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TEXT: Luke 17:1-10
SUBJECT: A Lesson in Forgiveness #3: The Way
Mindful that God's grace is greater than our need, we come today to part three in the series I've called A Lesson in Forgiveness.
The Teacher of our Lesson is Jesus Christ who is Immanuel, or 'God with us'. This means, whatever He did God does, and whatever He commanded, God commands.
His students are the disciples, men, women, and children who are not content hearing the Word, but want to be doers of the Word.
The Word we want to be doers of is forgive, that is to walk away from the wrongs done to us-not from the people who commit them-but from the memories and the bitterness, the self-pity, and revenge that fester in our souls when we don't forgive.
The things we're to forgive are offenses. Not mistakes, weaknesses, or every little thing (they're to be overlooked), but 'the big ones', the things that hurt most. These things will differ from person to person, but, given enough time, every one of us will suffer them because It is impossible that no offenses should come.
I know you have been offended. Some people wear their offense like a nametag. Instead of saying, Hello, My Name is Charlie, it says, Hello, I'm the Man whose Wife Done Him Wrong. Others are more discreet: they don't call themselves 'victims', 'survivors', and so on, but this is how they think of themselves-I'm the Man Whose Wife Done Him Wrong.
Many people want to be this way. They say they don't, they say they want to forgive and move on, but they don't mean what they say. Because being a victim relieves them of their duty (they think) and gives them power over other people, not least the one who wants to kiss and make up.
But 'power over people' is not the Lord's way-The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. And, 'being hurt' did not keep Him from doing His duty. What shall I say: Father, save Me from this hour? But for this hour I came forth. Father, glorify Your Name!
Of course you've been offended-everyone has, including our God and Savior Jesus Christ! But have you forgiven the offenders? This is a question I cannot answer, but also one you have to answer. And not, when the hurt feelings go away, for they won't go away until you forgive. If the Holy Spirit has revealed a grudge to you, He is also commanding you to forgive it. From the heart. Right now.
Is it easy to forgive a wrong?
I don't need to answer this one, do I? For most people, wrongs are hard to forgive, and for others, 'hard' isn't the half of it. But forgive we must.
Like other spiritual duties, 'forgiving others' is not a matter of technique-'Twelve Steps to Forgiveness', 'The Seven Laws of Pardon'. Forgiving others depends on God's grace, and in particular, knowing how much He has forgiven you.
But if Technique isn't Everything, it also isn't Nothing. What it is, is Something. In vv.3-4, Christ shows us the way to forgive others. He doesn't guarantee if you do this, you'll never be bothered by bitterness again, but He says, 'When you're offended, do this'.
TAKE HEED TO YOURSELF
When someone does you wrong, the first thing you're to do is, Take heed to yourselves.
'To take heed' is to pay close attention; to concentrate, to think long and hard about something; to meditate on the thing. Pretty much everyone does this: Being sinned against is apt to sharply focus the mind. For example:
I overhear you gossiping about me. I can't make out every word, but the words I hear I don't like. I listen with great care, I fill in the missing words, and then I read your mind to find your every dark motive. I go home and turn over what you've said. Because I'm so hurt, I don't sleep a wink that night, but keep repeating the words to myself, trying to figure out what the chuckle meant here, the tone of voice meant there. Day after day, I sift your words; and this goes on for years. I've put in more time and effort into figuring out 'exactly what you meant by that' than the Americans did in cracking the Japanese code in World War II. I've taken heed.
The problem is: I've taken heed to the wrong things. Our Lord doesn't say, 'Take heed to 'him' or 'what he said' or 'what he meant by what he said'. He said, Take heed to.yourself.
When somebody has done you wrong, the first person you're to think about is yourself. But not, 'I don't deserve this!' or 'How could he do that to me?' or even, how much it hurts. You need to think, How should I respond to the wrong?
FOUR BAD RESPONSES
Should I answer back, dishing out to others what they have dished out to me? Re-read v.3. Does our Lord say, If your brother sins against you, sin against him? If what he did to you was so bad that it would be better to drown then to do it (v.2), how can it be good or right or safe for you to do the same to him? Did our Lord anywhere tell us to 'avenge ourselves'? Did He Himself do this? I Peter 2:23 says-
When He was reviled, He did not revile;
When He suffered, He did not threaten.
No, you shouldn't do to others what they shouldn't have done to you. If this is your temptation, take heed to yourself!
How about this one? Should I hate the one who did me wrong? Either hate him loudly or quietly? Hate him with my words and actions, or just hate him without a peep from me and without so much as lifting a finger against him? Is this how I should respond to the wrong?
Again, I point you to our passage. Does it say (or allow) anything like, If your brother sins against you, hate him for it? Is your hate likely to make forgiving him easier? Did our Lord hate those who hated Him? Did He ever say anything about 'hating others'? Sure He did, in one of the best-known places in the Bible, the Sermon on the Mount-
You have heard it said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy'. But I say to you, 'Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you'.
People with quiet, unemotional personalities are prone to bottle up hate in their hearts, and-because it is bottled up-to not see it for what it is. If you're this kind of person, take heed to yourself!
