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TEXT: I Corinthians 13:5b
SUBJECT: A Lesson in Forgiveness #6: No Lists!
A couple of weeks ago we 'finished' a five-part series called A Lesson in Forgiveness. At the time, I thought I had the subject out of my systems, but in the following days, it occurred to me I didn't. There were things I still needed to say, and things we all need to hear. Thus, we will re-open the study for another two or three weeks (God willing) and see what the Holy Spirit is going to do with it. I pray He will breathe upon my words as He once did the dead bones-and give them life!
Before I say another word about forgiveness, let me tell you what the stakes are: salvation and damnation. Forgiving others is not an option for the believer-in-Christ. It is a necessity. You can go to heaven without baptism, without family worship, and without reading your Bible cover-to-cover. But you cannot go to heaven without forgiving the people who have done you wrong. Not some of the people some of their wrongs, but all of the people all of their wrongs.
Who says so? Jesus Christ. And He didn't say it in mysterious words or in an out-of-the-way place, but in words nobody can get wrong, and in one of the best-known passages in the New Testament. The place is the Lord's Prayer, which millions of Christians recite every Sunday morning and at bedtime every night-
Forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors.
For if you forgive men their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
What does it mean to be forgiven? It means to be saved-now and forever. What does it mean to be unforgiven? It means to be damned-now and forever. Who is saved? The ones who forgive. Who is damned? The ones who don't.
There's more to the doctrine of salvation, of course. But for now, we don't need to think of the other things, but of the one thing! The thing without which you cannot be saved, and that one thing is forgiveness.
I know you have your reasons to not forgive (everyone does). But, if you don't forgive, both you and your reasons will be banished from God's Presence. Forever.
This is not pretend. It's real.
In our Scripture lesson a few minutes ago, we read I Corinthians 13. The text, however, is not the whole chapter, but only one verse, in fact, less than one verse, only the last line in v.5. In the New King James Version it says-
Love.thinks no evil.
What does this mean?
If you just glanced at the verse, you might think it means Love is naïve or undiscerning or that it thinks the best of people no matter what.
For example, suppose your husband comes staggering through the door at 3:30 AM, reeking of alcohol, and saying in a loud and slurred voice-I love you, honey, I've always loved you (hiccough!). You ask him if he's been drinking, and he says, Why, of course not (hiccough!), I've been to an all-night prayer meeting! Do you have to believe him?
Is this what it means to think no evil? No it doesn't, and we know it doesn't because in the very next line, Paul says, Love.does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth. In other words, love is not stupid; it wants to think the best of others, but not to the point of joining them in an obvious lie. This is not what it means.
A second way of looking at it used to be my own. If you dig up my old sermons on this chapter, you'll hear me saying the verse means something to this effect: Love is not suspicious. While it is not foolish, neither is it eager to see through everyone, expose secret motives, and find fault in everything.
This is a true doctrine: Love is not suspicious. But it's not quite what Paul has in mind.
The translators of the NIV really 'got it' when they turned the Greek into these English words-
Love.does not keep a record of wrongs.
Everyone has been hurt, some seriously hurt over and over again, and by people who should have loved them and done them good and not evil.
Have you been hurt? is not the question, of course you have! The question is: What are you doing with the hurts? Are you keeping track of them? Or letting them go?
What I really want to know is: Are you keeping a list? If you are not, you are living in love-and praise the Lord! But if you are, you are living in something else: hate, malice, self-pity, pride, contempt, self-righteousness-none of which is Godlike or Christlike or (aiming lower) even Christianlike.
If you want to forgive others, don't keep a list of what they've done or not done. If you don't have one yet, don't start one; if you have one, tear it up and throw it away!
If your handwriting is small, you can make up quite a list on one sheet of paper (front and back!). But the list, while weighing a fraction of an ounce is heavy enough to sink you into the lowest pit of hell. And it will! Get rid of it. Now! And good riddance!
Why would you keep a list of the sins of other people? And, in particular, of the sins they have committed against you? I suppose some people do it because they've got nothing better to do with their time. But most of us are busy; rather than having too much time on our hands, we've got too little-and keeping files on people deeply cuts into the little time we have.
I say this half-jokingly because we all know why we keep a list. You keep a list because you don't want to forget. If I go shopping without one, I'm sure to make a dozen trips to pick up things that slipped my mind the first eleven times!
A list is a reminder of what you need to do, where you need to go, whom you need to call, and so on.
This means: You keep a list of what people have done to you so that you won't forget their sins.
This exposes the true nature of a grudge. When a man says, 'He can't forget' it means 'He doesn't want to forget'. If he did, he wouldn't dwell on the offense; he would block it out as best he could, he would do something else to get his mind off it, never bring it up, and change the subject if somebody else does.
But is this what grudging people do? You know they don't-that's why you know they're grudging people-because they live on it (if you call that 'living')!
Think of an Obsessive/Compulsive Santa Claus-not
Making a list and checking it twice.
But making a list and checking it a million times!
This is what a grudge is. And what love isn't!
What's wrong with keeping a list?
I'm tempted to not even answer that, because you know what's wrong with it. When someone else is doing it. When you're doing it, however, things because less clear. What seems inexcusable in me, appears fully justified in you. We all feel this way, and Ephesians 5:29 tells us why-
For no man ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it.
Your list is wrong and mine is right because I love myself more than I love you, and-if love does nothing else-it sure covers a multitude of sins (especially my own!).
What's wrong with keeping a list?
In a word, everything. As I've tried to make abundantly clear in this sermon, dwelling on the wrongs people have done you is one of the worst and most hurtful sins in the world! Hurtful to you, to them, to others, and most of all, hurtful to God, to Christ, and to the Holy Spirit!
Here's some of what's wrong with keeping a list.
