Thursday, August 28, 2014
We can all probably come up with examples of extraordinary forgiveness, the kind that makes us say, “I could never do that!” Every day we hear about some horrible injustice done that forms a rock-hard ball in our heart that rejects the possibility of forgiveness—and those don’t include the personal hurts and injustices that have been done against US!
Sometimes we’d just like to walk away. It’s easier to avoid than to resolve. We kid ourselves into thinking that if we wait long enough, the pain will go away or if we simply try hard not to have anything to do with that other person, then everything will be okay.
The truth is unless we face the pain, acknowledge it and deal with it, rather than going away that pain tends to fester, and the anger, bitterness and frustration grows, often out of proportion to the original crime. The other truth is that if a relationship existed between us and the other person before the offence was committed, that relationship is now damaged and that damage has consequences. If husbands and wives, or parents and children, don’t sort out their conflicts, there are serious consequences. In the church, when two people are at odds and haven’t resolved the situation, there are consequences. The unity of the body is disturbed and the Spirit of God can’t operate as freely as He wants to. Paul urged two women in the Philippian church to get their act together: “I plead with Euodia and I please with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord” (Phil 4:2). And there seems to have been no question about this being “no body else’s business” because Paul goes on to say: “Yes, and I ask you, my true companions, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel...” (vs. 3). This idea fits with what we read in Corinthians about the nature of the community that is the church. We are a body and if two parts, like these two ladies, are at odds, then the rest of the body IS affected.
So in answering the “Why Forgive?” question we have to consider the effect a lack of forgiveness has on the body. Among Jesus’s last words to His disciples was that prayer recorded for us in John that the believers be united, that they show love for one another because otherwise no one would want to join them! One the attractions of the early church was the togetherness that characterized the believers, as we find recorded early in the Book of Acts. Love and togetherness don’t happen unless there is a spirit of forgiveness present. So we can’t just walk away and forget it, or avoid the person with whom we are at odds.
Let’s read Colossians 3:12, 13. We are going to “unpack” this verse a bit.
“Therefore,as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
When we see the word “therefore” in the Scriptures, it means that something that has been said before is important to what the writer is saying now. This particular “therefore”goes back to Paul’s explanation of salvation, summarized in Colossians 2:13-14: “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sin, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.”
Sound familiar? Then put those two verses together with what we have in 3:12, 13. Because Christ has taken away our sins, “therefore” this is how we should live now, as part of God’s community: We should be compassionate, kind, humble, gentle and patient.
Then we have another phrase that follows: “Bear with each other” that directly connects with compassionate, kind, humble, gentle and patient. The King James version of this verse used the word “forbearing” which means basically to “put up with” something. The words that come before tell us how we should “put up with” each other—with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
Then Paul adds that where there is a need to forgive, then forgiveness must be given.
Is “putting up with” something the same as forgiving something?
Eric Wright says in his book, Revolutionary Forgiveness, that “Forbearance is often confused with forgiveness. Sins require forgiveness but inadequacies due to human frailty, even oversights due to carelessness, call for forbearance.” (pg. 131, 132)
Examples would be:
—Fancied slights or imagined motives
—Human foibles, such as clumsiness, forgetfulness, carelessness etc.
—Physical infirmities such as hearing loss, poor eyesight, etc.
—Valid differences of opinion
—Differences of temperament and emphasis
—Differences in Christian maturity.
What do you think?
Whether it is a question of “putting up with” or a question of sin that needs forgiving, why are we to do either of these, according to these verses?
We have been forgiven for far more than we will ever have to forgive someone else for. As imitators of Christ, we are asked to follow His example understanding that when we look at someone else’s frailties and sins, we are looking in a mirror and the face looking back at us is our own.
Okay, let’s look at the rest of the passages given to us.
Matthew 18:21, 22:
“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.’”
Forgiveness is limitless.
“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 bags of gold 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. At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’ But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened. Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
In this parable we see a picture of the huge debt we owe to Christ who forgave us more than we could ever need to forgive anyone else.
2 Corinthians 2:5-11:
“If anyone has caused you grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you, to some extent—not to put it too severely. The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him…If you forgive anyone, I will forgive him. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan will not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.”
Paul is writing to the Corinthian church to instruct them that the brother who was under church discipline and who has repented, must be forgiven and restored to fellowship.
“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.”
This last statement has implications. We are told that we have unconfessed sin in our lives if we don’t forgive. That state causes a break in the relationship we have with God as well as causing a break in the relationship we have with the person who had hurt us.
NOTES FROM REVOLUTIONARY FORGIVENESS
Eric Wright shares the following observations from his book on forgiveness.
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother; then come and offer your gift.”
