What about repeat offenders, who just keep doing the same thing over and over? What about boundaries? What about abusive or toxic relationships? What about injustice? What about consequences?
June 8-9, 2019
Pastor Joe Wittwer
Let it Go!
Introduction and offering
ILL: On Christmas day, the whole family was at our house to celebrate. Just before dinner, my son Andy mentioned that I had gotten an email from someone who was upset about my message at our Christmas Eve services. I was still recovering from doing 6 services, and should have just let it go. But I was curious what he had objected to and asked Andy. When Andy told me, it just ticked me off—especially when Andy read the part that said, “Don’t you dare” talk about this particular subject. I got all huffy. “Don’t you dare? Really! Well, don’t you dare tell me what I can and can’t speak on.” I’ll show you! I’ll give you a piece of my mind that I can’t afford to lose! I was angry—and anger never makes you smarter. Happily, Andy said, “Maybe it’s best not to talk about this today—let’s just let it go, Dad.” And happily, I did. I let it go, and enjoyed Christmas Day with my family. But how sad would it have been if I’d hung on to that and let it ruin Christmas? Yet people do it all the time.
Staying angry is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies. Don’t ruin your life!
You can’t help getting angry sometimes—it’s a pretty quick emotional response—but you can choose what you do with it. You can hang on to it, nurse it, act on it—not good. Or you can let it go. And that’s what the Bible tells us to do.
In this final message in our Let it Go! series, I want to remind us that God calls us to get rid of all anger and bitterness, to forgive anyone anything, and to become unoffendable. That’s point one. Then in point two, I want to answer the questions I’ve been getting. “What about…repeat offenders, people who keep doing the same thing over and over? What about boundaries? What about injustice? What about consequences?” We’re going to cover a lot of ground, so let’s dive in.
- Get rid of all anger.
In the first message, we read some Scripture that told us to get rid of all anger.
Ephesians 4:31-32 (p. 1008) Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Paul piles up the synonyms—bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander, malice—and says “get rid of all of it.” How much? All. Even your so-called righteous anger—get rid of it. And forgive each other just God forgave you. How has God forgiven you? Fully and freely—He forgives you everything. Forgive others the same way.
James 1:19-20 (p. 1043) My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.
Be slow to become angry. Why? Because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. My anger—even the anger that I think is righteous and justified—does not produce what God wants. Let it go. As we’ll see, there’s a better way.
In January, I read this passage in our Bible Reading Plan.
Luke 9:51–56 (p. 891)
51 As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; 53 but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. 54 When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” 55 But Jesus turned and rebuked them. 56 Then he and his disciples went to another village.
Jesus and His disciples were traveling from Galilee to Jerusalem. The most direct route was through Samaria, but most Jews avoided that dangerous route and went the long way around Samaria. Not Jesus. When they sought hospitality in a Samaritan village, they were turned away. No food, no lodging. “You are not welcome here. Buzz off!” It was insulting and disrespectful. James and John took offense and were furious. “Lord, would you like us to call down fire from heaven and destroy them? Incinerate them! Let’s just toast the whole town!” A classic over-reaction. Have you ever done that?
Anger never made anyone smarter! We say and do stupid things when we get angry. Like James and John: “Want us to kill them Lord?”
Jesus said, “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; 56 for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” (This saying is not in the oldest manuscripts so it’s not included in the NIV, but is a footnote in the NASB.)
Did you catch that? James and John in their anger wanted revenge, wanted to lash out, strike back. And Jesus said, “That’s not my spirit.” When I wanted to lash out at the guy who sent the email, Jesus said, “That’s not my spirit.” When we get angry and want to retaliate, Jesus says, “That’s not my spirit.” When we hold on to our anger, let it fester into bitterness, and refuse to forgive, Jesus says, “That’s not my spirit.”
Instead of retaliating, what did Jesus do? He just moved on to the next village. Sometimes, we need to be big enough to simply ignore the slight, refuse to take offense, and just move on. Don’t get stuck being offended and angry. Jesus taught us to love our enemies, to move beyond anger to love.
