May 2-3, 2015
Pastor Joe Wittwer
#4: How to forgive those who hurt you
ILL: True story. When Fran was doing dishes one morning, she began to fume and stew over a friend who had done her wrong. She thought: “Why should I pray for that no-gooder?”
At that moment, a potted fern that was hanging over the sink came crashing down on her head, cracking the clay pot and spilling dirt all over the sink. As she shook off the dirt and rubbed her head, Fran said: “Okay, Lord, I’ll forgive her. Thanks for planting the idea in my head.”
Do you have anyone like that in your life—someone you need to forgive but would rather not? I’m hoping that today’s talk will plant some ideas in your head about how to forgive those who hurt you. Here’s:
The Big Idea: Forgiveness is the heart of the gospel and is essential: you must learn to forgive others.
That’s not to say that it’s easy. Forgiving another person is hard—it’s a very difficult thing to do. But it’s essential. I want to convince you that you must forgive. And I want to share from the Bible some practical steps about how to forgive.
Matthew 18:15–35 “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. 16 But if he 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 he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
Let’s stop here for just a minute. What are you supposed to do if your brother sins against you? Go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. Notice three things:
- Go. You initiate the reconciliation process by going to him. Don’t wait for him to come to you. Go. Many broken relationships stay broken because of a proud refusal by one or both people to take the first step. Here and in Matthew 5, Jesus tells us that we should take the first step—his fault or my fault, it doesn’t matter—take the first step. Go.
- Show him his fault. Tell him what he’s done. Get it on the table and talk about it. There are some right and wrong ways to do this—we’ll talk about that in a moment.
- Just between the two of you. This is huge. If you have a problem with someone, go to that person. Don’t talk to someone else about him—go to him. Go to her and work it out. If a staff member comes to me with a complaint about another staff member, I stop him and ask, “Have you talked to him yet?” If the answer is no, then I say, “This conversation is over. Go right now and talk to him—just between the two of you.” If you talk to someone else, you don’t fix the problem, you spread it. You don’t make peace, you make more trouble.
Go. Show him his fault, just between the two of you. What if it doesn’t work? Then take a friend and try again. Why take a friend? A friend can serve as a mediator, or can add a dose of healthy peer pressure. A person who won’t listen to you may be willing to listen to someone else. Reconciliation and forgiveness is so important that we don’t give up after one attempt. Instead, we double our efforts and take a friend along to help.
And if that doesn’t work, take it to the church. What does that mean? The early church was a network of home churches. This probably meant that you take it to your home church—in our case, to your Life Group, or a small group of believers that know you both. Again, the hope was that the united love and care of the group will exert a positive influence on the one who has sinned, and he’ll repent.
And if that doesn’t work, treat him as you would a pagan or tax collector. What does that mean? Some people think it means that you kick him out of the church and have nothing to do with him. I don’t think so. I think it means that you treat him as a person in need of God’s forgiveness, which means you continue to love him and encourage him toward the Lord.
Eugene Peterson, in The Message, translates it “If he won’t listen to the church, you’ll have to start over from scratch, confront him with the need for repentance, and offer again God’s forgiving love.”
I think Peterson got it right. How did Jesus treat pagans and tax collectors? He didn’t disown and avoid them. He loved them and called them to repent and believe.
These words of Jesus, “If a brother sins against you,” prompted Peter to ask a question.
21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?”
22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. a
23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents b was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
26 “The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. c He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.
29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’
30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened.
32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”
I want you to see the connection. “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault just between the two of you.” Then Peter asks, “How many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me?” How often do I have to do this? How often do I have to forgive? Here are some insights about forgiveness. Write them down—there will be a test!
1. You can’t afford to be bitter.
ILL: A woman shared about the change in her life since she became a Christian. She said, “I’m so glad I became a Christian. I have an uncle I used to hate so much I vowed I’d never go to his funeral. But now, I’d be happy to go to it any time.” Hmmm…
The first thing I want you to notice is what happened to the man who refused to forgive his friend: he lost his own forgiveness! We think we’ll punish the other person by refusing to forgive them, but we only hurt ourselves. It cost this man his freedom, his own forgiveness and the huge debt that went with that. You can’t afford to be bitter—it costs too much!
