The following message was delivered at the 2003 Shepherds’ Conference, A ministry of Grace Community Church.  © 2003 All Rights Reserved.

Are You Ready to Forgive?


 Donna Shannon

Good morning ladies. I am so glad to see you bright and early and I really am glad I have the first one. I was telling Dawn, Sunday, when we were speaking that, “I don’t envy the position you had, yesterday, after that wonderful lunch and then the bus ride to come here and try to pay attention; that’s hard." But I am glad that we’re starting off fresh this morning, so I am glad for that.
And I just wanted to take a moment, just to talk to you a moment, how I came to do this study. We have a ladies group in my husband’s fellowship group and we we're studying a book, Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health. And this was one of the questions; Are you ready to forgive? And it was my opportunity to teach on that question. And it’s a subject that I have found  that I’ve continued to look into that I think is something we can be focusing on for the rest of our lives simply because of how hard it is to do this. And really my talk today is not about the technicalities of forgiveness, how we forgive and that sort of thing; that will be in there, but it’s really focused on the word contained in the question ‘are you ready to forgive?’ It’s a readiness of the heart and so that’s what I want to talk about today.

I do need to give credit where credit is do because I am not a theologian, I’m not trained in seminary so my study on this (why reinvent the wheel), I read John’s book on forgiveness, which I highly recommend, and also Jay Adam’s book [From Forgiven to Forgiving], which I highly recommend. John also has a tape series [transcripts available] which would be very good. It could be a retreat format. There are four lessons on it and it’s very, very good. Some other reading, just study from the MacArthur Study Bible. So that is where my resources are from. So if you hear something familiar it’s because you probably read it before in one of John’s books so I just wanted to let you now that.

Well let’s begin. I wanted to tell you about a word picture I read the other day about forgiveness, which I thought really summed it up. It said this, “to forgive is to turn the key, open the cell door and let the prisoner walk free.” Let me say that again. To forgive is to turn the key, open the cell door and let the prisoner walk free.” First thing that comes to my mind is who is the prisoner? The one you are forgiving or you the forgiver? I see some of you know the answer already. Well do you agree with that statement? Well I was thinking of Hebrews 12:15. It warns us of this, “looking carefully lest any one fall short of the grace of God, lest any root of bitterness springing up causes trouble and by this many become defiled.” Why do you think the Bible says that to us? Why do you think God includes that in His Scripture? Well let’s explore a couple of reasons.

First, what are some attitudes that you think are conveyed in society today, maybe TV, movies, music, and the attitude with regard to forgiveness?

What we see mostly, I mean, like a large portion of movies is all about vengeance, isn’t it? And we seem to get that rush when we see the guy get his due. We see getting even is something that we want to seek for. Giving someone their due is modeled and acted out. Now think about current trends in the “help people”--psychologists, self help books, things like that. It’s not about forgiveness. In fact, forgiveness is thought to be very, very unhealthy, because why? We need a good self esteem, so we’re told. Well actually the advice is the opposite. It’s dig up the past. Hold onto it. Hold something against someone because to forgive will harm your self-esteem. And it’s weak. The current trend of the “victim mentality” that totally rejects and opposes any idea of forgiveness. You know, something has been done to me, you owe me, society owes me, my parents owe me, everybody owes me. The guy on the street owes me because he didn’t let me have my parking space. And the attitude generally is we don’t need to be forgiven, nor do we need to forgive, because there’s no such thing as guilt. Guilt is bad. Well, unfortunately, that’s such a lie and so many people go through life so distressed because they have not dealt with guilt correctly but that’s not my focus today.

The other reason, that it might be in the Bible, about not letting a root of bitterness get root in our heart is because we have a self-centered bent. That naturally influences us to be opposed to forgiveness, because it appears weak and wishy-washy. It allows people to walk all over you. Because naturally you know what, we think already too much of ourselves. We don’t need to improve our self-esteem. We already think very, very highly of ourselves. So it’s very hard to forgive.

We have a problem though. We live in a sin-filled world with sin-filled people. And guess what? HH; Hurt Happens. It does. And unless you live in solitude on an island somewhere with not another single person you’ll need to learn to forgive. The health and well being of every relationship dictates the need for forgiveness.

Now allow me to relate two scenarios with two very different results to illustrate these points.

1. The first one: a woman who was married for 32 years who trusted her husband to handle all of the financial details at home, believed the many hours away from home, supposedly for work were necessary for his business, adjusted her life around his not being home, and faithfully raised the children, attended to the care of the home. But she longed for much more involvement for her husband both in the home and with the raising of the children. But she accepted what was, believed the best and went on.

Her time was devoted to her family, first her home, her community, in that order. She was what you might call a good person, a very nice person. Odd things began to happen, phone calls about overdrawn checks. Her husband while out to the store one day came home and said when he came out of the store his car was smashed in to. While it was being repaired and he had to take the train to work he came home one night severely beaten, claiming that he was mugged. His behavior became increasingly worrisome. A bag of sand had been put into their daughter’s car. She was very frightened and begged him to talk about what was happening. He only became more withdrawn and erratic. One night he didn’t come home and the next day she received a phone call that he had taken his life.

