Forgiveness is part of God's greatest gift. It can also be the greatest gift we can offer to somebody else who has offended against us.
Brethren we often read in Galatians 5:22 Galatians 5:22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,
American King James Version×and 5:23 in the context of the Fruits of the Spirit, but what we read there in fact is a description of the very character of God and the mind of Christ. That’s very true, what we read there in Galatians 5:22 Galatians 5:22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,
American King James Version×and 23 does very accurately describes the nature and character of God. The characteristics of love, joy, peace, long suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control are truly aspects of the mind of Christ that we want to emulate. We read them, we should be absorbing them, taking them in and realizing that they do represent, they do demonstrate, if you will, they do describe the mind of Christ and the characteristics of God the Father.
Immediately after those verses, 22 and 23 in Galatians 5, Paul said this:
Galatians 5:24 Galatians 5:24And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.
American King James Version× And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
Verse 25: If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.
A very clear instruction, exhortation if you will, from the apostle Paul to develop and demonstrate those characteristics in our life and in our relationships with one another within God’s church and not only in the church, but our relationships we have with all of the people we come in contact with from time to time.
To those who practice, are able to assimilate, are able to take on, take in, those Fruits of the Spirit, they truly are gifts from God. They make a great difference to our life if we can practice them, so we should at all times be doing our best to emulate them by our gift that comes to us through the master gift of God’s Holy Spirit. Once we have an understanding, once God’s Holy Spirit opens our minds, we begin to appreciate what those characteristics are and we begin to practice them. Then they truly become gifts and particularly in the body of Christ where we relate to one another and practice those gifts each time we see one another, they become gifts throughout the whole of God’s church and a spirit led church will be identified by the way its members live and demonstrate those gifts or fruits of the Holy Spirit.
Unfortunately, those gifts of the Spirit, those fruits of the Spirit are not as common throughout the world as we’d like them to be. We know that throughout the world we have people who demonstrate pretty much the very opposite than what we read there, they’re simply not common. How much love do we find in the world at the present time? How much joy, how much peace, how much long suffering and kindness, goodness and faithfulness and gentleness and self control do we really see in the world around us? Not enough, in fact very, very little. If the world was practicing those gifts of the Holy Spirit, if they were common, what a difference it would make. They truly would be gifts to the world and of course the first of those gifts of the Holy Spirit, love, doesn’t capsulate them all. That one word love wraps them up in one very simple four letter word.
You might recall a couple of decades ago that there was a very popular song, it became very popular indeed in our own country. It was an American song so I assume it became popular here as well and the name of the song was: “What the world needs now is love sweet love.” That certainly was the case. It was needed then and it certainly is needed more now as we see the conditions in the world in this country, in my own country and in countries around the world. We see men and women fighting with one another, we see social chaos, we see the real need for the return of Jesus Christ, we see a real need for people to begin to practice in their daily lives, in their relationships with each other, those fruits or those gifts of the Holy Spirit. In John 13, verse 35 Christ made a very simple statement. Because the words of the song: “What the world needs now is love sweet love,” is not the love of the world but rather the love that Jesus Christ demonstrated to His disciples and to us down through the ages. Christ said this:
John 13:35 John 13:35By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one to another.
American King James Version× By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.
He placed it right at the top of the list, the relationship, the right interact with one another was the most important thing He could see at that time. In the previous verse, verse 34, He said:
Verse 34: A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.
Now that’s interesting, He said there a new commandment I give you, love one another. I went to a commentary to see if it had a comment on this particular verse, these comments here, and this is what it said: To love one another was not indeed a new commandment, but to love others as much as Christ loved others was in fact revolutionary. There is an element of love that exists in the world, but Christ was talking about a different level of love. He was raising it to another level, raising it to a very much higher level. Just continuing on here, now we are to love others based on Jesus’ sacrificial love for us. Such love will keep believers strong and united in a world hostile to God and certainly we live in a world that is hostile to God. As Jesus is a living example of God’s love, so we are to be living examples of Jesus’ love which is why He said a new commandment I give to you, I give you a new commandment that you love one another as I have loved you. Jesus said that our Christ-like love will show we are truly His disciples. To people see petty bickering, jealousy and division in your church or do they know you are Jesus’ followers by your love for one another? This kind of loving is hard to do, that is why people notice when you do it and know that you are empowered by a supernatural source and that supernatural source is God’s Holy Spirit, the gift of the Holy Spirit which in turn gives us the gifts of fruits of the Holy Spirit.
