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Release Resentment


It may have been King David's lowest moment. His son Absalom was leading a revolution against him. Absalom was a charmer and had convinced many that David was too old and ineffective to lead. When Absalom stormed the city with his troops, David and his army left Jerusalem and left the palace vacant. David decided he would rather be humiliated in retreat than to be involved in a bloody civil war against his own son.

What a horrendous moment this must have been for Israel's most celebrated king. On the way out of Jerusalem, David must have thought: It can't get any worse than this. But it did. A commoner by the name of Shimei taunted David as he fled the city. Shimei stood on a hillside throwing clods of dirt and stones at the king and cursing him, saying, "God is finally getting even with you for what you did to King Saul, you bloody traitor!"

One of David's men snarled, "Let me go up and run that impudent coward through with a sword." David's response was incredible. He said, "No. Don't kill him. Let him go. Maybe I'm just getting what I deserve."

If that were the end of the story, we would hail David as a great man—how magnanimous to forgive such an offense. Well, David was a great man, but that's not the end of the story. The memory of that offense festered in David's mind for years. On his deathbed, about a decade later (see 1 Kings 2:8), David speaks his final words to his son, Solomon:

"Remember you have with you Shimei, son of Gera, the Benjamite from Bahurim, who called down bitter curses on me the day I went to Mahanaim. When he came down to meet me at the Jordan, I swore to him by the Lord: 'I will not put you to death by the sword.' But now, do not consider him innocent. You are a man of wisdom; you will know what to do to him. Bring his gray head down to the grave in blood."

Those were David's final words.

The problem of resentment

That story introduces us to the problem of resentment. First Corinthians 13:5 says, "Love does not keep a record of wrongs." That is an accounting term. It's the term for entering an item into a ledger so that it will not be forgotten. Paul is saying love does not keep a ledger of offenses. Love does not build up indebtedness. Love doesn't harbor a grudge.

That's exactly what many people do. They nurse their wrath to keep it warm. They brood over their wrongs until it's impossible to forget them.

Like David leaving Jerusalem, most of us have had a Shimei, hurling insults and wounding us from the sidelines. Some of you can remember childish insults said on the playground. Maybe you were a good scholar, but you'll never forget how the athletes made fun of your lack of athletic ability. Or maybe you have a good personality, but you'll never forget somebody making fun of your physical appearance. It's amazing how we can recall almost verbatim some things that were said to us as children. They're like video tapes replaying in our minds.

Some of you were hurt by teachers or coaches or counselors in school years ago, and you have never forgotten. During my freshman year of Bible college, I worked on the maintenance crew at the school for 70 cents an hour. I got released from that job because I took time off to play on the basketball team. The supervisor said to me, "Bob, I've observed that young men who don't do well on this crew usually don't do very well in the ministry either."

That was 30 years ago, but I remember him saying that. Not that I hold a grudge against that judgmental old codger! He couldn't tell a preacher from a pagan to begin with! We remember those things.

Hurts from the past can stay in our minds forever. Instead of letting the wound gradually heal, leaving a slight scar, resentment keeps picking the scab and putting the video tape back in to watch it again. We keep a record of the wrong, and we keep underscoring it in the ledger.

Some of you encountered a Shimei in your own home. Maybe you were wounded by an alcoholic father who terrified you, or by an inconsistent mother. There are husbands and wives who live under the same roof but barely speak because resentment has built up over the years. Maybe you were cheated out of money or a position at work. It's easy to let resentment toward the offender build over a period of time.

Resentment destroys relationships. Some of you are so bitter over the Shimei in your life you won't speak to him or have anything to do with him even though he is a close relative or you see him frequently. You're going to take your pride or your alienation to the grave with you. It alienates you sometimes from close friends. If you've ever had a relative go through a divorce, you know the tendency to divide into camps. In order to be a friend to somebody, you must be an enemy of their enemies.

Resentment alienates you from people because it destroys your personality. I don't know many great things that Buddha said, but he did say one thing that was good. He said that holding onto anger is like grasping a hot coal in our hands with the intention of throwing it at someone. But we're the ones who get burned.

Resentment is emotional suicide. It's self-inflicting because it destroys the personality. Maybe you withdraw into a shell and become very protective, planning never to allow yourself to get close to somebody again because it hurts. You're the loser. You become vengeful, joyless, negative, and bitter.

Proverbs 17:22 says, "A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones." There are minority groups, some militant feminist organizations, and some bitterly handicapped people who have become resentful and angry. Although they have legitimate hurts, they are so bitter in expressing and vocalizing, people don't listen. Prejudice is a terrible sin—but so is resentment.

Martin Luther once was so depressed over a prolonged period that one day his wife came downstairs wearing all black.