Well, as the days and months unfolded Pandora’s Box continued to spill over with more and more sad and terrible realities of what had been the truth. He had had an affair for a long time and they had produced a child, in fact, just about the time that her youngest was born. He had been being blackmailed by her ex-husband. He had not been a good manger of his business and allowing someone to take care of the bills who wasn’t paying the bills and pocketing the money. So he was thousands and thousands of dollars in debt to the government for taxes. He had been gambling. He had borrowed large sums of money for supposedly business ventures from relatives. He had  refinanced their home which she thought was paid off. When the bills collectors came, everything was in his name, when the bill collectors came she lost everything. Relatives, who could have helped her, because of having been spurned, rejected her, so pretty soon guess what? Hebrews 12 worked. Bitterness sprouted and matured into a sturdy plant of hatred, distrust and anger. The sin of anger and hatred are like a cancer and it will consume us if not stopped. Affecting all of her relationships, she was even angry and distrusted God. Sin can also have physical affects and certainly God does use illness to discipline us and get our attention. And some years after this event she was diagnosed with a rare liver disease and finally it took her life. Very sad story.

2. Second scenario: A young woman who very much desired to be married was developing a relationship with a young man which seemed to be headed towards marriage. But trusting her father’s guidance that it wasn’t God’s best, she broke it off. Some years later she now found herself in another relationship with a wonderful young man headed for marriage. All systems were go. Her parents, her friends and anyone who knew them thought they would be perfect for one another, complimenting one another in ministry, very ministry minded. Well one week after the engagement he confessed deep concerns for his depth of his relationship with God and his ability to be her spiritual head. She of course had to break it off. Right now he’s seeking biblical counseling, seriously examining the maturity and possibly the reality of his walk. Now how could this happen? She sought God’s guidance and comfort but never blamed, questioned, or doubted God’s goodness.

Now why the difference in the response? Obviously one woman trusted Christ as her Savior and Lord and the other did not. But that does not make it automatically easier or natural for one to forgive, does it? We’re Christians in this room. We all know that we would struggle at one point or another with forgiveness.

So what about the result? One woman ended in despair and destruction and the other mercy and peace. One was chained to her disparaging circumstances of the past sentencing her to the effect of the wrong having been done and never being able to right it. The other looked through the eyes of faith and saw God at work in her to will and to work for His good pleasure and her good. So we can see entirely different results. So we know the benefit of forgiveness. It’s just not always easy.

Now regarding that statement I made, if forgiveness is the key to unlock us from the hurt incurred by others, what do we have to know to be ready to forgive? What do we have to understand to be willing to forgive, no matter what happens? And by the way, even if you lived on that island all by yourself you would still need forgiveness from God, wouldn’t you?

So let’s get a clear picture of what has taken place with our own forgiveness and see how it informs us about our responsibility to forgive. Well let’s look at what forgiveness is.

First one right there, what is forgiveness? And I’ve gone to Jeremiah 31:34. I have it right there for you. “I will forgive their iniquity and their sin, I will remember no more.” I just want to say that for the sake of being able to follow, my notes have all the Scriptures, so you can just be paying attention to the notes. They’re all there and a lot of it I’m not going to be reading or going over. It’s really for further study. So okay, Jeremiah 31:34, “I will forgive their iniquity and their sin I will remember no more.” What is that? It’s a choice. It’s a choice God made not to remember sin and a promise to never bring it up to you or to anyone else again. And that’s what our forgiveness is. We relinquish the right to retribution. We don’t use the sin against the person. We will not bring up the offense to the person to anyone else or to ourselves, most importantly, again. And when we’re tempted to that we have to remember I have forgiven them. Romans 4:7-8, “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven and whose sins are covered. Blessed indeed is the man to who the Lord shall not impute sin.” You can see here it’s talking about acquittal from guilt. The Lord will not hold you accountable to pay for your sin. In kind, when we forgive we do not expect the person to pay or make up for their offense. That’s what forgiveness is. It’s a choice to cover.

Forgiveness is also judicial. This is the forgiveness that God does with us. It’s with regard to salvation, justification and only God can forgive like this and it can’t be lost. But forgiveness is also in a sense parental, in the sense that each offense needs to be daily sought forgiveness for. And we think of that in the Lord’s Prayer. Mathew 6:12 and Luke 11:4. It’s talking about the daily washing of feet versus the whole bath idea in order to enjoy daily blessings. This is what God says He will withhold from us, if we refuse to forgive--we forfeit blessings. And you know yourself that when you are at enmity with God, after of course you have received salvation, but daily if you let that grudge to stay there and you do not deal with it you become further and further and further away from God and the world becomes gray and dark. You don’t have that wonderful warm relationship with Him and that’s what that’s talking about.

