a fruitful look at forgiveness

We have defined forgiveness as a decision to treat an offender as if the offense never happened at all. Forgiveness is a choice. Forgiveness is an event, not a process [i.e. Jesus on the cross]. Forgiveness is not forgetting, rather it is not dwelling. Forgiveness is like taking a trash bag full of pain and hurt and throwing it away. However, many people like to go to the dump and dig through their old dirt, but that gets you more messy and stinky.

The Bible paints a picture of forgiveness as a tree with deep roots and healthy fruits. The Bible uses this illustration to say that what comes out of a man’s mouth shows you what is in his heart [cf. Luke 6:43-46]. The root of the matter is the heart. The fruit is our behavior. Ephesians 4 gives a practical principle of how to test the quality of fruit by getting at the root issue. God has not called us to be fruit inspectors; rather we are to be root investors.

When I hold onto unforgiveness I will produce destructive fruit [Eph 4:31].

We often ignore or fail to realize the cost of unforgiveness. The cost of unforgiveness is loss of intimacy with God, loss of relationship with others, and stunted spiritual growth [i.e. put off—bitterness, rage, anger, etc.]. If I do not deal with my ungodly anger quickly it will soon be snowball that ends in a deadly avalanche.

I want you to get a real look at forgiveness [Is.55:8-9 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”]. This is not just a passage about the bigness or smartness of God, in the context it is about His forgiveness. You see we measure our forgiveness with a yardstick: Are they worthy of my forgiveness? And how much am I suppose to forgiven them? God’s forgiveness cannot be measured or compared to our view of forgiveness. Our forgiveness is so little compared to God’s. We cannot conceive the boundaries on God’s forgiveness.

When I unleash forgiveness I produce delightful fruits [4:32a]

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another.” When I put off the fruits of the old man and begin to live as the new man Christ created me to be I begin to bear fruit that is in His likeness [cf. Gal.5:16ff]. His image has rub off on me. You cannot fake this kind of fruit for long. It is the result of an intimate relationship with the maker and sustainer of the universe.

Growing up my grandpa Dale had a few apple trees. The apple tree didn’t produce much. It just produced dry, wrinkled, brown and mushy apples. Let’s say gramps decided to fix the tree one year. He went out to the tree with trimmers, a staple gun, stepladder and a box of apples he bought from the store. He cuts off the bad apples and puts on the new store bought ones. Did he fix the tree? Stapling apples will not help because they will just rot too. Forgiveness that doesn’t reach the heart [roots] does not last. Cosmetic changes never satisfy. Are you stapling fruit? You can know if you are forgiving person if you have the freedom to give your best, most, and greatest to God and others without reservation.

Why do I need to be forgiving? What is my motivation? [4:32b-5:2]

“As God in Christ forgave you…” When I forgive I am most like God [cf. Matthew 6:12]. I want to be forgiving because I realize how much I have been forgiven. Stop for a moment. Think about all God has forgiven you. Are you amazed? How can you not be impacted by that truth? Think about those you are having a difficult time forgiving. How can God’s forgiveness motivate you to forgive today?

I am certainly no trekkie, but in conclusion we are going to take forgiveness through to the fourth dimension. Here is how we must deal with unforgiveness: First, defer to God. All forgiveness is from God—He is the final frontier [John 20:22-23]. Second, decide to take the initiative. God gives the grace, and you must you decide to enter the race [cf. Lk.15:20; Rom.12:18]. Third, disengage from your emotions. Even if you don’t feel like forgiving that is not an option [Gal.5 “fruit of the Spirit”; Is.43:25]. Fourth, the final dimension is to deliver your enemies to God through much prayer [cf. Luke 6:27-28].

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unleashing forgiveness

I had just turned 16. My parents were away for 4th of July weekend and I had my step-dads truck all to myself. He had the coolest looking Mitsubishi Montero. Looking back, the man who gave oversaw my drivers test earlier that March was more into the 4×4 gadgets inside than how I was driving outside. I passed. I do not recall having permission to take out Mike’s truck that weekend, but it was the 4th of July, and my friends were banking on me taking them to the fireworks on the Rib Mountain in the Montero. So with the moon-roof down, music cranked and the 4-wheel on we head up the mountain in the Montero.  All was good and we had a great night.

