Jack Graham - Forgiven and Forgiving
We’re in a series of messages from the book of Ephesians. Ephesians chapter4 is our text today. And the title of the message is "Forgiven and Forgiving". America is angry. We see and hear the rage, the hate, the violence, the division, the pestilence, all of it! Actually, what is described in verse 31 of Ephesians chapter 4: "bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor", which means shouting, outbursts of anger, "slander", is to be put away from you, along with all malice. If you were with us the last time you will remember that we are putting off the old life and putting on the new life in Christ. And we’re to put away anger. And that includes all kinds of anger.
And we’re going to be talkin about that today. But here’s our verse, our text that Dr. W. A. Criswell for many years pastored the First Baptist Church of Dallas, called the sweetest verse in the Bible. I like that. The sweetest verse in the Bible. Here it is. Verse 32, Ephesians chapter 4: "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another (How so?) as God in Christ forgave you". And so, we look around, we see so much anger and hate and vitriol. We see it in the streets; we're also seeing it our homes. Child abuse, abuse of all kinds, so much anger. The breakdown, they're suggesting that there are goin to be many divorces, marriages breaking up as a result of this. And always when a marriage breaks up or I should say typically when a marriage breaks up, it is because what? Of unresolved conflict.
Christians are angrier and angrier and I think more angry than we are willing to admit. Anger can be anything from small irritations and frustrations to full blown rage, bitterness. And the answer to anger is forgiveness And the message is very clear for all of us. Give to others what God has given to you. Forgive people, give people grace even as God whose love is steadfast and tender and merciful has forgiven you in Christ. Forgiveness is God's gift to those of us who have trusted in Him. Forgiveness. Jesus came to save us from our sins. And eternal life is the gift from God, and with that gift comes forgiveness. All of our sins forgiven by the only one who can forgive us, and that is God Himself. It was costly, paid in full at the cross. Jesus paid it all. To forgive means to pay a debt an Jesus paid the debt. He forgave us by paying the price for our sins.
In fact, you’re in the book of Ephesians; look back in Ephesians chapter 1 where it tells us that we are redeemed and we are forgiven because of the forgiveness of sin. We are redeemed and forgiven by the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ Jesus taught us to pray, when we pray, "Father, forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors". Lord, forgive us as we forgive others. This is core, this is central; not peripheral, but central to the Christian life and the Christian faith. What God has given each one of us in Christ, the forgiveness of our sins, He expects us to give to others! In the Beatitudes He said, "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy".
Jesus, of course, demonstrated this same forgiveness at the cross, not only for you and me, but He modeled it in forgiving those who were crucifying Him. Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do. Because we have been forgiven, we then must forgive, because forgiving, forgiven people forgive people. In the power of the love of Christ in our own lives, because the Holy Spirit has shed His love in our hearts, poured out His love in our hearts, we can forgive. We can forgive those who have hurt us or who have harmed us in any way. And whether the hurt, the offense is real or imagined, you are to forgive. You cannot get through life without being hurt to some degree. It's impossible to get through life without being offended, wounded and broken in some way.
Life is filled with injustices. It is a fact. You will be mistreated. You will be disappointed. But for the Christian unforgiveness is not an option. And so many believers, I'm convinced of this, do not live a much more life, an abundant life but rather live a much less life, because they're living an angry life. A life that is filled with bitterness and brittleness, and even hate. There is a cost, and that's the first point that I want to make; there is a cost to bitterness. It describes bitterness here in Ephesians 4 verse 31, and then the various kinds of anger that flow out of bitterness. Bitterness is the smoldering, seething anger on the inside. It is described by the writer of Hebrews as a root of bitterness. It's something down deep. It's when we internalize our hurts, our offenses, our disappointments, our anger. We pull it inside.
And so, the cost of this bitterness, this anger, it has some devastating effects that I want to mention that are right here in our text today. One is that when we do not forgive, the cost of bitterness is we are disobedient to God's Word. You actually could stop, start and stop there, because when we are unforgiving and unrelenting in our attitude towards others then we are then living in disobedience to God. First and foremost, in my life, the motivation for me to forgive is that God tells me to forgive! It is God's will that I forgive.
