Sunday Sermons

Sunday Sermons




C.S. Lewis once observed that forgiveness is a beautiful word, until you have something to forgive. He was reminding us that forgiveness is by no means an effortless task, and like anything else worthwhile, it often takes a great deal of maturity, sacrifice and exertion. So what does God say are some of the more practical aspects of forgiving and being forgiven?

First, Some Clarification

When I read books on forgiveness, I find the authors placing in the forgiveness category things that may not be sinful, such as...

  • Being passed over when promotions are given.
  • Someone not expressing as much concern for your situation as you think they should.
  • Someone not having you over.
  • Someone not calling you when you are sick or other difficult occasion.
  • Not being invited to a certain social event - or when your child is excluded from such.
  • Someone does not get around to you and talk to you at services or at a party.

All these things might hurt our feelings, but it is my understanding that forgiveness relates to things much more relevant than these, and is connected with things that are clearly sinful. It is always healthy for our relationships when we remember what is and what is not a sin (Luke 17:3). So do yourself a favor, do not hold grudges over non-sinful choices that people have made. Give them the benefit of the doubt when it comes to areas of opinion.

The Two Extremes

  • One extreme is the refusal to forgive, even when people have repented. Jesus warned against this extreme (Matthew 18:29-30).
  • The other extreme seems a little more common in our time and culture, that is, granting a quick and superficial forgiveness before the person even expresses any remorse or repentance. That's not to say that while we are waiting for repentance we can hold bitterness and hatred in our hearts. Some may quickly offer cheap forgiveness because they want to avoid any uncomfortable conversation. Jesus said, "If your brother sins (against you - some manuscripts have this rendering), go and reprove him" (Matthew 18:15). In another passage He said, "If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him" (Luke 17:3).

At this point, someone might say, that it is unfair for the person sinned against (the victim) to have to "go" and have this uncomfortable conversation with the person who sinned against them, and this is why many people do not go. Instead, they either hold a grudge, or simply say, "Well, I forgive them", yet often they don't". So why does God want the victim to go, although they are the person sinned against? First, we have sinned as well against God and others in the past (Ephesians 4:32). Occasionally, the case may be that the "perpetrator" may be unaware of the hard he has caused. Second, if we have all been sinned against at some point, and play the part of a "helpless victim" waiting for an apology, then who is going to get all the good works of God done that need to get done? Simply put, God cannot afford for the pillar and ground of the truth (the church), which He has entrusted with spreading the gospel and reaching the world for Christ, to be filled with people on the inactive list because they are nursing all their wounds. Both the hurt and the hurter both have an opportunity to heal the relationship.

Practical Advice To The Person Sinned Against

  • Earnestly desire, above all else, that God to be glorified in the end. This is far more important than any personal gain. Although others may to say that a given situation cannot be fixed, forgiving deeply hurtful behavior displays like little else can, the beautiful power of God's healing word
  • Remember your own sins (Ephesians 4:32).
  • God takes forgiveness seriously, if we refuse to forgive, then we will not be forgiven (Matthew 6:14-15).
  • We cannot change the rules. That is, we cannot withhold forgiveness from someone who genuinely repents (Luke 17:3-4). Yet, just as important, we cannot just throw out forgiveness on our own terms, for example when a person refuses to repent. In Scripture, forgiveness is clearly conditional. It always has been. So, making up a new type of forgiveness is just as wrong as refusing to forgive.
  • Depending on the personal nature of the sin, a person may have a hard time forgetting it; in fact, it will likely resurface in one's mind from time to time. Yet, when we deal with matters in God's ways, we can hope for a future that sees some good that may have come out of it all. Let us have the same heart as Joseph who said, "And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good" (Genesis 50:20).

