A Time to Forgive
A Time to Forgive
I recently had a conversation with a young man. He is a qualified, certified professional, and through his work, he has come into contact with world leaders. God is putting him through the wringer of his own understanding of where he is, his purpose in life, and his own sense of calling. In this season of soul discovery, he has recognized he needs to forgive.
He described his life the way you might describe yours. He said, "There are things I am not proud of that have happened in my life. I wish they hadn't happened the way they did." He said he went through a season of rebellion and struggle. Rebellion is something many of us have walked our way through, but when you're done bashing your head against the wall, it feels good to stop. He said, "I got tired of hurting myself, so I stopped, only to realize the issues that drove me to the rebellion were still present in my soul, and there was enormous anger and frustration."
He said that anger and frustration came from never being able to win the affection of his father in a way that would satisfy his soul. His dad was a perfectionist who loved the Lord and sought to do the right thing, but had emotionally andat timesphysically brutalized a young man whose response was to rebel. Having come to terms with that rebellion, the son recognized there were still issues of enormous anger he was dealing with. He came to the conclusion that he needed to come to a point of forgiveness.
At the same time, I dealt with a young woman as happy, bright, and alive as anybody you'd want to meet. I've known her for years. She's an outstanding person, but in conversation one day, I caught a hint of something. It was uncharacteristic of the way she had talked about anything in the past. It had to do with a person. Her words had an edge to them. They weren't unkind or petty or small. They were distant words that suggested a hint of pain.
With a gentle probing, she said, "I came to realize I was wounded because she didn't value the things in my spiritual life that were important to me. As a result of that, I found myself wounded in the relationship."
As we read Luke 7:4050, the issue of forgiveness is central throughout. Jesus is speaking to the Pharisee, Simon, who has invited Jesus to his house for dinner. A woman has come to anoint Jesus. This is the conversation that follows:
Jesus answered and said to him, "Simon, I have something to say to you."
So he said, "Teacher, say it."
"There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed 500 denarii, and the other 50. And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell me, therefore, which of them will love him more?"
Simon answered and said, "I suppose the one whom he forgave more."
And he said to him, "You have rightly judged."
Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has washed my feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. You gave me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss my feet since the time I came in. You did not anoint my head with oil, but this woman has anointed my feet with fragrant oil. Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little."
We don't forgive because it can make us vulnerable.
Forgiveness can be about big issues and little issues, things of central value to our lives and little things that happen to get in the way. In fact, those little things can lead to big things because the presence of personal pain that requires forgiveness can go undetected for yearspartly because of the way we learn to compensate for it.
Years ago, my dad told me a story about a guy who used to pitch in the big leagues. His name was Dizzy Dean. Dizzy Dean broke his toe in an All-Star game. He was probably the finest pitcher in the league at the time. He was anxious to return, and being quite tough, he came back quickly.
A few months later, he was out of baseball completely. He had ruined his arm because he had altered his pitching motion, trying to compensate for the broken toe that had yet to completely heal. He had altered his wind up and delivery and blew up his arm in the process. A promising career that could have gone on for years was cut short because he stubbed his toe.
Little things have the potential of knocking big things off course. When we pray about forgiveness, it is appropriate to say, "Lord, not only deal with the core issues of my being but also with the things that accumulatethe little things that get in the way."
Let's continue in our text. Jesus says to the woman, "Your sins are forgiven."
And those who sat at the table with him began to say to themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?"
The Pharisees are baffled, saying: Who can forgive sins except God? Who is this guy? Who does he think he is? Only God can forgive sin!
That's exactly right; the Pharisees got it right. Only God can forgive sins. And that's who's talking to the woman, pronouncing forgiveness of sin.
You would think these leaders would say, "What a marvelous statement! Sins can be forgiven. Isn't that wonderful? If her sins can be forgiven, mine can be forgiven." You would think they would be excited about it, but they're not. They presume Jesus is moving outside his place to pronounce forgiveness.
They also exhibit an outrage related to forgiveness; after all, forgiveness is dangerous stuff. If Jesus starts forgiving people, they thought, we'll lose our place as the leaders of Israel to determine who and when and how forgiveness will be extended. We want to have the power to determine who gets forgiven and how and where and when. We can't have people getting forgiven simply by going to God on their own.
In many personal experiences, the issue of unforgiveness is directly related to this: We want to retain our control. If people are forgiven for the horrible things they've done to us, we wonder if they'll do it again. Or maybe we'll lose the right to manipulate and control them by reminding them, "You really did hurt me. You made my life a mess and you need to continue to compensate for that the rest of your natural life." The power of unforgiveness controls the situation.
Jesus has broken the power of unforgiveness, because he has demonstrated God is willing, able, and desirous of forgiving sins. Sins are forgiven for a reason. Those sins have been purchased. Luke 23:34 says, "Then Jesus said, 'Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.'"
Jesus, who is God in the flesh, has made a statement that the authority to forgive sin is based on what the Son of God has done on the cross. His blood flows down as the sacrifice for our sins. It's a reflection of God's justice.
God said that the wages of sin is death, and all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. As a result of that, a death sentence has been placed against each one of usfor big sins and little sins, many sins and few sins. The price is still the same; the wages of sin is death.