Martin Luther said, "Who died?"

She said, "God has."

He said, "God hasn't died."

And she said, "Well, live like it and act like it."

In The Living Bible, Job 5:2 reads, "To worry yourself to death with resentment would be a foolish, senseless thing to do."

The prototype of forgiveness

In John 21, there's a marvelous prototype of forgiveness. Jesus was wounded by Simon Peter. On that chaotic, pressure-filled night when Jesus was arrested, everything came unraveled. Peter was loyal to Jesus for a while. Concealing his identity, Peter followed Jesus right into the courtyard of the high priest. But in that hostile environment, somebody looked at Peter and accused him of being a follower of Jesus, and Peter immediately said, "Oh no; not me!"

Three times Peter was accused. Three times every eye was on him, and three times he impulsively said, "I never heard of Jesus. I don't know him!"

The third time he underscored it with an oath. During the final denial, Jesus was being escorted away, and he overheard what Peter said. Luke 22:61 reads, "The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him …. And he went outside and wept bitterly."

Peter felt terrible about his denial. But the denial hurt Jesus at a time when he needed the support of his friends. That emotional wound may have hurt more deeply than some of the physical wounds he was already beginning to experience.

I want you to see how Jesus dealt with that hurt. He appeared to Peter personally after the resurrection and asked Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?"

I think he was subtly reminding Peter of his boast that he would never deny Jesus even when the others did.

Simon said, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."

Jesus said, "Feed my lambs."

A little later Jesus asked a second time, "Simon, do you truly love me?"

Peter said, "Yes, Lord. You know that I love you."

He said, "Feed my sheep."

A third time he said, "Simon, son of John, do you really love me?" I wonder if he asked him three times to give him an opportunity to affirm his love three times because he had denied him three times. But the Bible says that Peter was a little bit hurt because Jesus asked him a third time.

Peter said, "Lord, you know all things. You know that I love you."

Jesus said, "All right, feed my sheep. Follow me."

Jesus had told Peter he was going to give him the keys to the kingdom. Peter blew it big time. Jesus relinquished his right to retaliate, but he also gave back the keys of the kingdom and told Peter to feed his sheep. He knew Peter would preach the first gospel sermon to open the door to the church on the day of Pentecost. Jesus didn't keep a record of wrongs.

The prescription for healing

From this biblical example, I want us to see a prescription for healing from resentment. The very best prescription is prevention. Don't allow yourself to be resentful. The Bible says that God buries our sins in the deepest sea and doesn't remember them any more. We can't forget because we don't have that capacity. It takes a while for us to forget. But we can bury the past.

Jesus didn't bring up Peter's past offenses. Love doesn't keep a record of wrongs. And if we're going to get along with people, the best way to overcome resentment is not to let it happen. When somebody hurts you, just bury it and go on. Don't make a mountain out of a molehill. Don't get your feelings hurt easily. Just forget it and go on.

Peter once asked how often he should forgive a man—seven times? Jesus said, "seventy times seven." In other words, forgiveness is just a continual attitude in our lives. We realize people are people and don't let resentment build.

But what about wounds from the past so deep you just can't overcome them? You're struggling with bitterness and resentment. What do you do? The first thing you have to do is to admit the problem. Jesus confronted Peter with the issue. You will not be released from resentment if you deny it's there.

Rick Warren has a slogan: Revealing your feeling is the beginning of healing. Don't deny resentful feelings.

I preached to my home congregation some time ago, and I talked in the sermon about how much I appreciated and admired my father because his mother died when he was three and his father, my grandfather, had a real drinking problem. In spite of that, my dad became a great Christian.

In the service was an aunt of mine who has always been a supporter of my ministry. But she and others in the family have repeatedly been in denial about my granddad's drinking. It's kind of a family secret.

After the sermon, my aunt came to me and said, "That wasn't true what you said about your dad's family."

When I said, "What's that?" she paused for a minute and said, "I think your dad was four when his mother died."

She just couldn't bring herself to discuss my grandfather's drinking—and that's forty years after his death. People can go a lifetime covering up. I think that's denying the truth. Love admits the truth and begins to erase it. Admitting your feeling is the beginning of healing.

Job 7:11 reads, "Therefore, I will not keep silent; I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit, I will complain in the bitterness of my soul."

I think that means you find a close friend whom you trust and say, "I don't need a lot of advice. I just want to tell you about some of the bitterness I've been feeling, and I want you to pray for me." You admit the problem.

The second thing we can decide is to forgive. Some people say, "I don't feel like forgiving. I don't want to hear about forgiving because I can't forgive." It's not a matter of feeling. It's a matter of obedience to the Lord's command.