Principles To Share With The Person Who Hurt You

  • Without exaggeration, be honest about how much a sin hurt you and that it (depending upon the sin, or how personal the sin is), could be difficult to forgive.
  • Encourage the sinner. Words like, "I know you can change, you are better than this, you can overcome this". You do want to forgive them because you want to see them saved.
  • Forgiveness will be much easier if there are no excuses. When a sinner says things like, "Yea, I hurt you, but you were the one who made me mad." or, "Yes, I sinned, but…" - such attitudes are worlds away from the repentant prodigal son whose heart was filled with the humble attitude of "I am no longer worthy" (Luke 15:19), or the publican who prayed "God be merciful to me the sinner"(Luke 18:14).
  • Earnestly desire to forgive others because of your deep gratitude that God has forgiven you, and all that that forgiveness means for your future. It is God's will that we extend forgiveness when a sinner repents, but He understands that sense we as humans are not all-knowing, it may take some time as we, with hope in our hearts, listen and watch to gather that the repentance is sincere. The repentant should view this process with humble understanding.
  • We cannot remove all the consequences. When David committed adultery with Bathsheba, God did forgive him (2 Samuel 12:13 "The Lord has taken away your sin; you shall not die"). The next verse starts with the word, "however" (12:14). God could forgive David, but God could not stop the news of this sin from spreading to other nations, and people using David's hypocrisy as an excuse to blaspheme. God was saying, "David, I can save your soul", but I cannot save your reputation. In David's case, David's own children would hear about this event and they would react in the wrong way (12:11). It looks like Absalom would not learn from his Father's sin or be forgiving or understanding. Rather, it looks like he would take from this event a lack of respect for his father and would eventually rebel.

Advice for the Sinner

Often we talk about the obligations that are upon the person sinned against, and this is appropriate, for Jesus addresses those obligations (Luke 17:3-4). Yet, Jesus likewise spoke of the sinner also having obligations to the person they sinned against:

"If therefore you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. Make friends quickly with your opponent at law" (Matthew 5:23-25a).

  • We learn here that the person who sinned has an equal obligation to seek reconciliation.
  • An apology is not necessarily the same thing as repentance. Do you really want to change, or are you merely sorry? At times we are sorry we caused someone so much pain, but at the same time are not willing to completely stop doing what we are doing. Before you ask for forgiveness, you need to decide that you are truly going to change.
  • There have been times when I have seen someone really mess up, and the person who messed up wants to get into "a study on forgiveness." That is not what you need right now. The person who needs to forgive can do that study, but you need a study on repentance and how to resist temptation. You need a more humble and contrite heart.
  • Do not campaign. I have only seen people make matters worse when they sin, and then start preaching to the person they sinned against about how God expects them to forgive. Understand the damage that you have caused - put yourself in their shoes. Do not set a timetable. "Hey, it has been two weeks, or a month, why can't things just go back to the way they were".
  • Be glad for whatever hard consequences fall on your head - for maybe this is the only thing that will finally help you beat this sin. Avoid any excuses.
  • Do not confess, and then at the end of your confession, spread around some blame to other people.

Things To Say

  • What can I do to help you forgive me?
  • I understand how hard this is - and if the roles were reversed, I might find forgiveness one of the most difficult things I've done. I will pray for you, I know this puts you in a difficult situation.
  • I am not going to lie out any timetable. I understand you need time - so would I. During that time I will try to work on myself.
  • Pray for me, obviously I have a deep spiritual problem, and I worry that I will not be able to beat it in the end.
  • I realize that true repentance is supposed to have fruits (Acts 26:20). I am working on bearing that fruit.
  • Please hold me accountable, do not offer just a quick and easy forgiveness, I don't need that right now.
  • I understand that all sin will condemn us, but I also realize that this sin, because it was so personal, or committed in such a close relationship, may have more consequences than other sins.

"But I Cannot Forgive Myself"

A person could mean a couple of different things by the above statement. If a person means, "I can't forget what I have done and the painful memory keeps surfacing", then that is normal. Joseph did not forget what his brothers had done to him, and Paul never forgot that he had persecuted Christians (1 Timothy 1:13-15). Forgiving and forgetting are not the same thing. God forgives, but He does remember we were sinners (Ephesians 2:1-3). It is healthy to always remember what we were capable of doing when we were spiritually careless. This helps us remain humble and stay close to God in the future. If a person means by the above statement that they cannot believe that God has forgiven them, then that is the same problem as the sin they committed that required the forgiveness. Both are rooted in the same basic issue, that is, the problem of not trusting God when He says something in Scripture. He said do not do this or that, or these bad things will happen - but you closed your eyes. He said if you repent, He will forgive you, but you don't believe that He has actually forgiven you. Both are a simple lack of trust in Him. The answer is simple: Study God! Learn about Him in Scripture. Look at His track record for keeping His promises and make a decision. Can He be trusted?


Mark Dunagan/Beaverton Church of Christ/503-644-9017