this rather forthright solution to personal indebtedness the man prostrated himself before the king and begged.  He pleaded for time to pay the debt, stating that he would pay back everything (a promise which was impossible to keep).

What was clear to the king was that this man was pleading for his family and the king felt compassion for the plight of the man and for his family, so he forgave the debt.  Though the king was owed tens of millions (perhaps hundreds of millions) of dollars, the debt was forgiven.  Incidentally, only governments run up such debts today.

The forgiven servant left the presence of the king, no doubt relieved that he still possessed his freedom.  As he was passing through the streets he happened on a fellow servant who owed him some money.  In fact the amount was about $20,000 Canadian in today’s money.  Forgetting that he had just been forgiven a debt of hundreds of millions of dollars, the first servant demanded immediate payment from his fellow servant.  The text seems to imply that before the hapless fellow even had opportunity to respond the first servant throttled him and demanded immediate payment.  There was no grace in his demand, but rather self-interest and choler.

The second servant fell to his knees and begged for patience, saying that he would pay all that was owed.  However, the first servant refused to be placated and instead threw the second servant into debtors’ prison where he was to remain until the money was forthcoming and the debt paid.

Little happens without the king’s knowledge.  It just so happened that other servants of the king observed all that transpired.  Distressed by the blatant injustice of what they had witnessed from this wheeler-dealer, they told the king.

The king called in the first servant.  The first words the king spoke must have turned that unforgiving man’s blood to ice.  You wicked servant…  The king reviewed for him how that though he had received mercy he was merciless.  As result of his lack of mercy, in response to this blatant injustice, the king turned the debtor servant over to the jailers with instructions that they were to torture him until all moneys were forthcoming.

The parable points to two sides of forgiveness—practical and personal.  By that I mean the parable makes us think of what forgiveness is and what forgiveness will do for us.  You see, the context in which Jesus told the story challenges the manner in which we deal with brothers and the impact our actions have on our relationship with the Father.  Weigh the closing words of verse thirty-five as you ponder the impact of this parable.  This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.

The Practical Impact of Jesus’ Story — Wow!  This is heavy truth!  At the very least, my relationship with God is dependent upon my relationship with His people!  There must be more to this forgiveness stuff than I might ever imagine.  What is forgiveness?  As Jesus used the concept of forgiveness in this parable, the word means to send someone away (or to go away yourself) leaving all claims behind.  Forgiveness is not an issue of emotions.  It is a deliberate, volitional decision in which you say, “This person is no longer indebted to me.  I surrender all claims against him or her.”  Forgiveness is not the preferred choice of most Christians.  If being a Christian were the only requirement for being a forgiver, then our churches would be filled with loving and forgiving people.

As Jesus told the parable those hearing Him had a specific picture in their minds.  The king called the servant before a court witness in order to forgive him the debt.  Proper documents were prepared in duplicate, one set for the forgiven man and another set for the files of the kingdom.  The documents would each record the name of the man, the name of the king, the amount of the debt, and the statement Forgiven! or Paid in Full!  First the king would sign the documents and then the debtor would sign the documents.  Finally, a representative sealed them.  The forgiven man kept one copy and the other was filed away.

There was a reason behind this procedure.  You could easily imagine the king some months later contemplating some expensive project or needing to raise an army.  As he ponders the cost his advisers counsel him, saying, “Remember that servant with the enormous debt?  Make him pay.  He owes it to you.”

The man is hailed before the king and told to pay up.  “Your majesty,” he protests, “you forgave me that debt.”  The king would order that the files be searched and the clerk would confirm that at a specific time in the past the king had indeed forgiven the debt.  Whatever the king’s feelings on the matter, there was nothing he could do.  Perhaps this scene would be repeated as time blurs the king's memory.  However, on each occasion the king would be confronted by the fact that he had forgiven his debtor.

Here is the practical impact of that knowledge and the impact that knowledge would have had on Jesus’ first hearers: Even if we decide to forgive someone, we might at some future time be tempted to bring that person’s case back into the courtroom of our emotions and endeavour to demand payment.  With the Holy Spirit’s aid we will be able to recall that at a specific time we chose to forgive, and thus we have no further claim on the offending party.  Forgiveness is the bottom line issue in life.

