Charles Stanley - Victory Over Unforgiveness
Last year or maybe yesterday or maybe this morning, somebody hurt you. And you felt it. And your first response was to retaliate, because you felt like you had a right to. And so, you had to make up your mind whether you were going to retaliate or not. So, outwardly you decided not to. But what you did, you stuffed it and it's on the inside. Or it may be that last year or yesterday or whenever you saw somebody else that you thought was wronged. And you would like to have retaliated about that, but you didn't feel like you could, so you stuffed that one. One of the most dangerous things a person can do is stuff resentment, anger, hostility, all of these things which really adds up to unforgiveness.
In all this series of sermons we've talked about the different emotions that are deadly. And they cause all kind of diseases, all kind of hurt, all kind of pain. And people live with it. Instead of dealing with it, they just live with it. And they have the idea that it's over because, Oh, I have forgotten that. But if you stuffed it, you may have forgotten it in your mind, but your body is still being affected by what you stuffed. Because you see, unforgiveness may be stuffed, but you do not escape the penalty and you do not escape the consequences of an unforgiving spirit. An unforgiving spirit is one of the most disastrous things that a person can have, because it's so subtle. It seems like, Well, I forgot it. It was a long time ago and it didn't really make all that much difference.
And so, I've just forgotten the whole affair. Well, you may have forgotten it, but not really, because deep down inside it's still boiling away. The acid is still working away. You may not have any feelings about it right now, and you think, You know what? If it was all that bad, why don't I feel it? A person can have cancer for years without feeling it. They can have heart trouble for a long time before it has its outward effect. There are a lot of things that can go on in the human body before we even know about it. Unforgiveness is a disastrous attitude. It's a totally ungodly attitude. In fact, it is an attitude of rebellion. In fact, when you look at what unforgiveness is all about, you understand the nature of it from God's viewpoint when you look at the Cross. Because at the Cross, what did He say? That He was paying a sin debt for every single person in the world from Adam all the way to the last person who's born. That was the love of God. And He didn't say, "I'll forgive you until or when, if, and, but, and so forth". But His awesome gift of forgiveness is offered to all.
And so, I want you to listen carefully to this message because many people think they don't have any unforgiveness in their life. But the truth is, if they look deeply enough, it's probably there. And if it's there, it's doing its damage just a little bit at the time. So, I want you to turn if you will to a passage that we turned to when we talked about anger. And if you'll turn to the fourth chapter of Ephesians and I want us just to read two or three verses here. Beginning in verse twenty-six when the Scripture says, Paul said it, He said, "Be angry," and notice what he says, "do not let" He says, "Don't let the sun go down on your anger". Don't sleep with it, "And do not give the devil an opportunity". Which says if we don't deal with things right up front, we give the devil a toehold in our life.
And the result is that's when he begins to work his destructive work. Then he says in verse twenty-nine, "Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption". Listen to this, "Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice". And then he says, "Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other". How's that? "Just as God in Christ also has forgiven you". That is a command of the Lord. And if you'll think about this, it is the only attitude that is befitting those who say that we're believers and followers of Jesus.
An unforgiving spirit does not fit in the life of a follower of Jesus. Why did He come? He came for the purpose of dying on the cross to do what? To make it possible that all of us would be forgiven of our sin. When you trust the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, He forgives you of all your sin. And he says, And all of us have the responsibility who are followers of His to forgive others. And He doesn't say if, and, when, possibly and this, that, and the other. He just says our responsibility is to forgive. And notice the degree of forgiveness. He doesn't say forget it when we're wrong. He says, "Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you". That is a command. It's the will of God. It's the plan of God. And to do otherwise would keep us from being the persons God wants us to be; having the witness God wants us to have, and living the life God has planned for us. There are not many things more destructive in a person's life than an unforgiving spirit because you cannot keep it to yourself. And it can go on for years and destroying inside of a person without their even realizing it.