Apparently, seeking forgiveness is synonymous with seeking reconciliation.
Since the reconciler needs to lay bare the murkiness of the sin involved, he must come equipped with the ability to discern between sin and human foibles....Nevertheless, these verses in Galatians [6:1-3] do warn us to use great care when the law of Christ calls us to step into a third-party dispute or to restore a fallen Christian. Mature Christians, including church leaders should shoulder the primary responsibility.
William Barclay gave three reasons why judging another can cause so many problems.
1. We never know the whole facts or the whole person. We cannot understand the circumstances or temptations.
2. It is almost impossible for anyone to be strictly impartial in judgement.
3. No one is good enough to judge another. Our own faults and our own inability to resolve them automatically disqualify us as fair critics.
The Bible not only commands us not to judge, but also commands us to discern (1 Corinthians 6:5; 1 Thessalonians 5:21; Ephesians 5:30). Although striking a balance between sinful tolerance and sinful judgement is very difficult it must be done.
Wherever sins or misunderstandings create breaches in human relationships, someone needs to step forward to initiate reconciliation. The Bible gives us a clear mandate for:
1. The innocent person to go to the one who has sinned and offer forgiveness and reconciliation;
2. The one who has sinned to make the first move by seeking forgiveness from those harmed;
3. A third party, a peacemaker, to carefully seek to reconcile those alienated — where both the offender and the one offended stall the process.
Misunderstandings develop when we do not listen, when we interrupt others in the middle of an explanation, when we finish their sentences for them, when we stop listening in a conversation to play our next verbal gambit, when we try to read between the lines. Attentive listeners who control their tongue gain insights that inhibit outbursts of anger.
To love is to listen. Those who listen to others are saying, non-verbally, ‘I think you’re important. I want to hear what you have to say. I want to understand your side of the story.’
Augsburger: Any human understanding of another human is tainted with our own evil. None of us is good enough to be entrusted with complete knowledge of another. That’s impossible to begin with... Where we cannot understand, it is still possible to be understanding...in being understanding we accept the complexity of human motivation, the contradictions in persons that are beyond our explanation.
Samuel Lopez De Victoria, pastor of Miami Grace Church...
I am so sorry that I did not understand your pain. Walking through the fire has opened my eyes.
I am so sorry that I hit you with God talk making you feel unspiritual. I misused God’s sword and hurt you instead of being an agent of release and healing.
I am so sorry that I did not pay the price to enter your world but blindly insisted mine as the only valid one. I have much to learn and appreciate.
I am so sorry that I recklessly assumed you had a bad attitude. I was masking my insecurities.
I am so sorry that I did not extend to you the same mercy and grace God has for me. Amazing grace I have not shared.
Please pray for me and if you find it in your heart to have mercy on me, a poor wretched soul...then I beg of you to please forgive me.
We must not wait until friendships lie in charred ruins at our feet before we pursue reconciliation. Whether we are the cause, the victim or a third party, we cannot afford to look the other way. You! I! Whoever we are, we must take the first step!
Among Christians this is the duty of love, a duty that calls for understanding born of an empathetic awareness of our shared humanity and a commitment to listen patiently to the parties in a dispute.
As we listen we may discover that the sin was no sin at all, but the result of a human foible, a mistake, an accident, a misunderstanding. If so, forbearance...is the salve we need to apply to the damaged relationship.
Individual Christians are called to demonstrate revolutionary grace. Churches must display the same radical grace, but — at times — this has to be balanced by actions of apparent severity. Otherwise the moral testimony of the church will be compromised.
On a personal level we need to show an openness to extend unlimited forgiveness. On a church level, Christ commands us to discipline the unrepentant, with a view to their restoration, by treating them ‘as you would a pagan or a tax collector’ (Matthew 18:17).
This distinction is hard to maintain in our hyperindividualistic societies. Biblical culture knew nothing of the kind of individualism we foster today.
There’s a Biblical concept of protecting, developing, rebuking and rejoicing with one another...If the church believes in repentance, it must provide a caring fellowship in which it is safe to repent.
...that which brings us together in any genuine local church is not only our faith in Jesus Christ but our shared experience of his grace. We are not theologians gathered together to debate weighty issues — although we may do that from time to time. No, we are wounded, forgiven sinners taking the cure. ‘If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us’ (I John 1:8). When we see the church — our church — as a hospital for sinners, the conceit and self-righteousness that make restoring a fallen brother impossible dissipates. When all the members share this humble realization the church becomes open to hear confession and accept repentance.
A caring fellowship is a fragile flower. When the integrity of that fellowship is compromised by the actions of one member, the body must take action.
Undue delay in forgiving a person who has shown signs of repentance gives the devil an opportunity to insinuate that the church is a harsh, legalistic, unloving place.
