Jack Graham - Let It Go
Take your Bibles and turn with us to Romans, the twelfth chapter. This is our ESSENTIAL GOSPEL series, the book of Romans. We have been studying Romans for some time now But this is Romans chapter 12 and we're going to be looking at verses 14 to 21. And the title of this message in the words from Frozen, "Let It Go".
For the Scripture says in verse 14, "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.' To the contrary, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by doing so you will heap burning coals on his head", and then the bottom line; the key to everything in this passage is verse 21, "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good".
As we have said from the old adage in the past: Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. I want to speak to you about how to overcome evil with good. And that means to let it go. What you have here in the twelfth chapter of Romans are like parables, or pardon me, like proverbs. One after another. They just keep coming. Paul counseling us as to how we are to live the Christian life. It is a life of love under the Lordship of Christ. And under the command of the Lordship of Christ is the call to love; to love authentically and sincerely and devotedly. To love and to give our lives away in service to our Lord Jesus Christ.
So this is one of the most essential truths that we find in all of the Bible and in the teachings of Jesus, and it regards forgiveness. Romans chapter 12: these verses that we just read are an echo of what our Lord said in the Sermon on the Mount. He said love your neighbor. "You have heard it said that you're to love your neighbor and hate your enemy, but I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you". What do you do when you're mistreated, mocked, hurt, wounded, betrayed, left, damaged, broken by others? What is the response? How do we forgive those who hate us and may even hurt us? How can we, those who harass us?
Christians are under persecution worldwide. And even here in our country, if you stand for the truth of God's Word, you will find yourself facing fire and flack. The Bible says "All who live godly in Jesus Christ will suffer persecution". And it may not be, of course, physical persecution but other kinds of pressing and persecution and problems and pain that come as a direct result of our faith in Christ. Or due to the circumstances in life. And if you live faithfully and fully as a follower of Jesus, you will find yourself in the target zone. And Satan himself may choose to attack you and others to attack you as well. And Paul is saying exactly what Jesus was saying: rather than hate back, we’re to love back. Greater than to payback, we’re to give back what people do not desire, and that is forgiveness.
Now this goes against every natural human inclination in us. To protect ourselves, to strike back. And this prohibition in no way suggests that we are not to protect ourselves, our home, our homeland against abuse and abusers and all kinds of oppressors. Yes, we are and we'll get more of that in the next message from Romans chapter 13 and how we are to respond in terms of legally and how we are to respond when we are hurt. And how God may use vengeance and wrath of man to enact His judgment on earth but on a personal level all of us are to respond differently. This is supernatural; this is not natural. If something is falling on you, you automatically put up your hands to protect yourself. If someone strikes you, you automatically may throw up your fist to fight back. It's a human reaction.
And so I'm saying that our inclination is just that, however we may choose to retaliate or to strike back. This is our humanity. But we are called to something higher, something better, and that is to love and to show that love in certain ways. Not with revenge and retaliation which is our default position in our flesh. To get even, to strike back, to settle the score, to even hate. So many people are filled with rage and anger. We've got all kinds of rage today going on. We've got road rage and office rage and mask rage and twitter rage and sports rage (that's if you're a Cowboy fan) sports rage and all kinds of rage, and those who are so angry! And we're facing this kind of anger.
And sometimes when we face this kind of anger, we want to go all Old Testament on them. You know, "an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth". Jesus said, "You've heard it that way, but I say to you, Turn the other cheek to the one who strikes you and harms you". And Paul, who himself was first a persecutor, persecuting Christians for their faith in Jesus, but then transformed and changed, then he became, the oppressor became the oppressed; the persecutor became the persecuted. And Paul knew what it was to be beaten and to be stoned and left for dead, to be shipwrecked on the way to preach Jesus, to be imprisoned and to be in pain and to be in suffering and to suffer injustice of all kinds. And yet he writes under the authority of Scripture the words of God who says don't retaliate, don't seek revenge, but rather return blessings for cursing. That's the first thing, to return blessing for cursing.