The next day I had to work. Since we got in late the night before and I had to work so early I decided I would take the Montero [I usually took the bus or road my bike]. No harm, right? As I was pulling into the mall-parking ramp my foot got stuck on the accelerator and the car rammed into the concrete ramp. Cars were lining up and honking behind me. I put a $5000.00 dent into the truck. My sin had just found me out. My parents called that night and ask how I was doing? I did not mention a thing. When my parents got home a few days later my step-dad opened the garage viewed him damaged Montero and was furious. That 4th of July I had to learn a valuable lesson about forgiveness.

Forgiveness is unnatural. We want to hold onto the hurt and anger, payback, seek revenge and retribution. Have you ever been there? Have you been on the offended end of hurt, blame, finger pointing, or collateral damage? Do you really want to live like this? Who are you having a difficult time forgiving?

what is forgiveness?

It is a decision to treat an offender as if the offense never happened at all.

why should I forgive?

Peter asks this very question to Jesus and you sense he is struggling with unforgiveness [Matthew 18:21], since earlier Jesus had taught about what to do if a person offends you [18:15-20]. In Jesus’ day Jewish rabbi’s taught that if you forgave someone three times you were really forgiven, but super spiritual Peter trumps that number to seven. Jesus is going to answer the haughty question using a simple story [18:22-35].

Unforgiveness is foolish [Matthew 18:22-27]. God is like the king who forgives the servants $10 million dollars debt. In those days filing bankruptcy was not an option. If you could not pay, off to the slave market you went. What a forgiving king. God says there are endless reasons to forgive. However, we have endless excuses for not forgiving someone who has offended us. Sin is always irrational, full of excuses and deceitful. I have heard people say, “The hurt is too big.” We believe that there is no possible way to forgive ____ for doing ____ because the wound is deep, fresh and still bleeding. I have heard others say, “Time will heal it,“ “They are bound to do it again.” “I cannot forgive until I forget.” We humans have a hard time forgetting. The problem is forgiveness is the process God uses to help us forget.

Unforgiveness is like a cancerous tumor. The longer it is left unchecked the harder it is to remove, and the messier and more complicated it becomes. Unforgiveness is controlling. It is like a dog leash and its master is the one who has offended you. Unforgiveness will continue to become a weight that becomes heavier and heavier until you deal with it. When we harbor unforgiveness we are saying, “Okay, you control my life. I’m the puppet. You have the strings.” I have lived that way before, for years I was leashed to unforgiveness to my divorced parents who I blamed for my anger and sin issues.

Unforgiveness is dangerous [vs.28-30]. If we decide not to forgive it can destroy people. Think about it: the forgiving servant was forgiven $10 million dollars, but he was bent out of shape over someone who owed him $11 dollars. Ridiculous!? The same is true for one who is a child of God. If Christ has forgiven you of all your sins and you cannot forgive another for one sin, ridiculous. Unforgiveness will destroy you and others.

Unforgiveness is Godless [v.31-33]. Question: How much has God forgiven you? What does it say about God’s forgiveness if we cannot forgive an offender? It slaps God in the face. It says His forgiveness does not cut it. Unforgiveness is anti-God.

Unforgiveness is torturous [v.34-35]. If we do not deal with forgiveness it will deal with me. Ultimately it will destroy me and separate me from the Forgiver.

how do I know if I am forgiving?

Going back to Peters original question do you notice Jesus’ response? [v.22] “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Jesus is not saying you should forgive 77 times, but forgiveness is over and over again. Forgiveness is to be a habit. Now I am not going to minimize how bad someone has hurt you, but do you realize what forgiveness God has given you? Forgiveness starts and ends with God. I learn forgiveness from Him, and I give forgiveness in Him. How do I know if I am a forgiving person?

First, I am not deceived by my pride. You are quick to admit what you did was wrong and seek forgiveness, or you are quick to offer forgiveness by not harboring unforgiveness. Unforgiveness is not your mother’s fault, your friend’s fault, rather own up to it yourself. Second, I am not defensive or protective. You do not have to pay back, pick that fight, or rebel to prove you are right. Instead you leave that up to God [Romans 12:19]. Third, I am motivated by Christ’s forgiveness, so I forgive. It is freeing to allow God to fight the battles for you and to rely upon His forgiveness to forgive others.

Forgiveness is unnatural, but necessary. As followers of Christ forgiveness should come more naturally. Unleash unforgiveness before you are lynched by it.