You Asked for It 2005 - Part 2
The Questions of Forgiveness
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
August 14, 2005


Main Passage: Matthew 18:21-35 (NLT)


"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 from God…

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 resentment against.

  • 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:

“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 possible.”
~ 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 forgive…

A. It costs a lot.

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 strong.”
~ 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 Mahabharata)


B. We want justice.

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 crushed it.”
~ 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 forget.

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 it asked:

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 the example.

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 forward.

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 physical health.

In that interview with Everett Worthington that I mentioned earlier, he said this about forgiveness:

“[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 forgiven.


3. So I can be forgiven.

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 free.

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 right there.

Grudges are like anchors that keep your ship from reaching its appointed destination.

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?

Three Things:

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. And third…


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 unrighteousness.”

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 means…

“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 move on.

As one great philosopher said:

“For man with no forgiveness in heart, life worse punishment than death.”

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 them.

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 hand.


Application Questions:

  1. Is there someone who has hurt me that I need to forgive? What keeps me from forgiving them?

  2. 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?

  3. Compare what it costs me to forgive others with what it cost Jesus to forgive me. By what right, then, can I withhold forgiveness?



Copyright © 2005