- It will cost you physically. Bitterness and unforgiveness are related to a host of physical sicknesses and diseases.
- It will cost you emotionally. When you refuse to forgive, you have surrendered emotional control to another person and allowed him to dictate the terms of your happiness. Every time you see him, think about her, hear her name, remember the circumstances, you feel hurt and angry again.
- It will cost you socially. There can be no genuine friendship without forgiveness. At best it will be superficial and inauthentic. At worst, it will be all-out war and open conflict.
- It will cost you spiritually. Listen to verse 35 again. “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” Jesus said that you can forfeit your own forgiveness by refusing to forgive others. This isn’t the only place He said that.
Matthew 6:14-15 For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
To maintain any kind of authentic relationship with God, you must be a forgiving person.
When people tell me that they can’t forgive, I tell them that I understand the feeling, but the truth is that you can’t afford not to forgive. You can’t afford to be bitter.
2. God has generously forgiven you everything.
The second thing I want you to notice in this story is that God has generously forgiven you everything. You are—and I am—the servant with the huge debt, and God is the king. The size of our debt is unthinkable. A talent was a measure of weight—roughly 100 pounds. A talent of silver was worth a lifetime’s wages; a talent of gold was worth 30 times that—30 lifetimes’ wages. That’s one talent–this debt was 10,000 talents! Let’s use silver—the lesser amount. 10,000 talents of silver was equivalent to 10,000 lifetimes! So this servant owed the king more money than he could make in 10,000 lifetimes! And he said, “Be patient with me and I’ll pay back everything.” Be real, real patient—10,000 lifetimes patient! The debt was so huge, it was inconceivable to the average person.
This debt represents our sins to God. Huge. More than we can imagine. And God generously forgives them all. No one needs forgiveness more than me. My debt to God is beyond my comprehension and far beyond my ability to repay. But He forgives it. All of it. Whatever others do to me pales in comparison to my sin against God. The other servant owed this man 100 denarii—that’s 100 days’ wages, compared to the 10,000 lifetimes of wages that he had owed. A drop in the bucket. What is the point? Whatever others to do me is far less than what I’ve done to God—and He has forgiven me everything.
Ephesians 4:32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Colossians 3:13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
What do both of those verses say? Forgive others as God forgave you. Be as generous with them as He has been with you.
Whenever you are tempted to hold something against another person, remember this story and how generous God has been with you. Remind yourself: No one needs forgiveness more than me. He’s forgiven you everything!
3. How to forgive.
We must forgive, but how do we do it? The Greek word that is translated “forgive” in your Bible literally means, “to send away.” Let it go. Illustrate with hand motions. To forgive means that we let go of the hurt, and the right for revenge. Instead of holding on to the offense, we let it go. Instead of making plans for pay back, we let it go. But how do you let go of a hurt? Here are some ideas.
A. Gain understanding.
Here’s a good starting point. Start by asking, not accusing. Lay aside all your assumptions and before you make any accusations, ask some questions. “Tell me what happened from your perspective. Why did you do this?” Try to discover what the other person did and why—gain understanding. Start by asking, not accusing.
Often we are hurt and offended because we incorrectly assume what others’ motives or reasons were. “You meant to hurt me.” But most offenses are unintentional. Most people are not out to get you. Most people aren’t thinking about you at all; they’re thinking only of themselves, which is why they hurt you. Hurts are easier to forgive once we understand that they weren’t intentional. It’s easier to forgive an unintentional offense—“I know you didn’t mean it.” They’re not trying to hurt you; they’re just being their own selfish pig, like me!
Or there might be other circumstances unknown to us that, once we know, will help us understand what the person did and why.
