Asked for It 2005 - Part 2
The Questions of Forgiveness
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
August 14, 2005
Main Passage: Matthew
"This is your
life..." I used to watch that show when I was a kid. At
least, I used to watch one of its many incarnations. And I remember
that I enjoyed watching as some celebrity would be ambushed with a
celebration of their life. And I would enjoy watching as they would
discuss meaningful events in their lives and as they would bring out
key people from their past.
But just imagine for a moment that it was happening to you. And imagine
that you have no control over it. Everything in your life is going to
be opened up for all to see. Not just the highlights, not just the
accomplishments, but everything. You’re before a large auditorium
filled with people… thousands of people… and everything you’ve ever
done is going to be made known to them. But not just everything you’ve
ever done, but everything you’ve ever said, too. And to make it even
more spectacular, everything you’ve ever thought is going to let out
into the open.
I’ve got to confess that if that were to ever happen to me, I don’t
think I’d be sticking around to take a bow. I think I’d be beating a
path for the nearest exit, trying to vanish from sight. And I would bet
that you would respond in pretty much the same way. You’re probably
thinking right now about how glad you are that nobody has the complete
story of your life. Well, the truth of the matter is, Somebody does.
But the good news is that God promises that it will not be used against
us provided we have experienced the forgiveness of Christ in our lives.
Forgiveness. It’s at the heart of the Bible. Read with me this promise
Isaiah 1:18 (NLT)
“No matter how deep the stain of your sins,
I can remove it. I can make you as clean as freshly fallen snow. Even
if you are stained as red as crimson, I can make you as white as wool.”
SHOW VIDEO CLIP - Color of Sin (from e-ssentials)
We can experience the forgiveness of God in our lives, if we just ask
him. That’s the amazing thing about God. No matter what you’ve done, no
matter where you’ve gone, no matter what you’ve said, no matter who
you’ve been… God can and will forgive you. The Bible tells us that when
you accept Christ into your life, the old person you used to be ceases
to exist, and you are made new. You’re given a fresh start.
But you know what? That’s only one dimension of forgiveness. And the
Bible talks about forgiveness on two dimensions… vertical and
horizontal. The vertical dimension is what we’ve already been talking
about... when we experience the forgiveness of God. The horizontal
dimension is when we forgive and are forgiven by other people. And as
we’ll see this morning, the absence of forgiveness on that horizontal
dimension can have a devastating effect on our relationship with God on
the vertical dimension.
So this morning we’re going to talk about forgiveness on this
horizontal level… in our interpersonal relationships. And to do that,
we’re going to address five basic questions about forgiveness, the
first one being this:
What does it mean to forgive?
Well, what would your
definition be? Forgiveness is... what? The dictionary offers a three
part answer to that question.
To excuse for a
fault or an offense; pardon.
To renounce anger or
To absolve from
payment of (a debt, for example).
That’s the dictionary
definition of what it means to forgive. But let’s talk about it in a
real-life context. Everett Worthington is a clinical psychologist who
has published several books, has contributed to scientific journals,
and has written for different magazines. One of his books was entitled,
To Forgive Is Human: How To Put Your Past In The Past. In a later
interview, he talked about how shortly after he wrote that book his own
mother was brutally murdered. He expressed, “I had to decide whether
what I’d written was just for other people or was something I could
use, too.” Well, what is it that he had written? Here’s how he defined
“Forgiveness is when an individual who’s been hurt or offended decides
and practices giving up his or her desire to avoid the person who hurt
him or her, or giving up the desire to exact revenge on the person, and
also to seek a reconciliation between the two people, if it’s safe and
~ Everett L. Worthington, Jr. (in Spirituality & Health)
That is what it means to forgive. It means you’re going to take
whatever someone has done to you or whatever someone owes to you and
you’re going to set it aside. No longer will it be an issue in your
relationship with them. No longer will it taint your view of them. No
longer will it eat away inside of you and hold you back from being the
person you were meant to be.
Sound like a good idea? Sound like forgiveness is something you’d like
to practice in your own life? I’m sure it does. Problem is, it can be
an extremely difficult thing to forgive. So let’s move on to answer the
question, “Why is it hard to forgive?”
Why is it hard to forgive?
I can think of several
answers to that question, but let me try to narrow it down. Let me give
you three roadblocks to forgiveness. Three reasons it can be hard to
A. It costs a
If you’re forgiving a
loan, it costs you money that’s rightfully yours. If you’re forgiving a
hurt, you’re giving up your right to vengence. And that’s not an easy
thing to do. Gandhi recognized that it can be difficult to extend
forgiveness to someone who has hurt you. He said…
“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the
~ Mahatma Gandhi
It sounds like he must have been familiar with an ancient Indian poem,
written about 400 BC, that said:
“If you want to see the brave, look at those who can forgive.”