So, let's define what we mean by unforgiveness. Look at this. It means that the, listen. The deliberate willful refusal to give up one's resentment and the right to get even based on the attitude somebody's gotta pay for the wrong done. As long as I feel like somebody's gotta pay, then I'm not going to be forgiving. Look at that. Deliberate, willful refusal to give up one's resentment and the right to get even based on the attitude someone's gotta pay for the wrong done. Because here's what happens. Somebody says, Well, they got by with it. Do you think anybody can get by with anything with an all-knowing God? No, they cannot. That's why He says, Leave it to Me. Vengeance is Mine. I will repay, says the Lord.
So, it must grieve the heart of God to see His children have resentment and hostility and anger, unforgiveness toward someone because of what's happened. When God says, Look, leave it to Me. You forgive them and I'll take care of it. I know exactly how to take care of it. And so, it's never excusable. It is never defendable to have an unforgiving spirit toward anyone as a follower of Jesus Christ. So, let's think for just a moment what happens in a person's life when they refuse to be forgiving. You cannot have a good prayer life and have a bitter spirit or have unforgiveness in your heart. You can't. Why? Because you come to God; and you can come to Him saying, Lord, I just want to thank You for being so good to me. And I'm confessing my sin. You can reel all of that off.
Do you think God doesn't see that behind all that is an unforgiving spirit? Listen. If you hold bitterness, resentment, hostility, anger toward anybody; unforgiveness in your life, prayer life's over until you deal with it. You say, Well, I'm getting along fine. You think you are. But what you can't see is what's on the inside and what's happening to you. Your worship, for example. Think about this for a moment. You see, if we get realistic about it, how can you come and sing these songs, for example? My Jesus I love thee, I know Thou art mine; for Thee all the follies of sin I resign. Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. This world is not my home, I'm just a-passing through. We can just go through all these songs. How great Thou art. With unforgiving spirit in my heart, that's hypocrisy. It doesn't work. Can't worship.
What kind of witness can you have if your heart's full of unforgiveness? How can you talk about the forgiveness of God to a person when you've got unforgiveness in your own heart? And when it comes to giving, what did Jesus say? He said, If you've got something against somebody, before you put in your offering, go deal with it and then bring it back. Listen, God wants you to be, have peace and joy and happiness in your heart. He wants you to enjoy life. You cannot enjoy life as long as there's conflict between you and someone else. It's just there. And especially is that true in families where people live close-knit as a family does. And so, what happens? It blocks your spiritual growth and hinders the people around you. I think about children who grow up in a family where one member of the family or the parents, let's say that they're angry at each other. When they grow up in that kind of atmosphere, unless one of those members of the family, unless they're strong enough to see what's happening, explain it, and talk about forgiveness and so forth. What happens to those kids? They gonna grow, if that's their atmosphere, it's sort of natural for them to be angry. And what happens to their kids? The same thing.
We pass down more than we realize. And therefore, it's not something that you keep to yourself. And maybe you're hurting somebody and you don't even realize it. Maybe the things that you say about somebody; comments that you make. You see, here's what happens. Watch this carefully. When the people who love you and respect you hear you say angry things or bitter things or resentment toward someone else, if that person's not godly. Let's say they have high respect for you. They may pick up on that and start feeling the same thing. Well, the person they're feeling that toward had nothing to do with anything. This is why bitterness spreads, and it's absolutely a disaster. It affects every part of a person. But the body, which is what oftentimes people don't realize that it's taking its toll on them.
Think about this. Hospitals running over. Just try to go to any hospital and park. Just try. You've got to go to the top level, no matter what time of day it is, and maybe find a parking place. Think about all the hospitals running over. Doctors are jammed full. They're in a hurry. You're one person. Next person waiting in line. Why are we so sick? Well, I think there are probably two reasons. What we eat and how we believe. That'll make you sick. And sometimes you can't always govern everything you eat, but you can govern how you feel. The way you treat people; how you respond. So, it affects all kind of relationships, but the one thing I want to think about for just a few moments and that's this. How do we deal with it?