So that was interesting. We read over verses we see here, a new commandment I give you; maybe we read over that and don’t fully understand what Christ was saying that the love that should exist within the church, the love that should flow between us as members of the church is in fact the love that Christ showed to us when He was sacrificed and gave His life for us. God’s greatest gift of course was the life of His Son and what that meant for the entirety of mankind. Ultimately everybody, past, present and future will be given the opportunity to be the direct beneficiary of the love that God showed through His sacrifice and the foundation of professing Christianity is based on that gift of God, the gift of the life of His Son and the ultimate gift of eternal life.
There are branches of Christianity that may have different views of what John chapter 3, verse 16 really means where He said: God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. There might be various differences of understanding on that, but it is the key scripture in the whole of the New Testament that the gift of the life that God’s Son was the greatest gift that God could have given to any person, to anybody who ever existed. The gift of the life of His Son in turn made possible the gift of eternal life. God is the great giver. God has no limit to His giving. His giving has great depth.
But you know, under that umbrella if you will, of the gift of God’s Son, the life of God’s Son, if you will the gift of the Fruits of the Holy Spirit, there is another gift which I would like to bring to you today which we should all have, it’s a gift that we need to develop. It’s not something that comes naturally, it’s something that many of us in certain circumstances is quite hard to develop. But in the context of this sermon today, I’m going to determine, I’m going to name it, I’m going to describe it as God’s greatest gift. The title of the sermon today is: “Forgiveness, Is It God’s Greatest Gift?”
King David of Israel was a remarkable man, He was a man of great enthusiasm, a man of great passion, a man who dedicated himself to whatever he did with great diligence and effort. He got into trouble from time to time because of that enthusiasm and passion. You might recall his enthusiasm was demonstrated when the Ark of the Covenant was being brought back to Jerusalem and it says David danced and leapt before the Lord. His enthusiasm was so great that He did that. At the same time he endured ridicule from his wife, Michal when he did that. He conducted a census against the will of God resulting in the death of 70,000 Israelite men because of what he did. He committed adultery with Bathsheba and had an honorable man, Uriah virtually murdered by placing him in a position, a very much exposed position in a battle. So David made many mistakes, but David was also a man of great need and understood the meaning of real forgiveness. He understood what repentance meant and he understood what repentance was. He threw himself down at the feet of God and he asked for God’s forgiveness. The hymn we sing traditionally at our Passover service is Psalm 51. I’d like to read a few verses from Psalm 51 just to see how David expressed himself in terms of repentance and seeking forgiveness. David owned up as you will. He confessed his sins to God the Father. In Psalm 51 let’s read the first 4 verses to begin with. This is the prayer that David uttered to God after the death of the child that was the result of his adultery with Bathsheba.
Psalms 51:1 Psalms 51:1Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving kindness: according to the multitude of your tender mercies blot out my transgressions.
American King James Version× Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the multitude of Your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions.
Verse 2: Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.
Verse 3: For I acknowledge my transgressions and my sin is ever before me.
Verse 4: Against You, You only have I sinned and done evil in Your sight
Here we see the words of a truly repentant man; a man who’s going to throw himself at the feet of God and seek forgiveness for some of the terrible things that he had done and in particular his adulterous relationship with Bathsheba.
In dropping down to verses 9 through 11, we see here his plea for forgiveness from God.
Verse 9: Hide Your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquities.