Should I gossip about the one who did me wrong? If no sin is more common than gossip, hardly anyone ever admits to doing it. But if gossip is always going on everywhere, someone must be doing it, and some of it probably comes from you. Especially if you've been hurt. Because of you've been hurt, you're thinking about it, and what you think about has a way of being what you talk about. To put a 'Christian spin' on it, you feel free to tell others the wrong you've been done, either to warn them of the man's evil ways or to provide the comfort and counsel you need to survive them. And, then, of course, you need to tell other so they can.pray for him.
Is this what our Lord tells you to do? If your brother sins against you, gossip about him? If He doesn't exactly tell you to do it, does He say anything to make you think it's okay with Him?
Our passage commands you to rebuke him in such a way as to make him repent (or apologize). But what's more likely to do that? Telling him his wrong face-to-face or talking behind his back? No one likes to hear his own faults, but if you had to, would you rather hear it one-on-one or hear it on the CBS Evening News?
In Matthew 18:15, our Lord spells it out-
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.
Here's something to remember about gossip. It does not only hurt the one it's about, but also the one who hears it. Why do I need to know somebody did you wrong? Why should you lower my respect for him and make it harder to love him? Why should I have to worry about him (when I have plenty of my own worries to worry about)?
If you're tempted to gossip about the ones who hurt you, take heed to yourself!
Should I think myself above doing the same wrongs that have been done to me? If the Bible-and common sense-teach anything at all, they teach we're all sinners. The Apostle Paul, quoting David the King, wrote,
All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.
One of the Twentieth Century's most insightful and humorous writers added,
Original sin is the only Article [of Faith] we can really prove!
This means you haven't only suffered wrongs, but you have committed them yourself, plenty of them, and often, of the same kind that you now so bitterly resent. A Scripture referred to last Sunday is worth repeating, Eccelesiastes 7:21-22-
Also do not take to heart everything people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you. For many times, also, your own heart has known, you have cursed others.
Nothing is more hateful to God than self-righteousness, or more contrary to what we know about ourselves! Thus, our Lord does not say, If your brother sins against you, remember you could never do a thing like that! You can do a thing like that, and you probably have. And if you haven't exactly 'done' it, one will get you ten you've 'thought' it!
Do you want to forgive others? If you do, you've got to start with yourself, with the anger and pride that make offenses more offensive than they need to be, and make wounded relationships harder to heal.
You cannot change other people! But you can submit to the changes God wants to make in your life. If an offender won't make things right with you, let it be his fault-and not your own! In short,
As much as lies within you, live at peace will all men.
THE RIGHT RESPONSE
When sinned against, the first thing you're to do is check your own attitude. If you're feeling sorry for yourself or wishing ill of the one who did you wrong, you're part of the problem and not part of the solution.
Having checked yourself, you then go on the check the offender. What do you do with him? Our Lord leaves no doubt-
If your brother sins against you, rebuke him.
To 'rebuke' means to tell him his fault in such a way as to bring repentance. Some people have no problem with the first part-they know how to 'tell him his fault'! But of course they do, because practice makes perfect!
It's the second part they have trouble with: telling him his fault in such as way as to bring repentance. Now, of course, some people are so blind to their own faults and stubborn that no one can make them see the evil of the ways or wring from them the magic words, 'I was wrong'. If you're this kind of person, I've got a memory verse for you, Proverbs 26:12-
Do you see a man who is wise in his own conceits?
There is more hope for a fool than for him!
Most people, however, are not this way-especially if they're Christians. When they do us wrong, we're obliged to help them see and repent of their sin.
How do we do that? By ranting and raving? By nagging and threatening? By blowing their faults out of proportion? By playing the martyr? By quoting Bible verses at them day and night? By sicking the pastor on them? By giving them the cold shoulder? By making up the couch for them?
Once-in-a-while, such things work. But this does not make any of them right. Nowhere does the Bible command these things; sometimes it forbids them; our Lord didn't do these thing when He didn't get His way; and besides, they flatly contradict the Golden Rule-
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
The rebuke He calls for is a loving rebuke, which (most of the time) is private, humble, and no sharper than it needs to be.
Start with private. The verse I cited a few minutes ago bears repeating, Matthew 18:15-
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.
It needs to be humble. Galatians 6:1-
If a brother is overtaken in a fault, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in the spirit of meekness, considering yourself, lest you also be tempted.
Make it no sharper than it needs to be. At times, a rebuke has to be painful to work, Proverbs 27:6-
Faithful are the wounds of a friend.
But pain must never be our goal, no less our pleasure! For the example of God stands over us at all times, Lamentations 3:3-
For He does not afflict willingly,
Nor grieve the children of men.
Does the Lord promise every private, humble, and gentle rebuke will bring the offender to an immediate and permanent repentance? No He doesn't. But, while this is our goal, it is not our responsibility. Our duty is to do God's will God's way, leaving the results to Him.
Our duty is to forgive the people who have done us wrong, no matter what the wrong is or how often they have done it. But forgiving others is not automatic or easy. It takes the grace of God, preeminently, and secondly, it takes effort of our part. The effort starts with taking heed to ourselves-checking our own attitudes to be sure they make reconciliation easier and not harder. And, having done that, we lovingly call offenders to repentance, and when they offer it, we forgive them, walking away from the wrong they have done us and giving up the bitterness it has caused.
They is no way we can forgive others until we remember that God has forgiven us, forgiven us of wrongs far worse than the ones done to us, and forgiven them at the cost of His own blood. Having received forgiveness so freely ourselves, let us freely forgive others.
God help us!
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