~ Bhagavad-Gita (c. BC 400, Sanskrit Poem Incorporated Into the
B. We want
If someone hurts us, we
want to strike them back. It’s only natural. But forgiveness requires
that we don’t give in to this desire, and instead that wish the best
for the one who hurt us. As Mark Twain said:
“Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet sheds on the heel that has
~ Mark Twain 1835-1910, American Humorist, Writer
Forgiveness is a kindness offered to someone who has been unkind to us.
We offer forgiveness instead of seeking justice.
C. We don’t
But what about that old
expression, “Forgive and forget”? Well, that sounds wonderful, but is
it really possible? I would say it depends on what you mean by
“forget”. If you’re talking about removing it from your memory, I would
have to say no. I don’t believe we can do that. When someone hurts us
and apologizes and we say, “Forget about it,” what are we saying? Are
we saying, “It will never ever come up in our memory again”? No,
because we can’t promise that. But what we are saying is, “Don’t worry,
I’m not going to hold this against you.”
That’s what it means to forgive and forget. Not that the hurt will
never emerge in our memory again, but that we’re not going to hold it
against them any longer. That’s what the Bible was talking about when
Psalm 103:12 (CEV)
How far has the LORD taken our sins from us?
Farther than the distance from east to west!
So yes, forgiveness is
hard. It’s not something that happens by accident; we must choose to
forgive someone. By why? Why does it matter? Why is it worth the
effort? If forgiving is so hard, why should I forgive?
Why Should I Forgive?
1. Christ set
In the passage Sandra
read earlier in the service we saw how a king forgave the debt of one
of his officials. But when the official refused to show the same
kindness to someone who owed him, the king was infuriated. The idea is,
since we have been forgiven we should be forgiving. We need to pay it
Colossians 3:13 (CEV)
Put up with each other, and forgive anyone
who does you wrong, just as Christ has forgiven you.
And in Ephesians 4;
Ephesians 4:32 (CEV)
…Be kind and merciful, and forgive others,
just as God forgave you…
2. For my
In that interview with
Everett Worthington that I mentioned earlier, he said this about
“[Forgiveness] really reduces the hostility that a person has toward
someone who harmed or offended him or her. We know from research that
when people feel less hostile, in a chronic way, they tend to have
fewer cardiovascular problems, fewer heart attacks, and to feel less
stress. They don’t get or stay as agitated. The less stress a person
chronically feels, the better his or her immune system functions.”
~ Everett L. Worthington, Jr.
So it’s important to forgive because Christ set the example, because
it’s good for my hearth, and it’s important to forgive so I can be
3. So I can be
Matthew 6:14-15 (NLT)
“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.”
Wow, that’s pretty powerful. Did you catch that? God is more than
willing to forgive you for anything and everything you’ve ever done
wrong. But He expects you to show the same love and mercy and
compassion to anyone and everyone who has ever wronged you, or His
forgiveness will be taken off the table.
Your relationship with God is directly affected by your forgiveness of
others. If that doesn’t motivate you to forgive, nothing will.
4. So I can be
Refusing to forgive
doesn’t bind the other person nearly as much as it binds you. If
someone has wronged you and you refuse to forgive, what happens? They
go about their merry little lives while you are locked into that one
moment in time. That moment of your life when they wronged you has
mastery over you. And until you forgive, you’re going to be trapped
Grudges are like anchors that keep your ship from reaching its
Okay. So forgiveness is
important. We should be forgiving people. So the next question is; How?
How can I forgive? What does it involve?
What Does Forgiveness Involve?
a. Don’t keep
reminding them about it.
When you forgive someone
you are in essence saying, “I will not raise the matter again.” You
can’t keep holding it over their heads.
This is gross... You ever have a scab? I’m terrible with this. If I
have a scab on my arm, I’m a picker. My mother always warned me that if
I kept picking at it, it would never heal. But did I listen? Nooo. So
if I had a cut on my arm and it scabbed over, I’d pick at it until it
started bleeding again. I’d keep reopening the same wound over and over
again, and it wouldn’t fully heal until I stopped.
Not a very pleasant thought, is it? But you know, that’s what we do
when we keep rehashing the wrong that has been done to us. We keep
picking at it and picking at it and picking at it, and we reopen that
wound in our relationship. And we will never experience relational
healing as long as we keep bringing it up.
Now, you will have to talk about it some. You will have to work through
issues and figure out why the hurt occurred in the first place. Don’t
ignore the hurt… work through it and move beyond it. Get it?
In fact, here’s my advice to you… Keep short accounts. Don’t keep a
long list of the wrongs that have been done to you. And don’t keep
holding it over their heads. Strive to be someone that fits these words
by Ralph Waldo Emerson…
“His heart was as great as the world, but there was no room in it to
hold the memory of a wrong.”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson (about Abraham Lincoln)
b. Don’t tell
others about the problem.