Verse 10: Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Verse 11: Do not cast me away from Your presence and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
I think we need to project ourselves into those words and if we can, experience the passion and the feeling that David must have demonstrated when he made that prayer. It’s very easy to read over words in the bible, they become very familiar to us and perhaps the more we read them, the more familiar they become and we know the old saying, familiarity breeds contempt. I’m not suggesting we become contemptuous but I’m suggesting that sometimes we fail to read into these scriptures with the depth that we should. In putting this sermon together, particularly looking a verses 9 through 11 here, of Psalm 51, it struck me at that time, the depth of the feeling and the emotion that David must have had at that time. He was truly repentant. He threw himself at God’s feet and he said in our vernacular, I’ve done the wrong thing, I have really done things that I’m totally ashamed of, God how can you ever forgive me? Will you forgive me for what I have done? Of course we know that God is all forgiving. We know that He did forgive David. We know that when we transgress also, God will forgive us. But David’s repentance was sincere, it was heartfelt and it was genuine. Was it accepted by God? Yes, it certainly was. Forgiveness was extended to David for his sins, once he came before God and repented in deep feeling and sincerity and with great emotion.
Let’s look at 2 other sections of scripture here to demonstrate this, staying in the book of Psalms. We’re going to Psalm 103. We’ll read verses 8 through 14 there. I think if you keep in mind the sins of David and his earnest and heartfelt prayer for repentance and relate it to this scripture here.
Psalms 103:8 Psalms 103:8The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy.
American King James Version× The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in mercy.
Verse 9: He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever.
Verse 10: He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities.
Verse 11: For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him. (That’s the mercy that David experienced.)
Verse 12: As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.
Verse 13: As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him.
Verse 14: For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.
God does understand our weaknesses and our frailties. He is prepared to extend forgiveness as He did to David, to us when we go before Him in a repentant, humble and very sincere frame of mind. The word there east and west, as far as east is from the west never meet, indicating there is no limit, there is no end to the gift of forgiveness that comes to us from God. When He forgives us He separates us from it and doesn’t bring it to mind again. He doesn’t even remember it. It is total unmitigated forgiveness.
Isaiah chapter 1, verses 16 through 20, similar sentiments expressed here.
Isaiah 1:16 Isaiah 1:16Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil;
American King James Version× Wash yourselves. make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil. (So there is a requirement to God’s forgiveness. We are to change, we are to strive not to do the same things that we’ve been doing in the past. He says:)
Verse 17: Learn to do good; seek justice, rebuke the oppressor, defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.
Verse 18: Come now and let us reason together (God wants us to go to Him, God wants us to speak to Him. He wants us to ask forgiveness for the mistakes that we make.) Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson. they shall be as wool.
Verse 19: If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land. (In other words God will extend His forgiveness to us, the gift of forgiveness from God will be extended to us.)
Verse 20: But if you refuse and rebel, (If you don’t come before Me in a repentant attitude, if you don’t come before Me sincerely seeking repentance) you shall be devoured by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
But you know the greatest of our sins will be forgiven, just as they were forgiven for King David many years ago. We need to come before God sincerely, heartfelt and genuine and prepared to do as God says. He said to wash ourselves and make ourselves clean. To learn to do good, to seek justice, to rebuke the oppressor, defend the fatherless and plead for the widow. All of those good characteristics. If you think about it, we need the fruits of the Spirit dwelling within us. We need the gifts of the Spirit dwelling within us to be able to do that.
The attitude of God and Christ is very clear, very clear indeed. They know we will offend, they know our frame. They know we are simply dust. They understand our weaknesses. They realize we have just an earnest of God’s Holy Spirit. We don’t have the depth and strength of God’s Spirit to lead a perfect life. They understand that. But when we fall over, when we stumble, they do ask us to come before them in a humble, sincere, heartfelt manner to ask for forgiveness. If we do that, forgiveness will be extended. It’s promised to us. They know we will offend, they also know our frailty, but they are prepared to forgive and forget when we show our sincere repentance and they will do so over and over again. We will see an example of that a little later on. You know there’s an old saying and I guess it’s known here in the United States as it is in my own country, it says to err is human, but to forgive is divine and we have access to divine forgiveness when we sin.
