- The Power of Forgiveness
- Matthew 6:14-15; 5:23-24
- Lyndol Loyd May 5, 2019
This morning we are going forward in our series entitled, “Power Up,” as we look at how God gives us all of the power we need for daily living. We started on Easter Sunday by talking about the power of resurrection and looked at how God’s word speaks to us of how the same resurrection power that was able to lift Christ from the grave is available to us as we seek to follow Jesus.
Last week we examined the power of grace as we talked about how God’s grace is available to all who seek to live in right relationship with Him. Specifically, we talked about how there isn’t anything we can do to earn God’s grace because it is a free gift to us, and likewise how there isn’t anything we can ever do to cause God to love us less.
Today we want to examine the power of forgiveness and the role that it can play in our lives, but before we do, I’d like to ask you to say a quick prayer with me.
Maybe you have felt like the man who was commenting to his friend and said, “Every time we get in a fight, my wife gets all historical on me.” His friend replied, “Don’t you mean hysterical?”
“No, I mean historical, every time we fight she brings up everything I have done wrong in the last 20 years.”
A disagreement about a place to eat ends up as an occasion to talk about the curtains, the couch, the dog, about the other one always getting his or her way. It can quickly snowball from there.
Therein lies the problem with forgiveness, human beings may be least god-like in this area, because we say we forgive, but we don’t forget, and biblical forgiveness requires both.
Jesus understood that something has to die in order for forgiveness to take place. Jesus also knew that many of us wouldn’t get it, so he made the message simple for us. He doesn’t communicate it in a story. He just tries to say it as simply and as clearly as He possibly can in Matthew 6:14-15, “14 If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. 15 But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
This instruction comes as part of the bigger passage that is included in Matthew 5-7 as what is known as The Sermon on the Mount. One day as the crowds were gathering, Jesus went up to the mountainside and sat down. His disciples gathered around him, and He began to teach them. He taught them about:
- the life God blesses
- being salt and light
- about the place of the Law and about grace
- about anger, adultery, divorce, vows, revenge, and love for enemies
- giving to the needy, prayer and fasting
- money and possessions, worry, judging others
- effective prayers, how to treat others, and about a fruitful life.
This passage is often considered “The Magna Charta/The Constitution of (the Rule of) The Kingdom of God”—this is what life in the Kingdom of God is like.
By its inclusion in this teaching, Jesus is saying this is the way forgiveness works in God’s Kingdom: if you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins. Straight forward, to the point, clear as a bell, get the picture?
What was Jesus thinking? Doesn’t he know how hard the work of forgiveness is? I think Jesus knew how hard it is to forgive, remember He was the one who looked down from the cross and said, “Father forgive them.”
Jesus understands that the hard work of forgiveness means
- Letting go: refusing to chain yourself to those who have hurt you
- Moving on: going forward to a new life and a new perspective that focuses on God’s purposes and promises for your life, not someone else’s purposes (purpose of pain) in your life.
- Forgetting: burying it, not ignoring it, or refusing to deal with it—but being done with it and its effects on you.
Forgiveness isn’t pretending nothing has happened or pretending that what happened didn’t hurt. It isn’t going back and starting over as though it never happened.
Instead, forgiveness is refusing to let anything permanently destroy the relationship. There’s a place for saying, “I’m sorry.” There’s a place for assuring the other person that “all is forgiven.” The heart of forgiveness is the priority of relationship.
I think Jesus articulated God’s standard because he knew how hard the work of forgiveness is. He also knew how much more devastating the effects of unforgiveness are and that unforgiveness is actually harder work than forgiveness.
- Not letting go: Instead of letting go you hang on to the event, or the words, or the person who has injured you. Though the everyday challenges of life would tear you away from that person, or circumstance or event, you hang on for dear life—you chain yourself (nobody can chain you to it but you) to that very thing from which you need freedom.
- Not moving on: You can’t move on because it takes all the time, energy, thoughts, and attention you have to stay right where you are.