So, if I'm going to deal with it, number one, first of all, I have to acknowledge the fact that it's serious business. You don't deal with unforgiveness lightly. It's serious business to deal with unforgiveness because we're dealing with our relationship with Almighty God. We're dealing with our whole future when you deal with unforgiveness. So, you have to assume responsibility for it. And when you say, or assume responsibility, I have to say and acknowledge God, I am bitter. I am resentful. I am hostile. I have an unforgiving spirit. I accept it as true of me, Lord. And one of the reasons people will live with it is they just can't acknowledge, yes, watch this. Because what they want to dwell on is what was done to them, who did it, why they did it, how they did it, and how they suffer. They can't get over that. Watch this. You have to look beyond your hurt and your pain. You have to look beyond yourself if you're going to be forgiving. And if you're going to deal with it, you can't focus on yourself. So, if a person's not willing to do that, they're not going to be, they're not going to deal with this.
A third thing is this. You just have to confess, God, I'm bitter. God I'm resentful. I resent how he was treated. I resent how she was treated. I resent how my kids are treating me. I resent this. Yes, Lord, I'm bitter. I don't deserve this. This is what, this is not what I married for. On and on and on people can go. But I have to confess the fact that I am. You see it's very, it's, watch this. It's easy to confess something in private between you and God, just you and God, as if it's a secret. No, listen, I need to hear myself say it. God, I am guilty of resentment. I am guilty of holding a grudge. I am guilty, God, of disobeying Your law and being unwilling to forgive. I must be willing to confess it and acknowledge it. And I need to acknowledge the fact that it's a violation of the Word of God.
You see, as long as I keep my focus on them and what they did, I won't do this. But I need to acknowledge the fact that I have a responsibility, that I have an unforgiving spirit. It is an act of rebellion toward God. In other words, I need to look at it like it is. You won't deal with it till you see it like God sees it. As long as you can sort of smooth it over, wrap it up, put a bow on it, you can live with it, you think. And then of course, you need to ask God to forgive you. Ask Him to forgive you. God, forgive me. I'm guilty. I violated Your law. I rebelled against Your spirit. I've hurt other people. It's spread over to my family, whatever. I need to ask You to forgive me. Then I have to ask God to enable me to forgive.
You have to ask the spirit of God within you to, watch this, to enable you to be, listen, to enable you to make a decision not based on feeling, but make a decision. God, I choose to lay down my anger, my resentfulness, my hostility, whatever the words that are there, I choose to lay it down by your grace and your mercy and your strength. You said you would enable me to do all things. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. I choose to lay it down. I no longer want unforgiveness in my life. I absolutely and totally forgive. It doesn't fit who I am any longer. I thank you, dear God, by your awesome power, I lay it down. I choose to lay it down. Say, why do you keep saying that over and over and again? Because I want the last person in here to hear it. Lay it down. And when you go home I want you to remember what I said. Lay it down. He says, lay aside these things. You have the power to do it.
Now, then you need to start praying for the other person. Let's say somebody's hurt you for years and years and years. You begin to pray for them. Ask God to open their eyes. That is, here's what happens. Watch this. No longer is the center of my attention on me and how I got hurt. Now, the center of my attention is on them. And then, you might have to ask the Lord, and it would be a good thing to do this, Lord, what can I do for that other person? What can I do for them? You say you just don't understand. No, I don't. I understand that doing something for somebody who hurt you is powerful. I do know that's true. And, listen, if they know what you're feeling it may be that you need to go to that person and just be honest with them and say, I need to ask you to forgive me of something.
Now, listen, if it's somebody who doesn't even have any idea what's going on. I'm not saying you should go to everybody. You ask God about that. But if God leads you to go to that person, you don't, listen, here's how you do it. You don't go to them and say, Well, back yonder a year ago here's what you did to me. It's over. Here's what you say. You say about a year ago here's what happened to me and I want to tell you. Here's been my bad attitude. And I need to ask you to forgive me for responding in the wrong way. I'm saying all that to say, if you really want to get rid of it, you got to get rid of it. You've got to lay it down. And you got to be, listen, you have to be willing to be rejected. But as long as you deal with it, you're free. And no one is free, you're not free as long as you have an unforgiving spirit.
