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TEXT: Luke 17:1-10

SUBJECT: A Lesson in Forgiveness #2: The Need

Today, with God's blessing, we'll continue the study we began last week called A Lesson in Forgiveness. The Teacher of this lesson is our Lord Jesus Christ, a Man uniquely qualified to teach forgiveness because no one ever had more to forgive than He-and no one ever did it as He did back then-and still does.

His students were not all men, women, and children, but only disciples, that is everyone who wants to follow Christ in this world and be with Him in the world to come. Let me make this perfectly clear: forgiveness is not an option. You forgive or you go to hell.

The timing is also important. The lesson was taught at the dawning of the New Covenant, a time when the full forgiveness of God would be given to His people, and when His people would be so transformed by His grace that they would forgive others as they themselves have been forgiven.

Before we move on in the study, let's take a moment for personal reflection. The words of Jesus Christ are not in the Bible for us to admire as works of art. We do admire them, of course, and like the officer sent to arrest Him, we exclaim: Never has man spoken as this Man speaks! But He doesn't want admiration: He wants obedience! Jesus Christ wants us to be doers of the Word and not hearers only. To press upon us the duty of doing what He says, Paul reminds us: Not the hearers of the Law are just before God, but the doers of the Law shall be justified.

Ask yourself: Have you obeyed the Lord since last Sunday? Have you forgiven someone who has wronged you? Have you forgiven all who have wronged you? I'm not asking about your 'feelings'-I'm asking about your 'doings'. Have you forgiven the ones who have done you wrong? If you haven't, 'There's no time like the present'-in fact, 'There's no time but the present'. You may not have tomorrow in which to forgive them. Many people will go to bed alive and well tonight, and not wake up in the morning. Maybe you'll be one of them-or maybe I will. Then, it will be too late to forgive. But it's not too late now-

Break up your fallow ground,

For it is time to seek the Lord,

Till He comes and rains righteousness

on you.

OFFENSES

What we're to forgive is an offense, or to be exact, offenses (with an 's') because, like locusts, they seldom come alone! This is a strong word in the Greek New Testament, and never means a mistake, an oversight, or a trivial wrong (such as forgetting to say, 'Good morning' or saying it in a grouchy way when you first get up).

Little, trifling things should not be forgiven. They should be overlooked. If you're too sensitive, quick to take offense, and prone to exaggerate every little wrong (real or imagined), I have a memory verse for you, and if you practice it, it will save you and the rest of us so much grief, Proverbs 19:11-

The discretion of a man makes him

slow to anger,

And it is to his glory to overlook a

transgression.

It's appalling how much time and energy are spent in mending hurt feelings that shouldn't have been hurt in the first place. If you can't think of anything to pray for tonight, pray for a thicker skin! It does a Body good!

Not everything, however, can be overlooked. Offenses are too serious to ignore. The word translated, offenses in v.1, is the word from we get 'scandal'. It is a strong temptation to sin, to strike back, to take vengeance, to sulk and pout and give into to hateful and malicious feelings.

Under this heading we would find wrongs like criminal neglect, slander, harsh words, humiliation, physical violence, betrayal, and infidelity. These are the offenses our Lord has in mind. These are the ones He wants us to forgive.

In His Sermon on the Mount our Lord concedes there's a certain honor among thieves. The thieves He had in mind were the publicans (or tax collectors) who were the most hated and scorned men in Israel. Even they-He said-loved those who loved them and saluted those who saluted them. I think it's fair to add that even these lowlifes forgave some wrongs-like forgetting to send them a Christmas card (or Hanukkah, as the case may be!). But betrayal? Infidelity? Slander? No! Sins of this sort were not forgiven.

But then our Lord says publican righteousness is not good enough! He wants us to be like our Father in Heaven who is good to all-including the unjust, the evil, and the unthankful.

One part of being good to all is forgiving them, even when they've hurt you beyond words.

MILLSTONES

To some twisted minds, the duty to forgive all of their sins means they're free to sin against you as much as they want and without fear of consequences. Our Lord, however says otherwise. Rather than saying offenses don't matter, He says they matter so much that dying a slow and horrifying death is to be preferred to them, vv.1-2-

Woe to him through whom they do come! It would be better if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.

Hurting people hurts them! And not only does it hurt them, it also hurts Christ. As far as we know, Saul of Tarsus had no part in crucifying our Lord or in the abuse that dogged Him His whole public career. But when Christ met him on the Road to Damascus, He demanded-

Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?

Who are you, Lord?

I am Jesus whom you are persecuting!

In what way was Saul persecuting the Lord? The first verse of that chapter (Acts 9) explains-

Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.