- Not forgetting: you can’t forget because you water it, nourish it, fertilize it so that the unforgiveness actually grows.
See how much time and attention is needed for unforgiveness?
There is an exception to the rule, a case where you don’t have to forgive, if you don’t want to be forgiven by God. If you don’t need the forgiveness or want the forgiveness of God, you don’t have to worry about this matter.
But if you are like me, you need to know some practical steps to forgiveness because I need God’s forgiveness, and I want it.
It is reported that a man once said to John Wesley: “I never, never, ever, ever forgive.” John Wesley’s response was: “Then sir, I hope you never, never, ever, ever sin.”
Jesus tells us plainly the rule of forgiveness, but He does not tell us here in this passage the way to forgiveness, we have to look at other places in scripture to understand what Jesus means.
I want to suggest to you that forgiveness begins in the mind. For some of us, it is a mind game that we need to fix. We think that we deserve the right to be unforgiving, but if we would just consider a few things, we could settle the mind issues.
- Consider Our Own Sin and Need for Forgiveness
Matthew 18 records for us the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant, who went through the motions of receiving forgiveness because he had a sense of the enormity of the debt he had owed and been forgiven, he could not forgive a comparatively small debt owed him.
John 8 records for us the account of a woman who was caught in the act of adultery. She was dragged before Jesus by a crowd who, with stones in hand, was ready to kill her according to the Law.
Jesus does not contradict their judgment that the woman was wrong, or that she was condemned under the Law. Jesus simply did not let the crowd focus on the woman’s sin until they had focused on their own. “Let the one who is without sin throw the first stone.” When the crowd considered their own sin and need for forgiveness, they dropped the rocks.
Here is the deal, if we look in the mirror, we will drop the rocks. We will recognize that the magnitude of our own sin and our own immense need for forgiveness prevents us from holding anything over another.
- Consider the Consequence
As if “don’t forgive and you won’t be forgiven” weren’t enough consequences (6:14-15); Jesus addresses the consequences in other places.
Unforgiveness separates us from God. Matthew 5:23 points out that more important than offerings to God is reconciliation with those who have something against us.
When we pray and ask, “Forgive me.” God says, “Hold on, we have a bigger problems than this issue; you are at odds with him/her.”—because there is no bigger problem to God than unforgiveness.
- Consider the Cross
When Jesus gathered with his disciples in the upper room and said, “This is my body, and this is my blood”—He also said that His blood was poured out as a sacrifice to forgive the sins of many.
Consider how far Jesus was willing to go to forgive me, you, us, them. Know this, Jesus died not just for our forgiveness but to give us the power to forgive others.
If we want to know how to forgive, for some of us it is a mind game that we need to fix. We think that we deserve the right to be unforgiving, consider our own sin, consider the consequences, consider the cross and do what?
Pray for that person. Force yourself. Say the words even if you don’t mean them yet. “Father, You forgive them, I need to forgive them, even if I don’t want to right now. Help me forgive them.”
Laurie Beth Jones, author of Jesus CEO, speaks about a concept she calls Cup of Blessing/Cup of Sorrow. She says that there are people in our lives who are constantly filling up our cup of blessing, and there are people who are constantly filling up our cup of sorrow, and we know who is who.
She invites people to cup their hands and to imagine all the people who fill up our cup of sorrow on a regular basis and all the stuff they do to pour into our cup. Then she invites people to dump it out.
But I want to push one step further. I want you to take and drop your cup of sorrow.
Refuse to store up suffering; refuse to even have a cup to hold on to things. As quick as you catch things, let them sift through your fingers. Why? Consider our your own need for forgiveness, consider the consequences to you, consider the cross.
Some of us in this room are going to leave mad because you don’t want to hear what God has to say. You are enjoying your unforgiveness.
Some of us in this room are going to find release because you decide enough is enough, and you will do the hard work of forgiveness and find that you will not only extend forgiveness but experience forgiveness in a new way.
The choice is yours. It is indeed hard work, but I promise you that it is absolutely worth it.