December 10, 2000 - Crossroads Community Church


Some time ago a person for whom I cared a great deal hurt my family and I very deeply. Even now, after years of prayer and asking God to help me to deal with my pain it returns and I find myself asking "Why, God, why did you let this thing happen to me?" Many of us here have no doubt been in the same position and found ourselves wondering just what was the point of it all. I believe that for me the point has been, at least in part, to teach me the meaning of forgiveness. Some years ago I had the opportunity to read a book entitled "The Freedom of Forgiveness" which had a great impact on my life. Over the course of time many of the lessons I learned from that book have taken on a greater significance as I began to apply them to an extremely painful situation. It has not often been an easy experience to live through but during this time I have been allowed to see more of the grace of God and know better the truth of the freedom of forgiveness. Let me explain.




Webster's Dictionary defines forgiveness with the following words:


1/ To give up resentment of, or claim to requital for an insult

2/ To grant relief from payment

3/ To cease to feel resentment against an offender


Forgiveness takes place when we who have been hurt release the one who has hurt us from shame and the obligation of revenge, it is what happens when we determine to hold no hard feelings against the one who has hurt us. Although the Bible does not directly say so it consistently holds before us two primary principles of true forgiveness:


1/ Forgiveness is given whenever someone asks for it.


2/ Forgiveness is given whenever someone needs it, even if they do not ask for it.


Underscoring all that the Bible teaches on the subject of forgiveness is that forgiving does not mean that the injury is simply tossed aside and ignored. The Bible's teaching on forgiveness is that a wrong of some kind has occurred and harm has been done and that the injury, instead of being repaid, is held by the injured party and good is given back instead. Instead of punishing the one who did the wrong the injured party makes his or her own provision to satisfy the demands of justice. The Bible never teaches that forgiveness overlooks justice but rather that forgiveness reverses justice, that the responsibility of satisfying justice is taken from the one who has done wrong and is given to the one who has been wronged.


A) FORGIVENESS IS DOING WHAT JESUS DID - The Bible goes even further by telling us that we must hold no grudge against the one who has hurt us. When Jesus was on the cross being crucified He was being put to death as an innocent man, He had done nothing, absolutely nothing, deserving death. Yet as He was dying He offered up this prayer to His Father in Heaven:


Luke 23:34 - Jesus said, Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.


He asked God to forgive those who were mocking Him, who had caused His pain, who were rejoicing at His death. They were still in the act of killing Him. The blood still flowed from His wounds. If they were willing they could have taken Him from the cross and saved His life. They did not. Yet Jesus asked His Father not to hold this against them. He forgave them while they were in the process of doing the very thing He was forgiving!


B) FORGIVENESS IS LOOKING OUT FOR THE BEST FOR OTHERS - Looking at Jesus' example, we see that forgiveness seeks the best for those who do us harm, in spite of what they have done or are doing to us, even to the point of our personal death. The apostle Paul illustrates this point tremendously in his letter to the Christians who lived in Rome:


Romans 12:14-21 - Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. 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: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink."


C) FORGIVENESS IS COSTLY - Forgiveness costs the one who forgives. When we borrow money from the bank to buy a car or a house we are expected at some time pay the bank that money back. If we come into a position where we are unable to pay what we owe then the bank steps in and lays claim to our car or our house. We have defaulted on the loan and must give up ownership of what we used that loan to purchase. If the bank were to forgive us the debt the money would not simply reappear in the vaults of the bank. The money has been lost and is gone forever. But by forgiving us the bank has taken upon itself responsibility for the loss of that money, we are no longer responsible for it and can continue to drive the car or live in the house as our own possession. The loss has not been wiped out but the bank has put the loss to its own account rather than allowing it to remain on ours.