In hurting them, he was hurting Christ. This is what we do when we wrong others: we wrong Christ. And, if He has taken away their right to avenge the wrong, He has reserved the right for Himself. Speaking of and to God's People, Zechariah 2:8 says-

He who touches you, touches the apple of His eye.

Does sin matter to God? Only if people matter to God. And, as long as people matter to God, our sins against them matter. Remember this the next time you're about to gossip at their expense. Or embarrass them. Or do something that will hurt or humiliate them if it comes out. In the words of I John 2:1-

My little children, these things I write to you that you sin not.

MUST COME

Thus far, we've learned two things about offenses: they're serious sins against other people, and it is not right or safe to commit them. A third thing to know about them is also the most discouraging: offenses are inevitable, v.1-

It is impossible that no offenses should come.

Of all the words He might have chosen, why did He have to choose, impossible? If He had said, unlikely or improbable we would have a chance of getting through life without ever being offended. But what He said was, It is impossible that no offenses should come.

This means they will come. It's been said 'Nobody gets out of life alive', but that's not quite true: Enoch and Elijah did! But they didn't get out of life unoffended! And neither will anyone else, including you and me.

This means: we have to accept being offended as a part of life. You know why some people are offended: either because they're far too sensitive or because they bring it on themselves by being donkeys! We should learn from their bad examples, and not court offenses. But even if we do this offenses must come!

We know this-not only because our verse says so-but because no one suffered more abuse than the Man who deserved none of it. If you read the Gospels, you'll see our Lord was widely and deeply hated. But-quoting Psalm 69-He explains-

They hated Me without a cause.

Some of us have been hurt more often and more deeply than others. But every one of us have been hurt, and if we live, we will be again and again.

This means we need to prepare for offenses. We do this, chiefly, by meditating on the love of Christ and by following His forgiving example, whether we feel like it or not.

WHY OFFENSES COME

Why must offenses come your way? Much can be said here, and with more depth than I'm capable of, but here's a partial answer.

In the first place, offenses must come because people are weak. Some offenses are not meant that way. Some are given accidentally, and others are given on purpose, with a good conscience, and with the false belief that it is doing God a favor.

Take the duty of rebuke or correction. It is plainly and often commanded in the Bible (see v.3, for example). Young Christians, wanting to obey the command, sometimes run amok with it, feeling it's their job to correct every wrong and they do it with more zeal than wisdom. Even pastors can be this way-mistaking nagging and scolding the church for feeding and shepherding the Flock of God.

If the offenses are not willful, they are hurtful, and because they're done in a good conscience, they're seldom apologized for or made right.

You will suffer some of these offenses. And you have to forgive them.

A second reason offenses must come is because people are sinful. If some offenses are mistaken, others are malicious. Face the facts: Sometimes we gossip without meaning to, and sometimes we gossip meaning to! Solomon knew something about the human heart, and he said-

Do not take to heart everything people say,

Lest you hear your servant cursing you.

For many times, also, your own heart

Has known,

That even you have cursed others.

As long as men are sinful-and all men are-there will be offense galore. You will suffer some of these offenses. And you have to forgive them.

Thirdly, offenses must come because the devil is at work in the world. The devil loves nothing more than sowing discord among brethren. He fears a united and loving Church because it causes the world to know Christ. But a church divided and bickering hides Christ from the world; or worse, it presents a Christ who is not the real Christ. The same is true in marriage. Husband and wife are real, of course, but their also symbolic of Christ and His Church. When a man loves his wife and a wife obeys her husband, the Lord looks good; when the man abuses his wife or the wife resists him at every turn, the Lord looks bad. This is why the devil is so hell-bent in bringing offenses into the world and letting them fester as they are not forgiven.

As men serve the devil's interests (whether meaning to or not) they will offend you. And you have to forgive them.


Finally, offenses must come because God has willed them.
This is a great mystery, which I do not understand and cannot explain. But it is what the Bible teaches. The Lord has the power and wisdom to rid the world of sin here and now, but He doesn't. There must be some reason for permitting offenses to come.

While not fully explaining it, He has told us that sin is left in the world to build our character, to makes us feel our dependence on Him, and to enhance our witness to the world.

The Lord wants us to be forgiving, but how can we be this way if we have nothing to forgive? He wants us to feel our need of Him, and nothing does this like the rage and resentment offenses cause. He wants us to witness to His grace in the world, and how can we better do that than to love our enemies as God loves His?

God's Will does not make offenses any less offensive, any less hurtful than they are. But it puts them in perspective. Instead of blaming the Lord for letting them come our way, it makes us adore Him for giving us the chance to share in His character and saving work.

Look at your offenses, therefore, not as offenses only, but also as opportunities to show God to a world that cannot see Him, but also must see Him. And where they will see Him is in you.

Let your lights so shine before men,

That they may see your good works,

And glorify your Father, who is in Heaven.

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