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TEXT: Ephesians 4:32
SUBJECT: Baxter on Forgiveness #7
Tonight, with the blessing of the Holy Spirit, we'll finish the study we've been on for the last few weeks. It's called Richard Baxter on Forgiveness. Baxter-you recall-was a Puritan pastor and a best-selling author. Although he wrote on nearly everything, his finest work was pastoral theology-or giving advice to people who are struggling with sin.
The sin we're working on at the moment is holding a grudge. Some people take offense a lot easier than they let go of it. Instead of obeying James 1:19, they reverse it. They're
"Swift to speak, slow to hear, and swift to wrath".
The loud ones rant and rave, the quiet ones simmer and stew. But none of them obeys the Lord. They don't,
"Forgive men their trespasses".
"Neither will their Father in heaven forgive their trespasses".
Are you a forgiving person-eager to skip over sins and make things right? Or, are you like that man in Proverbs 18:19,
"Harder to be won than a city, [whose] contentions are like the bars of a castle"?
When possible, you need to "overlook a transgression". When you cannot do that, you need to forgive it from the heart--and not bring it up again.
Not because I say so, but it's the Lord who says so! Disobeying Him is neither right nor safe.
Thus far, we've looked at twenty-one ways to pardon the ones who offend us. Now, we'll look at four more and be done.
IF YOU WANT TO BE MORE FORGIVING, REMEMBER A GRUDGE DOESN'T WORK.
If someone has done you wrong, you should want one of two things-or both: (1) You want to be vindicated or for others to know you were in the right and he was in the wrong, or (2) you want the other person to repent and make things right.
Now, a grudge isn't likely to achieve the goals.
Hard feeling won't make you look good. If someone vomits bitterness all over you, do you think, Ah! What a saint? I don't. I wonder what part he played in the broken relationship. I think, maybe he's more to blame than the one he's so mad at! Bitter, hateful persons don't impress me with their innocence.
It also won't do the offender any good. Bad attitudes pour gasoline on the fire. If it's hard to make up when one person is in the wrong, it's much harder when both persons are guilty. Have gossip, yelling, and blackmail ever softened your heart? If not, why do you think it would bring anyone else to repentance?
If these are thing things you're looking for, a grudge won't get them. It won't make you look good and it won't do the offender any good, either. Here's the quote,
"Consider how much fitter means there are at hand to right yourself and attain any ends that are good, than by passion, malice or revenge. If your end be nothing but to do mischief, you are no better than a mad dog, and the world is glad to be rid of you. But, if your end be only to right yourself and to reclaim your enemy or reform your Brother, fury and revenge is not the way".
Before we go on, let me name one other goal of a grudge. Many people hold a grudge, not so much to look good themselves or to do the other person good, but for another reason, one more sinister than these. It is to see the one who did them wrong suffer!
We have a word for this; it's malice. Now, surely a grudge will inflict great suffering on the one who hurt you, right?
Wrong. Proverbs 24:17-18 says the opposite is more likely to occur,
"Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles; Lest the LORD see it, and it displease Him, And He turns away His wrath from him".
God punishes men for their sin, but He takes no pleasure in it. When He sees you getting a kick out of their suffering, He may well relieve it--and who knows? Maybe He'll send it your way.
A grudge doesn't work. It never has and never will. So, why don't you drop yours and replace it with something that will work? With love.
"Charity never faileth".
That's Number One. Number Two is this:
IF YOU WANT TO BE MORE FORGIVING, REMEMBER THAT YOU'RE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR WHAT OTHERS DO TO YOU, BUT ONLY FOR WHAT YOU DO IN RETURN.
This pretty much speaks for itself. If you come up to me after the sermon and call me every name in the book and punch me in the nose, you're guilty, but I'm not. I may be hurt and embarrassed, but my conscience is clear and God is not unhappy with me. But let me curse at you in return or throw a punch myself, and I'm as guilty as you are.
The worst thing in the world is sin. That means sinning is far worse than being sinned against. Thus, I ought to be much more worried about how I respond to your offense than I am about the offense itself. In short, being sinned against is not a big deal! No one ever went to hell because someone did him wrong; God never chastised a man for what he suffered. No, the opposite is true, God takes pity on those who have been mistreated.
