Note: The following sermon transcript does not match the video version of the sermon—it matches only the audio version.
It is obvious that we live in a world where forgiveness is desperately needed. We know from Scripture, and we know from experience, that the heart of all sinful people is full of hostility. We are by nature prone to anger, prone to resentment, prone to bitterness, prone to hate, and even prone to murder. The slaughters that have gone on in world history are just really beyond comprehension, beyond comprehension.
I always think about the killing fields between Russia and Germany, a period of about ten years, when between the Russians and the Germans they massacred thirteen million people; none of them in the military, just massacring people. That’s just one little brief time in human history that marks the depth of the anger, the resentment, the bitterness, the hatred, and the murderous intent of the human heart. This is not hard to understand, because the world is populated by people who are sons of Satan. Jesus said to the Jewish leaders, the most moral of all men, “You are of your father the devil; and he was, from the beginning, a murderer. And so you seek to kill Me.”
There is so much hostility in the human heart that it literally is erupting; and if it’s not controlled, it will totally destroy the world. It is a conflagration like no other. Hatred, anger, resentment has erupted over the edges of the human volcano in our day, even today and in our culture, with a deadly kind of violence that is threatening to bury the land in an avalanche of vengeance and violence. We’re starting to see violence as just a way of life. It is not just religious hatred, such as we see in the extremes of Islam, it is just the hatred of the human heart that seems to be constantly reaching its erupting point and spilling out its vicious lava to consume all who are in its flow.
The world is characterized by anger. I don’t think in my lifetime I’ve ever seen so many people angry about so many things. And it all has been justified by psychology for many, many years: you have a right to be angry, your anger is justified, you were mistreated, everybody was abused, everybody is a victim. You need to be angry; anger is how you deal with the way you were mistreated. Anger has been fueled in this society for years by psychology. It’s further fueled by narcissistic self-centeredism, where everybody thinks they’re the most important person in the world; and anybody who offends them is worthy of the severest kind of repercussions, perhaps, even violence.
In James chapter 4, we get a little insight into this. “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust, you do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious, you cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. Your satisfaction, your desires, your possessions, your pleasures consume you; and as a result of that, you do damage to the people around you to get what you want.”
This is not surprising. Ecclesiastes 7:9, the wisdom says this, the wisdom of Solomon: “Anger resides in the heart of fools.” It lives in the heart of fools; and all those without God are fools. Anger is a universal human emotion and driving motivation.
If any one corrupt attitude defines our culture, it is anger. There’s anger in our music, there is anger in our films, there is anger in our television programs, there is anger in our schools, there is anger in our universities, there is anger in our families, there is anger everywhere in this society; and the absent virtue in all of this is forgiveness. The absence of forgiveness destroys relationships. It is, in the end, the destroyer of relationships. It’s impossible to live in the world and not offend someone; and that then demands forgiveness. And where there is no forgiveness, there is just the marking up, the mounting up the accumulation of offenses that continues to escalate anger. Never is a person more like Satan than when he hates. Never is a person more like Satan than when he is angry, angry to the point that he wishes to kill.
Not all anger leads to killing, because we are restrained. We are restrained by the consequences. But you know as well as I do, that if there was not the threat of arrest and trial and incarceration and the death penalty, if people were actually free to do whatever they wanted to do without repercussions, mankind would have slaughtered himself long ago. Never is a person more like Satan than when he is angry, when he hates, and when his desire is to eliminate a life. On the other hand, never is a person more like God than when he loves and forgives.
That’s how it is. The world belongs to Satan. They’re of their father the devil, therefore they hate, they are angry, they are violent, they do damage, they kill. But on the other hand, those of us who name the name of Jesus Christ, those of us who are believers ought to be marked by our love; and our love manifests itself in forgiveness. The hating, angered heart of the sinner is applauded by contemporary psychology, which says its not healthy to forgive. “It’s not healthy to forgive. You’ve been victimized, you should be angry. It’s not your fault. You’re not responsible. Vengeance is justified; get whatever vengeance you need to satisfy yourself.”
