How Important Is Forgiveness? Should I Forgive Somebody Who REALLY Hurt Me? What if They Don’t Ask for Forgiveness?

Today’s episode is all about the Coronavirus. Oh wait, that’s what every other news item is about. Today we are talking about forgiveness, and – believe it or not – that is more important than #covid19! Our passages include Exodus 14, which includes God’s miraculous rescue of the Israelites via the Red Sea collapse on Pharaoh’s army. Job 32 introduces us to Elihu, a very enigmatic figure in Job who rebukes both Job’s friends and Job, and might just be right on the money. In 2nd Corinthians 2, Paul urges forgiveness and comfort for one who had sinned, that Paul apparently had recommended church discipline on previously. Notice his gentleness here – it is good to call people to repentance, and church discipline is very biblical and very needed – but so is gentle restoration also. Our focus passage is Luke 17, in which Jesus teaches us some challenging things about forgiveness:

3 Be on your guard. If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and comes back to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.”

Luke 17:3-5

Forgiveness is critically important to the Christian life. Our faith is built on forgiveness through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, but our faith is also contingent on forgiveness. By that I mean, even though I wholeheartedly believe in and affirm salvation by grace through faith, I also wholeheartedly believe in and affirm the teaching of Jesus that says that we will NOT be forgiven for our sins if we do not forgive those who sin against us.

14 “For if you forgive others their offenses, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well. 15 But if you don’t forgive others, your Father will not forgive your offenses.

Matthew 6:14-15

John Piper has a very good explanation of this dynamic:

The way I would put it is like this: If the forgiveness that we received at the cost of the blood of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, is so ineffective in our hearts that we are bent on holding unforgiving grudges and bitterness against someone, we are not a good tree. We are not saved. We don’t cherish this forgiveness. We don’t trust in this forgiveness. We don’t embrace and treasure this forgiveness.

We are hypocrites. We are just mouthing. We haven’t ever felt the piercing, joyful wonder that God paid the life of his Son. I mean, how in the world could I hold a grudge against somebody when I have not been offended nearly like God has been offended — so highly that he has to pay the life of his Son in order for me to be forgiven?

That is exactly the point of Matthew 18 with the parable of the unforgiving servant — which is like a parabolic form of Matthew 6:15 — where the servant owes the king a billion dollars. It is just off the charts what he owes, and he gets forgiven freely. But then he goes out and he feels it so little; it means so little to him that he strangles his fellow servant for ten dollars. And when the king hears about it, he sends him to jail. And Jesus concludes that parable like this: “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you if you do not forgive your brother from your heart” (Matthew 18:35).

Many of you have been hurt. Some of you have been hurt terribly – and you have lifelong wounds in your soul, spirit and emotions. Some of you have been physically abused – some sexually abused – some abandoned, and some of you have been treated in all sorts of cruel and horrible ways. The ways in which we humans hurt each other is inexcusable and gut-wrenching and yet the Lord calls us to forgive. I want to try and persuade you – using Scripture – why you must forgive those who hurt you. Why that is good for you. Why that is Christ-honoring. Why that does not mean justice won’t happen. Let’s read Luke 17, then look at a few more Scriptures on forgiveness, and then consider what forgiveness is, why it is necessary, and what it is not.

Five Powerful Verses on Forgiveness:

30 And don’t grieve God’s Holy Spirit. You were sealed by him for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness, anger and wrath, shouting and slander be removed from you, along with all malice. 32 And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ.

Eph 4:30-32

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven

Luke 6:37

And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven will also forgive you your wrongdoing.”

Mark 11:25

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and dearly loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a grievance against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you are also to forgive.

Colossians 3:12-13

21 Then Peter approached him and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? As many as seven times?” 22 “I tell you, not as many as seven,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven….  34 And because he was angry, his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured until he could pay everything that was owed. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to you unless every one of you forgives his brother or sister from your heart.”