Forgiveness is also an integral part of your new nature, because why? It reflects the character of God, and it’s an essential garment for the new self. And that’s interesting we think of the word garment. It’s something we put on, isn’t it? It’s not necessarily inherent in us yet. When we go to glory it will be. We will need that but it’s something we need to put on. Second Corinthians 5:17-19 reminds us that we’re a new creature. The old things have passed away. Ephesians 4:22-24 and 32 says, “Put on the new man according to God.” And Colossians 3:9,10 and 13, “and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him…. And bearing with one another and forgiving one another. If anyone has a complaint against another, even as Christ forgave you so you must also do.” So our forgiveness affirms our unmerited love. That’s such a beautiful picture and that’s something that we need to keep in our minds when it’s difficult to forgive. I want to affirm my unmerited love.

Forgiveness is also commanded as Christ has forgiven me. It’s a command. Ephesians 4:32, Colossians 3:12-13 and Mark 11:25 remind us, “And whenever you stand praying if anyone has anything against you, anyone, forgive him that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.” Forgive as Christ has forgiven you. It’s our duty, our lifelong duty to have an attitude of ongoing forgiveness.

Forgiveness imitates God’s concept of covering sin. We see here forgiveness is a choice and it’s also a covering. And that’s what we’re talking about here, 1st Peter 4:8 and Proverbs 10:12 and 17:9 says, love covers sin. To forgive is to seek love like God loves us. First Corinthians 13:5-7, the very familiar love passages, talks about the characteristics of love and that’s what forgiveness promotes. Psalm 32:1, “Blessed is the one whose sin is covered.” Psalm 85:2 and James 5:20 talks about covering a multitude of sin. It reflects God’s saving grace. Mark 11:25-26, again when you stand praying. Its focus is restoration and reconciliation. And later on if you’re wondering, there’s times when we really need to have a transaction with forgiveness, we’re going to cover that later; unconditional forgiveness verses conditional.

Forgiveness is also a prerequisite to unity. Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind one to another, tender hearted, forgiving one another.” It promotes unity.  

Forgiveness requires we set aside our selfishness and not demand what we think we’re due. Its’ dying to self, isn’t it? It’s the ultimate dying to self. Romans’ 12:19 says, “Beloved do not avenge yourselves but rather give place for wrath for it is written ‘Vengeance is Mine. I will repay’ says the Lord.”

Forgiveness is also what real Christians want to do even when your flesh rages against it. Why? Because you’ve been given a new disposition to love and obey God’s will. The law has been written on your heart. Second Corinthians 5:17 and Psalm 40:8 reminds us, “I delight to do your will, O my God, Your law is written on my heart.” So we’re a new creature who wants to obey.
Refusing to forgive is a horrible sin. Ephesians 4:32 tells us that, commands us to forgive. In a quote from our Pastor John’s book on forgiveness says, “When one refuses to relinquish a grudge there is good reason to question the genuineness of that person’s faith. An unforgiving Christian is a contradiction in terms. Matthew 6:12, “And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” What Jesus is saying is tantamount to: if you refuse to forgive your heavenly Father will discipline you severely for your sin of unforgiving.”

Forgiveness is unlimited. It’s an attitude of the heart, and that’s the whole attitude, the whole heart of what we’re talking about today. It should be offered freely, frequently and readily. Matthew 18:21-22, in that passage Peter asks, “Lord how many times should I forgive?” And you know the Lord’s answer; “Seventy times seven.” Not that you’re going to keep a little count but obviously the point is continually. But it’s interesting that if you want to contrast an opposite attitude of revenge: in Genesis 4:23-24, where Lamech wants to repay back a hurt that was incurred to him seventy times--interesting. Luke 17:4 reminds us that when someone sins seven times and repents seven times you forgive. Not that that’s likely to occur that someone’s going to offend you exactly the same way, but you understand it’s an idea of having a readiness to forgive. In 1st Corinthians 13:5 says that we should not be easily provoked. And Romans 12:17, “Repay no one evil.” In 1st Thessalonians 5:15, “No one render evil for evil,” but what’s the opposite, “pursue good instead.” And 1st Peter 3:9 says to not return evil for evil, on the contrary give blessing. See the progression there? Not only not return evil, but to give blessing.

All right, we’ve got a picture of what forgiveness is. We understand that it’s a command. We understand that it’s not something that’s an option. It imitates God’s concept of covering sin. It’s a prerequisite to unity. We have an opportunity to die to self. We want to be obedient to Christ in this area.

What is forgiveness not? Sometimes that helps us understand things better. Well the world talks about apologizing, doesn’t it? That’s the world’s way of mending relationships. And the Bible does not teach us to apologize. It does teach us to go through the reconciliation process and ask for forgiveness. So let’s compare the two ideas. We’re going to look at apologizing and we’re going look at forgiveness.

