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Forgive As...
September 15, 1996

MATTHEW 18:21-25

He was one of the most earnest religious seekers in the congregation. He joined every study group, participated in almost every event the church offered, yet he remained unfulfilled, even miserable. He was driven. He lacked joy. One day he told his story to the pastor, and confessed how angry he was with his business partner who had misused company money, and forced the company into bankruptcy some fifteen years before. For fifteen years, he had been unable to forgive his partner. For fifteen years, he was unable to experience forgiveness, joy, or peace.

What about you this morning? Is there a block in your life? Are you as joyful as you would like? Do you love the Lord? Are you and Jesus friends? Is prayer a burden or a joy? Take a look at your heart this morning. Is there a block? Is it forgiveness? Is there someone you need to forgive?

I looked up forgiveness in Webster's Dictionary. To forgive is to give up resentment against or the desire to punish; to stop being angry with; to pardon; to overlook.

Notice what forgiveness is not. Forgiving is not synonymous with forgetting. The old expression forgive and forget is often not only impossible but inadvisable. When the hurt is deep, it is usually impossible to forget. And, it is not wise to forget because you don't want to be hurt again. If you loan money to a child or brother or friend, and they don't pay you back, you may forgive the debt in order to keep a relationship with them; but you certainly don't want to forget it, and loan them money again! You will not only be asking to be hurt again, but you are contributing to their irresponsibility. A writer to Ann Landers in yesterday's paper complained about a neighbor who constantly borrowed, but never returned anything or offered to pay. Why would the writer continue to loan? The lender needs to remember, and refuse to lend again and contribute to the borrower's irresponsibility. Likewise, if a person has betrayed your trust, you must forgive them, but it is unwise to forget the betrayal, or they will do it again! Instead, work on the relationship so both of you may grow and learn from the betrayal.

Forgiveness does not mean forgetting, and forgiveness is not excusing. To forgive someone does not mean excusing them. To forgive a child does not mean excusing the behavior, so he/she can repeat it! To forgive means to restore the relationship-- give up resentment, give up the desire to punish, and stop being angry. To forgive means to restore the relationship and then work with the child so the misdeed is not repeated. When Ellie found out that one of our sons, while in college, had driven a friend to Phoenix one weekend, she called him up, asked him to read her the odometer, informed him that the keys to the car will remain in his desk drawer until the next time he comes home, and the odometer will show only the 419 miles from his dorm to our house! The car was grounded! She also requested an essay on what going to college meant to him, and why we should keep him in college! (We still have the essay.) She forgave him. He was forgiven, but he was not excused. The relationship remained intact, but his misdeed suffered the consequences. Ellie was a tough-love mother, and she raised three mature, responsible, conscientious, happy, and loving sons! Forgiveness and coddling are not synonymous.

Nor does forgiveness mean you don't get angry. Forgiveness means you stop being angry. We cannot and should not prohibit ourselves from getting angry. Sometimes you need to get angry to clear the pipes and focus the hurt. But, do not stay angry. Deal with it. Handle the anger productively. Don't let the anger destroy relationships. Confront when possible, and work through the anger. Jesus did not expect you to never get angry. He was certainly angry when he chased the money changers out of the temple. Paul taught us not to stay angry. Ephesians 4:26-27, Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. In other words, deal with the anger immediately. Do not let it fester and ferment, or the devil will use it to destroy you. Anger will eat at you, robbing you of your joy, building a wall between you and God, between you and others.

In fact, look at what happens when you don't forgive and stop being angry. Look at the cost of not forgiving. Did you hear what Jesus said in the lesson this morning? Very strong words, uncomfortable words. The king forgave the servant, until the servant refused to forgive the one who had wronged him. Then, the king rescinded the forgiveness, and Jesus said, So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart. When you pray the Lord's Prayer, do you realize what you are asking when you pray, Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us? Forgive us as... There is a condition on God's forgiveness. There is a requirement. For God to forgive you, you must forgive others.

And, you must ask for your neighbors' forgiveness when you have wronged them. On the Jewish festival of Atonement, Yom Kippur, all the sins against God are forgiven. However, if you have sinned against your brother or sister, you yourself must go, seek your neighbor out, and ask for forgiveness. Not even God is asked to forgive what you have done to another.

What happens to you when you won't forgive is three-fold:

1) George Herbert said it well, He who cannot forgive others destroys the bridge over which he himself must pass. The bridge is gone. You are stopped from progressing on your spiritual journey. You are blocked. You stagnate and rot.

2) You give up control of your life. When you refuse to forgive, you allow someone else's evil deed, or their thoughtlessness to control your life. Look at the power you give them. You allow them to destroy the bridge in front of you. You allow them and their misdeed to control your thinking. You dwell on your hurt, repeat it to yourself over and over. The anger against them festers, ferments, and spoils. Look at what you allow them to do to you. You have lost control.

3) The festering eats at you. Bitterness, resentment, anger eat away at your insides and destroy, not the one who sinned against you, but you! You are the one who is harmed.

When I returned from my three-year missionary term in Japan, Ellie joined my parents and sister, and they drove from Minnesota to Seattle to meet my plane. While in Washington, we drove north to Bellingham, where my father met his elder half-brother for the first time in his life. My dad was 54 years old at the time, and he had never met his brother. When my grandfather's first wife died and he proposed to marry again, his eldest son became very angry. He knew he would lose his inheritance. He was the oldest, and it was his right, his due, but his father was now going to marry again. He was so angry, he moved as far away from Minnesota as he could get, until the ocean stopped him. Then he settled in Bellingham. He never forgave his father. He never returned to Minnesota to see his father. His wife returned often, but he never came. He never contacted his father in all those years.

My father was the only child of the second marriage, and so he had never met the elder brother. What we met in Bellingham was a small, shriveled up bundle of resentment and anger. He grudgingly said a few words to my father, and he only spoke to me once. He snarled, "I bet you're glad to get away from those damn Japs!" A bitter, angry, old man. The irony was (and the Lord does have a sense of humor) that by the time the Great Depression had taken its toll, there was little left to inherit!

The cost of not forgiving is extremely high. Forgiving does not mean to forget, excuse or stay angry. Forgiving means to give up resentment, give up the desire to punish, and to stop being angry. The result of not forgiving is to block your progress, destroy the bridge to the future, and lose control of your life to bitterness.

The result of forgiving is freedom! To forgive is to release the betrayal, to let it go. To forgive is to free the hold the unwillingness to forgive has over you. To forgive is to be free. Free from the burden of resentment. Free from the burden of holding grudges. Free from bitterness. Free from anger. Free from those hurt feelings we love to carry. To forgive is to become free. Forgiveness is a courageous, joyful turn toward the future, free from the garbage of the past.

Sisters and brothers, let us do what is necessary so we can honestly, sincerely, and joyfully pray, Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

© 1996 Douglas I. Norris