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TEXT: Luke 17:1-10
SUBJECT: A Lesson in Forgiveness #4:
Desiring to be doers of the Word and not hearers only, we come today to part four in the study called A Lesson in Forgiveness.
The teacher of the Lesson is our Lord Jesus Christ, a Man with a double authority to teach it, first because He Himself forgave the ones who did Him wrong, and then, because God has made Him Lord, which means He can tell us what to do.
His students are the disciples, people who want to live for Christ in this world and to live with Him in the world to come.
The lesson can be summed up in a few words: Forgive. Everyone. Everything. Every time.
If the lesson seems hard to learn, it is. If you suspect it will take more than willpower and support groups, it will. What does it take to become a forgiving person? It takes the grace of God. Which He will give you because He wants you to be like Him, and nothing is more 'like Him', than forgiving those who have done you wrong, especially if the wrongs they've done are many and big!
Do you have someone to forgive? Or maybe more than someone? If you do, it's time to do it. You've spent enough time brooding over what was done to you, and how undeserving you were of it! You have hated the offender long enough, wished him enough harm, and grieved the Holy Spirit way more than you needed to! Now, what you need to do is obey Jesus Christ whether you feel like it or not.
Forgiveness and feeling are not the same thing! Our Lord doesn't say, If your brother sins against you.feel forgiving. What He says is.Forgive him. To say 'forgiveness' and 'feeling' are not the same thing, however, does not mean they are not related, because they are related, closely related. We all pretty much know this, the problem is we've got the relationship backwards. Warm feelings are not the cause of forgiveness, they are the effect. In other words, we don't forgive because we have started feeling good about the person who did us wrong, be start feeling good about the person who did us wrong because we have forgiven him.
Our duty is to forgive others. And no duty is more urgent or of more lasting importance. Is it important to worship God? Should that be a fairly high priority? I think so, and, of course, so did the Jews in the First Century. They thought public worship was so important that they flocked to the Temple as often as they could, and some of them traveled a great distance and spent a lot of money to be there. But our Lord told them going to the Temple was secondary to something else, in fact, until they had done the 'something else' they would be better off at home. What in the world could this 'something else' be? Our Lord tells us in Matthew 5:23-24-
If you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go you way. First be reconciled to your brother and then come and offer your gift.
Making up is so important that, until we do it, we are not fit to worship the Lord and our gifts are not acceptable. This must have shocked the first people who heard it, but it shouldn't have, because long before they heard the Sermon on the Mount, they had read Hosea 6:6-
For I desired mercy and not sacrifice.
Our Lord tells us to forgive others, and-had He wanted to-He could have left it there: with a bare command. But He didn't do that. He told us, not only to forgive others, but also how to forgive them. Luke 17:1-10 is not all He said about forgiveness, but it's a very good place to start. It doesn't answer every question or fill in every detail, but if you practice it, you'll be far more forgiving than you are.
So, how do you forgive others? Thus far, we've looked at two things:
These are the first two steps in making things right with people who have hurt you. If they seem way too hard for you, you ain't heard nothing yet!
The third step to forgiving others is, well, forgiving them-
If your brother sins against you, rebuke him, and if he repents.forgive him.
A few weeks ago, we did a word study and found that 'to forgive' means 'to walk away from, to forsake, to leave once-and-for all'. When our Lord laid His hands on Peter's mother-in-law, the verse says, the fever left her; when He called four men to be His disciples, it says, they forsook their nets and followed Him.
This is what 'forgiveness' is: walking away from the wrong that was done to us. Not the 'wrongdoer', but the wrong itself.
What does it mean to 'walk away from a wrong'? Much could be said here, but I think Jay Adams has summed it up pretty well in his book, The Christian Counselor's Manual. Speaking of forgiveness, he says-
It involves a commitment not to raise the issue again, the promise to avoid holding the offense over the offender's head, the promise to tell no one else about it, and the promise not to dwell on it oneself.
Note the realism of this quote. It doesn't say 'forget what was done to you' or 'pretend it never happened'. Memory cannot be turned on and off like a light switch. Relationships cannot be healed by apologies alone.
It takes time to make things right. But the time it takes has to be well-spent time! Not time brooding over the wrong; not time playing the martyr; not time rehashing the sin; not time telling others what he did or what a lowlife he is! Insofar as you do these (and things like them) you are not forgiving your brother-and you are not obeying your Lord.
I used the word, 'healing' a moment ago, and I want to go back to it. Several years ago my appendix acted up and I had it taken out. The next day, the doctor came by and told me I'd be good as new if I did no heavy lifting for a couple of weeks and kept my fingers off the incision. I did what he told me to do, and he was right-in a couple of weeks I was fine.
But what if I hadn't done what he told me to do? What if I had dropped by the gym on my way home from the hospital to lift weights and do a few crunches? And, what if, when I got home and saw blood on the bandage I scrubbed it off with a stiff brush? I'd have been back in the hospital that night-and if the doctor found out what I'd done-he'd have put me in a straightjacket!
Incisions don't heal if you pick and pull at them. And neither do families, friends, and churches! In a word, we don't forgive because we have healed, we are healed because we forgive.
Before we move on to the really hard part of the passage, let me ask you: Are you still dwelling on the wrong? Do you keep bringing it up? Are you using it for leverage? Do you keep talking about it? If you are, you have not forgiven.