With regard to relationships what is the focus of apologizing? It's to dump your feelings. Recently my younger daughter got married and we had an appointment with a hair place to have our hair done that morning, myself and my two daughters. And when we got there the shop never opened, the stylist never came. They never showed up. So we scrambled around and found somebody else to do our hair, but I waited a week and never got a call from the shop and finally I called them and I said, you know, “What happened?” “Oh well, you know,” and she gave me her excuse, blah, blah, blah. And she said, “Yeah,” she said, “it was terrible. I never want to feel like that again.” All she thought about was how bad she felt. And I said, “Do you have any idea how bad I felt?” But all she was concerned...made me think of this, she just wanted to dump her feelings. Well forgiveness with regard to relationships is concerned with reconciling and its dealing with culpability or fault.

Well, what about actions?

What are the actions of apologizing?
Well it seeks relief from the pressure and the guilt. It tries to convince someone how sorry they are.

What about forgiveness? It seeks to reconcile and God blesses it and restores the uncomfortableness that you might find between yourself and the other person. When we do the right thing God will bless that restoration. It’s amazing.

It made me think of a husband, that my husband was counseling. It’s a very long story but [his wife] really committed such a horrible sin. She had an affair. She actually got pregnant by the man that she had an affair with, but the husband wanted so much to forgive her. He wanted so much to be biblical that he sought the Lord’s help. He was able to forgive her and receive her back when she repented. I mean that is the Lord. That’s the work of the Lord right there.

Okay, what is the goal of apologizing? Well it’s self-focused, isn’t it? It’s get myself off the hook. Let me get it over with. I want to move on.

What’s the goal of forgiveness? The goal is God and its other focused. You want to restore the relationship, draw the other one in, seek conclusion, seek commitment. See the world does not care about commitment but that’s very much on the agenda of the Lord.

All right, now we’ve answered some questions. We’ve compared what forgiveness is. We’ve thought of what it’s not.

I want to deal with about eight questions that commonly come up with regard to forgiveness.

What is our forgiveness like? In the sense of what God has done in forgiving us forgiveness is attached to our redemption in Christ. It’s not a passive act of forgetting. But an active act of covering it and not bringing it up. I think you’ve heard that word over and over again: choice and covering. Scripture says God removes our sin as far as the east is from the west. It doesn’t say He forgets them. He’s omniscient, but it says He chooses to not bring them up or hold them against us. So there is no such thing as to forgive and forget. Isaiah 43:25 says, “I will not remember your sins.” Romans 4:7-8, “Our lawless deeds are forgiven and our sins are covered. Second Corinthians 5:18-21, we ere given a ministry of reconciliation. Reconciliation to God presupposes complete forgiveness and then we can have reconciliation with one another.

Isaiah 53:4-6, and I’d like to read that one because it’s such a beautiful picture. “Surely He has born our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” That’s such a clear picture of what has taken place and something we need to remind ourselves constantly of. In 1st Peter 2:24, “Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness--by whose stripes you were healed.” God poured out unrestrained fullness of His fierce wrath and displeasure against our sin on Christ. It points to His hatred of sin, yet did something to resolve the enmity and the disruption of our relationship and that is our goal in forgiveness.

Even when God looks at the most godly, consistent Christian, He does not accept that person on the basis of that person’s virtues of a good life. Second Corinthians 5:21 reminds us, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” That speaks of the principle of imputation. So our own forgiveness is not accomplished by any goodness that we have done. So what makes us think that someone has to accomplish something good in order for us to forgive them? Our reconciliation is initiated and obtained on the sinner’s behalf by God (2nd Corinthians 5:18). This happened...why? Because God decided to change us. God is not a reluctant Savior, neither should we be a reluctant forgiver.

A forgiving spirit, a readiness to forgive, characterizes those who have been forgiven. In a word forgiveness is God-like. You want to be like God? Forgive. And I took a quote from John’s book which is a phrase I think can sum this all up and probably something you’ll take home with you and think about; “Repenters to God are forgivers of men.” I like to have little succinct phrases like that to remember things. “Repenters to God are forgivers of men.” I’ll repeat that often.

So what’s another question?

How then should we forgive? How do we so this? Well, we should do it like God. Ephesians 4:32 says, “And be kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you.” So we need to be imitators of God seeking to forgive for the other’s good and God’s glory.

How else should we forgive?

Like Christ. Colossians 3:13, “bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.”

The present time is a time for forgiveness not vengeance. When Christ returns we can be sure every word and deed that we’ve ever uttered, thought or carried out and dealt with, will be dealt with. Second Corinthians 5:10, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the thing things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” The higher cause to plead for is forgiveness and reconciliation with those who have persecuted us. And that’s a strong word, persecuted us. We’re not even talking about the little petty offenses, but it’s talking about someone who even directly and purposely is trying to hurt you. The idea is, the focus is forgiveness. And we have to remember that this is the time when full divine vengeance is being restrained and the gospel is being proclaimed. That’s talking about grace. So Luke 6:27-28 says, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you.” And that is a really good remedy I find when you’re finding it difficult to forgive: go right to prayer for that person.

