Good morning. Welcome to Christ’s Community Church. Today we are in part two of our series “Getting Past Your Past” and I believe that God is going to work through this series in a supernatural way, because many of us have been held in bondage from things that happened in our past. All of us in some way or another have been hurt, lied to, betrayed, and are carrying around the bitterness, resentment, and unforgiveness. Unfortunately, most of us, as has been my own experience, don’t always embrace the consequences of unforgiveness or the difficulties of forgiveness. As followers of Christ we often think that we have a better handle on forgiveness than we actually do and when it comes to getting past your past I’ve discovered that the consequences of unforgiveness are kind of like an oozing infected sore that refuses to heal.
So today we’re going to look at forgiving others, because if you want to block the power of God from working in your life, the fastest way to do it is to refuse to forgive others. For that matter, if you want to destroy your Christian testimony, if you want to drain all the joy out of your daily existence, the quickest way to get there is to refuse to forgive. There’s actually another word for this, another word for unforgiveness, and that word is resentment. I have found myself struggling with feelings that are rooted deep in unforgiveness, where even many years after the fact I am still really ticked off about something, still unwilling to let it go, and still letting something from the past get in the way of my relationship with that person or other persons today. The problem is that unforgiveness and the resulting resentment takes a toll not just on our relationships, but it takes a toll on us personally, and it takes a toll on our walk with God. It’s just as Nelson Mandela has been quoted as saying, “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” And so here we are today looking at getting past our past as we’re still carrying around the bitterness, the resentment, and the unforgiveness.
Now, I have noticed over the years, working with different people, that most of us have some form of pain, some hurt, that is the result of a misunderstanding or a miscommunication, and our spiritual enemy has used that to drive a wedge between even the most important people in our lives. And so, if you’re here, or you’re listening to this, and you’re above the age of three or four, you have been hurt, someone has wounded you, taken advantage of you, and maybe it’s even been an outright intentional betrayal where someone did something that was very selfish and cruel and right now even just hearing this brings up emotions because the wound is still there, it’s still festering and sore. And maybe you’ve managed to fairly successfully bury it at the bottom of your heart so that you can still function as if everything was okay, but then there’s something that sparks the anger or the bitterness inside maybe at a family holiday, or you bump into somebody at the store, or hear something about them and there’s this rush of negative emotions because you really haven’t dealt with the unforgiveness.
Yet, if there was one thing that Jesus made very clear it’s this. There is an unbreakable connection between the forgiveness you’ve received from God and the forgiveness you are to extend to others. He even taught us to pray in Matthew 6:12, “Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.” There’s a mysterious link between the two and many of us kid ourselves into thinking that we can experience the fullness of God’s grace without extending it to anyone else, but God does take forgiveness very seriously. For that matter, when he forgives you, he forgives you completely. I think it was in Psalm 103 that David said, “He does not treat us as our sins deserve” and yet time and time again we find ourselves wanting to treat others exactly as their sins deserve.
So let’s look at what the Bible says about how to deal biblically with hurt. We’ll look at an example found in Mark’s gospel chapter 11, where Jesus said, “When you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins." And so Jesus is telling us that this is a non-negotiable if you want to be right with God, therefore you and I must do everything in our power to be right with others. We must rely upon God’s forgiveness every day and so if you and I want to experience God’s mercy we must also be willing to show mercy to others. Yet if there was one thing that we could count on throughout the course of human history it’s our ability to offend one another. Now obviously on a world wide scale we see that with nations against other nations. But we also find neighbors, friends, and family members struggling to get along and frequently finding themselves at odds with one another. We’ve all been there, we all know what it’s like to be hurt, and so the first thing that I would like you to consider is who hurt you.
Now I know that we’re all coming to this from different places, some of us have grown numb, because that pain was buried long ago, but others of us that wound, that hurt, is fresh. And I know there’s going to be some resistance with a message like this and someone is going to invariably say, “But you don’t know what so-and-so did to me.” And that’s true, I don’t know, and I don’t want to minimize what you’re experiencing, and I definitely want to acknowledge your pain because there are a lot of tragic things that happen in the world today. And so I don’t know what’s happened to you, but I do know about my personal experience and the instances in my life where I’ve been hurt or those I love have been hurt.
What I hope and pray that you’ll do this morning is that you’ll let that hurt or that offense move from your heart to your mind so that you can deal with it biblically. For you maybe it’s someone at work that betrayed you, it could be a mom or a dad that did something that really hurt you, it could be a child that rejected you or said something really painful to you, it could be that you’re still hurting deep inside because of your spouse’s sexual past and you just can’t let it go. Maybe it’s something that you’re dealing with today, maybe your spouse betrayed you by looking at pornography; they might have lied to you, or strayed away from their marital vows. Someone might have gossiped about you, lied about you, or taken advantage of you. You may have had a spouse cheat on you or you could have had a parent that abandoned you. Maybe some of you are angry at somebody who’s no longer living, they’re gone, yet you’re still hurt and there’s bitterness and unforgiveness.
Who hurt you?
You know, some of you may be a little angry with God, maybe you’re really angry at God, because you prayed for something and you know God could’ve done it, but he didn’t and you’re hurt and you’re disappointed. For some of you it might just be that you’re angry at yourself and you just can’t forgive yourself. Who is it that hurt you?
My prayer is that as that name comes to mind, as that pain crosses the threshold of your heart into your consciousness, that if there is unforgiveness in your heart, that you would remember the words recorded in Luke chapter 18, “What is impossible with man is possible with God (Luke 18:27). And that by the power of the Holy Spirit through the Living Word of God that you would have the ability to forgive those who’ve hurt you.