But the price of that anger, the price of that hate, the price of that unforgiveness, the price of that vengeance is extremely high. It devastates all relationships; and eventually, as it accumulates, it literally destroys an entire society. We know that on a personal level, and we’re beginning to see it escalate in a way that we haven’t in this country in the past: hostility, hatred, anger, boiling over and being justified.
So I want you to understand what the Bible says about the importance of forgiveness; and we’re going to look at that wonderful little letter by the apostle Paul called Philemon, but not tonight. That’s for next time, because I want you to understand the big picture of forgiveness as presented in the Bible, and we’ll take the bird’s eye view, and then we’ll go down and get the worm’s eye view in the Philemon, which gives us a wonderful illustration of forgiveness. In fact, it’s a whole book written on the subject of forgiveness.
But, first of all, I want to remind you that Proverbs 19:11 says, “A man’s discretion makes him slow to anger, and it is a man’s glory to overlook a transgression. A man’s discretion makes him slow to anger,” – discretion being wisdom – “and it is a man’s glory to overlook a transgression.” Man doesn’t get any higher than when he overlooks a transgression. That’s his glory. That’s the pinnacle of being a human being when you rise above your anger and your hatred, your hostility, your bitterness.
Proverbs 10, verse 12 says, “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all transgressions, love covers all transgressions.” And Peter referred to that in 1 Peter 4:8 where he says, “Love covers a multitude of sins.” It is a man’s glory to overlook a transgression.
Of all the human qualities, of all the human virtues, none is more godlike than forgiveness. None is more godlike than forgiveness. None of us would have any relationship to God that would be considered at all positive if God were not a forgiving God. We who know God, we who have been redeemed by God, we who have received salvation have received it because God forgives.
Never are you more like Satan than when you’re angry, and you hate, and you desire to kill. Never are you more like God than when you forgive; that is a man’s glory. That should be on display in the church of Jesus Christ in every relationship, and collectively in the community of believers.
And I will just tell you this: I’ve lived long enough to know that you can go to many, many churches, and you will find, if not sort of smoldering below the surface, hostility, you’ll find open hostility. And it comes down to the fact, not that people were offended, but that when they were offended they refused to forgive. It splits churches. It harms the testimony of the gospel. “By this shall all men know that you’re My disciples, if you have love one for another.” Love forgives.
The price of not forgiving is very high. Let me approach it negatively at least for a minute. The problem with not forgiving is that unforgiveness imprisons people in their past. Unforgiveness imprisons people in their past. As long as you refuse to forgive offenses and the offenders, you are shackled to their offense. As long as you refuse to forgive, you keep the pain alive. In fact, you pour gas on the wound.
As long as you refuse to forgive, it’s like picking at an open sore; you constantly keep it from healing. You’re sentencing yourself to go through your life feeling as bad as you do now, and likely worse, because you fuel that lack of forgiveness. You choose to love hate and to love anger, and sentence yourself to bondage to that horrible reality. Only a fool would imprison himself in a past offense by refusing to forgive in love and move on.
Secondly, unforgiveness not only imprisons you in your past, but it cumulatively produces a deep-seated bitterness. It’s an infectious cancer in the heart, and it metastasizes. Wherever that first problem was, wherever that first offense was, it begins to grow, and it begins to grow and expand and take over more and more of your life; and bitterness becomes malignant. Thoughts become malignant. Memories become harassing memories that distort how you see life. Anger becomes out of control, and the people who are around you become the victims of that out of control metastasizing anger that comes as a result of a failure to forgive some offense some time ago.
You entertain constantly thoughts for revenge. You become desperate about the fact that you wish the worst on the person that you will not forgive. Every conversation becomes another forum for your ugliness, for your hostility, for your criticism, for your defamation, for your slander; and eventually it morphs into all kinds of exaggerations and lies about the reality of that person; and you have passed on your own life a death sentence of bitterness and anger that will follow you to the grave.
One of our pastors was telling me last week, he was counseling a couple, and the woman said, “I would rather go to hell than forgive my husband.” That is unbelievable. What a horrendous death sentence.
Now Scripture speaks to the issue of forgiveness. There are at least seventy-five word pictures of forgiveness in the Bible. I won’t give you all of them; but there are at least seventy-five of them. Let me give you a few.