When we are tempted to hold the forgiven person in our debt, we can say, “There is no need to pursue this.  The record may be frayed and dog-eared from my repeated reference to it, but I do not need to drag it out.  At a specific time in the past I chose to forgive.  I relinquished all claims against this individual and I refuse to go back on my decision.  This is forgiveness.  There are, however, some myths concerning forgiveness.

Forgiveness does not mean that we approve of a person’s actions.  In fact, we will likely need to hold a person accountable for their actions, though we must forgive them.  When we forgive another we give up our right to hurt that person for hurting us, but that act of forgiveness does not release the forgiven person from the consequences of their actions.  Those who need our forgiveness have clearly violated some area of trust or personal integrity.  It is not unchristian to say that some who have deliberately attempted to injure me will not quickly be trusted again, despite the forgiveness I extend them.

In a former church was a man intent on harming the congregation through dividing the people, forcing them to choose sides in a conflict which should never have entered the church.  As pastor I was compelled to confront that man and ultimately to remove him from office.  Though I have forgiven that man I would not permit him to again hold office within that church until he surrenders his rage against the people of God.  We must not confuse forgiveness with forgetting.  “I can forgive but I cannot forget” is truer than we can imagine.  Forgetting is neither possible nor profitable.

Parents who forgive the murderer of their child should yet hold that murderer responsible for her or his actions.  I counsel a young woman or young man who was molested by another whom they trusted to forgive the one who molested her or him, though I would counsel the one molested to hold the molester accountable before the law.  For the sake of others the molester must be responsible for his or her actions.

Tragedies such as the murder of a child or the pain of incest that can make an individual a prisoner of bitterness.  Forgiveness is the only way to break free of that vicious cycle of hurt and get on with our lives.  When you demand that your offender do something before you forgive him or her, you are binding yourself to that person.

Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation.  Reconciliation is wonderful, but whether we are ever able to effect reconciliation or not we are responsible before God to forgive fellow Christians who offend us.  Forgiveness has no strings attached.  Reconciliation has many strings attached.  Neither should we think that repentance on the part of those who have hurt us is necessary for forgiveness to be extended.  It is a myth that forgiveness must be conditioned upon repentance of those who have injured us.

Forgiveness is not the same as restitution.  It is wonderful if restitution is made for misdeeds of the past.  However, if restitution had to precede forgiveness, we would each be hopelessly entrapped in bitterness.  You see, if the offending party has died or it is impossible to contact that individual, we need to forgive so that we are not trapped in the prison of our own bitterness.  In point of fact, forgiveness paves the way for restitution and for reconciliation.  Where there is no forgiveness, there can be no reconciliation.

The Personal Impact of Jesus’ Story — Forgiveness has a personal impact both on those forgiven and on those forgiving.  We cannot control the offences that confront us.  What we can control is how we handle offences.  When we forgive another we remove ourselves as a controlling factor in their behaviour.  That person can no longer say, “I’d act differently, but she will not forgive me.”  When we refuse to forgive another we are retaining that person’s case in our courtroom.  We haven’t turned their case over to God.  In effect we are saying that we have a higher standard of justice than does God.

Consequently this is one reason people who have committed wrongs against us sometimes seem to prosper in the world.  Though they have never made the right wrong we wonder why God does not hold them to account.  The reason they are yet unjudged is that we have not yet released them to God.  It is as though God is gently rebuking us, “You have not yet released him to Me!  When will you cease trying to be judge and jury?  Pray that I will treat that individual as graciously as you wish to be treated.”

Refusing to forgive is a subtle way of saying that you do not trust God to judge justly.  The forgiving person says in effect, “Dear Father, I rest my case.  That individual is Yours to deal with, not mine.  I have no further claims.  I set him free to Your court.” 

When we forgive we transfer those forgiven to the court of divine justice, trusting that a loving God too wise to make mistakes and too good to ever needlessly hurt His creature will do right.  Despite worldly standards of justice Christians must forgive on the basis of grace, not justice.  Forgiveness is not earned; it is granted.  What practical impact can we expect when we forgive?  Forgiveness does effect us as we forgive.