Which leads me on to perhaps a different part of the sermon, we can say maybe a second part of the sermon and that is the relationship we have with one another. We’ve already established the relationship we have with God and our ability to go before God and seek forgiveness when we stumble and fall. But what about the relationship we have with one another because we do occasionally need to forgive other people. We need to seek forgiveness ourselves from time to time. It’s a very important part of our Christian life. If we’re going to take on the mind of Christ, we need to be able to demonstrate in a similar way, forgiveness towards others and to accept from others their apologies to us when we have offended or they have offended against us. You know we might even forget to do something that we offend people by. There are so many ways we can cause offense to others. There are so many times when forgiveness is needed from one party to another. If we’re going to take on the mind of Christ, we need to be able to demonstrate in our relationships one with another, the forgiveness that is demonstrated by Jesus Christ and God the Father towards us. Forgiveness between each other is very, very important.
I said the title of the sermon, the nature of the sermon is: “Is Forgiveness God’s Greatest Gift?” So is forgiveness one of the gifts we have within us and within the body of God, the Church of God and the body of Jesus Christ?
I looked in the dictionary to see what the definitions of forget were because it says in the scripture that God will wash away our sins, He will no longer remember them. In looking up the dictionary definitions of forget, I just looked at 4. It means to lose remembrance of, to overlook, not to bear in mind or put out of mind. In other words when we truly are forgiving people for an offense that they have committed against us, it means we should overlook that, we shouldn’t continually bear it in our mind, we should put it out of our mind if we can, if we’re going to truly extend forgiveness to another one. Now that’s very difficult for us. God says He will forgive and forget. We can forgive perhaps, but it’s not within our mentality if you will, it’s not within us to be able to truly forget an offense that’s committed against us. It’s very difficult for us to do that. The amount of forgiveness that we should give to one another is clearly demonstrated in Matthew 18. I’m not going to turn there in this particular case, it’s Matthew chapter 18, verse 21 and 22. It’s an interesting account of Peter asking Christ how many times he should give somebody who’s offended against him? Peter suggested 7 times and Christ said of course said that’s not sufficient, it’s 490 times and of course that 490 times is simply symbolic. Christ was simply by using that 70 times 7 expression saying your forgiveness should be endless, just as God’s forgiveness is endless, there is no end to it. So our forgiveness of one another when an offense is committed or against us should also be endless. Not, it is more difficult for us to do that then it is for God. Why did Peter say 7? That’s an interesting background. The answer to that is that Peter’s question was based on the fact that the Rabbi’s at the time thought that people should forgive those who offended against them, only 3 times. So Peter thought he’d be very generous, he’d be very good, he’d say 7. He said how many times should I forgive somebody Christ who offends against me? 7 times, thinking that Christ would say that’s good Peter, but Christ said not good enough, 70 times 7. When we think of the depth of that statement, it tells us the depth of forgiveness we should have within us, living within us if we truly are taking on the mind of Christ to forgive somebody who offends against us. Our forgiveness should be as God’s is, endless.
Now I doubt if there’s any adults here today who have not been offended by someone and I doubt any adults in this room who have in fact been offended by somebody or offended against somebody. How do we do that? What is the most common way that we offend people? Do we do things? Do our actions sometimes offend people? Yes, they certainly do, but the most common form of offense is often caused by words, by the things we say to one another or in some cases by the things we don’t say to one another. With the explosion of e-mail and internet, the opportunities to offend have been magnified so many times over. We really do have to be very careful what we say in person, what we say on the internet, what we say on our e-mails. There’s an old saying which I’m sure you have here in this country too which says, sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me. Do you know that’s wrong? That’s totally wrong. We can be hurt far more by what people say than sometimes from a broken limb. It’s very difficult to take sometimes some of the things that are said against us. So we need to be very careful because our words can create situations where sometimes it’s very hard for people to forgive us and sometimes it’s very hard for us to forgive other people because the depth of hurt by some of the things we have said to other people or that have been said to us have penetrated so deeply that we find it very difficult to let go and truly be forgiving or to accept the apology of somebody who has offended against us.
James described it very well. If you will, turn with me to the book of James we’ll read a few verses from chapter 3. In fact we’ll read the first 12 verses I think because they are very relevant to the subject of the sermon today.
James 3:1 James 3:1My brothers, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.
American King James Version× My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.
Verse 2: For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body.
Verse 3: Indeed, we put bits in horses’ mouths that they may obey us and we turn their whole body.
Verse 4: Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires.