To forgive – these are metaphors. To forgive is to turn the key, open the cell door, and let the prisoner walk free. To forgive is to write in large letters across a debt “nothing owed.” To forgive is to pound the gavel in a courtroom and declare “not guilty.” To forgive is to shoot an arrow so high, so far, it can never be found again. To forgive is to take out the garbage and dispose of it, leaving the house full of cleanliness and sweet-smelling fresh air.
To forgive is to loose the anchor that holds the ship, and set it free to sail. To forgive is to grant a full pardon to a condemned and sentenced criminal. To forgive is to loosen a strangle-hold on a wrestling opponent. To forgive is to sandblast a wall of graffiti, leaving it looking brand new. To forgive is to smash a clay pot into a thousand pieces so it can never be put together again. Those are biblical metaphors of forgiveness.
Forgiveness is a marvelous, virtuous, liberating, loving attitude and act. The attitude of forgiveness is behind Proverbs 24:17, “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls or stumbles.” Forgiveness is a virtuous, liberating, loving attitude and act. It makes sense to forgive. It’s healthy; it’s wholesome; it’s sensible. It frees you from tension, anxiety. It brings you peace. It solicits love.
One philosopher said this: “[Only the brave] know how to forgive!—it is the most refined and generous [element] of virtue human nature can arrive at.—Cowards have done good [deeds] and [performed] kind actions; cowards have even fought,—nay, sometimes even conquered;—but a coward never forgave! it is not in his nature [or his heart];—the power [to forgive] flows only from a strength and greatness of soul, conscious of its own [humility] and security, and [able to rise] above the little temptations of resenting every fruitless attempt to [steal] its happiness.” End quote. There’s some truth in that philosophical prose.
But we are compelled to a much deeper discussion. I think it is brave to forgive, and I think there are people, unconverted people, who understand the benefit of being brave enough to forgive so they don’t sentence themselves to a life of bitterness. But I want us to think about it much more deeply than just philosophizing; I want us to come to the Word of God.
While forgiveness may be a virtue in some unbelievers lives, because they want to void the death sentence of unforgiveness, and while unbelieving people can tap into divine providence, they can tap into common grace, they can learn some things about life that make life better and make life easier, Christians should be forgivers as the normal course of our lives. Some nonbelievers learn the benefit of forgiving: some, some of the brave ones. Every Christian should be marked by forgiveness. All of us should be forgivers. And there are some compelling biblical, theological, spiritual reasons why we are to forgive. Now, tonight, get ready, I’m going to give you ten. There could be more; I want to give you ten. I’m going to move the clock over here so I can sort them out while I’m watching.
Number one – and we’ve already made this statement, but let me say it again: Forgiveness is the most godlike act a person can do. Forgiveness is the most godlike act a person can do. And if we are the children of God, the sons of God; if God has taken up residence in us; if God is our Father and we are His sons, we therefore should manifest His nature.
In Matthew chapter 5, as our Lord was preaching the Sermon on the Mount, in verse 43, He said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’” Hatred, the lack of forgiveness was a part of Jewish culture; and it was made noble in that culture, as it is in ours. Hatred was noble. There are some people you should hate, according to them.
But our Lord says, “But I say to you, love your enemies. Don’t hate your enemies, love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you,” – and then this, verse 45 – “so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven;” – you’re never more like God than when you forgive – “for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good. He sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you’re to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” And the perfection that our Lord has in mind is demonstrated in forgiving your enemies.
No act is more divine than forgiveness. That is what marks God. If God was not a forgiving God, none of us would know God. Never are we more like Him than when we forgive.
In Exodus 34, God introduces Himself to Moses on the mountain as the Lord, the Lord God, compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, forgiving iniquities, transgressions, sins, manifesting lovingkindness. God is a forgiving God.
Psalm 32: “How blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquities.” God is a forgiving God. Psalm 85 says essentially the same thing. Psalm 130, verse 4, the psalmist says, “There is forgiveness with You.” And then the wonderful words of the prophet Isaiah, chapter 1, familiar to us: “Come now, let us reason together,” – verse 18, says the Lord – “though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool.” God is a forgiving God.