Matthew 18:21-35 selections

I think those passages (and others like them) make it pretty clear that forgiveness is both necessary and commanded. We must forgive – there is no option. But…But…But… I hear some of your objections now in my mind – imagining your struggle. Allow me to recommend a book/resource for those for whom forgiveness is a struggle. The book Total Forgiveness by R.T. Kendall has been a tremendous blessing to me, as has Dr. Kendall himself. For those that aren’t familiar, Dr. R.T. Kendall is an American pastor, who pastored Westminster Chapel (formerly pastored by Martyn Lloyd-Jones and G. Campbell Morgan) in England for 25 years. In my younger years as a minister, I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Kendall several times, and was always amazed at his kindness, graciousness, and willingness to give friendly council and advice. Total Forgiveness is the best resource I’ve ever encountered on forgiveness, and I’ve recommended it to dozens of people that have been wounded. Partially because forgiveness is commanded clearly by the Word of God but also because one of the most healing things a wounded person can do is to forgive the person that hurt them. That may not make a lot of sense, but we need to realize what forgiveness is not: (Condensed from Total Forgiveness):

  1. Forgiveness is not approval nor excusing of what the person who hurt you did. God does not approve of sin – He hates sin! Jesus showed great mercy to the woman caught in sin in John 7:53-8:11, but also called her to leave her life of sin. When you forgive somebody, you are not saying that you are ok with what they did to you. Forgiveness does not excuse what a person did to you. “Just as God forgives people without approving their sin, we also must learn that forgiving people does not imply an endorsement of their evil deeds.” (Total Forgiveness, p. 12)
  2. Forgiveness does not justify the wrong that somebody has done. To justify something means to make it ‘right,’ or ‘just.’ Forgiveness does not handle sin that way – it is not suggesting that what somebody did that was wrong was, in fact, righteous.
  3. Forgiveness is not pardoning the wrong that somebody did. A pardon releases another person from the consequences of the wrong that they did. Forgiveness does not grant a pardon for wrong deeds. Dr. Kendall gives an excellent illustration of this dynamic: A young woman in his congregation was raped by a man from another country. The police wanted the woman to testify against this man at his trial, but she was concerned, knowing that God had called her to forgive the man, and also knowing that – if this man was convicted, he would be deported to his home country, and his home country automatically executed convicted rapists. She came to Dr. Kendall for counsel, and he advised her to testify, and she did – testifying as to what the man did to her, without hate and malice in her heart. The man was found guilty and deported, but the young woman forgiving this man did not at all mean that she pardoned him. Justice rightly demanded that he pay for his actions.
  4. Forgiveness is not always reconciliation. As Dr. Kendall notes, “Reconciliation implies a restoration of relationship. When a husband and wife totally forgive each other, it will usually mean a reconciliation – but not always. The bitterness and the desire to punish the other person may be gone, but the wish to restore things to the way they were may not necessarily be so strong. If your spouse is unfaithful and sleeps with your best friend, both your marriage and your friendship will probably never be the same, no matter how genuine the forgiveness that is offered. An injured person can forgive an offender without reconciliation. It is wonderful indeed if the relationship can be restored, but this must not be pressed in most cases. Some things can never be the same again. It takes two to reconcile, and there must be total willingness on both parts.” (Total Forgiveness, p. 14-15)

    So – what is forgiveness? I like how John Piper breaks it down here:

I think this is a very biblical definition of forgiveness. Each of its parts comes from a passage of Scripture.

  1. Resist thoughts of revenge: Romans 12:19, “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.”
  2. Don’t seek to do them mischief: 1 Thessalonians 5:15, “See that no one repays another with evil for evil.
  3. Wish well to them: Luke 6:28, “Bless those who curse you.”
  4. Grieve at their calamities: Proverbs 24:17, “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles.”
  5. Pray for them: Matthew 5:44, “But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”
  6. Seek reconciliation with them: Romans 12:18, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”
  7. Be always willing to come to their relief: Exodus 23:4, “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey wandering away, you shall surely return it to him.”

I note here that Kendall and Piper disagree with whether or not reconciliation is necessary in order to forgive. If you’ll forgive me, allow me to take a middle position, and agree that sometimes reconciliation is necessary, but other times (sexual abuse, physical abuse, the example that Dr. Kendall used of adultery, and other similar cases) FULL reconciliation may not be possible or mandated, but forgiveness may still be offered.

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