Verse 5: Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles!
Verse 6: And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body and sets on fire the course of nature and it is set on fire by hell.
Verse 7: For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea is tamed and has been tamed by mankind.
Verse 8: But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.
Verse 9: With it we bless our God and Father and with it we curse men who have been made in the similitude of God.
Verse 10: Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so.
Verse 11: Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening?
Verse 12: Can a fig tree my brethren bear olives or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring can yield both salt water and fresh.
It’s a very, shall we say, graphic description of how important it is in our relationship with one another how we converse, how we relate by words with one another. We can so easily offend somebody else just as it’s a responsibility for us to conduct ourselves in a way which is pleasing to God and in a way which means we are truly trying to take on the mind of Christ. One of the things we need to consider so carefully is how we talk to one another, how we relate to one another to see that we don’t create offense, to see that we conduct ourselves in a way that is pleasing to God the Father and Jesus Christ.
That same commentary I quoted from a little while ago had this to say about James, chapter 3 and the first few verses. It said: ”What we say and what we don’t say are both very important. Proper speech is not only saying the right thing at the right time, but also controlling our desire to say what we shouldn’t. In other words, controlling if you will, be able to hold in comments which are going to be hurtful, things which are going cause harm to other people which are going to seem deeply in the psyche of people and find it very difficult for them to bear. Our relationship with one another can be affected more by words than almost any other thing and James is pointing it out very clearly for us.”
How we speak to one another is so important that Christ gave us a very serious, a very sober warning in Matthew 12, verses 36 and 37. I’m going to read this from the New International version, I think it puts it very well.
Matthew 12:36 Matthew 12:36But I say to you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.
American King James Version×& 37 But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. (Let me read that again.) But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. (Boy that is really hitting hard, every careless word we have spoken we’re going to have to give account for on the day of judgment.) For by your words you will be acquitted and by your words you will be condemned.
It is so important the way we relate to one another in words, that we are given a warning here that it could lead to us not being given eternal life. It’s so important. The fact is that our words whether they be written or spoken are the greatest cause of offense and create the greatest need for exercising our forgiveness.
Just a few chapters earlier in Matthew chapter 6, verses 14 and 15 is probably the key scripture for any Christian in this regard as how we speak to one another.
Matthew 6:14 Matthew 6:14For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:
American King James Version× For if you forgive men their trespasses, (In other words somebody offends against us) your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
So we are endeavoring when we forgive other people for offenses committed against us. We are taking on a little aspect of the mind of Christ, demonstrating that forgiveness that is being offered toward us.
Verse 15: But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
From those 2 verses, or those 2 sections of scripture in Matthew 12 and Matthew 6 we can see how important it is the way we speak to one another, the way we relate to one another in words and as I said whether they be spoken or whether they be written, whether they be on the internet or whether they be in e-mails, they are still words and words are so hurtful. It says the pen is mightier than the sword and that is true and the way we speak to one another is very, very important, very important indeed brethren.
We all trespass and we all ask God for forgiveness. But what if we’re trespassed against? What if somebody commits an offense against us? How forgiving are we? Do we have resentment within us? Have we got even a small amount of the gift of forgiveness within us that God has demonstrated to us when He gave us through the death of His Son the opportunity to have eternal life? How much of God’s forgiveness have we got in us? I think the answer is probably not enough and that will vary from person to person, but it’s something we should be striving hard to emulate, to be forgiving people, to accept that we do have frailties, to accept that we are but dust as we read in that earlier scripture, to realize that we will offend, to realize that people will offend us and when we are offended against how forgiving can we be, how much of God’s Spirit have we got, how willing are we to forgive? I doubt that I’ve got enough of God’s Spirit and enough of God’s forgiveness resident in me. It’s difficult to forgive people who have offended against you, it’s very difficult indeed. But we are exhorted here in those scriptures we just read, for by your words you’ll be acquitted and by your words you’ll be condemned, if you’ll forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you don’t forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. That’s how important forgiveness is. Forgiveness could lead or deter us from achieving eternal life. That’s how important it is.