In the forty-third chapter of Isaiah – this is a feature, obviously, of Isaiah’s ministry to preach that God is a forgiving God. But in chapter 43, I think it’s down in verse 25, yes: “I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” Isaiah 43:25, that’s a good one to write down: “I wipe out your transgressions for My own namesake, for My own sake, for My own glory, because it is to reveal My glory that I forgive you. I will not remember your sins.”
And, again, in the familiar words of Isaiah 55 that you know as well: “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call on Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the Lord, and He will have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.” God is a forgiving God.
The New Testament makes the glorious statement about the forgiveness of God of the worst of sinners in Luke 15 in the story of the prodigal, right? The prodigal was the worst sinner that Jesus could invent in the parable that He made up, the worst possible sinner. No respect for his father, no respect for his family, no respect for his inheritance. Took his money, ran, went into the foreign country, wasted his money with prostitutes. Ran into a famine, is destitute. He’s eating the food, or trying to eat the food that was fed to pigs, unclean animals.
In the midst of the horror of that kind of dissolution, he comes back to his father. And you know the story. His father runs to him when he sees him, throws his arms around him, kisses him all over the head, put a ring on his finger and a robe on his back, sandals on his feet, and celebrates his forgiveness. The parable of the prodigal is really the parable of the forgiving father; and the forgiving father is God, Christ showing us His forgiveness.
On the cross, what does Jesus say? “Father, forgive them; they know not what they do.” And Stephen following that as he’s being stoned, under the bloody stones, in Acts 7, cries out, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge,” following the same forgiving pattern of his Savior.
And again I say, never are you more like God than when you forgive. And that is why we read some very straightforward instruction. Look at Ephesians chapter 4, the end of the chapter. Ephesians chapter 4, verse 31. This is to the believers, to all of us: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander” – and those are all related – “be put away from you, with all malice,” meaning all evil. “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” This assumes that there have been offenses against you.
When God says, “Don’t be angry; forgive,” He’s assuming offenses against you. But it is godlike to fully and completely forgive. And if you follow that into the next chapter, chapter 5, verse 1 says, “Therefore be imitators of God.” That’s like an echo of Matthew 5:44, “Be imitators of God, as beloved children’ and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave himself up for us.”
If you want to be like God, if you want to be like Christ, don’t be angry: forgive, forgive. That is basic Christian instruction. And were it followed, we wouldn’t have the devastated relationships we have in the church. Forgive; that is how Christians are to live their lives. The assumption is, we will be offended. The assumption is, we will forgive.
Colossians chapter 3, verse 12, “You are the chosen of God. You are holy and beloved. Put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other. Whoever has a complaint against anyone without any qualification, whoever, anyone, you forgive. Just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.”
By the way, Paul was eager to forgive, wasn’t he? He forgave even the people who put him in jail. He forgave even the people who tried to harm him by telling lies about his faithfulness. He practiced that godlike virtue. So, number one, never are you more like God than when you forgive.
Number two, very important: It is not murder only, which is forbidden by the sixth commandment. Sixth commandment back in Exodus 20 says, “You shall not kill. You shall not kill.” You say, “Well, I haven’t killed anybody.”
Jesus said something about the Ten Commandments something very specific. Turn back to the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, and this is what our Lord said, verse 21: “You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder,’ – you shall not commit murder, of course, that’s Exodus chapter 20, verse 13. It’s repeated in Deuteronomy – ‘you shall not commit murder.’ And then you have been taught that, ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’” And, of course, there’s the death penalty given back in the ninth chapter of Genesis for someone who murders.
But Jesus says, “Let Me take you deeper into that. But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court. Whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.” Those are shockingly strong words. The rabbis, the scribes of Judaism had devised a tradition based on Exodus 20, verse 13: “Don’t kill. Don’t kill.”
The Jews were aware of the fact that murder was forbidden, and that you could lose your life if you were a killer. They thought if they hated and were angry and full of vengeance, but stopped short of killing, they had kept that command. Jesus said, “No. I say to you, there’s far more in that command than the actual act of murder. There is the intent of the heart. There is the intent of the heart.”
