Rev. Lily Lim | On 14, May 2019
Matthew 6:14-15- For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
Matthew 18:21-25- Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
May is the Harvest Month of Evangel Tabernacle and it carries the theme of RELEASE.
There are so many things we can release from our lives to God and to people around us but one of the things that we need to release today is FORGIVENESS. The title of my message this morning is ‘RELEASE FORGIVENESS’.
Before I delve further into this subject on RELEASING FORGIVENESS, allow me to humor you with two stories:
Story # 1- A cartoon in the New Yorker magazine showed an exasperated father saying to his prodigal son, “This is the fourth time we’ve killed the fatted calf.” God does that over and over in our lifetime.
Story # 2 – A successful Irish Boxer was converted and became a preacher. He went to a new town and set up his evangelistic tent when a couple of gangsters noticed what he was doing. Knowing nothing about this preacher’s background, the gangsters made a few insulting remarks. The Irishman merely turned and looked at them. Pressing his luck, one of the gangsters took a swing and struck a blow on one side of the ex-boxer’s face. The preacher shook it off and said nothing as he stuck out his jaw. The gangster took another glancing blow on the other side. At that point the preacher swiftly took off his coat, rolled up his sleeves and announced, “The Lord gave me no further instructions.” Whop!
FORGIVENESS! C.S Lewis said, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have something to forgive.”
William Arthur Ward said, “We are most like beasts when we kill. We are most like men when we judge. We are most like God when we forgive.”
There are two sermons a pastor needs to preach at least once a year to his congregation and forgiveness is one of that two sermons.
In today’s message, I would like to share 6 things about FORGIVENESS:
• What Biblical Forgiveness is not?
• What Biblical Forgiveness is
• What unforgiveness does to us
• What forgiveness does to us
• Who are the people we need to release forgiveness to?
• Jesus – The Forgiver
(I) WHAT BIBLICAL FORGIVENESS IS NOT
There are some misconceptions about forgiveness. Many times, when we say we can’t or won’t forgive, we are actually talking about something other than biblical forgiveness.
Let me list a few things biblical forgiveness does NOT mean:
• It does not mean approving of what someone else did
• It does not mean pretending that evil never took place
• It does not mean making excuses for other people’s bad behavior
• It does not mean justifying evil so that sin somehow becomes less sinful.
• It does not mean overlooking the abuse.
• It does not mean letting others walk all over you.
• It does not mean refusing to press charges when a crime has been committed.
• It does not mean forgetting the wrong that was done.
• It does not mean pretending you were never hurt.
• It does not mean that you must restore the relationship to what it was before.
• It does not mean that you must become best friends again.
• It does not mean that there must be a total reconciliation as if nothing has happened.
Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. We can release forgiveness even if a person has not repented or apologized, even if they don’t know they have hurt us, even if they have died.
Reconciliation is a different matter. Reconciliation requires repentance, remorse and active participation of all parties in the relationship. We can choose to forgive but we can’t choose to reconcile with someone if they are unwilling. Yet, when we choose to forgive and release the hurt, sometime that can open up space for reconciliation to be a possibility.
• It does not mean that you must tell the person that you have forgiven them.
E.g. There is this man who lives in a distant state. Recently he has come to grip with the fact that a neighbor abused him when he was a child. That trauma plus the fact that he was raised in a family where his parents could not express love to their children played havoc in his adult life. Only recently has he come to grip with his own pain. This is what he wrote: “But just this year, through prayer and a Christian counselor, I am beginning to “let go” of the past. It is still very difficult to overcome the anger and maybe even hatred I felt toward my father. It took me going to the cemetery to visit my father’s and mother’s graves and having about a 2-hour conversation with them that I began to let go of the anger that had kept me in a state of sadness most of my adult life.” He went on to say that for many years he focused on helping others because he knew how to “fix” people and “fix” problems….. “until the facts of my childhood awoke and slapped me in the face and I couldn’t “fix” it. If it was to be “fixed”, then God would have to do it.”
This story essentially illustrates that forgiveness is essentially a matter of the heart. This is a hugely important point because most of us think forgiveness is primarily about what we do or what we say. But it is quite possible to mouth kind words of forgiveness while harboring anger and bitterness within.
Forgiveness begins in the heart and eventually works its way outward. There is a profound sense in which all forgiveness, even forgiving someone who hurt you deeply, is between you and God. Other people may or may not understand it or recognize it, or own up to their need to receive it.
