"Building Better Relationships"
How do you respond when someone hurts you? What do you do when someone offends you in some way? Do you strike back in anger, or do you use a more controlled, forgiving approach?
Last Sunday we began a brand new series on Building Better Relationships. And the primary thing we discovered is that the best relationships are founded on love. Whether youíre talking about a marriage, a friendship, or a relationship with a neighbor, coworker, or even an adversary, the best relationships are founded on love. We saw this in the words of Jesus...
Mark 12:29-31 (NLT)
ďThe most important commandment is this: ĎHear, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.í The second is equally important: ĎLove your neighbor as yourself.í No other commandment is greater than these.Ē
Whether youíre talking about a relationship with God or with anyone else, the best relationships are founded on love. That truth right there is the foundation of this entire message series that will take us through the rest of this month and into October.
Today weíre going to talk about one the hardest but also one of the most essential components of any healthy relationship: forgiveness.
[VIDEO Ė ďIs There Anything That Is Unforgivable?Ē http://www.namb.net/namb1cbvideo.aspx?id=8589935248]
Forgiveness is something I think most of us struggle with. Maybe itís because we feel like weíre giving in, weíre getting the short end of the stick, the other person isnít getting what he or she deserves... whatever the reason, it can be difficult for us to forgive.
You might assume that itís the big things that are harder to forgive, but thatís not always the case, is it? Often itís the small seemingly insignificant things that really get under or skin and gnaw at us. When that happens to you, maybe you even feel a little embarrassed about being so petty and so you avoid dealing with it and deny the bitterness even exists.
And whatís the end result? A ruined relationship. Both big and small offenses can ruin a relationship. But really, the damage goes much further than that.
So letís talk about forgiveness, starting with what a lack of forgiveness can cost you.
How Will Refusing to Forgive Cost Me?
1. Refusal to forgive will destroy your relationship with God.
Not only ďcanĒ it destroy; it ďwillĒ destroy your relationship with God. Jesus expressed this very truth to us in Matthew 6...
Matthew 6:14-15 (NLT)
ďIf 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.Ē
Do you understand what Jesus was saying there? Itís pretty important, so youíd better not miss it. Heís saying that if you donít show forgiveness, you wonít be forgiven. Thatís major.
We often talk here about the forgiveness of God and how essential it is for salvation. Unless you accept the forgiveness of God--which He offers to anyone who will receive it--you donít stand a chance of entering Heaven and experiencing eternal life. You can buy it, you canít earn it, you canít barter for it. You have to be freely forgiven by God.
But according to what Jesus is saying here, while the forgiveness of God is freely offered to everyone, there is a prerequisite. You have to be willing to forgive others.
Mark 11:25 (NLT)
ďBut when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too.Ē
And when you think about it, that makes perfect sense. After all, what did the forgiveness of God cost Him? Letís see... we rebelled against our Creator, we separated ourselves from Him and caused our own problems, we chose to go our own way instead of His, and we found ourselves in a state of complete hopelessness. And we couldnít make things right by ourselves, so God decided Heíd do something about it. He entered His own Creation in the person of Jesus, gave up all His rights and privileges as deity, suffered persecution, was falsely accused and condemned, battered, bruised, and beaten beyond recognition, nailed to a cross, and He died there all because He loved us and He wanted to serve the punishment for our sinfulness so we could experience forgiveness instead.
We rebelled against Him, and it cost Him a lot to forgive us. So just to put it in perspective, what do you have to forgive? No matter what has been done to you, it doesnít come close to what we did to God... what we did to Jesus. So if He can forgive us despite what we had done, we can certainly forgive others. And if we refuse, we are essentially telling God that weíre better than He is... that hurting us is a bigger crime than hurting Him.
2. Refusal to forgive will destroy your relationship with the offender.
Are you really ready to through away a friendship because of a mistake? Even if it was something major, surely itís better to forgive it and reconcile the relationship than it is to allow the relationship to be destroyed.
Do you know what it means to be in a relationship? With a friend, with a spouse, with anyone? It means that youíre going to be hurt, youíre going to be disappointed, and youíre going to have to take a hit occasionally. Granted, you donít what that to happen too often, but every one of us messes up from time to time. We all let our friends and our loved ones down. Donít you want them to show you some grace in those instances? Youíve got to show that same grace to others.
Proverbs 17:9 (NLT)
Love prospers when a fault is forgiven, but dwelling on it separates close friends.
And you know what? Sometimes the friend might not even know that somethingís wrong. Have you ever gotten the silent treatment but you didnít know why? Sometimes people can hold onto a grudge or a resentment, and the other person might be completely oblivious to it. So instead of dwelling on it or stewing about it, either let it go or talk about it and work it out.