As far as you're concerned, your hard feelings are far worse than what someone did to cause them. Baxter says,
"Remember how little you are concerned in the words or actions of other men toward you, in comparison to your carriage toward them. You have greater matters to mind than your little sufferings, even the preserving of your innocence and your peace with God. It is your actions-and not theirs-that you must answer for. You will not be condemned for suffering wrong, but for doing wrong you may. Keep yourself and your salvation whatever others Do to you".
When others hurt you, you wonder why God didn't see them. He did, of course. And not only them, He also saw you. Remember, you're not responsible for what others do to you, but only for how you respond to them. That's Number Two.
IF YOU WANT TO BE MORE FORGIVING, REMEMBER THAT OFFENSES ARE BOTH TRIALS AND TEMPTATIONS.
Church people often use trials and temptations interchangeably. There's nothing wrong with that, but Baxter distinguishes the two. By trials, he means a work of God to assess and strengthen your love and patience. By temptations he means a work of Satan to get you to sin.
Offenses are both trials and temptations. God sends them your way to make you better. The devil brings them into your life to make you worse.
Thus, when someone does you wrong, remember: God is putting you to the test. He wants you to pass it through faith and prayer and obedience. So why don't you trust Him in it? And pray for help? And simply do what he says whether you want to or not? Offenses are not like mid-term exams, scheduled months ahead of time. They're more like pop quizzes-coming when you least expect them. The only way to be ready for them is to be ready all the time.
"God tries you by them, that you may be perfect even as your Heavenly Father is perfect, and may be indeed His children, while you `love your enemies, bless those who curse you, and do good to them who hate you'".
When someone hurts you, remember also: The devil is tempting you. He wants you to get mad, lash out, nurse a grudge, and tell as many people as possible that you were done wrong. Do you want to obey the devil? Do you want him smiling at your response? If you don't, then overlook the sin or forgive the sinner.
"Hear every provoking word as if a messenger of Satan were come to you to stir you to passion, malice, railing, or revenge, to sin against God and to damn your soul. If you knew one came to you from the devil on this errand, how would you entertain him?"
This last sentence is one of the best things I've read in Baxter. How would you entertain a messenger of Satan whose goal in coming was to damn you? Would you let him in? Would you make him comfortable? Would you let him spend the night? Of course you wouldn't! You'd bar the door against him.
But what is holding a grudge but entertaining Satan's messenger? Often for years at a time! Paul tells you to not even give him one night's lodging!
"Let not the sun go down on your wrath- neither give place to the devil".
Offenses don't come accidentally. Both God and the devil send them our way. The one wants them to make us better, the other worse. Now, honestly, who's having his way in your life? James 4:7,
"Therefore, submit yourselves to God, resist the devil and he will flee".
If you want to be more forgiving remember that offense are both trials of God and temptations of Satan. That's Number Three.
IF YOU WANT TO BE MORE FORGIVING THINK LONG AND HARD ON THE EXAMPLE YOUR SAVIOR SET FOR YOU.
Of the twenty-five points we've looked at in our study, this is the most obvious and the easiest to overlook. No one suffered as often, as deeply, or as unjustly as Jesus Christ. He was,
"Hated without a cause".
His persecution started early on and only got worse with time. Everyone was involved in it, including His enemies (Caiaphas, Annas, Pilate, Herod), His false friends (Judas Iscariot), His true friends (Peter), His family (the brothers who rejected and mocked Him, along with the parents who misunderstood Him), and total strangers (the mob that called for his death and the Roman soldiers who crucified Him).
Because He is a perfect Man, we often suppose He had a thick skin. No, the opposite is true. Because He is the perfect Man, He was doubly sensitive to every wrong done to Him-not because it bruised His ego, but because it outraged the justice of God.
No one deserved suffering less than He did, yet no one suffered more than He. And how did He suffer the wrongs inflicted on Him?
"Was He addicted to malice, wrath, hurtfulness or revenge? No, but was a pattern of love, meekness, patience and forgiveness.When reviled, He did not revile again, when He suffered, He did not threaten."
Having reminded us of how our Lord responded to offenses, Baxter goes on to say,
"If you will not imitate Him, you are not His disciples; nor will He be your Savior. A serious view of Him as set before us in the Gospels is a most powerful remedy against malice and revenge, and will cure it- if anything will. `Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus'".
I like the last thing he says: If the example of Christ won't make you give up your hard feelings, nothing will. How in the world can you resent people when He prayed for them in His dying agony?
Think about Christ. And the love of God be with you. Amen.
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