Think about the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11-32. You know the story. The son left. He did many things to cause his father pain and sorrow but he came back and what was the Father’s response? He was willing to forgive. He not only was willing to forgive, he forgave quickly, lavishly, generously, lovingly and willingly. He forgave for the pure joy of reconciliation and restoration. But if we are unwilling to forgive we destroy relationships and sometimes even whole families. And in the first scenario I gave there was an example of that wasn’t it? The woman’s relationships with other people were affected not just the one between she and her husband.

What about justice? You might be thinking, okay, I understand forgiveness, but there’s some offenses, some things [where] there really does need to be justice. Well, justice will come but for the mean time the priority for the Christian is forgiveness being driven by mercy. That’s what we were shown. As Christians we should be obsessed with forgiveness not vengeance. This is not often easy because we have the tendency to think naturally to protect ourselves. But we have to do as Romans 12:2 says, to retrain our thinking. Our natural way of thinking is to seek vengeance. But we have to retrain our thinking and transform our minds by the renewing of the Spirit. And then we will do as Romans 12:2 says, prove that God’s will is both good, acceptable and perfect.
Hebrews 12:24, and I want you to understand this, this was such a wonderful picture for me. I’m just going to read this. “To Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.” Did you ever think about that? While Abel’s blood and the blood of all the martyrs scream for vengeance, Christ’s blood pleads for mercy. It appeals for forgiveness on behalf of us sinners. So indeed Christ’s blood speaks better. When the memory of your pain caused by another beckons you to become bitter--answer it, confront it loudly with the truth of the cross.

To desire justice is good but to long for forgiveness is better. Depending on which side of the equation you find yourself often determines how we view on this. As the ones who have sinned we embrace gladly God’s mercy and willingness to cover our sin and we’re grateful when mercy has been shown to us by a brother or sister who has forgiven us and graciously follow Christ’s example. But how about when we’re the one offended? It’s a little different, isn’t it? We find it difficult to be ready to forgive, to extend forgiveness when it’s sought and to truly cover the sin with love promising never to bring it up again. And later we’re going to discuss the terms or the conditions about forgiveness and when to confront and when not to.

It goes without saying that God’s forgiveness in Christ does not universally count for every person without the sinner’s repentance. So I don’t want to confuse that. That’s the judicial forgiveness that I mentioned before. But the fact that God requires repentance from us does not dictate that is the model for every situation we find ourselves with our fellow Christians. Otherwise, confrontation would be all we’re doing. So yes, confrontation and repentance, there’s a time and a place for that, but that’s not all we’re doing. And if we don’t have opportunity [then] let love cover it, for this is where grace comes in. We have an opportunity to show others what God has shown us and that’s grace when we don’t need to confront every offense. We must learn to be more like Christ with both confronting and forgiving.

In the prayers of Christ in Luke 23:34 and with Stephen in Acts 7:60, we see examples here. Both were praying for grace for their tormentors, for them to repent. Neither of them were saying forgive them without repentance, but what they were asking for was a heart that was ready on their part to forgive. And this should be our heart too, a heart ready and wanting to forgive and to restore because we want to remember that our goal is what? Reconciliation. Very good class! If nothing else, you should glean from this talk today, that the focus of Scripture is not the terms of forgiveness, but the attitude of the forgiver to be ready and willing to forgive.

Remember that at the cross justice and mercy kissed. God’s justice was satisfied by His merciful provision. Psalm 85:10, “Mercy and truth have met together; Righteousness and peace have kissed.” What a picture! Keep in mind what God has done in order to forgive us our sins. Remember our need for forgiveness both for salvation and daily cleansing that we seek from God and from one another. Mark 11:25 again, remember forgive as the Father desires to forgive you. If we keep in perspective how much God forgave and how much it cost Him to forgive, we will soon realize no transgression against us can ever justify an unforgiving spirit. And I know that’s quite a statement. Many people have incredible hurts, but we really need to cultivate this attitude of forgiving. If we hold a grudge or have an unforgiving spirit we have lost sight of what our own forgiveness involved. God’s forgiveness is the pattern by which we are to forgive and Christ is our model.

Why then is it important to be a “quicker” forgiver? You know I think of the advertisement “the quicker-picker-upper,” you know the little paper towel. Well, we need to be quicker forgivers. Well, in a word, to prevent hate. We just saw that in Hebrews 12, didn’t we? Let me say here that an unforgiving spirit is the number one kill-joy. You want to kill your joy, be unforgiving. And it also impedes growth for the Christian. It’s impossible to truly pray and be heard when we won’t forgive. We need to check to see if we’re harboring an unforgiving spirit. If you’re having a hard time in prayer or in study of the Word then it may be time to ask yourself, “Am I harboring a grudge?” You need to ask yourself when you’re offended, this question, “Am I offended because of my hatred of sin, because of my love for God, or am I offended because of my hatred toward another, because of my love for myself?” What’s the focus, love for God or love for self? You see the difference, one is pride, one is humility.