Harry Emerson Fosdick said that when he was a boy he overheard a conversation between his dad and mother at the breakfast table. He heard his dad say, "Tell Harry he can mow the grass today if he feels like it." As his father left, he heard him call back, "Tell Harry he'd better feel like it."

Forgiveness is not a matter of whether you feel like it or not. It's a matter of a command from your heavenly Father.

Mark 11:25 records these words from Jesus: "When you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins." Forgiveness is not an option; it's a command. I doubt if Jesus felt like going to the cross, but he did it because he was obedient to the Father even unto death.

By the way, remember the question Jesus asked the helpless paralytic at the pool of Bethesda? The guy had been paralyzed for 38 years, and he asked him, "Do you want to get well?"

I would ask some of you who have allowed resentment and bitterness to fester for a long time: Do you want to get well? Or do you really like nursing that grudge and feeling sorry for yourself and getting attention? Do you want to get well? If so, you will forgive.

A third thing we can do is take the initiative. Jesus initiated the conversation with Peter when, after his resurrection, he said, "Go tell the disciples and Peter."

Sometimes when we've been wounded, we sit back and wait and pray that the person who really hurt us will come and fall at our feet and beg for forgiveness. Then we'll forgive them. But that seldom happens. Most of the time, if we are resentful, we have to determine to forgive and take the initiative ourselves.

Matthew 18:15 says, "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over." Go tactfully, but take the initiative.

Fourth: release the offender. Romans 12:19 reads, "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."

And when you begin to forgive, you say, "God, I turn this person over to you." You're not saying they didn't hurt you or that you were in the wrong. You're saying you're not the judge or the executioner. You're saying, "Lord, I'm going to trust any vengeance will be taken by you."

In Psalm 109, David struggled with resentment:

"O God, whom I praise, do not remain silent, for wicked and deceitful men have opened their mouths against me; they have spoken against me with lying tongues ….
Appoint an evil man to oppose him; let an accuser stand at his right hand. … May his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow. May his children be wandering beggars; may they be driven from their ruined homes. May a creditor seize all he has; may strangers plunder the fruits of his labor."

Aren't you glad he's a man of prayer! See what he's doing? He's telling God he's bitter and admits it. He's going to release it to God, but is giving God some suggestions about how to get even.

Ruth Graham said it was a great day in her life when she realized it was not her job to change her husband. She said "It was my job to love Billy and God's job to change him." It's not your assignment to make somebody pay. You release the offender to God.

Fifth, focus on the future. There's value in analyzing and reviewing your past just as there's value in occasionally glancing in the rearview mirror of your automobile. But there's a time to get your eyes off the rearview mirror and onto the road ahead. That's why the Bible says in Hebrews 12:15, "See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to trouble and defile many."

Believe that forgiveness is possible. Believe that through the power of the Holy Spirit working in your life the forgiveness can take place. A few of you here today are saying to yourself, "This is so much theory. You don't understand how deeply I've been hurt. You don't understand how those roots are so entangled. It's impossible to reconcile in my life. You've not been hurt as I have."

Probably not. But I can point to others who have been hurt as badly as you or maybe worse, and they've managed to forgive. How about you? Do you really want to get well?

When I was at the Eddyville State Penitentiary several weeks ago, I learned about Paul Stevens. Paul Stevens's daughter was stabbed to death by a neighbor in Evansville, Indiana, years ago. Paul Stevens spent nearly a decade tortured by the memory of his daughter's killer. A year later, the memories proved so hard to bear that Stevens moved his family from Evansville to a new home near Dawson Springs, Kentucky. His daughter's killer was released after seven years behind bars. Stevens's hatred twisted his psyche. "At that time I wanted to see that man dead," Stevens said.

In 1978, nine years after the murder, Stevens tried something radical. At a religious retreat, he finally grasped that his hate couldn't restore his daughter. He vowed to overcome the tragedy and devote his time to working with violent criminals. Since that time, Stevens has spent two days each week working as a counselor and lay minister at a maximum security prison. He has come to call some of the 29 prisoners on death row his friends.

I met one of those prisoners who said he could never have been led to Christ except by this man who had such compassionate understanding. Stevens said treating violent criminals as human beings has helped him lose his hatred and made him a happier person.


If he could forgive that, you can forgive however you've been hurt. If Joseph could forgive his brothers for selling him as a slave into Egypt, if Corrie ten Boom could forgive a Nazi prison guard who tortured her and murdered her family, if Jesus Christ could forgive you for everything that you have done against him, then you, with his power, have the capacity to forgive those who have offended you.

Why don't you begin today?

Bob Russell is a speaker, chairman of the board of the Londen Institute, and author of When God Builds a Church (Howard).

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Sermon Outline:


I. The problem of resentment

II. The prototype of forgiveness

III. The prescription for healing