When my father was brutally murdered in 1970, I had a choice. I could forgive or I could live the rest of my life in anger and unforgiveness. I could obey God or I could to choose to disobey God. I could obey God by forgiving the one who hurt our family so deeply or I could live the rest of my life in bitterness and anger and failure; disobedience to God. Obedience to God is the best thing to do anytime because it always brings peace and joy, happiness and fulfillment in our lives. Power. If we don't obey God, we live with a broken spirit, we live with a guilty conscience which weakens us and our prayers are blocked, our faith is blocked, our lives cannot be, they're much less rather than much more. Are you angry with anyone right now? Are you mad at somebody? If so, why don’t you simply obey God and forgive the person so that you can move on with the rest of your life? That’s what Jesus taught us to do.
Another cost to bitterness and anger, unresolved, unrepented of in our lives, is that we open the door for Satan to wreak havoc. We open the door. Ephesians 4 speaks of giving place to the devil, giving the devil an opportunity to come into our house, to come into our hearts, and he desires to seek, destroy and devour and to devour and kill and destroy and to steal. And when we are angry and do not resolve our anger, we are giving the devil a foothold. It's sleeping with the devil. Who would invite the devil? The devil comes knocking at your door. And you say, "Well, devil come right on in? Spend the night". When you go to bed angry and resentful, you are sleeping with the devil!
The Bible says here in Ephesians 4, "Don't let the sun go down on your wrath". But if we go to sleep day after day after day and life day after day after day we are, with anger and unforgiveness in our lives then we are welcoming Satan in and giving him an opportunity to destroy everything around us. I'm convinced it's the major problem of the church and Christians today. Thirdly, we hinder the flow of God's Spirit and His love because we grieve the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 4, verse 30 says: "Do not grieve the Holy Spirit". The Holy Spirit is a person. This is a love word. You can only grieve those who love you and that you love. To grieve the Holy Spirit is to sadden the Holy Spirit, to make the Spirit sorrowful. Amazing, isn't it?
Well, when we hold on to hate and anger and resentment and bitterness, and all these things in our life, unforgiveness, it grieves the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit in effect cries. That should be motivation enough to cause us to obey God and to do what God has called us to do. So I'm saying that if there is unforgiveness, resentfulness, bitterness, perpetual anger, irritation, agitation. Some people just walk around with anger every day of their lives. Just perpetually ticked off. And I'm talking about many Christians. And you know, as we age, as we're getting older, some of us, all of us have to watch getting angrier and grumpier and more critical and more caustic, and more cynical which doesn't honor God. But when we don't, we hinder the flow of God's Spirit in our lives. We cut off the power of God and the fruit of the Spirit which is love and joy and peace and patience and kindness. And then our faith is blocked and our prayers are hindered.
The Bible says in Psalms 66: "If I regard iniquity in my heart, God will not hear me". If I hold onto any sin, including this sin, I might even say, especially this sin, if I'm holding on, cherishing, keeping sin to myself... you can cover sin, you can cherish sin, you can celebrate sin, or you can confess sin and be cleansed from your sin. If I hold onto sin, I block the power of God, of faith in my life and hinder my prayers. That’s why the Scripture says, speaking to men, "Live with understanding with your wives so that your prayers will not be hindered".
You ever tried to pray with or for somebody in the middle of an argument until it’s settled? Of course, it’s next to impossible. What did Jesus say in Mark chapter 11, verses 25 and 26? You say, "What, Pastor"? Okay, here it is. "And whenever you stand praying, forgive if you have anything against anyone so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your trespasses". You say, "I can’t forgive that person. I just can’t do it". Then don’t expect the forgiveness and the fellowship that comes with forgiveness from God, because you’re holding on to something God says let go.
There’s another cost to bitterness and resentment, and that is that we’re miserable and we lose our joy. And we lose our happiness. So miserable to walk around filled with all this junk in our lives! So many are living in the past. They just can’t get passed the past. What somebody said, somebody did, how someone hurt you, offended you. But we are poisoned by these grievances and grudges and offenses, and therefore we’re paralyzed and we can’t move forward. This might be the perfect time in your life because the Holy Spirit is convincing you and convicting you that you have an issue, an internalized anger, bitterness, resentment. Something you cannot forget, something you will not forgive.