3. Refusal to forgive will destroy your relationships with others.
Your refusal to forgive wonít only affect your relationship with the offender, but with mutual friends as well and eventually it will impact all of your relationships. Hereís a verse you might already be familiar with.
Ephesians 4:26-27 (NLT)
And ďdonít sin by letting anger control you.Ē Donít let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil.
Why? Why is it important to resolve your anger quickly? Why does this verse suggest dealing with it even before the sun goes down or before you go to bed at night?
Because anger can quickly turn to bitterness. And bitterness becomes much more difficult to resolve or contain than anger. In fact, bitterness has a way of souring even healthy relationships. Youíll be bitter at the person who hurt you, but eventually that bitterness will spread to other relationships, too. It will distort your perspective, turn you into a negative person, and will taint your view of everyone.
That passage goes on to sayÖ
Ephesians 4:31-32 (NLT)
Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.
4. Refusal to forgive will ultimately destroy you.
Thatís what we were just talking about. It will turn you into a bitter, lonely, miserable person. When you harbor bitterness and hold a grudge against someone else, ultimately youíre hurting yourself. Youíre hurting yourself spiritually and relationally, which weíve already talked about, and youíre hurting yourself psychologically, emotionally, and physically, too. That anger and bitterness just gnaws away inside of you and creates all kinds of problems.
Okay, so weíre convinced of the danger of not forgiving. So letís get to the big question: How can I forgive those who hurt me?
And Iím not just talking about physical hurts; Iím talking about when someone hurts you personally, emotionally, financially, and relationally as well. Iím talking about those who hurt your reputation or hurt your career... those who hurt your family... How can you forgive those who hurt you, no matter in what form that hurt comes?
How Can I Forgiven Those Who Hurt Me?
A. Decide that you are going to forgive.
Remember last week, we talked about how love is not just something you say or something you feel; itís something you do. Itís a decision you make. Itís a choice. And itís the same way with forgiveness. You may not feel like forgiving, but decide that youíre going to forgive anyway. Make the choice, and the feelings will follow.
1 Peter 4:8 (NLT)
Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.
By deciding to love, you are deciding to forgive. It may not always come easily and you may have to work at it, but make the decision to forgive.
And remember, itís a decision you make, not that the offender makes. He or she may or may not seek your forgiveness. Thatís beside the point. You can decide to forgive regardless of whether the person is sorry or not.
Do you remember about five years ago (2006) when a gunman barged into an Amish schoolhouse and opened fire? Several children were killed or wounded, and the gunman himself ended up taking his own life during the ordeal.
It was a terrible event, and people all over North America were appalled by what had happened. But then something amazing happened... the Amish community where the tragedy took place--including the parents of the children who were injured or killed--reached out to the family and extended forgiveness.
Well, the media caught wind of that and, as you might recall, there were actually people who were upset... people who didnít think forgiveness should be offered at all. They even said it was too easy to forgive.
But the truth is, there was nothing at all easy about that forgiveness. Forgiveness is rarely easy. Itís much easier to become angry and bitter and to hold a grudge. Forgiveness takes real strength and courage.
And even though the Amish community decided to forgive, Iím sure they didnít ďfeelĒ like forgiving. They forgave in spite of their feelings. And even after they decided to forgive, Iím sure they had to make that same decision time and time again, every time the anger and the sense of loss would return.
Which takes us to letter ďB...Ē
B. Keep forgiving until you have really forgiven.
Now thatís kind of cryptic, isnít it? What does that mean? It means that forgiveness is not a one-time event; itís a process. You donít just decide to forgive and suddenly itís over. Usually, youíve got to keep forgiving until youíve really forgiven. Every time that hurt comes to mind, remind yourself that you are forgiving it. Let it go. Then when it comes up the next time, forgive it again and let it go.
Like with that Amish community. Some hurts are not easy to forgive nor are they quick to heal, and so it can be a prolonged process to really experience and express forgiveness. The key, though, is to start. start the process of forgiving and stick with it.
Matthew 18:21-22 (NLT)
Then Peter came to him and asked, ďLord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?Ē
ďNo, not seven times,Ē Jesus replied, ďbut seventy times seven!Ē
Now, Peter was asking about when the same person hurts you multiple times. And Jesus basically responds that you should forgive that person each and every time. Was He actually giving and exact number of times to forgive? What He saying to forgive 490 times, but if it happens for the 491st time, watch out? No, of course not. Heís actually saying, forgive and keep forgiving and donít even keep count. In Hebrew numerology, the number seven was considered perfect. Kind of like we might consider it lucky. So Jesus was saying to be perfect in your forgiveness... forgiving completely every time.
Thereís a similar passage in the Gospel of Luke...