When we forgive we are released from debt.  When we refuse to forgive others we apparently believe they deserve something more for us—a lecture, criticism, rudeness, a cold shoulder.  We believe we must balance the scales—that we must punish the offender.  We weigh the offence against us and think that forgiveness denies the seriousness of the sin against us.  We feel that should we forgive it is unfair and we keenly feel the unfairness.  We think that we are letting people off the hook too easily.  When we forgive we are released from this debt—we are set free.  Biblically, we need to remember that we owe the individual nothing but love [cf. Romans 13:8].

In Jesus’ parable the forgiven servant would never again have come to the king’s attention except for his own unwillingness to forgive a fellow servant.  His failure to forgive another brought him once again under the king’s discipline.  Unforgiving people always feel it necessary to get even.  They sense an unpaid debt and assume responsibility to set the record straight.  When we forgive, those feelings are removed and fellowship can be restored.  We are released from our unholy burden.

When we forgive we demonstrate reliance on the Lord.  In the parable Jesus told, the servant was relying on the king to effect forgiveness … until he took matters into his own hands to set another debt straight for himself.  When we forgive it aids us in relying on the Lord.  An unforgiving person permits another individual to hold the key to happiness and success.  When we forgive we are in effect saying that God is sufficient for all we need.  A forgiving spirit casts us totally on the resources of God.

The king could forgive the servant because he did not need the servant’s money.  The massive debt was not an immediate concern to him.  In similar fashion we can forgive others because we do not need what they owe us.  We have more than enough because we have Christ the Lord in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge [Colossians 2:3].

When we refuse to forgive those who have offended us, however, we testify that something is missing.  The offending party holds the key to our joy.  We need something from that person which God cannot give.  However, by forgiving we saying, My God will meet all [my] needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus [cf. Philippians 4:19].

In forgiveness is found restored usefulness.  Forgiveness restores us to ministry.  Unforgiving people may be perplexed that God takes them out of the mainstream of usefulness.  Though their theology is precise and no one can fault them on their Christian character, yet they are on the shelf.  Such people are rarely called upon by others and they have limited usefulness in the work of God.  We have all witnessed such people and we could not understand why they were not used more effectively in God’s Kingdom.  The reason may have had to do with their refusal to forgive another.

Their refusal to forgive has shut them up in a prison of uselessness.  God has shut down their ministry and is intent on their discipline.  God will not exalt those who refuse to honour Him.  The unforgiving saint is a living contradiction to what he wants others to see in God—His love and forgiveness.  The unforgiving servant was thrown into prison, where he was totally ineffective, as is everyone who refuses to forgive.  When we forgive, however, our usefulness to God is restored.

Forgiveness brings relief from torment.  For Christians, there is an inseparable link between receiving God's forgiveness and granting that forgiveness to others.  That individual who will not forgive lives in torment and in agony.  Those are frightful words in verse thirty-four: In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.  Unforgiving people are tormented people.  Ironically, the people we will not forgive are seldom aware of our anger.

Unforgiving people may sense frustration at being set aside in the work of God.  Inwardly, they know why God deals with them.  They suffer each time they read the Word of God and they have sacrificed closeness with God in order to cling to their anger.  At other times they spoil relationships and continue to injure themselves and hurt others whom they actually love because such bitterness spoils everything they touch.  At an extreme, an unforgiving spirit can make a person physically and even emotionally ill.  Multitudes of Christians have consulted doctors for a myriad of ailments which are nothing more and nothing less than an expression of their inwardly bitter spirits.  I fear that even among us are some who are physically ill because they cannot forgive another, perhaps even another individual who wronged them long ago and in the distant past.

Forgiveness permits recovered fellowship with the Father. That thirty-fifth verse is sobering, isn’t it?  This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.  Do you understand that God is warning you of the most severe consequence of an unforgiving heart?  Forgiving does more than open doors to restored relationship with others.  As we forgive our fellow believers, we open the door to restoration of fellowship with God.