What’s important to me, the fact that I’ve been forgiven and the blessing that it includes, or that I want retribution or vengeance to someone who has hurt me? We need to remember what sin is. It’s any thought word or action that didn’t result as a love for God. In other words the action was based on a love for self or something other than and above my love for God. So if the sin is something that you’re doing because you’re loving something above God, who is the offense against? God. Sin is also any word thought or action that is not according to the standard of the law. In other words, I’m doing what’s right in my own eyes, where is the offense? Against God. Sin is also thirdly, any thought word or action not done for the sole purpose to glorify God. We’re trapped ladies, we have no hope. We cannot take the sin upon ourselves. It’s all against God. But it’s to glorify self. That’s what sin is. So ours and other’s sins and offenses are first against God.

Now we can clearly know the answers to those questions with regard to ourselves. We know if we’re truly wanting to glorify God or if we’re doing something according to what’s right in our own eyes, or for our love for our self, but we can’t judge that about another’s motives. Even though it may seem undoubtedly so, that we think we know, that it’s clear, and their action even hurt us, we cannot undoubtedly know what their motive was. God has to take that up. We must, if we truly are a new creature in Christ have a new disposition and outlook toward life increasingly as God does, as He transforms us to respond to others as He would. He by nature is a saving God and willing to forgive when one repents. So our little phrase, “repenters toward God are forgivers of men.” So we must forgive in the manner we have been forgiven. Matthew 6:12, 14-15, again the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors...If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” But if you don’t, He won’t, and that’s referring to the discipline you’ll receive from God.

We must be merciful as the Father has been merciful to us. Luke 6:36-38, “judge not, condemn not, and forgive and the same will be done to you.” Matthew 18:35 is a warning that our heavenly Father will do the same to those who refuse to forgive from the heart their brother's trespasses. And there’s a warning in James 2:13 that judgment will be merciless to the one who shows no mercy. That’s a frightening thing. I want God’s mercy.

Does this mean my forgiveness from the Father is conditional upon my forgiveness of another or my forgiveness can somehow be lost? Absolutely not. Our forgiveness is a result of God’s choice to bestow grace on us enabling us to repent and believe. But a confirmation of that really having taken place in us is our desire to forgive others. Note the key words that we have mentioned in the many verses quoted, “choice” and “covering.” It serves as a warning against an unforgiving spirit. We have a choice and we must cover.

We can remember the parable about the king and the servant. Remember in Matthew 18:21-35--I’m sure you remember it. The servant, who owed the king a great debt, went to him and the king said, “Well pay me.” And he said, “I can’t.” And he said he was going to sell him, his wife and his children. And he got down on his knees and he begged for forgiveness and what was the king’s response? He had compassion and he forgave him. Well, what did that servant do? He turned right around, he went to another fellow servant who also owed him a debt, but he would not have compassion, would he? No.  when the king heard it then he turned around and he made that person, that servant pay for his debt that he could not pay. So we have to remember that God has forgiven us a debt that we could never pay. And the emphasis here is to forgive freely, generously, willingly, eagerly, speedily and from the heart. Again remember the focus of Scripture lies in the attitude of the forgiver and not the terms. And with that I want to talk about the terms for just a little bit, what the difference between conditional forgiveness and unconditional forgiveness is.

Well conditional forgiveness is when the confrontation is absolutely necessary and repentance sought. It would be something that if there’s not forgiveness church discipline would take place. If the offender refuses to repent [then] the [next step] would be church discipline. In Matthew 18 verses 15-17, and I’d like to read Luke 17:3 so that we have that on our mind. “Take heed to yourselves”--we were exhorted the last two nights, weren’t we, to take heed to ourselves with regard to our praying and studying of the Word? But here with forgiveness we need to take heed to ourselves. “If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.” Now that is not the prescription for every offense. There are many Scriptures with regard to forgiveness and we have to look at the whole Scripture, but if the offense is something that would potentially end in church discipline, it is for that person’s good, for their spiritual good for us to go and confront them.