This story illustrates that you can forgive even when other people make no confession. You can forgive without a restoration of the relationship. You can forgive when the other person has done nothing to earn forgiveness because forgiveness is like salvation – it is a gift that is freely given, it cannot be earned. You can forgive and the other person may never even know about it. You can forgive without saying, “I forgive you” because forgiveness is a matter of the heart.
• It does not mean that all negative consequences of sin are canceled.
E.g. There is this church in Iloilo City whose senior pastor recently was put on church discipline by the denomination because he was caught having an extra-marital affair. He was removed from his pastorate and was replaced by a Cebuano pastor.
I believe that when his extramarital affair was exposed, he confessed his sin to the church board and asked for forgiveness. I believe his board forgave him but he still has to lose his job and position.
Forgiveness does not cancel all the negative consequences of our foolish choices.
(II) WHAT BIBLICAL FORGIVENESS IS
In our Key Text, we see Peter coming to Jesus and asking him a question, “How often should I forgive?” Peter tries to be generous, wondering if he should forgive “as many as seven times?” “Not just seven times,” Jesus says, “But seventy-seven times” or in some accounts as often “as seventy times seven.” In the Bible, 7 represents COMPLETENESS. The goal Jesus sets is COMPLETE, UNLIMITED FORGIVENESS.
What does that mean for us?
Does this mean if someone hurts us, we are supposed to let them hurt us again and again? Are we supposed to be a doormat – trampled upon over and over? Is this Jesus saying we must keep on working at relationships that are painful or even toxic? Do we keep letting people do us harm and keep on taking it?
No! We often get the impression that forgiveness means that we need to do all we can to make everything OK with people who hurt us – that we need to just hang on and keep on trying to be nice.
This story Jesus tells to illustrate forgiveness is all about RELEASING – RELEASING RATHER THAN RETAINING THE DEBTS OF OTHERS.
The Greek word translated in this passage as “forgive” is “aphiemi” and it means “to release, to let go.” And the original Aramaic word Jesus would have used when talking about forgiveness also means “to loosen or untie.”
What is true biblical forgiveness?
Forgiveness is about RELEASE.
Forgiveness is not about holding on to painful relationship. It is not about hanging on to the status quo, hoping someone will change or stop causing us hurt. It is about release, letting go.
We are called to release people from debts they cannot repay – from obligations of money, time, favors and other things we feel are owed to us. We are called to let go of the pain and hurt others cause us, rather than holding it against them. We are called to let go of the hope that the past can be changed.
This takes a lot of practice. It is often something we need to do seventy-seven or more times to feel that we have released the debt, let go of the hurt. All of this is only possible because God has first forgiven us, because God gives us the grace and strength we need to release the debts, to release the hurt.
When we think of forgiveness as RELEASE, we can see that sometimes forgiveness means letting go of TOXIC RELATIONSHIP – ending them, getting out of them, separating from them.
The Greek word aphiemi, translated as “forgive” can also mean “to send away or to divorce.” Sometimes, forgiveness can only happen after we separate from a relationship that is harming us. This is what is needed for victims of sexual abuse and victims of domestic violence. Protection, separation and safety are required before letting go of the hurt is even an option. When we are still at risk of harm, we shouldn’t try to release the hurt because the pain can push us to seek needed help and safety.
Sometimes, the releasing involved in forgiveness means letting go of trying to change and fix others and instead, releasing them, entrusting them to God. Rather than continuing to hope we can save someone by engaging them, we are called to release them into the hands of the One who truly can save.
And sometimes, the release of forgiveness involves letting go of the hurt so that reconciliation is more of a possibility.
(III) WHAT UNFORGIVENESS DOES TO US
Jesus’ parable vividly illustrates what will happen to us if we don’t forgive. In this parable, Jesus told a story about a man who owed his boss a vast debt that in today’s term would be something like $50 million. Somehow, he had run up this enormous debt and somehow, he had managed to spend all the money. When the boss demanded his money, the man unashamedly begged to be forgiven. He even promised to pay the money back. But the boss forgave him the whole debt. Just wiped the slate clean. Soon after that, the man who had been forgiven such an enormous sum saw a fellow who owed him a tiny debt – something like $100. When the fellow couldn’t pay, he had him thrown into jail. But people heard about it and told the boss who got angry and had the first man thrown into jail to be tortured until he paid back the amount that previously had been forgiven.