Luke 17:4 (NLT)
ďEven if that person wrongs you seven times a day and each time turns again and asks forgiveness, you must forgive.Ē
Now, while that passage is talking about multiple offenses, I think the same principle applies to a single offense that you might have difficulty forgiving. If you think youíve forgiven it but it starts to eat away at you again, forgive it again. And keep on forgiving it until youíve really forgiven it. Make your forgiveness perfect and complete.
C. Do not continually raise the issue and use it against the offender.
Hereís a tough one. Say your spouse made a promise to you and then broke it. You deal with it and talk it out and forgive it. But what do you do the next time you get in an argument? Do you bring it up again? Do you start at your spouse with... ďYou always...Ē ďRemember last time...Ē Do you use that previous offense as a weapon in your next argument? Do you continue to hold it against them and hold it over his or her head? Not if youíve really forgiven it.
Forgiving means youíre letting it go and youíre not going to hold it against the person anymore, whether itís your spouse or anyone else. Youíre not going to keep bringing it up, and youíre not going to spread it around to other people as gossip.
The newly formed church in the Greek city of Corinth apparently had its issues. If you read through the two letters of Paul to the Corinthians, you can see that he had to address a whole bunch of problems they were experiencing. One of the problems had to do with someone in the church who had caused some trouble and hurt a lot of people. So Paul wrote to the church with some advice on how to handle that person.
2 Corinthians 2:5-8 (NLT)
I am not overstating it when I say that the man who caused all the trouble hurt all of you more than he hurt me. Most of you opposed him, and that was punishment enough. Now, however, it is time to forgive and comfort him. Otherwise he may be overcome by discouragement. So I urge you now to reaffirm your love for him.
Paulís saying, ďLet it go. Youíve already dealt with it and youíve handled it appropriately; now donít hold it against the person anymore. Forgive and move on.Ē
Now, I should also point out that forgiveness is not the same thing as trust. Donít confuse the two. To use an extreme example, you might forgive a child molester but that doesnít mean you have to hire that person to baby-sit. You might forgive a spouse who commits adultery but that doesnít mean you donít keep your spouse on a tight leash and seek counselling. You can forgive and still use some common sense and take precautions against similar offenses in the future.
D. Develop a longer fuse.
Have you ever known people who are hypersensitive and offended over the least little thing? Itís like youíre always stressed out and walking on eggshells around them, you have to guard everything you do and say, and they still get offended. You just canít win. Plus, when they get upset over some seemingly insignificant issue, they somehow manage to blow it up to monumental proportions.
That kind of person can get ticked off at someone over nothing, even when the other person has done absolutely nothing wrong. So my admonition to you is, donít be like that. And if you are, my advice is simple: knock it off.
Actually, thatís not my admonition. Itís Paulís. He wrote in Colossians 3...
Colossians 3:13-14 (NLT)
Make allowance for each otherís faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.
So Paul says youíve got to take a breath and overlook a few faults. Instead of blowing up over every little thing, just let it go and forgive it. How? By clothing yourself with love instead. Love builds unity and harmony, while anger and bitterness divides.
James made a similar point when he wrote...
James 1:19 (NLT)
Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.
Be slow to get angry... develop a thicker skin... donít be so quick to fly off the handle. Whatís he say to do instead? be quick to listen and slow to speak. Why? Because you might just discover that you misunderstood or werenít aware of the big picture. You see, itís easy to be offended when youíre consumed with yourself and live within a vacuum. But when you actually listen to others and take an interest in them while learning to restrain yourself, you might discover thereís no real reason to be offended after all.
So my question for you this morning is, is there someone you are holding a grudge against? Is there someone youíre bitter toward? Is there someone you need to forgive? Is there someone you need to call or visit this afternoon to make things right?
What are you angry about, anyway? Do you really have a reason? Or are you just being overly sensitive? Were you overtired or having a bad day and so you took offense too easily? Maybe the problem wasnít with the other person; maybe it was with you. Can you decide to just let it go and move forward?
Oh, and if you have been angry and bitter, have you lashed out yourself? Have you said or done things to hurt the other person? Do you need to ask forgiveness yourself? Weíre going to talk more about that next week... about when the shoeís on the other foot and youíre the one in need of forgiveness. But when you do something to hurt others, even if they hurt you first you still need to seek their forgiveness.
1. Read the ďParable of the Unforgiving DebtorĒ - Matthew 18:21-35.
2. What did the man in the story do wrong? Didnít he have a right to be repaid?
3. What role does mercy play when it comes to justice?
4. How have you hurt God? How has God forgiven you?
5. If God can forgive you so completely, how can you better extend forgiveness to others?
Copyright © 2011 Greg Hanson