Get rid of all anger. Become unoffendable. Forgive everyone always. Let it go. (read together)
That’s what we’ve been talking about for 6 weeks. And every week, people have come up with questions—good questions, valid questions, important questions. So I want to take a few moments to address those.
- What about…
Let’s tackle four of the biggest questions.
- Repeat offenders?
What about repeat offenders? What about the person who just keeps doing the same thing over and over? Am I supposed to just keep forgiving? How am I supposed to let it go when he/she keeps doing it? This is tough. Really tough! Did you know that Jesus addressed this very question—twice?
Luke 17:3–5 (p. 900)
“If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. 4 Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”
5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”
Here’s a repeat offender: someone does the same sin to you 7 times in a day! And every time they come to you and repent. “Sorry.” I’m thinking by the second or third time, “Don’t just be sorry; stop doing that!” But they don’t stop; they keep doing it. Notice the last four words Jesus said: “You must forgive them.” Forgive them every time, even when they keep doing it over and over, even when they do it 7 times in a day. You must forgive them.
“But Joe,” you say, “they repented each time. What if the person doesn’t repent? What if they don’t admit they are wrong? What if they aren’t sorry? Then what?”
You must forgive them. Forgive them for your own sake. Let it go, so that you don’t become poisoned by anger and bitterness.
If they repent, they receive the benefit of your forgiveness. But if they don’t repent, they miss out on that—they may not know they are forgiven, but you still receive the benefit of forgiveness. Don’t cheat yourself. Forgive them every time—for your own sake.
So Jesus addresses the issue of the repeat offender, the person who keeps doing the same wrong thing over and over, and Jesus says, “You must forgive them every time.” Is this hard to do? Oh boy! The disciples thought so. Look at their response in verse 5: “Increase our faith!” Help us Lord!
Do you have a repeat offender in your life? Maybe you need to pray that prayer: “Lord, increase my faith. Help me to forgive every time.”
The other place where Jesus was asked about repeat offenders was in:
Matthew 18:21–22 (p. 844) (Leave finder tab here)
21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
Peter asked Jesus how often he should forgive the repeat offender. “Up to seven times?” He thought he was being generous because the Jewish rabbis taught that we should forgive 3 times. Peter doubled that and added one for good measure. “Up to 7 times?” Jesus surprised him by saying, “Nope—77 times (or 70 times 7).” Either way, the point was to forgive every time, even when someone keeps doing the same wrong thing over and over—7 times, or 77 times or 70 times 7! Forgive every time. And then Jesus told the story of the King who forgave a man a staggering debt he could never repay—10,000 lifetimes of wages. That same man refused to forgive a friend who owed him a debt he could repay—100 days wages. Is that crazy? If you know you’ve been forgiven everything forever, how can you not forgive others their offenses? This is why Paul wrote:
Ephesians 4:32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Forgive as God forgave you—everything, every time. Over and over. You and I are repeat offenders whom God forgives every time. Forgive others the same way.
“So Joe,” you say, “are you suggesting that we just stand there and keep taking it on the chin, over and over? What about boundaries?”
ILL: Years ago, I had a friend who consistently made fun of me in front of others. I’m a pretty secure guy and enjoy laughing at myself. But this was different. This teasing had an edge to it. I’d look down after laughing and see that I was bleeding. Each time, I’d forgive him. But the next time we were together, it happened again. And again. And again. Finally, it happened at a particularly difficult moment—after a family funeral—and I talked with Laina. She advised me to set a boundary—to avoid him in group settings. “You don’t have to keep stepping in front of that Mack truck,” she said.
I did what she recommended. I forgave him, but I also set a healthy boundary. It was fine when it was just of the two of us, but I avoided him in group settings. I stopped stepping in front of the Mack truck.
It’s ok to set boundaries. When someone is consistently hurtful, set a boundary. When a relationship is toxic, set a boundary. When someone is abusive, set a boundary. Forgive for your own sake, and don’t keep stepping in front of the Mack truck.
Jesus taught His disciples to set boundaries.