Matthew 6 which we just read is itself a very startling warning, a very startling warning to each of us. When we ask God to forgive us, Matthew 6 is really saying; before we ask God to forgive us, have we forgiven people who have offended against us, because if we are unable to forgive others, God is not going to forgive us and our words of appeal to God will fall upon deaf ears. It’s that important, it’s that serious. Forgiveness is one of the great characteristics that we should be developing within our lives. One of the great characteristics we should be developing.
There’s a parable in Matthew, chapter 18 which I think relates to this. Matthew 18 reading from verse 23, the story of the servant who gave the man a great debt and then the man would not forgive a very small debt of another.
Matthew 18:23 Matthew 18:23Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened to a certain king, which would take account of his servants.
American King James Version×“Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servant.
Verse 24: And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. (That’s a great amount of money, that’s a great debt.)
Verse 25: But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. (Sounds like a very drastic action to be taken; to sell a man and his wife and children. In other words sell them into slavery.)
Verse 26: The servant therefore fell down before him, saying: ‘Master have patience with me and I will pay you all.’
Verse 27: Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him and forgave him the debt. (An act of great forgiveness because this was a great debt.)
Verse 28: But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; (A very small amount) and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’
Verse 29: So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him saying: ’Have patience with me and I will pay you all.’
Verse 30: And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt.”
Here we see the ruler, the man, a certain king extended a great amount of forgiveness for a great amount of debt, but the man did not have the same spirit within him to forgive a much smaller amount. It might seem strange to us to throw somebody into prison, a debtor into prison where he simply couldn’t pay, he wouldn’t be in a position to repay the debt, but in biblical times payment of a debt was something that was considered very serious indeed. It was a debt of honor, you must pay your debts. The debtor could be seized, he and his family could be forced to work until the debt was paid, they could be made virtually slaves for a period of time. If a debtor was in prison, his family could be sold into slavery until the debt was paid. So you could see how seriously non payment of a debt was. You can see then the magnitude of forgiveness that the king extended to this man. If he was in prison, they would have the power to sell his property. Without hope his relatives would clear the debt in order for the man to be released. It was certainly very serious stuff and if none of that worked, the man could be in prison for the rest of his life. A payment of a debt was very, very important, very critical. It does put into context the extent of the forgiveness that the king extended for that ten thousand talents debt.
Reading on, Matthew chapter 18, verse 31.
Verse 31: ”So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved and came and told their master all that had been done.
Verse 32: Then his master, after he had called him said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me.
Verse 33: ’Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’
Verse 34: And his master was angry and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him.
Then the key phrase:
Verse 35: So My Heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you from his heart does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”
Can you see brethren how important forgiveness is? How important it is. It says: My Heavenly Father will do the same to you; if you do not forgive your brother his trespasses.
If you put Matthew 6, Matthew 12 and Matthew 18 together, we can see clearly how imperative for us to be sincerely forgiving people when we are offended against. We may feel very hurt, we may feel in some cases almost beyond able to forgive, but the scriptural injunctions are very clear, we must be able to forgive and we must be able to forgive from the heart which means to forgive sincerely, not grudgingly, but sincerely and completely.
Until I began to put this sermon together, I don’t think I had any real concept of how important forgiveness is. Even when we have genuine offenses committed against us, how important it is to be able to forgive those people. Our eternal life depends upon it. It’s very difficult, it’s very hard sometimes to forgive. It goes against our carnal instincts. Our first response is maybe to seek some sort of recompense or some sort of revenge what has been done to us, the offense that has been committed against us. Maybe our first reaction is to seek some form of retaliation. Scripturally we’re going down the wrong path. We’re doing exactly the opposite of what Christ through scripture has told us to do. I guess you’ve all heard the world saying, if somebody offends you, don’t get mad, get even. We can’t afford to go down that path driven, that’s not scriptural and it certainly is not in any way taking on the mind of Christ.