In the first place, keeping a list is selfish. Focusing on the wrongs people have done you is another way of saying 'focusing on yourself'. You're not the only person who has ever been hurt. But how often do you think of them and their pain? Speaking of 'them', when did you last feel for the hurt suffered by the ones.who hurt you? You never think of their pain, for if you did, you'd feel for them, and not just blame them! If you need a proof text, I've got one: Philippians 2:3-
Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind, let each esteem others better than himself.
Stop thinking about yourself; start thinking about others, and you'll lose the list.
In the second place, keeping a list is unproductive and counterproductive. The time you spend on your list of grievances could be spent reading the Bible, witnessing to the lost, feeding the hungry, or rejoicing in the goodness of the world and the One who created it. It's unproductive.
And counterproductive. Because it dirties every clean thing you do. Like going to the prayer meeting! Paul tells Christian men to Pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and without doubting. But when the resentful man prays, his prayer is an abomination to God. The Proverb says, even-
The plowing of the wicked is sin.
Working is a big part of man's God-given task. And no work is more necessary or 'innocent' than farming. Yet even this-when done by a wicked man-is sinful. Grudges are like greasy fingers: everything they touch gets dirty.
In the third place, keeping a list hurts innocent bystanders. Suppose a woman loves her children, but hates her husband. For years she sulks around the house or yells and throws things; when the kids get bigger, her greatest pleasure comes from telling them what a scoundrel their dad is. Her one and only goal is to get back at her husband.
But is this all she does? Or, does her bitterness hurt the kids too? Let's think about it: Is it pleasant to be around a pouting or a screaming woman? (See Proverbs 25:24). Will the kids like to be home when things are this way? If they're not home, are they more likely to be at the prayer meeting or somewhere less wholesome? Have the girls gotten a good example for what it is to be a wife? What impression have the boys gotten about women and marriage?
When the kids grow up and have children of their own, will they want them to spend a lot of time with the grandparents? Or will Daycare seem a safer and healthier choice?
I am not suggesting the woman is aiming at her kids. No, she's got the gun pointed at her husband only. But her gun is a shotgun and the shot spreads out widely. She wants her husband to suffer for what he's done-and he does. But not only he.
In the fourth place, keeping a list divides friends, family, and brethren. Bitter people are jealous. They're not content with you loving them and the one who did them wrong. They want you on their side-and against their enemy! And not mildly against him, but bitterly against him. If you say a good word about him or treat him decently, they feel you've betrayed them, and if they can't retrieve your loyalty, the start feeling persecuted by you too.
Dividing people is a serious matter. Proverbs 6 says God hates six things, yea seven are an abomination to Him, one of which is-
He who sows discord among brethren.
Hearts torn by bitterness have a way of tearing up homes and churches.
In the fifth place, keeping a list breaks the Golden Rule. Our Lord said, Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Would you have others keep a file on all your wrongs, review them every day, publicize them, and never ever let you forget what you've done or how badly it hurt them? Does that sound like a good time to you? If it doesn't, don't do it to others.
In the sixth place, keeping a list is deceitful and self-deceiving. We ought to look at people they way they are-not a part of them, but all of them (good points and bad). But has any grudge-holder ever done this? Or does he focus only on the bad part and make it the whole? If he takes the part for the whole, he has a wrong view of the person, and more than 'wrong'-a lying and slanderous view.
Does this please the Lord? Or, does He tell us-
Whatever things are true, whatever things are honest, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, if there be any virtue, if there be any praise, think of these things?
Is it right to tell a lie? Even to yourself? If it isn't, it's also not right to keep a list.
Finally, keeping a list contradicts the example of Jesus Christ and the character of God. Were the disciples sinful men? Did our Lord ever call them on it? Sure He did. But did He dwell on it, did He harp on it, did He write them off because they were fools and slow to believe? Or did He overlook their sins (when He could) and forgive them?
Who does the Lord resemble? Or, more than 'resemble', who is He a dead ringer for? God-Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father.
If God is this way (as God) and if Christ is this way (as a Man), how can we justify ourselves being any other way? How can it possibly be right or even tolerable to be so different than the Lord?
Especially since we are made in His likeness and image and then, by grace, re-made into the same Image.
I don't know how else to say it: It's wrong and hurtful and foolish to keep a list on people. Don't do it!
WHAT TO DO
But what if you have already? What if you've got a list fresh in your mind, or worse, engraved on your heart? How do you get rid of it?
You start with confession. There is no way out of being guilty until you admit you are guilty-and not just guilty in some vague and shallow way ('I know I'm not perfect'), but personally, deeply, and inexcusably guilty! Until you can fess up to your sins-as David did his-you will stay in your sins-
Have mercy upon me, O God, according to your lovingkindness, according to the multitude of your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions.Against you, you only have I sinned and done this evil in your sight, that you may be just when you speak and blameless when you judge.Behold I was shaped in iniquity and in sin did my mother conceive me.Deliver me from blood guiltiness, of God!
'Confession is good for the soul'-but it is not the whole answer. You look to Christ for pardon-not for permission-but for pardon. Ask Him to forgive you, ask Him sincerely, and then believe the Gospel, that He has forgiven you. This will free up your conscience for.
Repentance. Changing your life, by God's grace, and supported by His Word, Sacrament, and Church. It means refusing to dwell on the wrongs, refusing to use them against the offender, refusing to tell others about them, and refusing to feel like a lily-white martyr instead of what you (and we all) are: dirty sinners (whom God happens to love).
To prevent you from keeping a list, hide two verses in your heart (don't just hear them or memorize them: meditate on them day and night!): Psalms 143:2 and 130:3-4-
Do not enter into judgment with your servant,
For in your sight no one living is righteous.
If you, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord,
Who would stand?
But there is forgiveness with you,
That you may be feared.
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