The reason that so many people are cynical and suspicious and negative and sour is because of this. This is a time for you to seek God’s forgiveness by forgiving others. Just do it. There's a healthy anger when we respond to injustice, when we respond to sin. "You that love the Lord, hate evil". But unhealthy anger tries to, it allows sin and anger in itself to be uncontrolled and unchecked in our lives. And frankly, for too many believers, anger is a way of life! But forgiveness is the cure.
So we talked a little bit about the cost of this bitterness, this anger, this unforgiveness. Let's talk about the cure. It's very simple in this sweetest verse in the Bible. And that is kindness and tenderheartedness, and yes, forgiveness. Forgiveness has been described as this, and I quote: "Forgiveness is giving up my right to hurt you for hurting me". I give up my right to hurt you, to retaliate, to respond to you with more anger. I give that up, forgiveness. We're taught this in Romans chapter 12. It's a passage of Scripture that I leaned on heavily during our time of grief and grievance towards the murderer of our father and husband.
"Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, as far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all". That means not everyone is going to make peace with you, not everyone is going to receive your forgiveness. This is not talking about reconciliation. Reconciliations take multiple people, it takes at least two reconcile to something, but forgiveness only takes one, and that's you! So, reconciliation and forgiveness are not always the same thing; they're not the same thing. Some people, you cannot make peace. But as far as possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
And then look at verse 19: "Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written: ‘Vengeance is Mine and I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, if your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he’s thirsty, give him something to drink. For by doing so, you heap burning coals on his head". And then, "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good". Through the darkness and the death of my father, verse 21 became the principle of my life and ultimately ministry. "Don’t be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good". And let God take care of the vengeance and the revenge. And oh, by the way, He’ll do a lot better job that you can do anyway, if it needs to be done. So give it to Him.
If you don’t learn to forgive, you’re going to live not a "much more" life but a "much less" life. What is this kindness he talks about here? The cure is kindness and compassion and forgiveness as Christ has forgiven us. How did Christ forgive us? Fully, freely, without merit, full mercy, completely and continually. That’s how God has forgiven us in Christ. And, oh, just a check mark here, for those who question whether or not there’s the Trinity in the Bible, you have in this passage God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. The Three in One. So you can grieve the Spirit, you can disobey God, you can dishonor Christ. Or you can choose kindness and compassion and forgiveness by letting offenses go.
And forgiveness is more than just simply stuffing it and never remembering it again. In fact, many of these things that have happened to us, of course, are very difficult if not impossible to forget. But forgiveness is not just forgetting; it’s not forgetting at all really. Forgiveness is not nursing it and rehearsing it and compressing it and somehow just trying to move on. But rather it is truly forgiving as Christ has forgiven us. Just do it! Why not obey God and forgive? We forgive others as God in Christ has forgiven us. Jesus said, "Agree with your adversary quickly". The Bible says, as I mentioned earlier, "Don't let the sun go down on your wrath, your anger". It's time for some of you to forgive and allow the poison to drain out of your spirit, out of your system, so that you can breathe again, so that you can live again.
Give kindness, give tenderheartedness, which is a word which means compassion. The word kindness is crestnos, very close in the Greek language to the word Christos, Christ Jesus. Kindness-crestnos and Christos. Kindness and Christ are inseparably linked together. Oh, the kindness of our God! We're to give this kindness. You say, "that's a human act I cannot do". It is not a human act. It is a supernatural expression by the power of God's Spirit. The only way we can forgive, the only way we can show kindness. And then tenderheartedness. Don’t have a hard heart. A cold, cold heart, but ask the Holy Spirit to warm your heart through forgiveness towards others. And then, yes, forgive. Forgive and let God heal you and help you move on with your life because forgiven people, forgive people. We are forgiven. Therefore, we are forgiving. This is who we are; this is how we live.