I don’t know, but an American football coach, I think I may be maligning somebody here when I say an American football coach, but it is certainly a sporting man of some form said: ”Winning isn’t the best thing, winning is the only thing.” In other words, get into them God, get stuck into it God. I think that sort of between those two, don’t get mad, don’t get even, winning isn’t the best thing, winning is the only thing sort of illustrates to us the attitude of the world. It’s not an attitude of forgiveness that exists within the world. It’s totally contrary to what we’ve been told in scripture the way we should be. We ought to be totally forgiving people and when the offense is against us have been hurtful, even when they are genuine, we need to have the spirit of forgiveness that is demonstrated in the mind of Christ, because brethren we are exhorted to take on the mind of Christ and one of the strongest elements in the mind of Christ is the true spirit of forgiveness. That’s how important it is.
If you want to know what the mind of Christ is regarding forgiveness, we only have to go back to the account of His crucifixion, what He said then as He was going through the trial, an atonement of being crucified. I’m going to refer to Isaiah, I’m not going to go back there at the moment, but you might remember that at Christ’s crucifixion, His fight was described and prophesied in Isaiah. I looked up just a few words in the literal translation and it said this about the time when He was crucified. There many who were appalled at Him, His appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and His form mad beyond human likeness, describing the torment and the suffering and the battering and the abuse that Christ went through at that time. In the light of that, what Isaiah wrote, it is somewhat astounding to consider what Christ said while He was going through this trial and this torment. We’re not going to turn to Luke 23 and verse 34 because you know it so well. He said: ”Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” That is the mind of Christ and that is the mind of Christ, the aspect of the mind of Christ that we are instructed to take on. As difficult as it might be, that’s the instruction that’s given to us. Jesus asked God to forgive those who were putting Him to death. Jewish leaders, Rabbi’s, politicians, soldiers, the by-standers, Christ said forgive them because they really don’t understand what they are doing. God answered that prayer by making possible eternal life for all men and women. He answered Christ’s prayer in that particular manner.
As hard as it is to forgive, when there is maybe no evidence of regret or apology, then the assumption of course is if the offense is a genuine one, we have to take God at his word. God’s word is clear, we are to be forgiving people. Romans 12, verse 20. This is actually a direct quote from Proverbs 25:22 Proverbs 25:22For you shall heap coals of fire on his head, and the LORD shall reward you.
American King James Version×, but it is repeated almost word for word in Romans 12:20 Romans 12:20Therefore if your enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing you shall heap coals of fire on his head.
American King James Version×, but lets begin in verse 19.
Romans 12:19 Romans 12:19Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place to wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, said the Lord.
American King James Version× Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written: ”Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.
Verse 20: ”Therefore if your enemy hungers, feed him; if he thirsts, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.”
Does this have anything to do with forgiveness? Well let me tell you what the commentary said on this particular verse and I think you’ll relate to this. In this day of constant law suits and incessant demands for legal rights, polls command thinks almost impossible and I guess we would agree with that; polls command thinks almost impossible. When someone hurts you deeply, instead of giving him what he deserves, Paul said to befriend him. Why does Paul tell us to forgive our enemies? He gives a couple reasons. He says firstly, forgiveness may break the cycle of retaliation and lead to mutual reconciliation. Unless you are prepared to forgive, there is no possibility of reconciliation. He’s saying forgiveness, or the commentary is saying forgiveness may break the cycle of retaliation and lead to mutual reconciliation. Secondly, it may make the enemy feel ashamed and change his or her ways and thirdly, by contrast, repayment evil for evil hurts you just as much as it hurts your enemy. Even if your enemy never repents, forgiving him or her will free you of a heavy load of bitterness. In other words you can take it out of mind, it’s no longer going to be a load of bitterness within you that you’re constantly thinking about. Harboring resentment the commentary says, can be soul destroying. If we extend forgiveness to another person, we can relieve ourselves of a load of bitterness or an ongoing, if you will, penetrating for in our minds that we really should be rid of, a very interesting point to make. It says forgiving, even when there is no real reason to do so, allows us to move on unincumbent by negative feelings toward our enemy. We need to think deeply about that, because if we’re in a situation where we have truly been offended against, if we have not been able to forgive, it will eat away like a cancer in us and as the commentary says, it can do more harm to us than it can to the person who offended against us, a very, very important thing to think about.
