Chances are everybody has a name of someone who they just can't forgive. Somebody that hurt them, badly. And you just can't get over what they did to you. Today we look at how we can forgive even them. (Sorry, technical problems - no audio this week.)
Forgiveness: How Do I Forgive Others?
Today we continue our series on Forgiveness, and we’re going to look at forgiving others. I suspect that already, most of has a name in mind that you just have trouble forgiving. Someone who hurt you. But they were so calloused about it, so cruel, so thoughtless, that you don’t think you’ll ever be able to forgive them. But forgiveness is possible. You don’t have to hold on to it any more. You can release it, and them, and you can forgive them today. We’re going to find out how this morning.
I think one of the reasons it’s so hard to forgive is that we don’t really understand forgiveness. We don’t know what it really means to forgive. There are a lot of people who have some misconceptions about what forgiveness really means. We saw last week that forgiveness isn’t forgetting. You don’t have to forget what happened to forgive. I put a couple other things forgiveness is not in your notes…
Those are some things forgiveness isn’t. So, how can we forgive others as God has forgiven us? I think the Bible lays out a very clear process we can walk through to find freedom in forgiving others. As we look at this process this morning, I want to challenge you to personalize the process. I don’t want this to be an abstract, intellectual exercise. I don’t just want you to learn about forgiveness. I want you to experience the freedom that comes from forgiving someone. So here’s my challenge. That name that came up when we started. That person you need to forgive, think of that person this morning as we go through these steps, See if you can’t forgive them this morning. The first step in learning to forgive is:
1. Remember. Remember from last week, the first step in forgiving yourself was to receive God’s forgiveness? The first step here is to remember how much you’ve been forgiven. I was brought up in the church, and I was immersed in church things since I was born. But still, I was a sinner, and it wasn’t until I believed in Jesus and made Him my Lord and Savior that I was forgiven. But even since then, there has been a lot that I’ve had to bring before Him. My sin didn’t stop when I accepted Him as my Lord. I’m not perfect. I have things to bring to Him every day. God’s has forgiven me of so much, and He continues to, every day.
That’s the message in our reading, isn’t it? If we’ve been forgiven so much, how can we withhold forgiveness from someone else? Jesus finishes His parable, then gives a note of commentary. And it might give reason for pause. Jesus says, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” Ouch! Did that one hurt? It hurt me. But understand how much God has forgiven you. How can you withhold forgiveness from somebody else? God has forgiven you of so much more.
Okay. How about that person you remembered earlier. The one you just can’t forgive. I want to make this personal for you. Think of that person you need to forgive, and realize that if God has forgiven you of so much, how can you not offer forgiveness to this person? And this leads us to the next point…
2. Release. Release the person entirely. The person who you’re thinking about in your mind, release them entirely. What does it mean release? It means to let it go. It means to no longer hold on to the bitterness or the resentment. Just let it go. Drop the grudge.
Some of you, instead of releasing a person, you’re holding a grudge against that person. Holding a grudge is like drinking poison and hoping the other person will get sick. It isn’t going to happen, is it? It’s only going to make you sick. Holding a grudge is only going to make you sick. Are you ready to release that person?
Here are some things that might help – Psychologists sometimes suggest that you take out a piece of paper and write a letter to the person who has offended you, you don’t have to mail it, you just have to write it. Or maybe you can have an imaginary conversation. There in your room, pull up a chair and pretend the person is there and you can have a conversation. Or if you have a picture of the person, have a conversation with the picture. In that letter or in that conversation, you can say whatever you want to. Tell them how much they hurt you. Tell them how it felt. Tell them all the stuff that you wanted to say if you ever had the chance. Just dump on them. And at the end of the letter, tell them you forgive them. Release them. If you’re writing a letter, fold it up and put it in drawer somewhere. As silly as it sounds, it will work. It will set you free because there is something about taking action on it that works.
Some of us try to get even. Somehow, someday, they’ll get theirs. Ever thought that way. Someday, you’ll get them back. Don’t do it. Here’s the problem with that. Romans 12:17-19 says, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written, ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.” You see, it’s not up to you. You are a servant of God. You belong to God. If somebody hurts you, they have to answer to God. It will be taken care of. Just not by you. You need to do the right thing. And just let it go.