Number two, the question that many of us have or are considering as we deal with the pain of an offense is “Why should I forgive?” And the answer is simply because unforgiveness hurts me. Corrie Ten Boom said, “Forgiveness is to set a prisoner free and to realize the prisoner was you.” As a matter of fact the Bible tells us in Hebrews chapter 12, “See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many” (Hebrews 12:15). And so many of us have allowed that bitter root to grow up, because he did this or she did that and there’s this root of bitterness that literally is like a cancer to the soul eating away at us, hurting our relationships with others and hurting our relationship with God.
Another reason is that you will experience peace, that gnawing sensation will go away, and that unsettled sense of resentment and discontent will disappear. And so the Bible tells us in Colossians chapter 3, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace” (Colossians 3:15). Because there is a direct connection between forgiveness and peace. If there’s no peace in your personal life, in your marriage, or in your family, maybe it’s because you’re hanging onto the past and refusing to let go of yesterday’s offenses.
A third reason for, “Why should I forgive?” Is because I will need forgiveness again. In Matthew 6:14-15 Jesus says very directly: “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Yet you and I both know that it’s easier said than done, because we tend to hang on to offenses while overlooking our own often greater offenses.
Once Jesus told a story about this saying that there was a king who decided to settle all of his open accounts. As he was going through his books it was discovered that one of his servants owed him millions of dollars. Of course, the man couldn’t pay it back so the king ordered that everything this man owned including his wife and children would be sold so that at least a portion of his debt could be paid.
The man begged the king for mercy, “If you will be patient with me,” he said, “I will pay back everything.” Mercifully, the king canceled the debt and set the man free, yet later this same servant came across a man who owed him money, a comparatively small amount of money, basically a day’s pay, and he demanded that it be paid back. The man begged for little more time, but the servant wouldn’t allow it and threw the man in debtors’ prison.
As you could imagine when word got back to the king he was furious. He said in Matthew chapter 18, "You wicked servant, 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” (Matthew 18:32-34). Then Jesus says something very startling, verse 35, "This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart” (Matthew 18:32-35).
The moral of the story being that God takes forgiveness very seriously. If you want to live in fellowship with God enjoying his unlimited mercy, his compassion, and knowing his forgiveness, he expects you to show the same mercy, compassion, and forgiveness to others. So we forgive because unforgiveness hurts us and if we forgive others he will forgive us. But number three, how do I forgive someone who’s ripped my heart out, who did such and such to me, or who hurt someone that I love?
How do I do it? How do I forgive? We know that we’re supposed to forgive but how do we do it?
The first thing I want to point out to you is to give you an example of our Savior Jesus himself. And the first thing is to pray, to pray for those that have wronged you and hurt you. In Luke chapter 23, when they crucified Jesus it says, “They came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals — one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:33-34). All of creation was mocking their Creator and he looked up to heaven and prayed, “Father forgive them.” Right at that moment of crucifixion, as they were physically hurting him, as he was dealing with that intense pain he prayed.
And Jesus taught this very truth in Matthew chapter 5. He said in verse 43, "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” And that was normal in their culture. For the Romans, revenge was one of the gods they worshiped. For the Jews, they were taught an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and a life for a life. So Jesus says, you know what, you’ve heard that, that’s where most people live, but then he says something totally radical and revolutionary, he said in verse 44, “But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-44).
So the first step to forgiveness is to pray. You may not want to, but start there so God can begin to work. You see, often it takes doing the right thing to generate the right feelings, and here’s what I’ve noticed, my prayers for others may not change them, but my prayers for others always change me. Choose to forgive and start with prayer.
The second thing I want to encourage you to do is to forgive as you have been forgiven. Here’s what the Bible says in Ephesians chapter 4, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). How do I forgive someone who’s hurt me? The same way that Christ has forgiven me. The same way that Christ has forgiven you. You forgive the same way, totally, completely, and constantly.
I love this verse in Colossians chapter 3, because it’s very powerful as the apostle drives this point home again, verse 13 says: “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13). Now that doesn’t make it easy, that doesn’t mean there might not be a mess, there might be some pain, you might have to work through some things as you bear with somebody, but hang in there, bear with them, fight for it, and “Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
That is what we’re called to do, because the forgiven forgive others. You may remember when Peter asked Jesus in Matthew chapter 18, “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” (Matthew 18:21-22). Which is just another way of saying, just keep on forgiving over and over and over again. Since I am forgiven by Christ and I didn’t deserve his grace, because I belong to him I offer to others the same forgiveness that’s been given to me.
Why? Because as Corrie ten Boom once said, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover the prisoner was you.”
God forgives, and most importantly he forgets. He says in Jeremiah chapter 31, “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Jeremiah 31:34). Isaiah says in chapter 38, “In your love you kept me from the pit of destruction; you have put all my sins behind your back” (Isaiah 38:17). If something is behind your back you can’t see it anymore and that’s what Isaiah is saying. God forgives totally and completely. He never revisits your sin again.
Forgive and forget. To forgive is a matter of choice, but to forget is often the result of many choices. It may be that today you need to make the intentional choice to remember again and again and again to forget an offense that has come your way just as God has chosen to forget your own offenses. He says in Isaiah chapter 43, "I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more” (Isaiah 43:25).
We are the forgiven. My prayer is that if you are in bondage to bitterness, resentment, and unforgiveness, that the Spirit of God would touch your heart and God would do a miracle there, so that there would be healing in your relationships, because the foundation of the gospel and the message of Jesus’s forgiveness. And so since we’ve been freely forgiven, we freely forgive those who have offended us.
Pastor John Talcott
Christ's Community Church
303 West Lincoln Avenue
Emmitsburg, MD 21727
August 21, 2016