When did you last worship?  Has worship become a distant memory for you?  Could it possibly be that your failure to forgive another, whether for wrongs you perceive in recent days or for wrongs committed long ago, has ensured that you cannot enjoy fellowship with the Father?  God is known for His forgiveness.  How strange it must seem when we—the forgiven—refuse to forgive.  The Lord’s parable shows the frightful effects of an unforgiving heart.  When we choose to forgive another we are applying the grace of God to human lives.  Thus we are pleasing and serving and worshipping God.

Tom Elliff provides a poignant illustration of the power of forgiveness to restore relationships.  He speaks from a sorrowful episode in his own family in a wonderful book on prayer.  However, I’ll let Tom tell the story in his own words.[1]

My father had always been my hero.  Like his father before him, he served many years in gospel ministry.  I received his permission to relate the following story.

One day my father decided he would leave my mother, a devastating act with consequences that can be imagined only by those who have experienced such a tragedy.

At the time my parents were in their mid-sixties, having celebrated forty-three years of marriage, when he decided he would leave.  I do not understand, nor did he, all the dynamics of the spiritual and moral dementia that brought about the divorce.  I do know that even now he shakes his head in sad wonderment over what occurred.  Today he cautions everyone he meets regarding the importance of “daily bread,” regular intake of the Word of God.  He says, “I have discovered that you cannot build up enough ‘points’ with God so that you can ever afford to simply coast in your spiritual life.  The moment you set aside the Word of God, you become vulnerable to whatever Satan sets before you.”

Before my own family departed for the mission field, I sensed the difficulties mounting in my father’s life and tried desperately to do something about it.  I vividly remember calling my parents before we boarded the plane in New York only to discover that my father had left my mother!  I had previously counselled with many people whose parents had gone through divorce.  But until that moment I never really understood the situation.  If divorce deeply hurts a grown man, which it does, I cannot imagine what it does to a three-year-old or a nine-year-old or a fifteen-year-old or a college student!

Within months of his departure my father remarried and moved to a distant state.  Communication, strained at best, was virtually non-existent.  We all sought to comfort and encourage my godly yet grieving mother, who struggled to understand how her beautiful family had been broken apart.

Several years after the divorce, my mother began to exhibit the early signs of Alzheimer’s.  A lovely, godly, wonderful woman attacked with Alzheimer’s!  I cried out, “God, this doesn’t seem fair!  She isn’t the one who’s supposed to have the problems!  Why should my mother have to suffer so?”

One day I received a call from my brother, who lived very close to my mother.  “Mother has had a cerebral haemorrhage,” he said.  “She’s in the hospital and is at the point of death.  Come quickly.”  All the family gathered at her bedside to hear the doctor say, “There is really no way she can live.  She is going to die—soon, I think, although we can never be certain about such things.”  When he said that, we could see my mother literally dig in, in spite of the fact that she lay there in a coma.  We did not realise then all that God had in store for us over the next few weeks.

A week passed, then a second week.  Toward the end of the second week, Mother stirred a little, and she uttered three words: “Want!  Want!  Want!”  My brother, who was by her bedside, said, “Mother, what do you want?  Do you want ice?  Do you want a drink of water?  Do you want your pillow changed?  What do you want?  Do you want to be turned?”  When none of his suggestions seemed to satisfy her, he began to call the names of friends and family, finally asking, “Is it Dad?”  She then uttered three more words: “Forgive!  Forgive!  Forgive!”

He replied, “Mother, we have forgiven him, and we know you have too.”  But there was no response.  Once again my mother had lapsed into a coma.

The next day our family gathered around her bed, thinking our Mother was going to did anytime.  As we sang, prayed, cried, and read the Word of God, the phone rang.  It was my father, who had not spoken to my mother in almost two and a half years.  Weeping, he said, “Can I speak to Mama?”  I said, “Dad, she’s in a coma?”  “Well,” he said, “I need to talk to her.”

When I put the phone to Mother’s ear, her eyes opened, her body came to attention, tears ran from the corners of her eyes, and she said, “I forgive you.  I love you.”