Look again at verse 14: "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them". To bless someone is to speak well of them. If you say "God bless you", hopefully you mean may God’s favor be with you. "God bless you". Now you know here in Texas sometimes when someone may fall down, maybe a little child falls down and skins the knee, we say "Bless his heart". That's a good way to say it. There are other times here in Texas if somebody makes a fool of himself, we say "bless his heart", like that! So it can mean, this blessing thing can go one of two ways, right? But He says bless and do not curse. And literally it's assigned to a word here which means ongoing action, keep on blessing your enemies.
This passage includes both believers and unbelievers, those inside the church and those outside the church. To bless and to treat as friends. That’s what Jesus did at the cross when His enemies were literally nailing Him to a cross and His blood was pouring out, dying for the sins of the world, your sins and mine, He kept saying over and over, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do". All The first words out of His mouth on the cross: "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do". Blessing rather than cursing. In contrast to that, when we get triggered by something or someone, our response so often, rather than to bless is to bless them out! To curse them! And the idea of bless and do not curse in this passage, cursing does not have to do necessarily with profanity or cussing, but it means to call down judgment, to ask God to damn them, to ask God to send them to hell!
Can you imagine? To call down a curse of God, a judgment of God to send someone to hell? People say that kind of thing all the time! "Go to hell". There is a total contradiction between an unforgiving Christian and a Christian. It’s a contradiction in terms. We don’t tell them off, we tell them of God’s love. At the root of this blessing and cursing, if we are cursing and unforgiving, it is selfish and self-centered to hold on to hate, to strike back when someone hits us, to hold, to carry grudges, to settle scores and to seethe within with anger. Anger, seethes, seething within is bitterness. And bitterness always, always, dear people, always leads to brokenness. This is why so many people are depressed and anxious and lonely and filled with hostility and taking pills just to get through the day! Holding on to hurt; holding on to hate. Emotionally, physically, and certainly spiritually it is devastating.
So many are filled with resentment and therefore, they’re unrepentant because to be unforgiving is sin against God. So much pain could be alleviated if only we would be obedient to the command of the Bible to forgive as we have been forgiven. Isn't that how Jesus taught us to pray in the model prayer? "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors". Sin is a debt; it is a debt we owe, a debt that we owe to God so we ask God to forgive us our debts, forgive us our trespasses, forgive us our sins as we forgiven those who are indebted to us. Forgiven people forgive people, and that's what we learn here. And Paul specifically gives us several ways that we are to return blessings for cursing and that is, one, to rejoice with those who rejoice, to rejoice with those who rejoice. These are specific ways that you can begin healing the hurts that are deep within.
Rejoice with those who rejoice. To celebrate your family, your friends, your church, your co-workers. You say how? We ought to rejoice when a child is born, when a wedding takes place. Jesus did. He went to the wedding party at Cana of Galilee and He was the life of the party, entering into the joy and the happiness and the celebration of that couple so long ago. When someone gets a promotion, when someone graduates, to rejoice with those who rejoice. Even if your child, you know, your friend's child graduates magna cum laude and your child graduates laude, laude, laude. Sometimes it's hard to rejoice when the promotion you worked so hard to get is given to someone else. Can you rejoice with them? Or an achievement or success or win in people's lives. May God help us to rejoice with those who rejoice.
What if you chose to bless people by celebrating people every day in your life? Through the church. People go where they're celebrated, not where they are tolerated. And when people walk into this room or the hallways of this church or meet us in our neighborhoods or view us online, they find a people who are celebrating life and celebrating the love of Christ by giving that love away. Celebrating or tolerating. I just was thinking that’s the difference in a dog and a cat. A dog celebrates you! I come in the house, those two beagles are jumping up and down; they’re excited; they can’t wait to see me; they’re never going to judge me; they’re just glad I’m home! The reason I don’t have a cat is a cat doesn’t celebrate you; they just tolerate you. Just looks at you.
Now don’t send me emails, all the cat-lovers. You know only dogs are going to heaven so just leave it at that. You know where cats are going, don’t you? "Rejoice with those who rejoice". See, if you’re a cat-lover, you rejoice with a dog-lover right now. But then it says "weep with those who weep". And that means that we are empathetic and sensitive to the hurts that are all around. Because the opposite of love is not always hate; sometimes the opposite of love is simply apathy and indifference. And so as Christians, as believers and followers of Jesus and the one of whom we sang a moment ago, the Son of suffering. He wept over Jerusalem; He wept at the grave of his friend Lazarus, of the God who stores up our tears in a bottle. Because we have been so forgiven and so graced by God we enter into the pain and the suffering of others. It's compassion.