Maybe sometimes we’re too easily offended anyway. Maybe we are a bit too sensitive sometimes and something that somebody says or an action that somebody commits in all innocence, maybe we get offended about that and maybe we ought to think about that. What does Psalm 119, verse 165 say: Great peace have those who love Your law, and nothing will offend them. And again, pretty hard to take but that’s what the Psalmist said.
Unforgiving offenses are more of a danger to the offended than to the offender. Stirring up real or imagined offenses is self-destructive, time consuming and pointless when all the scripture exhortations to do otherwise are taken to heart. Remember and this is my word, I’m reading from the commentary, my word is remember from the commentaries reference to being free of a heavy load of bitterness, forgiveness frees us, it certainly frees us.
We’re told in Galatians chapter 5, if you’d like to turn there for a moment, we’re told not to get even, we’re told to take the high ground.
Galatians 5:13 Galatians 5:13For, brothers, you have been called to liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.
American King James Version× You my brothers were called to be free, but do not use your freedom to indulge sinful nature, rather serve one another in love and we are extending love to another person when we extend forgiveness to them for an offense that has been committed against us. If we allow a load of bitterness to hold sway, we are no longer free.
It says here in that verse we are called to be free, but if you allow this offense to, if you will, to stay within our minds to lead the way at us, it’s going to cause us a great deal of difficulty, a great deal of harm. We’ll stop looking for the good in other people, we’ll see only faults, we’ll focus on shortcomings rather than strengths, we’ll have negativity to dominate our thinking rather than being positive people, all because we’re allowing this offense which is unforgiving to eat away at us internally. Reading on in verse 14 of Galatians 5, Paul said:
Verse 14: For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Verse 15: But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!
An act of forgiveness is necessary if we are to avoid that.
Forgiveness is part of God’s greatest gift. It can also be the greatest gift we can offer to somebody else who has offended against us. It can heal and restore a broken relationship, it can remove a root of bitterness from our heart, it can create an environment where we can serve one another in love and it can restore the unity of believers where it has been broken. That’s how important forgiveness is. That’s how important it is for us to take on the mind of Christ and this particular aspect of the mind of Christ. Forgiveness is a very powerful tool for a Christian to use, a very powerful tool indeed. When we forgive an offense, we are emulating God the Father and Jesus Christ. What more could we want then to emulate God the Father and Jesus Christ? We are literally taking on the mind of Christ when we forgive another for an offense that has been committed against us.
Let’s finish with maybe 3 scriptures here for you. Ephesians chapter 4, verses 31 and 32 to begin with.
Ephesians 4:31 Ephesians 4:31Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice:
American King James Version× Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.
Verse 32: And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you.
This is Christ’s law of forgiveness as we read in the gospels in Matthew 6, Matthew 18 and also you can read it in Mark 11. We can also see it in the model prayer, it says forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors. Forgiveness is just through and through the New Testament message. As we come to understand God’s forgiveness, we want to be like Him. We really truly want to take on the mind of Christ and having received the gift of forgiveness of God, we should surely want to pass on that gift of forgiveness to other people.
Hebrews 12:11 Hebrews 12:11Now no chastening for the present seems to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to them which are exercised thereby.
American King James Version× Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but grievous; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Verse 12: Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down and the feeble knees,
Verse 13: and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed.
If we have a situation where forgiveness is necessary, forgiving can heal that situation and remove the dislocation.
Verse 14: Pursue peace with all men and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.
Holiness is coupled with living in peace, a right relationship with God, a right relationship with our brethren and in some cases a right relationship is totally dependent on an act of forgiveness. It’s that important.
A final scripture, Colossians chapter 3, verses 12 through 15.
Colossians 5:12 Colossians 5:12
American King James Version× Therefore as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering;
Verse 13: bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.
Verse 14: But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.
Verse 15: And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body and be thankful.
Paul gives us the strategy to help us live as true Christians day by day. He said to imitate Christ compassionate example. Forgive transgressions as Christ forgives us. Let Godly love guard your life. Let the peace of God rule in your heart and always be thankful that you are in the body of Christ. The strategy for us to live by day by day brethren. If we’re really serious about taking on the mind of Christ, we really do keep in mind as I mentioned before a simple saying: ”To err is human, but to forgive is divine.”