Matthew 18:34 (KJV)-And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him.
The KJV says that the wicked servant was turned over to the “tormentors”.
The moral of the story is very clear: “This is how my Heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart” (Matthew 18:35).
These words are for believers. Jesus said, “What happened to that man will happen to you unless you learn to forgive, forgive, forgive.”
If we do not forgive, the TORMENTORS will come and take you away and torture you.
• The hidden tormentors of anger and bitterness that eat your insides out
• The tormentor of frustration and malice that give you ulcers and high blood pressure and migraine headaches and lower back pain
• The tormentor that make you lie awake at night on your bed stewing over every rotten thing that happens to you
• The tormentor of an unforgiving heart that stalk your trail day and night, that never leaves your side, that sucks every bit of joy from your life.
Because you will not forgive from the heart. It is happening to you just as Jesus said because you refuse to forgive.
Application: We are like the unforgiving servant. We stand before the Almighty God with our sins piled up like a mountain. The mountain is so tall that we can’t get over it, so deep we can’t get under it, so wide we can’t go around it. That’s every one of us. Our sins are like a $50million dollar debt we could never pay in our lifetime or in a thousand lifetimes. We come as debtors to God, come with empty hands, and we say, “I cannot pay.” God who is rich in mercy replies, “I forgive all your sins. My Son has paid the debt. You owe me nothing.” Then we rise from the pew, leave the communion table, walk outside the church humming, “Lord, I lift Your Name on High.” And before we get to our car, we see a man who has done us wrong and we grasp him by the throat and say, “Pay me right now.”
No wonder we are tormented. No wonder we are so angry and bitter. No wonder we have problems. 3 out of 4 patients who come to our Healing Room Ministry are people suffering from psychosomatic sickness – sicknesses that arise out of unforgiveness and bitterness. No wonder our friendships don’t last. No wonder we can’t get along. We have never learned the secret of unlimited forgiveness. Verily, the hidden tormentors have done their work.
Question: Are you being tormented in one way or another due to unforgiveness?
(V) WHAT FORGIVENESS DOES TO US
The releasing of forgiveness LIBERATES us.
E.g. Pastor K.T Kendall, longtime pastor of Westminster Chapel in London, in one of his books, tells of a time when someone very near and dear to him hurt him greatly. He doesn’t say who it was or exactly what they did, only that the pain was deep and the hurt profound because he had looked to this person as a surrogate father figure. The anger that he felt overwhelmed him. At length he talked it over with Josif Tson of Romania. After he poured out all the sordid details of what his so-called friend had done to him, he paused, waiting for Pastor Tson to say, “R.T, you are right to feel so angry. What happened to you was awful.” But he didn’t. After listening to all the details, Josif Tson said simply, “You must totally forgive them.” Pastor Kendall was dumbfounded. So, he started to tell the story all over again, this time adding more details. Josif Tson interrupted with words that would change R.T Kendall’s life, “You must totally forgive them. Release them and you will be set free.”
RELEASE THEM AND YOU WILL BE SET FREE.
There are so many things I am saying to you this morning but everything I have to say will be nothing more than this one sentence:
RELEASE THEM AND YOU WILL BE SET FREE.
I know the very moment we say those words, our minds begin to argue:
“But you don’t know what he did to me.”
“They lied about me over and over again.”
“She intended to destroy my career – and she did.”
“You can’t imagine the hell I’ve been through.”
“If you knew what this has done to my family, you would be angry too.”
“They deserve to suffer like they have made me suffer.”
“I’m going to make them pay.”
“My daughter was raped. How do you forgive that?”
“I was sexually abused by a priest. How do you forgive?”
“I will never forgive those people. Never!!!”
C.S Lewis made this telling remark: “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have something to forgive.”
Whether we want it or like it- FORGIVENESS IS A TRULY CHRISTIAN VIRTUE. “To forgive is divine!”
The releasing forgiveness is LIBERATING FOR US.
As Jesus’ parable vividly illustrates – When we refuse to release others, we end up imprisoned by anger and hurt.
Offering forgiveness means that we refuse to allow another’s sin to control, to hold us, to bind us. “If you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:23). To NOT forgive another of their sin is to RETAIN their sins in our lives, allowing them to defile us, bog us down and worse to imprison us. Offering forgiveness sets us free – it releases us.