Forgiveness is like that. When someone has hurt us they owe us a debt of justice and they are in debt to us until justice has been done. We, however, have the choice of demanding that justice that is owed to us be done, or of paying the price ourselves. If we choose to pay the price of justice ourselves justice has not been ignored but an other individual, our own self, has become responsible for justice. We do not force the pain of the offence back upon the offender but carry it upon ourselves and in doing this we let the one who has hurt us go free. Any of us who has been forgiven know this sense of freedom. We know it as freedom because the responsibility for what we did wrong has been taken from us


1 Peter 1:18-19 - For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.


Our own forgiveness from our own sins, sins that impact no one but God, has been obtained at the cost of God's own Son. When we forgive others who have wronged us the cost of that forgiveness is ours. We may lose pride, position, friends, wealth. If we forgive we will lose something. When we forgive we essentially release claim to our rights in order to help someone correct their wrongs.


D) FORGIVENESS IS PERMANENT - Forgiveness must be permanent. The forgiver should hold no grudge; even though the offence may have a lasting impact revenge should never be desired. The one who has been forgiven should feel no more guilt; having been forgiven means never again having to carry the burden of guilt. Looking back there may be shame at what has been done but no guilt, it has been removed. Those who have been forgiven have been freed from the burden paying the price for their wrong, it has been paid by another and the debt is therefore cancelled.


Isaiah 43:25 - I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.




But how often should we forgive others? At what point does forgiveness stop being forgiveness and start being weakness? Where do we draw the line so that those we forgive do not take advantage of us? Peter, one of Jesus' disciples, was concerned about this as well, and with good reason. He lived in Israel at a time when it was ruled by Roman overlords, under a king who was a tyrant, and with many countrymen who were traitors. In such an environment there would be great opportunity for abuse and corruption and to Peter's mind it only made sense to determine just who he should forgive and how often. No doubt the answer he received astounded him:


Matthew 18:21-22 - 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. {Or "seventy times seven"}


The number of times that Jesus is telling Peter to forgive his brother has been interpreted as either "seventy-seven times," or "seventy times seven." In either case, what ever translation you read, we are still confronted by a large number. Essentially Jesus has told Peter not to count how often he has forgiven someone but to just keep on forgiving as often as there is something to forgive. Jesus shows by the parable He uses to illustrate this teaching that there is to be no limit on forgiveness:


Matthew 18:23-35 - 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 {That is, millions of dollars} 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, canceled 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. {That is, a few dollars} 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 canceled 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.


Imagine forgiving someone every time that they steal from you, or insult you, or take your place in line. Not just saying the words "I forgive you," but actually forgiving them, as Jesus said, from your heart and holding no hard feelings against them. And Jesus is not just using an isolated example. Elsewhere in the gospels His teaching is even more to the point:


Matthew 5:38-42 - You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' (This was the provision of the law given to Moses and is found in Exodus 21:22-25.) But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.


Jesus practiced unrelenting forgiveness. A forgiveness that all could claim and could receive without restriction or price. He preached it as well and taught that all who would be His followers would also have to forgive others just as God through Christ had forgiven them. It is a forgiveness that is unlimited in scope and unending in value.




It is not very often realized that the Bible's teaching on forgiveness completely overlooks the fact of people asking for forgiveness. It is true that we are encouraged in the Bible to ask God to forgive our sins, but very rarely does it teach that we must first be asked for forgiveness by those we would forgive. In other words, they do not have to ask. Earlier we looked at Jesus' words from the cross:


Luke 23:34 - Jesus said, Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.


The remarkable thing about the timing of these words, other than that Jesus spoke them while He was being killed, is that He did not wait for them to ask for Him to forgive them, He just went ahead and did it. I used to think that this would have been easy for Jesus since He actually was God and therefore perfect, of course He would do the right thing. But there are other examples of mere humans such as ourselves acting in the same way. Witness what occurred when we have the first reported incident in the Bible of a Christian being killed for his faith:


Acts 7:55-60 - But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. "Look," he said, "I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God." At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Then he fell on his knees and cried out, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them."