...testing the sincerity of a person’s repentance requires the elapse of some time.
A sinner’s confession and repentance are prerequisites to healing and reconciliation but not to forgiveness. Forgiveness must be complete and instantaneous and unconditional.
The Biblical evidence comes down overwhelmingly on the side of lavish forgiveness.
Forgiving a person does not mean we do not confront that person [Luke 17:3].
Notorious or public sins committed by Christians can be done...Churches must withhold forgiveness until there is repentance...(Matthew 18:17). Individuals, however, do not have church authority.
...distinguishing between God’s prerogatives and our may help to clarify issues...judgement, in the sense of condemnation, is not ours to exercise...Only God know the true heart condition of those who appear repentant, or unrepentant. He alone knows the heart of a man. And thus, in a moral sense, we cannot offer a person the forgiveness that is only God’s to give. In the meantime he expects us to forgive ‘seventy times seven’, which seems to me to be an appeal for us to bend over backwards to forgive.
Dr. Archibald Hart has suggested that forgiveness is: ‘Giving up my right to hurt you for hurting me.’
...offering this kind of forgiveness does not mean that we are responsible for resurrecting a ruined relationship.
...this kind of ‘human forgiveness’ does not absolve the forgiven person from taking responsibility for his actions.
...offering abundant forgiveness to an unrepentant person may profoundly influence his subsequent attitude.
For a comprehensive study of the subject of forgiveness, I would recommend Eric Wright’s book. It can be purchased from the author at: http://countrywindow.ca/biblical-studies/revolutionary-forgiveness/ .
Tuesday, August 5, 2014
The story of this little boy perfectly illustrates the missing ingredient.
The story is told about a little boy who dialed the telephone operator. He couldn’t speak clearly so she didn’t understand what he was trying to say. After he had repeated himself four times, the boy said: “Operators are stupid!” and hung up the phone. Hearing this, his mother got upset. She called the operator and made her son apologize. Later, when his mother wasn’t at home, the boy called the operator again. “Is this the same operator I spoke to before?” “Yes,” she replied. “Well.” said the boy, “I still think operators are stupid!”
There is something not quite genuine to this little boy's apology!
And so it is with knowing how to gain forgiveness. KNOWING all the we know about the subject isn’t enough. We have to do something about what we know. And what we do has to be GENUINE. Keep that word in mind.
First of all, let’s look at the Seven Great Truths about Salvation. These seven truths take some big words and break them down into phrases that we can easily understand.
1. SUBSTITUTION: JESUS DIED IN MY PLACE.
2. JUSTIFICATION: JESUS MADE ME RIGHT WITH GOD.
3. RECONCILIATION: JESUS MADE PEACE WITH GOD POSSIBLE.
4. ADOPTION: JESUS MADE ME PART OF GOD’S FAMILY.
5. REDEMPTION: JESUS PURCHASED MY SALVATION WITH HIS
6. PROPITIATION: JESUS SATISFIED GOD’S JUSTICE.
7. FORGIVENESS: JESUS SENT MY SINS AWAY FROM ME
Think about your own spiritual journey and what it was that first made you realize that you needed the forgiveness that God was offering through Jesus Christ. All of these seven great truths are important, and like facets in a diamond, all are necessary. But at different times in our lives, different facets become more important to us. When I tell the story of my spiritual journey, I say that at 11 years old I was only a little conscious of sin, but I was very conscious of avoiding hell, so probably truth number 6 was the biggie then: Accepting Christ saved me from the hell that I deserved as a sinner. Today, the aspect of salvation that is the most meaningful to me is probably truth number 4: I am loved by God as a member of His family because of what Christ did for me on the cross. The facet that is most important to you will depend on where you are in your spiritual journey right now. But they are all important—including that first step of genuine repentance.
With that first step, none of these seven great truths about salvation applies. And this isn’t a “ho-hum” moment. Perhaps the greatest danger we face today in our spiritual journeys is our reluctance to talk about genuine repentance. If we talk about repentance we have to talk about sin, and sin is something strangely avoided. We talk about getting our lives on track, turning over a new leaf, becoming more spiritual, etc. etc. I am concerned about this avoidance because I’ve read too many stories of how people came to know Christ that never once mention repentance from sin. And repentance is the foundational step to true faith.
However we package the message of Gospel somewhere in there we have to talk about “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom I am chief” as Paul wrote 1 Timothy 1:15.
So let’s go.
Genuineness is everything when it comes to repentance. It’s easy to mumble the words when we get caught, or if its to our advantage to do so, but to really mean what we say when we repent is the “cut above.”
Read Acts 3:19, 14:15, 26:20
"Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord..."