Still, we often feel compelled to withhold forgiveness because that seems to offer us some CONTROL, especially when the hurt has come from someone who has more power than we do. Refusing to forgive can feel like the only way we can have any power. Yet, as in the parable, our lack of forgiveness can eventually become a PRISON that not only holds the other person but our own selves.
Application:You have two choices – retain the sins of others against you or release their sins against you. To retain is to be imprisoned, to release is to be set free. Which will you choose today?
Forgiveness releases God’s forgiveness upon you, cleansing you.
Forgive them to the point where you actually feel yourself cleansed of resentment and bitterness and are actually praying for them. If you do not, the lack of forgiveness will make it impossible for God to forgive you.
Matthew 6:14-15- For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
Every miracle depends 100 percent on your relationship to God the Father. That relationship is built strictly on the strength of His forgiveness of your sins.
Forgiveness releases God’s miracle power upon you.
(IV) WHO SHOULD WE FORGIVE?
The first person you probably have not forgiven is YOURSELF. More people have a lack of forgiveness toward themselves than toward anybody else. They are unwilling to forgive themselves and to recognize that God says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). If you are a believer, He has already cleansed your conscience from dead works so that you might serve the living God. God cleanses us for service in order to not leave us with the guilt of past sin. That should be dead, buried and forgotten.
People must forgive all who need forgiveness. If the first person to forgive is yourself, you need to say, “God, before You, I forgive myself. Whatever I have done, I accept Your forgiveness, and I forgive ME.” That’s a very simple but profound statement, because as long as we feel that we are under condemnation, we will never have faith to see miracles.
“If our heart does not condemn us,” the Bible says, “we have confidence toward God” (1 John 3:2). Obviously, we cannot have continuing sin in our lives and expect forgiveness. We have to be free from ongoing conscious sin and rebellion against God. But if we are walking in the light, and walking in forgiveness, then the blood of Jesus Christ is continuously cleansing us from all sin (1 John 1:7).
For 26 years, I was bound by this unforgiveness towards myself for not being able to save my dad before he died suddenly. It was only in 2018 that God used SOZO to set me free from this spirit of condemnation. Praise God.
The second person we have to “forgive”, if we have bitterness, is GOD HIMSELF. There are people who blame God because a child died, a husband ran away, they have been sick or because they have not had enough money. Consciously or unconsciously they think all of these things are God’s fault. There is a deep-seated resentment; yet you cannot be resentment toward God and experience miracles. You have to rid yourself of any bitterness toward God. That may take some soul-searching. You must ask yourself, AM I BLAMING GOD FOR MY SITUATION?
When I was only one year in the Lord, I became angry with God to the point I threw my Bible at the wall. I was angry with God because that was the day I received my GCE A Level results that showed to me that I wasn’t eligible to apply for National University of Singapore. At that time, I behaved like a petulant child who looked to God as one who had to answer all my prayers and fulfilled all my needs. If not, I would throw my tantrum. It took God 26 years to mold, crush, refine and purify me to love Him not for His answered prayers but for who He is. In 2012, when the devil wanted to decimate this church by using evil people to sabotage me, I was hurt but NEVER blaming God or angry with God because God has taught me that in our lives, evil and good will come and who are we to think that only good things can happen to our lives and not evil? “But Job replied, “You talk like a foolish woman. Should we accept not only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” So, in all this, Job saith nothing wrong. [Job did not sin in what he said]- Job 2:10.” I am not suggesting that we thank God for the evil that happens to our lives. Rather, we have ask the Holy Spirit to empower us to look beyond the evil to our Transcendant God who is able to sanctify and transcend every evil that comes to a child of God and makes something good come out of it.
Question: Are you blaming God today for the bad things that are happening to you? Are you blaming God for something that happened to you in the past?
Release forgiveness to God and ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten you to see all your troubles and past traumas through the CLEAR LENS OF THE GOODNESS OF GOD. Ask the Holy Spirit to remove the COLORED LENS you have been seeing God in – tainted image of God and not the true image of God.
• FORGIVE THOSE CLOSEST TO YOU
The third person you may have to forgive is a MEMBER OF YOUR FAMILY.
E.g. A pastor asked one woman in an Asian country, “Do you have any resentment against anybody?” That woman replied, “No.” The pastor asked, “What about your husband?” She said, “Oh, well, I resent him, but I don’t think he counts.”