John wrote it this way, 1 John 3:15, “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer.” Jesus said, “If you’re angry with someone, you are guilty.” He swept away all self-righteousness. He unmasked all the hypocrisy and revealed what was under the surface: a murderous kind of vice of anger and unforgiveness. The translation “you good-for-nothing” is a word rhaka. It’s a vicious epithet that is intended to have sort of a verbal power in and of itself: rhaka. A term of abuse, a term of derision, a term of arrogant contempt and hate.
“If you say that to someone, you’re guilty before God, you’re a killer. Or if you say, ‘You fool, you stupid one.’” By saying that, the intent is you have cursed someone: “You godless one.” “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” “If you do this, you are guilty enough to go to hell.”
Now you say, “Is that true of Christians?” It is. It is true of Christians. You won’t go to hell because your sins are forgiven. But you are guilty enough with that in your heart to go to hell as if you had killed somebody.
You have to see God’s law in the way that God intended it to be seen. It was never to be a superficial fulfillment that satisfied Him, some kind of external hypocrisy. You need to see the one you won’t forgive as the creation of God. You’re to love that one, forgive that one. If he’s a Christian, he bears the moral and spiritual image of God. If he’s a non-Christian, he bears the natural image of God. The Bible says it another way: “Love your neighbor as” – what? – “yourself.” You see the image of God in you, see the image of God in someone else.
Recognize that lack of forgiveness is selfish. It is murderous in its intent. It is angry; it is hostile. It desires damage, and even death to its object, when you as a believer should be characterized by love for your enemies and, certainly, love for your friends in Christ.
There’s a third principle: Whoever has offended you has offended God more. Whoever has offended you has offended God more.
And here’s the point: If God, who is most offended, has forgiven, why can’t you? Have you now established yourself as a higher court? Are you above God? Are you going to say, “God may forgive you, but I will not. I have higher standards than God,” or, “I am more significant than God. You offended God and He forgave you; you offend me, and I won’t”? If God is the most holy and has forgiven the greater offense, can’t you, the least holy, forgive the lesser offense? By the way, any wrong done against a person is done against God.
Back in Psalm 41 – there’s a couple of places: Psalm 41 and 51, you may remember. But in Psalm 41 and verse 4: “As for me, I said, ‘O Lord, be gracious to me; heal my soul, for I have sinned against You.’” David says, “I’ve sinned against You.”
In reality, David had sinned against somebody else, but he saw it for what it really was. Every sin against anybody is a sins against God. It is an offense to another person to sin against them; it is a far greater offense against God.
Ten chapter later in the Psalms, in Psalm 51, verse 4, the psalmist David, going back to his horrendous sin of immorality with Bathsheba, and then having her husband put in a compromising position in the battle so he lost his life, he actually committed murder. He comes before God in verse 4. Though he had sinned against Bathsheba and he’d sinned against Uriah and he’d sinned against his own family and he’s sinned against Israel, this is what he says: “Against You, You only, I have sinned and done what is evil in Your sight.”
Every sin that you ever commit may be a sin against somebody else, every sin committed against you may be a sin against you; but it is far greater a sin against God, who is absolutely holy. If God is the most holy and the most offended and most willing to forgive, who are you not to forgive? Are you someone more important than God, with a higher standard than God; someone who deserves more than God deserves? Shall we who really are in some ways incidental to the sinful offense not forgive, we who are so unholy as to need constant forgiveness, are we unwilling to give it?
So we forgive. We forgive, because God forbids anger, He forbids hate, He forbids attitudes of vengeance, and He commands us to forgive. We forgive, because He has forgiven, and He is the most offended, and because we are never more like God than when we forgive and we declare ourselves to be His children.
Now number four in our progression: The Bible calls on us to forgive, because it is only reasonable that those forgiven the greater sins forgive the lesser ones. It is only reasonable that those forgiven the greater sins forgive the lesser ones.
Look, we have been forgiven by God, and we have consistently sinned against Him. Every sin that every person ever commits is against God. He is the one most offended and constantly offended. If God forgives us this mass of sin, which is inconceivable in its accumulated debt, which is unpayable, which cannot be undone by us; but if God is willing to forgive us that great debt of sin, shall we not forgive the small debts of the people in our lives.