Now unconditional forgiveness, it’s for the majority of offenses. It involves the covering of the sin as the Lord did for us. Psalm 32:1, “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven and whose sin is covered.” First Peter 4:8, “And above all things have fervent love one for another, for love will cover a multitude of sins.” And Proverbs 10:12. “Hatred stirs up strife but love covers sin.” Proverbs 17:9, “He who covers a transgression seeks love.” And I think its so important to really understand the opposite of willing to love is not neutral, its not just, well, I am just going to stay in this neutral state, I’m just sort of annoyed with that person. No, it’s hatred. And 1st Corinthians 13:5-7 says love,  “...does not behave rudely, does not seek it’s own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in [the truth], bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things,” and then yes, “endures all things.” [What] that talks about is being long suffering. James 5:20, “Let him know that he who turns a sinner from error of his way will have saved a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.” And again Mark 11:25-26, “and whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.” Notice the imperative. It’s telling us we that must do it. It’s not a choice. It’s not a suggestion. It’s telling us. This is a decision to choose to forgive made by the offended party from the heart, which is your seat of intellect (Proverbs 23:7). [You do not do it if you just feel like it--it’s a command. It’s a promise to not bring up the offense to yourself, to anyone else or to that person, to refuse to hold a grudge, to relinquish any claim on recompense, resist the temptation (and this is probably the hardest for us) to brood or to retaliate.

A friend of mine gave me this word picture a long time ago and I love it and it’s a picture of a witch standing over a kettle of brew. And when you rehearse those things in your mind, over and over again, thinking about he did this, she did this, it’s like that witch stirring the big kettle, that brew with a big spoon and what’s happening all the smells and the scents from the brew is coming up in her face and that’s what happens. It just makes it worse and we get madder and more hurt. It does not produce anything good.

We need to remember that real love should cover the vast majority of our trespasses (1st Peter 4:8). Remember to keep the perspective of what your forgiveness entailed. We need prayer and practice to develop and grow to forgive increasingly like this from the heart. It is not going to come naturally. And I am sure you know this, if you set your mind to: Okay, I’m going to be a “quicker forgiver” you can be sure every little thing is going to come across your path and is going to irritate you. I know. I did the study. It was amazing. And that’s what I was just saying to one of the ladies before. It’s not the bigger things, the bigger things--it’s the nitty-picky, natty, irritation things that you almost forget that I have to forgive for those. You know the fact that you live with somebody, anybody you live with, whether it’s a husband, a daughter, a roommate, whatever, something about what they’re going to do is going to offend you and we have to learn to forgive.

Let us remember Proverbs 19:11, “The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook a transgression.” It’s our glory to do that. Remember that.

Okay, I have set up like a little chart: Conditional. There’s four major points under Conditional and I’ll just go through them quickly. I’m not going to go through the Scripture. They’re there for you to study at a later date.

First of all when we need to have conditional forgiveness; it’s if you observe a serious offense that is a sin against someone other than you, you would confront the offender. And just as Lamentations 3:35-36 says the Lord does not approve turning away justice. So if justice needs to be done on someone else behalf [then] you confront the sin.

Conditional forgiveness needs to be sought when ignoring the offense might hurt the offender. Confrontation is required. Galatians 6:1-2 tells us to restore one another, one who is overtaken by sin. You see a pattern in someone’s life? You’re more concerned not for the offense against you or those you love necessarily, but for their own spiritual good.

Thirdly, when the sin is scandalous or otherwise potentially damaging to the body of Christ confrontation is essential and we’re reminded in Hebrews to exhort one another.
And fourthly, any time an offense results in a broken relationship [then] formal forgiveness is an essential step towards reconciliation. And this is general and rather broad but it’s covered in Scripture from both perspectives. Luke 17:3 says to rebuke, I just read that, to rebuke your brother if he has offended you. Now again this is not for every nit-picky little thing. But if there is something that you see that is broke in your relationship, because God [says], as much as it depends upon us--right, may there be peace. So we need to go to the person if we see a pattern of unbroken sin.

Also if you are the offender you need to do so quickly. Actually in both cases you need to do so quickly. Matthew 5:23-24, if you’re the offender [then] do so quickly. Go to the person, leave your gift at the altar and go to [the one that] you know you have offended. Second Thessalonians 3:15 guides both attitudes because you are not counting that individual as an enemy--they’re a brother. And I think that’s something that has been most helpful for me is that when I put in my mind: this is not my enemy...I even said that to my kids as they were growing up. I’m not the enemy. This is a brother or sister in Christ. I’m going to spend eternity with this person. Why would I spend this temporal life at enmity with them?

Okay, unconditional offenses. Unconditional forgiveness. Whenever possible, especially if the offense is petty or unintentional, it is best to forgive unilaterally. We’re reminded to bear with one another, to be forbearing. We see Christ’s example of suffering. We don’t resist the evil person. Also, if you are the only injured party, even if the offense was public and flagrant you may choose to forgive unilaterally. We think of Joseph, his example. Read that account in Genesis 45 and 50. We think of Paul in 2 Timothy 4:16. He says there, that at his first offense no one stood with him. But he says he did not hold it against them. He forgave unconditionally.