Illustration: There was a guy who could not get along with his wife and, on top of that, he couldn’t get along with his mother-in-law. In frustration one day, he finally took a long walk. As he was about to return home, he got to the street corner and saw a hearse pull up to the stop sign. It had a big dog in it. Behind that was another hearse. And then behind the second hearse, about fifty men were walking. He was seized with curiosity and walked up to the first hearse, knocked on the glass, and a guy inside rolled his window down, “Yes?” he asked. “What is this?” asked the man. “Well, in this casket is my wife. And in that casket in the other hearse is my mother-in-law. This big dog killed both of them.” “Hmmm….Can I borrow that dog?” And the guy inside said, “Get in line.”
You have to get rid of resentment, especially toward those closest to you. The husbands, the wives, the children and the parents- all must be forgiven when slights and resentment have built up in family situations. Many people say, “Well, I didn’t think that counted. I thought that was just a family matter.” All lack of forgiveness has to be eliminated, especially toward every family member. Give up your right to be angry. Work towards forgiveness by remembering who paid the price. It may not be fair that you forgive. Forgiveness is never fair. That is not the point. It is not that forgiveness is fair – it is that IT IS FREEING.
• FORGIVE THOSE WHO HURT YOU
Finally, there has to be forgiveness for anybody else who has ever done anything against you. It may be that your resentment is justified. The person may have done a very evil, terrible thing to you. You may have every legal and intellectual right to hold a grudge and to hate that person. But if you want to see release in your life, it is absolutely imperative that you forgive.
(V) JESUS – OUR FINEST AND HIGHEST EXAMPLE OF FORGIVENESS
When Jesus hung on the cross, condemned to death by evil men who plotted to murder him, who produced lying witnesses to convict him, as he surveyed the howling mob assembled to cheer his suffering, Jesus the Son of God, the One who knew no sin, the only truly innocent man who ever walked this sin-cursed earth, in his dying moment uttered words that still ring across the centuries: “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:24).
Those nine tortured words sweep away all our shabby excuses. They reveal the barrenness of our heart; they rip the cover off our unrighteous anger and show it for what it is. Many of us say, “If only the people who hurt me would show some remorse, some sorrow, then maybe I would forgive them.” But since that rarely happens, we use that as an excuse to continue in our bitterness, our anger and our desire to get even.
Consider Jesus on the cross. No one seemed very sorry. Even as he said those 9 words, the crowd laughed, mocked, cheered and jeered. Those who passed by hurled insults at him. They taunted him, “If you are the King of Israel, come down from the cross and save yourself.” Let us be clear on this point. When he died, the people who put him to death were quite pleased with themselves. Pilate washed his hands of the whole sordid affair. The Jewish leaders hated him with a fierce, irrational hatred. They were happy to see him suffer and die. Evil was in the air that day. The forces of darkness had done their work and the Son of God would soon be in the tomb. No one said, “I was wrong. This is a mistake. We were such fools.” And yet he said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” Again the word “aphiemi” is used here which means RELEASE AND FORGIVE. On the cross, Jesus released his spirit of forgiveness and love.
That is precisely what we must say if we are going to follow Jesus.
• We must say it to people who hurt us deliberately and repeatedly
• We must say it to those who intentionally attack us
• We must say to those who causally and thoughtlessly wound us
• We must say it to those closest to us, to our husband or wife, to our children, to our parents, to our friends, to our neighbors, to our brothers and sisters, to our fellow Christians.
If we are going to follow Jesus, we must forgive. Forgiveness is not an optional part of the Christian life. We must forgive us – freely, completely, graciously and totally.
We will forgive to the extent we appreciate how much we have been forgiven. The best incentive to forgiveness is to remember how much God has already forgiven you. Think of how many sins he has covered for you. Think of the punishment you deserved that did not happen to you because of God’s grace. Jesus said, “He who has been forgiven little loves little” (Luke 7:47).
Your willingness to forgive is in direct proportion to your remembrance of how much you have been forgiven.
Mark Twain said it this way, “Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet gives to the heel that has crushed it.” You are never more like Jesus than when you forgive. And you will never be set free until you forgive.
RELEASE THEM AND YOU WILL BE SET FREE.
You can forgive because the Spirit of Jesus – Forgiveness and love is in you.
PREACHED AT ETAB 1ST ENGLISH SERVICE ON 12 MAY 2019