The illustration of this is in Matthew 18, and again, it’s the teaching of Jesus. Turn to Matthew 18. This is one of the most memorable of our Lord’s parables. Peter comes to Jesus, in chapter 18 of Matthew, and says, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin again me and I forgive him? And I’m dealing with people,” – Peter says – “and they sin against me. How often am I supposed to forgive them?” And he thinks that he’ll get an affirmation, so he says, “Up to seven times?”
There are some historians that tell us the Jews said, “Three times you forgive, and after that you don’t.” So Peter thought he’d double it and add one. “Do I forgive seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven: four hundred and ninety times.” The point is, you just keep forgiving, and forgiving, and forgiving, and forgiving, and forgiving. It’s constant.
And then He tells this parable: “For this reason” – to explain this forgiveness – “the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him.” A talent was fifteen years of labor; ten thousand talents is an astronomical, unpayable, inconceivable debt. So this man has embezzled the king’s money, and has nothing to return.
He was brought to him. “He didn’t have the means to repay,” – verse 25 – “his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children” – at least he could get something by selling them all into slavery – “and to take all that was paid for them as a small amount of repayment. So the slave fell to the ground, prostrated himself before the king, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I’ll repay you everything.’” Well, that was ridiculous; that was not ever possible. But he was desperate, so he made promises he had no capacity to fulfill.
Verse 27: “And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt.” Now we know who the parable is about, right? This is an unpayable debt; the man has no capacity to pay it back. But the lord, the king is compassionate, and forgives him the whole debt. That’s a picture of God.
“But that slave” – verse 28 – “went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii;” – that’s a hundred days work – “seized him, began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him and made the same speech, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’ – and that was possible – “But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what he owed.”
How do you pay back what you owe when you’re in prison? This is insensitive ingratitude. This is ingratitude that’s shocking. This man has been forgiven an utterly unpayable debt, and he goes out and strangles a man who owes him a hundred days work and throws him in prison. How can you receive such magnanimous and massive forgiveness and not give a small forgiveness to somebody who offended you?
Look, you can’t receive the forgiveness that you receive from God and be unforgiving over the petty things that offend you. God has given you forgiveness for an unpayable debt. To go out and choke people, as it were, and throw them into debtors prison, do damage to their lives because of small offenses to you is to manifest that you are a disgusting person. You are disgusting, that you would take such forgiveness and not give any in return. We deserve damnation; God gives us mercy. That should teach us that we give our debtors mercy as well.
Now there’s a fifth point: The one who does not forgive will not enjoy the fellowship and love of other believers. Watch what happens in this story, while you’re in Matthew 18. He’s talking to the disciples, and He’s in this story, and He tells about how the man took the full forgiveness, then went out and choked this man and threw him in debtors prison.
In verse 31, he says, “So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened.” You know what happened to that man? He was cut off from his friends. You will be distanced from your friends. You are an unforgiving person; nobody wants to do anything in your presence for fear that that attitude will come to them. You will literally end up isolated.
If you are an unforgiving person, you are leaven, you are sinful, you are a bad influence. You will be alienated from others, even in the life of the church; they will stay away from you. You are a hostile, threatening, unloving person; and you will forfeit the fellowship. No longer will people stimulate you to love and good deeds; they will isolate you.
These friends, in verse 31, turned on the unforgiving man. And not only did they turn on him, but they reported him to the lord, to the king, and they told the king that, “This man that you have forgiven the unpayable debt has done this.” They turned him in. This is a form of discipline; they’re going to report this man to the king. You do this in the church, be an unforgiving person, and you’re going to isolate yourself, alienate yourself, and the church is going to turn you over to the Lord.
What’s that going to do? That takes us to the sixth point, and it comes out of the same parable: Failure to forgive results in divine chastening, divine chastening.
Verse 32: “Summoning him, his lord the king said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ And his lord, moved with anger,” – holy anger – “handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him.” And then this: “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.” Wow. God will turn you over to the torturers.
What does that mean? Well, it’s what James said in James chapter 2, verse 13: “Judgement will be merciless to the one who shows no mercy.” Serious chastening from the Lord. If you’re not a forgiving person, the Lord will chasten you.
Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 5:7, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain” – what? – “mercy.” The unforgiving brother, the unforgiving brother is isolated and brought under the chastening of God. It’s a serious thing not to forgive for all these reasons.