Here is an example of a man, having stones thrown at him by an angry mob until he was dead, asking God to forgive those throwing the stones, while they were still throwing them. They did not ask to be forgiven, they were not even aware that they were doing wrong, but Stephen forgave them anyway. Why? He did it because it was what God expected of him. He did it because he wanted even this barrier removed so that these men would be free to come to God. One of these men, Saul, the man we now know as the apostle Paul, actually did become a Christian. By the power of God was changed from a man who hunted Christians down and had them arrested and killed into a teacher of Christianity to as much of the world as he could reach. He wrote many letters of encouragement to the early churches, letters which in turn have become the larger part of the New Testament of the Bible; here are some of Paul's own words on forgiveness:


Ephesians 4:31-32 - Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.


Colossians 3:12-13 - Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.


To repeat, the Bible never teaches that we are to withhold forgiveness until it is asked for. It rather teaches that we are to be lavish with our forgiveness. It is a gift that is to be given freely especially when it is not asked for. Forgiveness is probably the one thing that will most influence others to observe the impact that Christ has in our lives and maybe, just maybe, encourage them to welcome Christ themselves.




But all of this that has been said clearly goes against our nature. How then do I come the point where I am able to forgive, how does forgiveness become possible? I also need to be forgiven. I make mistakes. I say wrong things or think wrong thoughts. I need to be forgiven for these things and who alone offers forgiveness for all that I have ever done? God, through Jesus Christ, has forgiven me of everything bad thought I have ever had, every wrong word I have ever said, and every mistake I have ever made. He has wiped the slate clean and I am again free to enjoy life He has given me without worrying about the penalty of my sins, it has been completely and utterly taken from me. I am free to enjoy life as He intended it to be enjoyed, in companionship with Him rather than in fear of Him. It is by grace, it is a free gift. If I have been forgiven and I know what it feels like then who is better able to forgive those who hurt me but me? How can I withhold so great a freedom when I have been given one even greater?


I referred earlier in this message to the struggle I had in forgiving someone who had hurt my family and I. Even though it has been difficult it would have been impossible if God had not been at my side. Today I can truly say that even though the pain of that event is still with me and that each day since then I have asked God "Why," I feel no hard feelings. This is not because I am such a good guy but because God has given me the desire, the strength, and the ability to forgive. It has been possible because:


Philippians 4:13 - I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.


Forgiveness never happens alone, it can only happen when we're holding hands with God.




In 1 Corinthians 13, the famous chapter on the characteristics of love, Paul lists what love does and does not do. Hidden among this list is a frequently overlooked description of love that goes against the warm, fuzzy feeling that movies tell us love is:


1 Corinthians 13:4-7 - Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.


In the middle of this often quoted paragraph are the following words: "[love] keeps no record of wrongs." This is one of those dangerous passages in the Bible. It is very blunt, very to the point, and very unavoidable. If we love then we must not keep a list of the harms have been done to us. Many of us, when we are wronged, are tempted to nurse the wrong, keeping its pain fresh in our minds, almost treasuring the wrong as though it were a piece of gold, and looking forward to our revenge. This is how we are, it is a part of our human nature, but this is not how a Christian is to be. If there is any single characteristic that sets the Christian apart it is love. God Himself is love and the apostle John emphasizes the relationship between our love for others and God's own love for us by saying:


1 John 4:8 - Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.


We have just read that love keeps no record of wrongs. True love does not keep track of the wrongs that have been done. This does not mean that the wrongs have been forgotten. Some wrongs will have such an impact on our lives that they will never truly be forgotten, their pain may never really fade to nothing. But true love would not keep track of the wrong, it would not say, in effect, "On such and such a day this person did that to me, that makes eight hundred and thirty things that they have done wrong." True love does not hold a grudge. True love cannot hold a grudge. And I can speak from my personal experiences over the past years that God can take some pretty awful pain and help us come to the point where it is becomes a healing wound and not an open sore. The kind of forgiveness that God expects us to give is to not only hold no grudge against the one who has hurt us but to not even keep a record of what has been done to us. We have a phrase that goes: "Today is the first day of the rest of your life." It was quoted to me several times for my 40th birthday. But for the person who has been forgiven it is also true. Each new moment is a new chance to start over, forgiven, free from all blame and shame, ready once again to find God without fear.