ILL: One winter’s night in 1935, Fiorello LaGuardia, the irrepressible mayor of New York, showed up at a night court in the poorest ward of the city. He dismissed the judge for the evening and took over the bench. That night a tattered old woman, charged with stealing a loaf of bread, was brought before him. She defended herself by saying, “My daughter’s husband has deserted her. She is sick, and her children are starving.”
The shopkeeper refused to drop the charges, saying, “It’s a bad neighborhood, your honor, and she’s got to be punished to teach other people a lesson.” LaGuardia sighed. He turned to the old woman and said, “I’ve got to punish you; the law makes no exceptions. Ten dollars or ten days in jail.”
However, even while pronouncing sentence, LaGuardia reached into his pocket, took out a ten-dollar bill, and threw it into his hat with these famous words: “Here’s the ten-dollar fine, which I now remit, and furthermore, I’m going to fine everyone in the courtroom fifty cents for living in a town where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat. Mr. Bailiff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant.”
The following day, a New York newspaper reported: “Forty-seven dollars and fifty cents was turned over to a bewildered old grandmother who had stolen a loaf of bread to feed her starving grandchildren. Making forced donations were a red-faced storekeeper, seventy petty criminals, and a few New York policemen.”
Sometimes it makes all the difference if you know the whole story. Gain understanding. Someone told me once that the Hebrew word for mercy contained the idea of getting inside someone else’s skin, walking in their shoes, and understanding their perspective.
How can you gain understanding? Ask the person to explain. This is part of that “going” that Jesus asked us to do. But remember when you go: ask before you accuse. Gain understanding.
B. Clear the air.
Have an honest conversation. When we go to the other person, we’re to show him his fault. Ask before you accuse. But often, there has been genuine wrong done, and we need to confront. We need to lay it on the table. We need to talk about it honestly. There is rarely forgiveness or reconciliation without honest conversation. If we don’t clear the air, things rarely get better—they only get buried and then surface later. “Time heals all.” That isn’t true. Time might ease the intensity of the pain, make the memory dimmer, but it might also make it fester.
ILL: Have you ever had a nasty cut? If you clean it out and disinfect it, it usually heals nicely with time. But if it gets dirty or infected, it may get worse with time, not better.
Until you clear the air, until you’ve talked honestly about the problem, you probably have a dirty wound, one that will get infected and worse with time, not better. So how do you clear the air?
- Go to the person in private—just between the two of you.
- Use “I” statements, not “you” statements. Tell them how you feel, how it looked to you. For example, instead of saying, “You always attack and belittle me,” try saying, “I felt belittled by what you said.” “You” statements are usually accusations that force the other person to defend himself, and harden a person’s heart. “I” statements are honest and vulnerable, and usually soften the other person.
- Be willing to say the last 5%. Many of us will be mostly honest, but we leave out the last 5%, which may be the hardest part to say. But if we’re going to clear the air, and truly reconcile, we have to be willing to say the whole truth, including the last 5%.
- Give them opportunity to explain and repent. You will gain understanding, but you must listen.
Clear the air.
C. Make a choice.
You’ve gone to the other person in private, talked, gained understanding and cleared the air. Now, you have a choice to make. Will you forgive or not? Are you going to let it go, or hang on? Forgiveness begins with the will, not the emotions. Many people think that you forgive with your emotions and they can never do it. But you forgive with your will, and the emotions will follow, although sometimes at quite a distance. This is where time helps. When you choose to forgive, you have disinfected the wound. Time can begin to heal, and the emotions will slowly subside.
ILL: Holocaust survivor Corrie ten Boom was once asked about this. “I have forgiven the person who wronged me, but I still feel badly. So have I not really forgiven?” Corrie asked this lady if she had ever rung a bell in a church tower. “After you let go of the rope, what happens?”
“The bell keeps ringing, slower and slower, until finally it stops.”
“Forgiveness is like that,” Corrie explained. “You choose to let go of the rope—that’s forgiveness. But the bell keeps ringing for awhile from inertia—that’s your emotions. But if you’ve let go of the rope, eventually the bell will stop ringing.”