"...turn from these worthless things to the living God..."
"...I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds."
In two of these verses the genuineness of the repentance is characterized by that word “turn.” For repentance to be genuine, there must be a commitment to stop the sinful behaviour. When John the Baptist preached repentance, there was always this aspect of “turning.” In Luke 3:8, he tells his audience: “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” If they were really repentant, their commitment to change came as part of the package. This isn’t “fire insurance”— a "get out of hell free" card. This was a changed life. In the last verse Paul repeats this: “...and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds.” This isn’t a works theology, this is a “show-me-the-proof” theology. Genuine repentance will be demonstrated by a changed life.
When we come to the next set of verses we add some more valuable ingredients to genuine repentance.
Acts 10:43, 26:18, 20:21.
"All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."
"...I am sending you to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me."
"I have declared to both Jews and Gentiles that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus."
To believe means, in the general sense: to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, place confidence in.
In the religious sense, it means:
in a moral or religious reference
1) used in the NT of the conviction and trust to which a man is impelled by a certain inner and higher prerogative and law of soul
2) to trust in Jesus or God as able to aid either in obtaining or in doing something: saving faith
3) mere acknowledgment of some fact or event: intellectual faith
So when that word appears it can have a variety of meanings and we can usually figure out from the context which one is being referred to. In this case Acts 26 and 20 enlighten us when it comes to genuine belief. We are talking about saving faith, the accepting of the means that God has provided for us to be saved, the repentance and trust that what Jesus did on the cross is sufficient to pay for the sins that we have committed.
Even in the Old Testament, and before the moment of salvation, there was a commitment to turning away from evil, i.e. Isaiah 55:6,7:
"Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon."
BELIEVING AND REALLY BELIEVING
Many people protest, sayng, "But I believe in God!" James 2:19 reminds us: "You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder." Believing is much more than head knowledge. A response is needed—and it better be more than a shudder, though that is a good start!
John 1:12: "Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God." The word “believe” is often connected with the name of Jesus. Why? Because the name “Jesus” had a significance in Bible times that is doesn’t have today or in our culture. Matthew 1:21: “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” “Jesus” means “the Lord saves.”
John 3:16-18, 5:24: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son."
"I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eterna leife and will not be condemned; he has passed over from death to life."
The results of saving faith are: no condemnation, no judgment, and the promise of eternal life.
The opposite of saving faith is found for us in John 3:36: "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him." You can accept everything about Jesus as an intellectual fact, but not have saving faith. You can believe without REALLY believing and the result will be the judgment of God. Notice the idea in the verses of a "rejection." This rejection is a refusal to believe what God says about our sin and how we can deal with that sin. It is a refusal to accept Christ's offer of salvation through an act of repentance.
One of the best illustrations comes from a simple chair. I can say that I believe that the chair in front of me will hole my weight if I sat down on it, but until I actually sit down on the chair, I cannot claim to have genuine faith in what I have said.
"Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit. When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged by sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, 'I will confess my transgressions to the Lord'—and you forgave the guilt of my sin."
The whole of this psalm is really beautiful. From verse 6 on we are given some details on what being forgiven means. It tells us about the confidence that a person who is forgiven can have in the God who has done the forgiving. But we are only going to look at the first five verses for our present discussion.
We have here in the psalm an example of the “godly sorrow” that wasn't present in the story of the little boy. This is the same genuine repentance that Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 7. This whole chapter is precious but remember these three verses: “yet now I am happy, not because your were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us [note to the shrinks who say that we should lay guilt trips on people!]. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regrets, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.” (vss 9-11).
A person who is genuinely repentant of their sin will be driven crazy by it until he confesses it and until he deal with it. That goes for any sin—as we find described for us here in Psalm 34 and described in Paul's letter to the Corinthians. David was sick, depressed, weak, because of his sin.
Eric Wright in Revolutionary Forgiveness says:
“David Seamands, a counselor, writes: ‘Many years ago I was driven to the conclusion that the two major causes of most emotional problems among evangelical Christians are these: the failure to understand, receive, and live out God’s unconditional grace and forgiveness; and the failure to give out that unconditional love, forgiveness, and grace to other people.’ In prison, Paul knelt before the Father and prayed for the Ephesians: ‘that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ...that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fulness of God’ (3:17-19).”
David was unhappy because of his sin. He had to deal with because of the effect it was having on his life. The only solution to his problem was to acknowledge his sin to himself (that’s always a first step) and then to confess it to God.
The result of this acknowledging of sin, its confession to God, and receiving by faith the gift of salvation that Christ offers based on His sacrifice on the cross, was forgiveness, happiness, and the blessed relief of a restored relationship between us and God.
That same forgiveness is available to us today.