And then number seven, and this is powerful: The one who does not forgive will not be forgiven. The one who does not forgive will not be forgiven.
When our Lord – again, back in the Sermon on the Mount, laid out so many of these principles, He said this in chapter 6, verse 12, in teaching His disciples to pray, “Pray this way. Say, ‘Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors,’ – or – ‘forgive us our trespasses, as we also forgive those who trespass against us.’”
“You forgive us, and we’ll forgive them;” that’s how it works. “You’re the king who forgave us the unpayable debt, and now it’s our responsibility to forgive other as you forgave us. This is how we demonstrate that You’re our God, and You’re our Father, and we’re Your children, and we bear Your image.”
But then this warning, verse 14: “If you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. If you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” Is that hard to understand?
You say, “Could that apply to a believer?” It does. It doesn’t mean that you’re not justified, it just means that in the present act of your unforgiveness, you will not enjoy the blessing and the forgiveness of God on that level, because He will not give it to you. God deals with you in the way that you deal with others. God deals with you in the way that you deal with others.
Yes, we have eternal forgiveness in our justification; that settles the issue of our future blessing. But temporal forgiveness is an issue in our sanctification, and that settles the issue of our temporal blessing. Heaven is settled, but life here is not; and if you want to stay in the place of blessing, then you must forgive.
Through the years of my life as a Christian and as a pastor, I have seen the emptiness, I’ve seen the dryness, I’ve seen the insipid dullness. I’ve seen the lack of joy, the lack of power, the lack of meaning in relationship. I’ve seen the harm to a marriage and a family that unforgiveness produces.
You have the broken relationship based upon the unforgiveness, then you compound that by the discipline of the Lord as He turns the unforgiving person over to certain tortures. And then you have the reality that they remain, in a sense, in their temporal life and the process of their sanctification unforgiven. Not a way to live your life. Not a way to live your life.
So what have we said? We are to forgive, because it is like God, whose children we are. We are to forgive, because it is forbidden not to forgive, because the command to murder also encompasses forgiveness. We are to forgive, because the Most High, the most offended has forgiven the most, and we the least should forgive the least. We must forgive, because all sins offend God the most, and He forgives. We must forgive, because if we don’t forgive we’ll isolate ourselves from Christian fellowship, we’ll bring ourselves under discipline, and we will live in a condition of stilted sanctification, because God will not forgive our sins.
A few more compelling reasons to forgive. Number eight: The absence of forgiveness renders us unfit to worship. The absence of forgiveness renders us unfit to worship. That should be obvious, right? I mean, if you’re in that condition where you’re under the chastening of the Lord, in a sense, you’re under the discipline of the people of God, you’re in a situation where God is not forgiving you on an ongoing temporal basis, you’re in no position to worship.
But we don’t have to simply imply that, because Jesus said it explicitly. Go back to Matthew 5 again, and pick it up in the Sermon on the Mount at verse 23, where He says, “If you are presenting your offering at the altar,” – you’re coming to worship, coming to worship the Lord – “and you there remember that your brother has something against you,” – there is some unresolved issue – “leave your offering before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, then come and present your offering.”
No one should draw near to God with an intention to worship if he has any unsettled grudge with another brother or sister. Reconciliation, or an effort at reconciliation, may not be able to fully do it; but, certainly, the forgiveness part of reconciliation must precede worship. Regardless of whose fault it is, the issue of bitterness, hate, anger, unforgiveness cannot be brought to the place of worship. And if it’s in your heart, don’t be so concerned necessarily to try to fix all of the things you’ve done and said in the past; confess it, and ask the Lord to forgive it.
Psalm 66:18 says, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” God doesn’t want worshipers who are filled with unforgiveness, who haven’t resolved the things that need to be resolved.
Number nine: Not to forgive is to usurp the authority of God. Not to forgive is to usurp the authority of God. It is the ultimate ego trip. You are presuming that the sword of judgment is in your hand, that it’s up to you to wield that sword of judgment, and you’re going to wreak havoc in somebody’s life. You’re going to gossip about them, you’re going to slander about them, you’re going to say terrible things about them, you’re going to foment lies as you exaggerate the realities. You are assuming the place of God.