Make a choice. Choose to let go of the rope, to let go of the hurt and right for revenge. Let go, and eventually, the bell will stop ringing, your emotions will quiet down. You may have to make the choice more than once, or remind yourself that you’ve made it when the bell is still clanging. But forgiveness starts in your will. Make the choice and your feelings will follow. Let it go.
D. Close the case.
Tell the person that you forgive them. “I forgive you.” There’s something very powerful about saying those words. “I forgive you.” It closes the case, seals the deal. The Bible says that when God forgives our sins, He remembers them no more. He chooses to forget about it. He doesn’t bring it up again, or hold it over our heads. It’s done. Case closed.
You’ve heard “forgive and forget”? How does that work? When you forgive, you may not forget; you may still remember, but you remember differently. Forgiveness takes the sting out of the memory. You may remember the offense, but you’ve let go of the hurt, the bitterness, the desire for payback.
ILL: Many years ago, some friends shafted me financially. They didn’t mean to; they got upside down in a business deal, and took a beating. I was collateral damage. I had loaned them money—money that I had borrowed—so now I had to take on an extra job to pay off the debt. One day, as I was doing my extra job, I complained to God. “They should be paying this debt, not me.” The Lord spoke to me and showed me two things. First, he showed me my part in this mess. I realized where I was at fault and humbly asked God to forgive me. Then the Lord said, “If you will forgive them, and keep your heart clean—free of bitterness—I’ll bless you.” I made my choice right there: I chose to forgive them. And God did bless me and I paid off the debt in a little over a year.
I still remember that incident. And I learned some valuable lessons from it that I don’t want to forget. But I don’t have any bitterness, resentment or anger toward my friends. I remember it—but without the sting.
When you forgive, you may still remember, but you remember differently. You have closed the case. It’s a done deal.
The Bible says that when Jesus died on the cross, He shouted, “It is finished!” The Greek word is tetelesthai. It was commonly used in commerce to mean, “paid in full.” Merchants put it on receipts: Tetelesthai—paid in full—it is finished. When Jesus died on the cross, He fully paid for our sins. Forgiveness was complete. It is finished—you are forgiven. Case closed.
When you say, “I forgive you,” it is like saying, “It is finished. It’s paid in full. Case closed.”
E. Do something good.
If you really want to speed the healing process, don’t just walk away now; do something good for them.
Luke 6:27, 35 Love your enemies and do good to them.
Romans 12:17-21 Do not repay anyone evil for evil… 19 Do not take revenge, my friends…20 On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
The best way to turn an enemy into a friend is to do something good for him.
ILL: Former Boston Red Sox Hall-of-Fame third baseman Wade Boggs used to hate going to Yankee Stadium. Not because of the Yankees—they never gave him that much trouble—but because of a fan. That’s right: one fan.
The guy had a box seat close to the field, and when the Red Sox were in town he would torment Boggs by shouting obscenities and insults. It’s hard to imagine one fan getting under a player’s skin, but apparently this guy had the recipe.
One day before the game, as Boggs was warming up, the fan began his typical routine, yelling, “Boggs, you stink” and variations on that theme. Boggs decided he’d had enough. Boggs walked directly over to the man, who was sitting in the stands with his friends, and said, “Hey buddy, are you the guy who’s always yelling at me?” The man said, “Yeah, it’s me. What are you going to do about it?” What do you think he did? I know what I’d want to do—I’d invite the guy on to the field and thump him!
Wade took a new baseball out of his pocket, autographed it, tossed it to the man, and went back to the field to continue his pre-game routine.
The man never yelled at Boggs again; in fact, he became one of Wade’s biggest fans at Yankee Stadium.
The best way to turn an enemy into a friend is to do something good for him.
Look again at these five steps to forgive: which one do you need to do? Take your next step.
- Gain understanding.
- Clear the air.
- Make a choice.
- Close the case.
- Do something good.
I’ll give you a moment to write down your next step.
Take your next step!