Jesus paid that price for all of us. He went up on the cross, took our placeyours and mineand said, "Father, forgive them." God's love and justice together on the crossthe justice that says, "this needs to be paid for"; the love that says, "I'm making it available, free of charge to all those who will believe." Jesus has done everything we need. Forgiveness has been purchased on our behalf. It is a matter of love. All we need to do is receive it on the terms in which it was given. God so loved us that we should love him.
We must accept God's forgiveness and extend it to others.
But, to some degree forgiveness is conditional. God's love is unconditional, but God's forgiveness is conditional. It's remarkable, as you read these passages of Scripture, how stark the contrast is. God's love is for all people, all the time, and he has extended himself in that act of love through Jesus Christ. But whether or not we receive forgiveness of sin is a conditional act based on how we respond to that love.
First of all, we must confess our sin. First John 1:9 says, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins." In Luke 24, Jesus' instructions are to preach the repentance and remission of sin. Repentance is confessing that we agree with God that there is sin in our lives, and then we turn from it. Our sin is paid for by Jesus, but the appropriation of that forgiveness is conditional on confession and repentance.
There is another dimension to the conditions of forgiveness. We must forgive as surely as we have been forgiven. As it says in the Lord's Prayer: And forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
When you realize your own personal debt, you have mercy on those who are indebted to you. "Forgive us" is not a mantra to be repeated; it's something to be experienced as a change in the way we live. The absence of forgiveness gums up the possibility of redemptive life flowing to people. It brings bondage and despair.
In Matthew 18, Jesus talks about the master who forgave a servant's massive debt. As soon as that servant was forgiven the debt, he began insisting payment from those who owed him money. As a result, the master took that servant and threw him into jail. In the same way, Jesus says, if you do not forgive those who have sinned against you, neither will your Father in heaven forgive you of your sins. So it is that God's forgiveness is conditional.
Perhaps the reason your life is miserable is because you are unwilling to forgive someone; it has gummed up your personal relationship with the Father. It isn't that he doesn't love you; he's just waiting for you to say, "I give up, and I forgive."
After years of performing wedding services, I have realized that marriage and family has little to do with the exchange of a ring, a token of people's love. We talk about love as if it's an emotion. Love is not an emotion; it's a commitment. You commit to love a person, and you don't change your mind because love doesn't change. First Corinthians 13 says, "Love suffers long and bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails."
The issue with sustaining marriage is not sustaining love but sustaining the spirit of forgiveness. At the exchange of rings during a wedding service, I ask couples to commit to being the first to forgive, to always forgive, and to accept the responsibility to lead in forgiveness; with couples who have learned how to forgive, the love always flourishes.
In Luke 6:37, Jesus says, "Forgive, and you will be forgiven." I love that. Notice the context. Verse 35 says, "Love your enemies. Therefore, be merciful." Be kinddon't judge, don't condemn. "Forgive, and you will be forgiven," it says. Forgiveness comes because you choose to be a forgiver.
It works in relationships with people. When you start the process of forgiveness, something good will happen in that relationship, even if it's only from your side of things. But God says if you choose not to forgive, then you choose to block a flow of forgiveness that is yours from him, too. Where there is much forgiveness, there is much love.
When we forgive, we can hope in the future.
Now, the greater our wounds, the greater the challenge. I can't tell you how many times people have sat in my office and said, "Pastor Scott, I could never forgive what happened to me." And I wish I could get them to take those words back, because they're chaining themselves to a past that will determine what kind of future they will live in. I wish I could get them to speak words of forgiveness so those chains could fall off.
Maybe you've even said those words: "Lord, I could never forgive the person who did what they did to me. You don't know what it's like to be abused the way I was abused by people I trusted, by my dad, by my uncle, by my brother, by my mother. Lord, you don't know. This person stole my job. They stole my future. They lied about me. This person was vicious. They took my children. They took my money. They took my hope. They took my heart. They took things I freely gave them, and they destroyed them. Because of the anger I feel and the depression that has come over my life, I could never forgive them. You don't know how much it hurts. You don't know what kind of evil was done to me. Their sins were many. If I forgive them now, they could do it to me all over again. So if you're going to talk to me about forgiveness, then give me a guarantee it will never happen again, that I will never hurt like this again."
Forgiveness offers no guarantees; forgiveness only offers grace. No matter what has happened, if you choose to forgive, God will flow grace toward you that will bring about the redemptive, healing protection you've always tried to maintain. Instead of maintaining it with your anger and pain, God will maintain it by his grace. When you become vulnerable, you'll no longer self-protect, but God will protect you. You want a guarantee that no one will ever hurt you; God offers you grace that will never leave you.
Unforgiveness binds you to your past; forgiveness binds you to your future and to God's hope and grace that things can be different. It takes a matter of faith not only to believe that God forgives you, but also to allow that forgiveness to provide the shield of protection you've looked for all your life, the hope that things can be different.
For some, this is a core issue of your life. You're scared that if you give up your anger and hatred and unforgiveness, you will stand naked and unprotected before the world that has hurt you so viciously. But you will also stand unprotected before God, who loves you. Grace alone, which God provides, will be enough for everything that you face.