Matthew 18:15–17 (p. 844)
“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”
We’ve looked at this before. If someone sins, go have a conversation between the two of you. Don’t talk to others—go to the person. Don’t post it on Facebook—go to the person. Don’t send a text or email—go to the person. And often, the conversation can resolve the issue.
But not always. Then what? Engage help—ask a couple others to join you. And if that doesn’t work, take it to the church (their small group). And if that doesn’t work—treat them like a pagan or tax collector. What does that mean? Two things: first, it means that they are no longer part of the church. Second, it means that you treat them as an unbeliever—you start over at the beginning, loving them as someone far from God who needs to repent.
In other words, if they refuse to repent and continue to sin, we set a boundary. We forgive them, but we also say, “You can’t keep doing this and be part of the church.”
Another example: in Luke 9 and 10, Jesus sends out the 12 and then the 70 on mission, and gives them instructions, including this:
Luke 9:5 If people do not welcome you, leave their town and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.
Luke 10:10–11 But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near.’
The disciples came bringing the good news, but if they weren’t welcomed, they weren’t to stay there—they were to move on, and “shake the dust off their feet” as a warning and testimony. When Jewish people traveled abroad, out of Israel, when they came home, they ceremoniously wiped the dust of Gentile territories off their feet so that they wouldn’t contaminate the holy land. When Jesus told the disciples to do this, it was a dramatic way of saying, “You are like Gentiles, unbelievers, rejecting God’s good news.” They were not to stay in an unwelcome environment—they were to set a boundary and move on.
One more: Paul wrote to Titus about people who were being divisive in the church.
Titus 3:10 Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them.
If a divisive person refuses to change, but continues to be divisive, you have to set a boundary.
If you are in an abusive relationship, set a boundary. It has to stop. Or you wipe the dust off your feet and move on. You must forgive, but that doesn’t mean that you keep stepping in front of the Mack truck. Forgive every time, and set the boundary when you need to. Forgive—for your sake.
“But Joe,” you say, “what about injustice? Shouldn’t we be angry about injustice? Are you saying that we just look the other way and pretend it’s not happening?”
Does God care about justice? Yes!
Psalm 11:7 For the Lord is righteous, he loves justice; the upright will see his face.
Psalm 89:14 Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you.
We could go on and on—there are hundreds of verses that talk about God’s love of justice, His hatred of injustice and His concern for the victims. Does He want us to care about it? Absolutely!
Isaiah 1:17 Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.
Again, I could pile up verses. God cares about justice, and so should we.
So when I say get rid of all anger, am I saying that we shouldn’t feel anger at injustice? No. Of course we feel anger at injustice! There are all kinds of injustice that tick me off. The sex slave trade (people who exploit the vulnerable for money)—that one really frosts me. Racial prejudice and injustice makes me angry. Bullies make me angry.
ILL: One time I was walking to my car with some friends after a high school football game. We came upon 5 or 6 bigger boys pushing one little boy around. I hate bullies. So I walked into the circle and put my arm around the little guy and said, “Leave him alone. If you want to rumble, you can fight me and my friends. That would be a fair fight. But only chickens fight 5 on 1.” Bullies make me angry.
The list could go on. Of course injustice makes us angry—and it should. Something would be wrong with us if we can see injustice and just not care. Injustice makes us angry.
But we can’t get stuck there. Anger can only take us so far. Anger may stop the bullies from picking on the underdog, but it will never change the heart. Anger may correct an injustice, but it will never achieve reconciliation between people—and we want both justice and reconciliation. So please hear me: I’m not saying that you shouldn’t feel anger at injustice. You will. And you should actively work to correct the injustice. But don’t get stuck in your anger. Keep moving beyond anger to love—for only love can change the human heart, only love can reconcile us to one another and create the beloved community.
ILL: I want to tell you a story by one of my favorite authors, Bob Goff, from his book Everybody Always.