I thought about a poem I had seen.

He drew a circle that shut me out,

Daunted, rebel—a thing to flout,

But love and I had the wit to win,

We drew a circle that shut him in.

Forgiveness has remarkable restorative power.  For twenty-four hours my mother remained lucid.  She said, “Isn’t that something, Dad calling?  You know, I have to witness for Jesus even more?”  Then she quietly slipped into a coma.

Several more weeks passed with Mother lying there in a coma.  Dad called almost every day inquiring, “What do you think?”  Finally we said, “Dad, we don’t know what she’s waiting for.  Maybe she’s waiting for you.”

The next day our entire family, including my father, stood in a circle around her bed holding hands.  In only a few days Mother peacefully went to be with the Lord.

But love and I had the wit to win,

We drew a circle that shut him in.

God used my mother’s determined love and prayers and her forgiving spirit to restore relationships in our family.  My father and his wife now live back “at home” surrounded by their relatives and friends.  We have talked openly and candidly about the events that led to the divorce and subsequent marriage.  While no one can undo the events of the past, God has shown us the sufficiency of His grace.  Since then the Lord has used my father on more than one occasion to dissuade others from making the same tragic choices he made.  And all of us in the family share a genuine God-given love for one another.

My mother understood.  “Forgive!  Forgive!  Forgive!”  Then we can pray and keep on prayer, serve and keep on serving, worship and keep on worshipping.

I am issuing an invitation this morning.  It is an invitation to forgive.  I especially invite you, if you will choose to forgive that someone against whom you have long harboured a bitter spirit, to stand as a sign before the Lord that you are finished with the prison of your own making.  If you will be free, I invite you to release that one who has long held you captive.  In your heart I ask you to say, “Lord, as of this day the debt is paid.  I am owed nothing.  I forgive!”  May our God free us from the bitterness of an unforgiving heart.  May angels attend you as you honour God.  Amen.

My father had always been my hero.  Like his father before him, he served many years in gospel ministry.  I received his permission to relate the following story.

One day my father decided he would leave my mother, a devastating act with consequences that can be imagined only by those who have experienced such a tragedy.

At the time my parents were in their mid-sixties, having celebrated forty-three years of marriage, when he decided he would leave.  I do not understand, nor did he, all the dynamics of the spiritual and moral dementia that brought about the divorce.  I do know that even now he shakes his head in sad wonderment over what occurred.  Today he cautions everyone he meets regarding the importance of “daily bread,” regular intake of the Word of God.  He says, “I have discovered that you cannot build up enough ‘points’ with God so that you can ever afford to simply coast in your spiritual life.  The moment you set aside the Word of God, you become vulnerable to whatever Satan sets before you.”

Before my own family departed for the mission field, I sensed the difficulties mounting in my father’s life and tried desperately to do something about it.  I vividly remember calling my parents before we boarded the plane in New York only to discover that my father had left my mother!  I had previously counselled with many people whose parents had gone through divorce.  But until that moment I never really understood the situation.  If divorce deeply hurts a grown man, which it does, I cannot imagine what it does to a three-year-old or a nine-year-old or a fifteen-year-old or a college student!

Within months of his departure my father remarried and moved to a distant state.  Communication, strained at best, was virtually non-existent.  We all sought to comfort and encourage my godly yet grieving mother, who struggled to understand how her beautiful family had been broken apart.

Several years after the divorce, my mother began to exhibit the early signs of Alzheimer’s.  A lovely, godly, wonderful woman attacked with Alzheimer’s!  I cried out, “God, this doesn’t seem fair!  She isn’t the one who’s supposed to have the problems!  Why should my mother have to suffer so?”

One day I received a call from my brother, who lived very close to my mother.  “Mother has had a cerebral haemorrhage,” he said.  “She’s in the hospital and is at the point of death.  Come quickly.”  All the family gathered at her bedside to hear the doctor say, “There is really no way she can live.  She is going to die—soon, I think, although we can never be certain about such things.”  When he said that, we could see my mother literally dig in, in spite of the fact that she lay there in a coma.  We did not realise then all that God had in store for us over the next few weeks.