And then this is an account which probably not many of us are really familiar with but I read it. It was in John’s book and it was very interesting to do a study in this. It’s in 2nd Samuel 16:5-14 and 19:18-23, and also 1st Kings 2:36-46. And it’s a man by the name of Shimei. And David was king. And he accusing, he was actually cursing David to his face. And that an offense that he could have been put to death for but David overlooked it. He didn’t give him what he was due. And then later on Shimei  supposedly repented and asked for forgiveness and David forgave him. And David died and his son Solomon was in office after that and it was interesting because sometimes we might wonder, “I know this person truly isn’t repented.” But God will meet out the justice because his true unrepentant heart was disclosed. And ultimately God’s patience ended and David’s son Solomon punished this man by death for his continual unrepentant heart.

So we need to remember just like in Luke 23:24 Jesus’ example. He was not granting forgiveness to his tormentors on the cross, but he was asking for the willingness and readiness of their forgiveness to be sought. And in John’s Bible he has a note on this and he said possibly the fruit of that prayer was the thousands of repentant people in Jerusalem at Pentecost. So we need to be very much seeking others to repent and so we offer forgiveness. We’re always concerned with their being reconciled to God. Our forgiveness does not guarantee the offender will receive judicial forgiveness from God. God knows the heart and he judges righteously. Our part is to be gracious, bear the wrong and to pray for the offender’s full repentance. God Himself will see to it that justice is done.

Well, next question. Should I seek restitution outside the church? Well, 1st Corinthians 6:1-11 reminds us that when an offender will not acknowledge wrong and make things right, [then] let it be dealt with by the church rather than secular court. Lawsuits between Christians are never justifiable. And it’s better to be defrauded than cause reproach to the church. On this side of heaven the truth is ladies, that injustices, all injustices will never be made right. Our part is to guard our hearts and not harbor a grudge allowing a spirit of resentment to stain our character. Instead be like Joseph who was willing to see the hand of God working good even in the most unjust circumstance.

What about when it’s hard to forgive? Well we have to remember, as we said about forgiveness, it’s a choice. And it’s not dependent upon feelings. Thoughts such as “I can’t find it in my heart to forgive this person,” “I don’t feel it,” “I keep being reminded of this offense.” You know what the truth is? That’s no less temptations to sin in themselves. Brooding over an offense, as I gave you that picture, is no less a sin than lust or covetousness or any other heart sin. A willful choice must be made to turn away from this kind of thinking and refuse to succumb to angry vengeful thinking. No matter what we feel like. Whether we feel like it or not. Luke 6:27-28 reminds us of this. “Willful, deliberate, rational acts,” and this is a quote from John from his book, “Willful, deliberate, rational acts like these, choosing to forgive, rather than emotional reflexes will pave the way for proper feelings to follow. To obey Christ’s commands your anger will melt to meekness, frustration will be overcome by peace and anxiety will succumb to calm.” And that’s from John’s book on forgiveness.

It’s also helpful to remind ourselves that all sin, regardless of how willful or premeditated it may have been--it may have been directed directly to you, is ultimately against God first and foremost. Psalm 51:4, “Against you only have I sinned and done this evil in Your sight.”

All right, well what’s the result of forgiveness? This is the good part. We truly will be imitating our Father when we ourselves lift the burden of guilt when we forgive an offender. We’re in the best of company when we forgive unconditionally without requiring a confrontation. This liberates (here’s the answer to the question: who is a prisoner?), this liberates the forgiver to enjoy even greater mercies given in return by a generous heavenly Father who promises to pour into our laps good measure pressed down, shaken together, running over (Luke 6:38). It is then we will begin to experience the blessing of the freedom and the power that forgiveness truly offers.

Remember the two scenarios I began with? Well the first woman was presented time and time again with the Gospel, continuing to reject it, holding on to what she thought was justified anger and was in danger of spurning God’s graciousness for her own forgiveness. As much as I was able to tell though it did seem it was in God’s plan and will for her to be given a new heart and receive forgiveness. Two days before she died, my sister, of whom I also had been sharing the gospel with for years and had received Christ just two weeks before our mother died, had the privilege, not me, but she had the privilege, of praying with her and she bowed the knees of her heart to Christ asking Him for forgiveness and repenting of her sin. That’s God’s grace.

Only because our God is conceivably gracious, powerful and does have a plan for our good in His glory, was the young woman in the second scenario able to handle her pain and disappointment vastly different from her grandmother. Yes, that was my daughter. Because God intervened in my life with His offer of forgiveness could the pattern of unbroken vengeance and bitterness be broken. Thus offering it not only to me but to my sister, my mother, and both my daughters, thus enabling me and the one in the second scenario to respond as she did seeing it as a trial to test her trust of God and an opportunity to lean on what she knew to be true of God. She could trust what God appointed for her more than wrestle with Him for what she wanted enabling her to forgive the young man for the pain he caused. So indeed ladies, “Repenters towards God are forgivers of men.”

Added to Bible Bulletin Board's "Shepherds’ Conference Collection" by:

Tony Capoccia
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