In Uganda, witch doctors kidnap children for child sacrifice and harvest body parts. When Bob, who is a lawyer, learned this, he was horrified—and angry, as you should be at such a terrible injustice. And in his anger, Bob decided to put a stop to this. Bob met a boy—we’ll call him Charlie—who had been kidnapped by one of the head witch doctors named Kabi. Kabi had cut off Charlie’s private parts and left him for dead. But Charlie lived, and Kabi was arrested, and Bob got a judge who was willing to prosecute the case. No witch doctor had ever been arrested before, let alone prosecuted in Uganda. Everyone was afraid of them. But Bob and this courageous judge took on the unjust system and won the case. Kabi went to prison—and Bob was elated. They had won! Justice was served! And word was out to all the witch doctors: do this and you’ll go away for good.
Bob was able to bring Charlie to the US where a skilled surgical team donated their services to reconstruct Charlie’s private parts! Charlie even got to visit President Obama in the White House. Way cool!
Justice was being done. Charlie was getting healed. All good, right? Then God spoke to Bob, “What about Kabi?” Bob was still angry at Kabi and would have happily let him rot in prison. But the Lord reminded Bob that he was called not only to work for justice, but love his enemies. And Kabi was his enemy. Bob said, “It’s easy to talk about loving your enemies until you have one.” Bob visited Kabi at the maximum security prison in Uganda, a hellhole built for 200 but housing 3000 prisoners. You went there to die. Bob and Kabi shared their stories, and then Kabi surprised Bob and asked for forgiveness. That day, Kabi became a follower of Jesus. Bob and Kabi were reconciled. Love did something that anger could never do.
Bob visited Kabi regularly, and a few months later, Bob asked the prison warden if anyone had ever shared the gospel with the inmates. The warden said no—but Kabi could. So Bob and Kabi stood side by side and Kabi told 3000 condemned men how Jesus had changed him. Bob says that he butchered the message, but it didn’t matter—hundreds of men came forward to give their lives to Jesus. Kabi grabbed a water bottle and started sprinkling them—baptizing them into Jesus.
Anger moved Bob to correct injustice, but anger can only take you so far; only love could move him to reconcile with Kabi. We’ve got to keep moving—keep moving beyond anger to love.
Bob continued his crusade against the injustice of the witch doctors. He set up stings and video taped them, then would gather hundreds of witch doctors, show the video, and say, “If you do that, you are as good as dead. You will go away to prison and never come back.” Bob would terrify them! But he writes, “Because I’m learning about loving my enemies, I don’t stop there.” He keeps moving beyond anger to love.
Bob realized that the witch doctors didn’t know how to read and write. So he started a school for witch doctors! They have two texts: the Bible, and Bob’s book, Love Does. Hundreds have graduated and hundreds more are enrolled. Not only is injustice be corrected, but hearts and lives are changing, because Bob keeps moving beyond anger to love.
We are working toward the beloved community. Anger can only get us part way there; we must keep moving beyond anger to love.
Please don’t confuse anger with action. Many people think that because they are angry at injustice, they have done something. You haven’t. You’ve just been angry. If you want to do something good, let that anger go, move on to love, and do what’s best for others.
“But Joe,” you say, “what about consequences? Are you saying that we just let people off the hook? Forgive and forget and let them go?”
I’m out of time, so this will have to be quick!
Forgiveness doesn’t necessarily mean that the offender suffers no consequences. For example, you have all read about victims of crime forgiving the criminal—but he/she still went to jail. Forgiveness freed the victims and perp alike, but the perp still had legal consequences.
When my children did something wrong, I forgave them, but there were still often consequences. That’s life.
So don’t confuse forgiveness with consequences—they aren’t mutually exclusive. Forgiveness doesn’t necessarily mean that the offender gets off scott-free. You can forgive and the other person may still experience consequences.
But sometimes forgiveness does mean eliminating a consequence. For example, you forgive a debt and set the other person free. “You don’t owe me any more.”
This is what God has done for us. The Bible says that the consequence of our sin and rebellion against God is death. But Jesus suffered that consequence for us. He died in our place and forgave us and offers us eternal life. This is the ultimate in forgiveness. He took our consequence and gives us life!