Look at Romans chapter 12, and just a few verses in chapter 12 that address this. Romans 12, verse 14: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” Okay, bless those who persecute you. Whatever somebody does to you, bless them, bless them. You’re heaping coals of fire on their head. Bless them.
And then verse 17: “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone, never. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” And there is the recognition that you forgive; you seek peace whether that other person does or not. “As much as it is possible from your perspective, as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”
Then verse 19: “Never take your own vengeance, beloved,” – talking to believers – “leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.’” Deuteronomy, Psalms.
You’re not God. You don’t have to wish the worst on somebody who offended you. God will take care of whatever needs to be taken care of. You’re not the judge. If you act as the judge, what you’re saying is, “God is too slow, God is too indifferent, God is too preoccupied, God is too weak, or God is too unjust. I’m going to have to take this into my own hands.”
That is blasphemy. God alone is able to deal with sin, and He always does. He has the perfect and true understanding of the offense, you don’t. He has the highest standard, yours is lower. He has the full authority, you have none. He is impartial, you’re not. He is omniscient and eternal, seeing the end from the beginning; you’re shortsighted and ignorant, seeing nothing beyond today. He is wise and good, and acts in perfect holiness; you are blinded by the sin of anger. You are in no position to be a judge of anybody; makes no sense. You’re not qualified. Leave it to God.
And then a final point, and here is something you have to consider: The injuries against you and offenses against you are the trials that perfect you. The injuries against you and offenses against you are the trials that perfect you.
Criticisms, injustices, offenses, false accusations, persecutions, mistreatments, abuse, unkindness – all of those are within the providence and purpose of God. James goes so far as to say this: “Count it all” – what? – “joy when you fall into various trials, because they are perfecting your faith.”
Peter said, 1 Peter 5:10, “After you’ve suffered a while, the Lord will make you perfect.” Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:10, said, “You know, I prayed that the Lord would remove the thorn in the flesh, and I prayed three times, and He never would do it.” Then he said this, verse 10, 2 Corinthians 12: “I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Those who injure you, those who falsely accuse you, those who lie about you, those who offend you, those who criticize you, who bring injustice against you, God uses to perfect you. So the injuries and offenses that come against you are the trials that perfect you.
Now when all said and done, the theology of forgiveness is summed up on one person. Turn to 1 Peter 2; 1 Peter 2, and verse 19. Peter is talking about grace, sometimes translated “favor,” and about a person bearing up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. This assumes that an offense has come against you, you’re suffering unjustly.
That’s a very popular thing: “They’re hurting me. They’re abusing me. They’re doing things against me, saying things against me. It’s all unfair; it’s all unjust.” Here’s the right response: “What credit is there” – verse 20 – “if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience?” – no credit there – “But if when you do what is right and you suffer, you patiently endure it, this finds grace with God.” And that’s essentially what we just said. Your suffering, the accusations, the abuses are the trials that bring the grace that makes you strong in your weakness.
But here’s the model, verse 21: “For you have been called for this purpose.” What is the purpose? Your perfection. You have been called to patiently endure unjust suffering.
“You’ve been called for this purpose,” – and here’s the one to whom you look – “since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit fount in His mouth; and while being reviled, he did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.”
Christ accomplished most when He was suffering unjustly, right? That sums it up. And in the suffering, He said, “Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they’re doing.”
Forgiveness is everything. It’s the only thing that’s going to sustain love in a marriage, family, friendships, and the church of Jesus Christ.
Father, we thank You that we’ve been able to gather again tonight. What a wonderful day we have had. Our hearts are rejoicing in all that You have brought to us through Your precious Word today and the fellowships with the saints. We thank You for the truth. We know the truth is not just beyond us, it is in us; it is alive, and it is given life by the Holy Spirit, so that what we hear and believe becomes the very force by which we live our lives.
May we be known as people marked by forgiveness for all the reasons that we’ve looked at, culminating in the fact that we are following our Savior, who set an example for us when He was most unjustly treated. By that, He accomplished the greatest work of His life. May we see as well in our suffering Your strength made perfect. This is our prayer, in the name of Christ. Amen. Amen.
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