A week passed, then a second week.  Toward the end of the second week, Mother stirred a little, and she uttered three words: “Want!  Want!  Want!”  My brother, who was by her bedside, said, “Mother, what do you want?  Do you want ice?  Do you want a drink of water?  Do you want your pillow changed?  What do you want?  Do you want to be turned?”  When none of his suggestions seemed to satisfy her, he began to call the names of friends and family, finally asking, “Is it Dad?”  She then uttered three more words: “Forgive!  Forgive!  Forgive!”

He replied, “Mother, we have forgiven him, and we know you have too.”  But there was no response.  Once again my mother had lapsed into a coma.

The next day our family gathered around her bed, thinking our Mother was going to did anytime.  As we sang, prayed, cried, and read the Word of God, the phone rang.  It was my father, who had not spoken to my mother in almost two and a half years.  Weeping, he said, “Can I speak to Mama?”  I said, “Dad, she’s in a coma?”  “Well,” he said, “I need to talk to her.”

When I put the phone to Mother’s ear, her eyes opened, her body came to attention, tears ran from the corners of her eyes, and she said, “I forgive you.  I love you.”

I thought about a poem I had seen.

He drew a circle that shut me out,

Daunted, rebel—a thing to flout,

But love and I had the wit to win,

We drew a circle that shut him in.

Forgiveness has remarkable restorative power.  For twenty-four hours my mother remained lucid.  She said, “Isn’t that something, Dad calling?  You know, I have to witness for Jesus even more?”  Then she quietly slipped into a coma.

Several more weeks passed with Mother lying there in a coma.  Dad called almost every day inquiring, “What do you think?”  Finally we said, “Dad, we don’t know what she’s waiting for.  Maybe she’s waiting for you.”

The next day our entire family, including my father, stood in a circle around her bed holding hands.  In only a few days Mother peacefully went to be with the Lord.

But love and I had the wit to win,

We drew a circle that shut him in.

God used my mother’s determined love and prayers and her forgiving spirit to restore relationships in our family.  My father and his wife now live back “at home” surrounded by their relatives and friends.  We have talked openly and candidly about the events that led to the divorce and subsequent marriage.  While no one can undo the events of the past, God has shown us the sufficiency of His grace.  Since then the Lord has used my father on more than one occasion to dissuade others from making the same tragic choices he made.  And all of us in the family share a genuine God-given love for one another.

My mother understood.  “Forgive!  Forgive!  Forgive!”  Then we can pray and keep on prayer, serve and keep on serving, worship and keep on worshipping.


Forgiveness has a personal impact both on those forgiven and on those forgiving.  We cannot control the offences that confront us.  What we can control is how we handle offences.  When we forgive another we remove ourselves as a controlling factor in their behaviour.  That person can no longer say, “I’d act differently, but she will not forgive me.”  When we refuse to forgive another we are retaining that person’s case in our courtroom.  We haven’t turned their case over to God.  In effect we are saying that we have a higher standard of justice than does God.

Consequently this is one reason people who have committed wrongs against us sometimes seem to prosper in the world.  Though they have never made the right wrong we wonder why God does not hold them to account.  The reason they are yet unjudged is that we have not yet released them to God.  It is as though God is gently rebuking us, “You have not yet released him to Me!  When will you cease trying to be judge and jury?  Pray that I will treat that individual as graciously as you wish to be treated.”

Refusing to forgive is a subtle way of saying that you do not trust God to judge justly.  The forgiving person says in effect, “Dear Father, I rest my case.  That individual is Yours to deal with, not mine.  I have no further claims.  I set him free to Your court.” 

When we forgive we transfer those forgiven to the court of divine justice, trusting that a loving God too wise to make mistakes and too good to ever needlessly hurt His creature will do right.  Despite worldly standards of justice Christians must forgive on the basis of grace, not justice.  Forgiveness is not earned; it is granted.


----

[1] Tom Elliff, A Passion for Prayer,  Crossway Books, Ó 1998, pp. 141-144

Related Media
Related Sermons