Welcome to November! Hard to believe 2019 will be here in just two months. Oh, and before I forget to say it, be sure to set your clocks back one hour as Daylight Savings Time comes to an end this Saturday night.
The arrival of November not only means changing our clocks, it also means the Thanksgiving holiday will be here soon. Typically, people like to talk about the topic of “giving thanks” throughout the month. But based on the results of the survey we did in September, I’ve decided to spend the month of November talking about the topic of “forgiveness” since forgiveness is often something we wrestling with often.
So for the next three weeks, we are going to look at the topic of forgiveness. Next week we’ll be looking at the need to forgive self, and then the week after to forgive God. (Yes, sometimes we need to “forgive” God – we’ll talk about that in two weeks.) But let’s kick this series off with the angle most of us think about when it comes to forgiveness – Forgiving Others.
I Can’t Forgive Them!
One Sunday in 1997, when LeAnn and I were living in Venezuela teaching at a school for the children of missionaries, I preached on the topic of forgiveness in our English-speaking worship service. Apparently, God used the message to help Patricia, one of our freshmen students, surrender her life to Christ later that night while talking with a fellow student. Patricia’s “conversion” was the talk of campus the next day, because she was known as the school agnostic.
I happened to walk into the school office the next day when a couple of fellow staff members were talking about Patricia and my message. As I walked in, the school secretary said, “Erin, that was a really good message yesterday, and it’s wonderful that Patricia gave her life to Christ last night, but I just can’t do what you were saying in your message. I just can’t forgive someone. You have no idea what they did to me, and I just can’t do it.”
While her words broke my heart, I completely understood. While I never learned the details of what happened to this gal, (and whatever she had gone through was possibly far worse than anything I had ever faced at that time), I knew firsthand the struggle to forgive someone.
And yet while I could be empathetic, I hurt for that school secretary, because to NOT forgive someone upholds three lies:
1. God’s Not Just
When you refuse to forgive someone, you are in a sense saying, “I don’t believe God’s in control, and I don’t believe He will enact justice.” But justice is at the very heart of God’s character! He can’t NOT be just.
Yes, God is merciful. But remember, while your sin was mercifully forgiven, it was also justly paid for by Jesus’ death on the cross.
2. I’m Punishing the Wrong-doer
To forgive someone else feels like letting them off the hook, so we hang on to the hurt, as if we are hurting them right back. But the problem with this is that the offending party might not even be aware they hurt you, or they have even moved on. Which means they aren’t the one in your emotional prison, you are!
This tells me forgiveness is more about you and your emotional health than it is about trying to punish the other person. So you need to forgive for your sake!
3. I don’t need to forgive
Lastly, when we refuse to forgive someone their sin against us, we deceive ourselves into believing we don’t have to forgive them. But listen to what God tells us through the words of the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 4:31-32:
“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
You need to forgive others, setting aside your anger, because God has set aside his own anger at your sin and forgiven you! If you ever feel like “I just can’t forgive them for such evil,” remember the gospel teaches our sin was so bad, it deserved death. But God through Christ, upheld justice by paying off our sin, then mercifully granting us forgiveness. And so to forgive others their sin against you is to be like Jesus.
Before I close, let me say this: forgiving someone their wrongdoing doesn’t mean they don’t have to face any consequences. For instance, you can forgive the drunk driver for killing your parents in a car accident, but it doesn’t mean the driver gets to keep his license and keep driving.
But don’t hang on to the hurt, wishing harm on them. That only keeps you in an emotional prison and leads to really bad theology about God’s sovereignty. Instead, forgive them, praying for them to be changed by the gospel and become the person God wants them to be.
So if you need to forgive someone, let me encourage you to do so. It may not happen overnight, but with God’s strength, you can truly let God be the Judge of the offending party, and you can seek to live like Jesus lived and love like Jesus loved.