During the American
Civil War, General Whiting was jealous of General Robert E. Lee and
consequently spread many rumors about him. Well, the time came when
General Lee had the opportunity to settle the score. Jefferson Davis
who was at that time the president of the Confederate States of America
was considering Whiting for a key promotion and he wanted to know what
General Lee thought of General Whiting. And without hesitation, Lee
commended Whiting in the highest manner. All of the officers present
were astonished. One of them asked General Lee after the interview if
he had forgotten all the unkind words that Whiting had spread about
him, and Lee responded:
“I understand that the president wanted to know my opinion of Whiting,
not Whiting's opinion of me.”
~ General Robert E. Lee
I’m not really a fan of Robert E. Lee, but I think he was on to
something here. If it’s not their business, they don’t need to know.
c. Don’t dwell
on it yourself.
This is where the idea
of “forgive and forget” that we talked about earlier comes in. You may
not be able to erase it from your memory, but you can decide that it
will no longer be an issue between you.
Here’s something I found on the Internet. I have no way to check to see
if it were true or not, so you’re just going to have to take it as is.
But from what I read, a translator was trying to translate a portion of
the Bible into the Inuit language. The verse was this…
1 John 1:9 (NIV)
“If we confess our sins He is faithful and
just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all
But they were having difficulty with the phrase “will forgive us our
sins” because the Inuit language had no word for forgiveness. So the
word they finally chose was this…
Don’t ask me to pronounce it. They chose this word because it literally
“He will think that it never happened to us.”
Not bad. And this has to be sincere. You can’t fake forgiveness; it has
to be genuine. Remember the passage that Sandra read. The king punished
the unforgiving official, and then Jesus said...
Matthew 18:35 (CEV)
That is how my Father in heaven will treat
you, if you don’t forgive each of my followers with all your heart.
Circle those words, “with all your heart.” Forgive from the heart and
move on. Life goes on, so don’t become all wrapped up in one issue
because of an unwillingness to forgive.
Now, I should add here that this may take a while. Particularly if the
hurt was deep. It may be a process of forgiving. It may be a struggle.
It may require a lot of prayer and soul searching. But no matter how
long it may take, you need to make it your goal to set it aside and
As one great philosopher said:
“For man with no forgiveness in heart, life worse punishment than
That was Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid II. You
know what? He was right. For an unforgiving person there can be no
wholeness. But for a forgiving person the doors are wide open for
reconciliation, for healthy relationships, and for enjoyment of life
because there is no bitterness to get in the way.
A few years ago the associated press interviewed a man named Don Nut.
Don was a Texan who at that time had been married to his wife (of all
people) for over 50 years. And when asked about the secret of his
strong, lasting relationship with his wife this was his response: He
said that they never went to bed without settling any differences
between them. Although he also conceded that there had been times when
he would go 10 days without sleep. But forgiveness was important to
Forgiveness. It means that we settle our differences. It means that we
extend grace and mercy to someone who had wronged us and hurt us. It
means that we can enjoy wholeness… not only in our relationships with
each other but also in our relationship with God. Because remember,
God’s forgiveness of us is dependent on our forgiveness of others.
Matthew 6:15 (NLT)
“But if you refuse to forgive others, your
Father will not forgive your sins.”
Just as we finish up here, I want to let you know that forgiveness does
not necessarily negate consequences. In the Old Testament King David
essentially committed adultery and murder. God forgave him, but he
still paid the consequence when God told him the penalty would be the
death of his firstborn son. Forgiveness does not necessarily negate the
consequences. What it does negate is our right of seeking retribution.
In Romans, the Bible says:
Romans 12:18-19 (NLT)
Dear friends, never avenge yourselves. Leave
that to God. For it is written, “I will take vengeance; I will repay
those who deserve it,” says the Lord.
It’s up to God whether or not they’re going to face the consequences.
So what’s up to us? That passage continues on say…
Romans 12:20-21 (NLT)
“If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If
they are thirsty, give them something to drink, and they will be
ashamed of what they have done to you.”
Don’t let evil get the best of you, but conquer evil by doing good.
Let God choose the consequences. You choose to forgive.
Close your eyes and I’m
going to give you an opportunity to respond to the message this morning.
Perhaps you’ve been listening this morning and someone has come to mind
that you need to make things right with. Either you’ve wronged them and
you need to apologize or they’ve wronged you and you need to talk with
them about it. As a matter of accountability I’m going to ask you to
raise your hand right now while nobody’s looking around. Go ahead and
slip up your hand and I’ll pray for you.
All right, secondly perhaps you’re here and you’ve recognized that you
need the forgiveness of God in your life. Perhaps you’ve never
experienced His forgiveness before, and you’d like to. Slip up your
Is there someone who
has hurt me that I need to forgive? What keeps me from forgiving them?
Read John 17:20-21.
How does an unforgiving attitude affect the unity Jesus prayed we would
have? According to these verses, what is the result of unity?
Conversely, what is the result of disunity?
Compare what it
costs me to forgive others with what it cost Jesus to forgive me. By
what right, then, can I withhold forgiveness?