There’s a thing psychologists call psychic numbing. So often in our generation, because we’re so connected, we see almost everything. We just shut it down and turn it off. I can’t look at that! And sometimes we need to look! The man who picked up the broken man in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan: it says he saw him and he had compassion on him and then he acted in love. We must not be so desensitized to the pain around us that we ignore it and are indifferent to it. Weep for the lost! Jesus did. He looked over the city of Jerusalem and He wept. He said, "I would have drawn you to Myself, but you would not". And He wept openly with copious tears flowing down His face. He wept over the lostness of His people. Sometimes we are hesitant to know how to comfort someone. We think, "I don’t have words to say". Well, most of time hurting people don’t need words; they just need you to hug them, to hold them, and say, "I love you; I’m praying for you. How can I serve you"?
Don’t think you have to run in with a sermon. You might find that strange coming from a preacher, but it’s not typically appropriate to run in with a lot of words and sermons, but to go in with compassion and concern and help. This is the Essential Gospel lived out in love. And I not only want to give this message, I want to live this message. And may God remove all the hurt and anger and bitterness that is in our lives and such is what he says, we said, "Return blessing for cursing and rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep". And then the last point that I want to make from this passage today, there's so much here, so little time to say it. But refuse to retaliate. Thus the title "Let It Go", let it be, because the Scripture says in verse 17: "Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable (that is respectful) in the sight of all".
Who is all? In the sight of God, in the sight of the church, in the sight of all people; do what is honorable and respectful. Let it go. Let God be God. For the Scripture goes on to say that "Vengeance is mine, says the Lord". Don’t live in a payback mode or even a pushback mode, but in a give-back, love-back mode. That’s what is supernatural. And God’s love is poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Romans 5:5. And Paul is saying here let God fight your battles. Stop the fighting! Don’t return fire with fire. Don’t pour gasoline on the fire. Not vengeance, but let the wrath of God take care of those who oppose Him. God will take care of it. It’s not my job or your job to judge; it’s our job to love in the power of the Holy Spirit. It is God’s job to judge. And if you have been betrayed and cheated and hurt and harmed, and most people have in some way, I have and you have, It's time to turn loose and to let go.
Some of you have been carrying things from your past, even from childhood and the anger that is still in you and the rage that is seething in you and the bitterness that is in you, it's like baggage. When I travel, I like to travel as light as possible. And in the journey of life don't walk around carrying burdens and fighting battles that don't belong to you. Rather than always wanting to fight back and to settle the score, to get even, let God be God; let God take it over! Forgiveness is giving up my right to hurt you for hurting me. Forgiveness. It's the forgiveness of God that we have received, and therefore, how can we be unforgiving to others?
Listen to these words by Neil Anderson: "Forgiveness is agreeing to live with the consequences of another person’s sin. You’re going to live with those consequences whether you want to or not. Your only choice is whether you will do so in bitterness and unforgiveness or in the freedom of forgiveness". What about you? Will you live in the bitterness, and therefore, the brokenness of the pain of the past, or will you live in the freedom of forgiveness by letting God fight your battles, let God settle the score, because it says, "Give God space to do this. Give God time to do this".
You say, "Jack, you don’t know what you’re talking about". Exactly, I do know what I’m talking about. When my father was brutally murdered in 1970, I had to deal with this passage and this issue in my life: to forgive or not to forgive, to hate or to love; whether or not I would let God be God and fight the battle, or I would try to take control; whether or not I would live in the freedom that God has provided or I would spend the rest of my days miserable because I couldn’t get over it; I couldn’t get through it. There have been other times when all of us like me, you have dealt with betrayal and brutal things that have happened to you in your life. But I'm here to tell you, if you let God take over, if you'll trust God to do what only God can do, He'll bring justice to your situation; He'll bring light to the darkness. Because the promise is true, in verse 21, it's really a command with a promise. "Don't be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good". Always good! God is good; trust Him with that. Desire to do it, decide to do it and then do it by letting it go and letting God fight your battles.