Now, you say, Well, how do you deal with somebody who's died? You say, Well, that's all over. No, it's not. Watch this. If you have bitterness toward someone, unforgiving spirit, let's just say like it's one of your parents, and you have that, and they die. And you begin to grow in your Christian life and you realize the way you treated them, then you want to deal with it and they're gone. I'll tell you what. If you deal with that, here's the first thing'll happen. All of a sudden, you'll feel this sudden horrible emptiness, that they're gone, and I can't do anything about it. I won't ever be able to settle it. But you can. I know this sounds simple, but it works. You sit in one chair and put a chair in front of you and put that other person in the other chair. You say, They're already in Heaven. That's okay. For this moment, they're sitting there listening to you. And then you say the same thing to them sitting in the chair as if they were there.
Now, watch this. What makes this work? God's listening. God's hearing your heart. What's He doing? He's forgiving and cleansing and settling that issue. You can do that to that invisible person. And you're asking them to forgive you. They don't hear it here, God hears it, you hear it, and that settles it. That's the only way you're going to get rid of it. Now, how will you know, watch this. How will you know when you've forgiven somebody? Well, number one, when you see them. You won't see them the same way. Secondly, those harsh feelings you had will be replaced by a whole different attitude toward them. Why? Because you laid it down. It's not in you anymore. You don't feel the way you felt. Why? Because you asked God to forgive you and to cleanse you and you laid it down. God emptied you of that. And, what'll happen is you'll be willing, watch this.
Now, this may be a little difficult for you to think. You'll be willing, listen, you'll be willing to accept them just the way they are. Now, you say, Well, ohhh, my goodness; that may be a trap. No, it's not a trap. Watch this. When you are forgiving, God is on your side. He's working in your behalf. You'll be able to look at them from a whole different perspective. You'll be willing to see them in a whole different light. And in the process of doing so, you'll be able to accept them the way they are. And more than likely, you'll try to understand why they acted the way they act. It'll be different when you really forgive them.
So, when somebody says, Well, can I be sure? Yes, you can. Well, maybe it's somebody that you've, sort of, avoided. You know you see them coming and you very carefully and politely go the other way. When you have forgiven them, here's what you do. You're waiting for them. And let me give you an example. When I first came to Atlanta, we had a big fight and the folks who tried to run me off, God ran them off, so. But one of those men is a man I really loved genuinely. And I thought he loved and supported me, but he didn't. And so, he did something to me that really hurt me, tried to trap me in a situation, and the Lord just spared me of all that. And he just couldn't face me.
So, I tell you when I knew I'd forgiven him. One day I was at the Southern Baptist Convention and I saw him walking across the rotunda. And I thought, Well, have I forgiven him or not? And I had this wonderful spirit, heh, heh, heh, of total freedom. I couldn't wait for him to come to me. Listen. You don't want any of your friends to die and you have an unforgiving spirit toward them. It doesn't make any difference what they've done. You and I want to be free. And there's only one Person who can make you free. And Jesus said, I'll make you free and you'll be free indeed. You do not want to be bound by the destructive attitude such as unforgiveness.
Well, if you've never been saved, none of this is going to work for you. Here's what you have to start with. You have to start the way all of us started, by asking the Lord Jesus Christ to forgive you for your rebellious spirit; to forgive you for your sins; to forgive you wanting it your way. And tell Him that you're trusting Him as your personal Savior. That you believe He died on the cross and paid your sin debt. And that He's willing to forgive you and to cleanse you and to give you a whole new life. The moment you're willing to do that, He's willing to start your life for you all over again.
Father, how grateful we are for Your love for us. You know we stumble and fall and falter and You pick us up. And You teach us, and You keep on instructing us. Thank You for being patient with us and understanding. And I pray the Holy Spirit will take this message, oh God, let it not be ignored under any condition. Let it stick for every person who hears it. And I know that there are people who will hear it around the world, who are living in horrible situations. Would You grant them, dear God, the grace to believe Your Word and to trust You? That You will see them through whatever they're going through. And I pray for every person seated here this morning who finds themselves in one of those positions, struggling with unforgiveness. Grant them, dear God, the power to lay it down. That they will not have to sleep another night with a spirit of unforgiveness. But peace, joy, love, kindness, forgiveness, all the wonderful qualities that You provide for us. And we ask You this in Jesus's name, amen.