It is easy to say You don't understand! And you may be right. I've suffered some in life, but maybe not nearly as much as you have. While I try to sympathize with you, there's a good chance I don't understand what you're going through.
But Jesus Christ does. He knows what it is to be hurt by His family and friends; as a boy He was misunderstood by His parents; He was an embarrassment to His brothers; and then, His dearest friends left Him when He needed them most; one of them denied Him three times, and another sold Him for thirty pieces of silver.
He came to His own and His own did not welcome Him. He was despised and rejected of men.and we hid, as it were, our faces from Him. They hated me without a cause.
Jesus Christ is a Man who knows what it is to be sinned against. It is He who prayed, Father, forgive them for they know not what they do. And, it is He who says-
You shall forgive him.
SEVEN TIMES A DAY
How often must you forgive people who have done you wrong? Our Lord says-
If he sins against you seven times in a day.you shall forgive him.
If these were seven mistakes a day, we'd feel pretty good about ourselves. On a good day, we can probably muster that many pardons. But, remember, going back to vv.1-2, they are not slip ups He has in mind, but offenses, that is, grave sins, sins so wicked it would be better to die than to commit them!
These sins are to be forgiven, and not one per lifetime, or even seven spread out over seventy years, but seven of them in one single day!
This teaching may have been in Peter's mind the day he said to our Lord-
How often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Seven times?
If he was thinking of this, he had the word right, but not the meaning. For seven is not only a number, it's a symbol, a symbol of 'completeness'. Thus the Lord answered him-
Not seven times, but seventy times seven.
In other words, we're to forgive Everyone. Everything. Every time. No grudges! None. Zero. Nada.
IF HE REPENTS
A command this extreme must drive us to our knees to find grace or to our magnifying glasses to find a loophole! Our Lord seems to have given us one-
If your brother sins against you rebuke him, and if he repents forgive him.
There's some tie between your forgiveness and his repentance. What is it? I'm unable to provide a complete answer, but what I can say, I'm quite sure is true.
Let's begin by defining 'repentance'. If you look in a Greek dictionary, you'll find repentance means 'a change of mind'. This is some help, but not much. What kind of change does it refer to? In the higher sense, it stands for a radical change from the heart affecting one's whole life. This is what Peter had in mind when he told the people to Repent and be converted. In a lower sense, it means 'to regret the wrong you've done'. Judas, for example, felt sorry for what he had done, 'repented' and hanged himself. He was a sad man, to be sure, but he was not a new man.
How is our Lord using the word in our passage? When offended we think (or hope) He means it in the higher sense. We're willing to forgive someone who proves he's a new man by living a totally new life from now on.
Is this what our Lord means? It cannot be. Because, in the first place, we're to forgive him the day he repents, and that's not long enough to see if he really means it. Secondly, we're to forgive him seven times in a day, and how radically changed can a man be if he does it six more times in the next few hours? Then, in v.4, it doesn't say, if he repents seven times in a day, but-
If he returns to you saying, 'I repent', you shall forgive him.
This means: Give him the benefit of the doubt; be eager to forgive; want reconciliation. By doing this, you open yourself up to being hurt. Let's face it: some people apologize better than they repent. But, as bad as 'being hurt' is, there are worse things to be: one of them is stingy.
Is God gracious or ungracious? Is He merciful or unmerciful? Is He generous or tight-fisted? What does the cross mean but that God is willing to be hurt? Of course He is: because He loves, and that's what love does to you: it opens you up to being hurt.
Forgive the people who have wronged you, and forgive them on easy terms.
Why should you do this? I thought of three reasons.
The first is the most important: because God forgives you on easy terms. Do you confess your sins every day? If you do, do you confess different sins every day? Or, are the sins you confess every day pretty much the same ones? I confess pretty much the same sins every day. This means my repentance is far from perfect. Yet the Lord forgives me. And not only me. He forgives you too. And on the same easy terms.
The second reason you're to forgive others on easy terms is because it encourages them to repent. Do you want to harden the offender? If you do, give him no hope. If he knows you won't forgive him anyway, why should he apologize at all or even try to make things right?
But you say, 'I've got to teach him a lesson'. Is that your real motive? Are you, deep down inside, yearning to forgive him, overflowing with tender compassion, but think you must hold back lest he do it again? Or, honestly, are you holding back because you're bitter?
Apply this to the family: Husbands and wives have a lot to learn (boy, do we ever!) But how are the lessons taught? How does a wife teach her husband to be a better man? By scolding him? Peter says bad men are changed by observing their wives' chaste conduct accompanied by respect and a gentle and quiet spirit.
How does a husband make his wife a better woman? By threatening her? Paul says he does it the same way Christ makes the church better: by loving his wife and giving himself for her.
The third reason you're to forgive others on easy terms is because it makes your life so much easier! Reading minds is hard work! Give people the benefit of the doubt and you don't have to waste your time on questions you can't answer anyway: Is he sorry enough? Has he apologized enough? Has he proven himself enough? Leave this to God and the Final Judgment. For now, just forgive and move on.
You can only forgive and move on when you remember that you, too, are in need of forgiveness. And that God, for Christ's sake, has met your need. What the Psalmist sang long ago, we sing as well-
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And all that is in me,
Bless His holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul
And forget not all His benefits.
Who forgives all your iniquities.
If the Lord, whom I've offended deeply and every day, has forgiven me, who am I to withhold forgiveness? Freely we have received, freely give.
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