3. Recognize. Recognize God’s purpose in the process. Recognize that God may just have a purpose for what happened. If He allowed it, it’s because He has a purpose for it. Truth is, you probably won’t recognize God’s purpose until after you release them. If you’re still blaming them, then you can’t see God in it. He may have a greater purpose.
Let me explain. Turn to Genesis 50. Do you remember the story of Joseph? He was the youngest of 12 sons, and a favorite of Jacob, his father. Because he was the favorite, his brothers despised him. And they plotted against him. And they dug a hole and dropped him in, and they left him there to die, they hated him that much.
But then they saw a caravan coming, so they pulled him out of the pit and sold him as a slave. He wound up in Egypt. Years later he was able to explain some dreams that the Pharaoh had, and was promoted to service to Pharaoh. The dream was that a severe famine was coming, and Joseph suggested a plan of putting enough grain aside in the good years, before the famine, so they would have food for the bad years. The famine was so severe that Joseph’s brothers went to Egypt to get food. And lo and behold, the one giving out the food was Joseph! They were afraid Joseph would get even, and they would be killed. But we read in verses 19-20, “But Joseph said to them, ‘Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good, to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
It took Joseph years to recognize this. It may take us years to recognize God’s purpose. But God has a purpose. We are not in the place of God any more than Joseph was. Good can come out of this, if we can let go of the hurt.
The first three steps are absolutely mandatory. You have to take these three steps. The forth might not be possible.
4. Reestablish. Reestablish the relationship as much as possible. It may be that they’re as mad at you as you were at them. It may be that they’re not ready or willing to forgive you. It may not be safe if you were abused in some way. That’s okay. It doesn’t matter to you. God is holding you accountable for forgiving them, and He’s holding them accountable to forgive you. If they aren’t willing to reestablish the relationship, that’s on them. You job is to reach out, if possible. Take the first step. Try your best to reestablish the relationship. This doesn’t necessarily mean talk to them about the hurt, it just means restore the relationship, if possible.
Let me share a couple of quick verses with you here, and they’re both found in Romans 12. The first is verse 21, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” You can’t control them. But you can control yourself. And your response needs to be righteous.
The second is in verse 18, “If it’s possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Regardless of their response, your response needs to be to live at peace. Reach out to them. If they reject you, that’s on them. But you need to try to live at peace with everyone.
5. Repeat. Repeat the process. Have you ever read the back of a shampoo bottle? They have directions on how to wash your hair. It says, “wash, rinse, repeat.” Now I’ll admit my brain tends to be wired a little strange, but I think that sounds ridiculous? Did anybody think that if you washed your hair once, it would stay clean forever? No! You repeat as necessary. Forgiveness works the same way. You are going to work through this process for the rest of your life. You’ve been thinking of someone that you need to forgive. Forgive them today. And when you get home and sit down and begin to relax, you’ll probably think of some others. Unless you have lived just a really sheltered life, there is a lot more than one person in your past that you may need to forgive. And the same person you forgive today might do something next week, and you have to go through the same process again. That’s okay.
Just before our reading in Matthew 18, we see Peter talking with Jesus, and he agrees that forgiveness is important, but the Old Testament says an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. So how many times do we forgive before we can start extracting teeth! And Peter thought he was being generous, he suggested seven times. Is that reasonable? Peter thought so. But Jesus said, and it’s translated in the NIV as seventy-seven times, but most other translations say seventy times seven times. Some of you have already done the math, and you know that’s 490 times, and you’ve got a journal at home and you’re keeping score. But honestly, if you’re keeping track, you haven’t really forgiven them.
Remember the end of our reading this morning, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from the heart.” There isn’t any keeping score. You just forgive. You let it go. And let God deal with it. He isn’t giving you another option.
Another place we see this is in Matthew 6:14-15, just after Jesus gives us the Lord’s Prayer. And this is just as convicting. Because Jesus says it as clear as He can. He says, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” You see, it really is that important. If you don’t forgive, you won’t be forgiven.
Remember how much God forgave you. Release the person, just let it go. Recognize that if God allowed it, He probably has a purpose for it, so let Him work through it, let Him bring good out of it. And repeat. As often as necessary. I have to go to God daily. And I’m really glad He doesn’t keep score. And because He doesn’t keep score, I’m not going to keep score either.