Robert Jeffress - Say Goodbye To Relationship Regrets
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to "Pathway to Victory". Few topics are more personal than the issue of forgiveness. We've all felt the sting of being wronged by another, and we all know the struggle of letting go of resentment. Today, I'm going to refute four fallacies about forgiveness that keep us from moving on, and then I'll share three principles to help you exercise genuine biblical forgiveness. My message is titled "Say Goodbye to Relationship Regrets" on today's edition of "Pathway to Victory".
I partnered with the Barna Research group, and we did a national survey on the subject of forgiveness among American Christians. And in our survey, we found that most Christians have an unbiblical understanding of forgiveness. They don't understand what it is. And there are four fallacies that keep many Christians as prisoners of regrets over the hurts of others. Let me mention those four myths about forgiveness, four fallacies about forgiveness, that may truly be keeping you from forgiving that person in your life who needs to be forgiven. Fallacy number one, forgiveness must be earned. "You just can't let that offender off the hook," we think. "Why, that's not right! You can't let him go unpunished. It's not right for you. It's really not right for him. He has to earn forgiveness".
But here's the problem. There are really two problems with that idea of thinking your offender can earn your forgiveness. First of all, earning forgiveness is really impossible when you think about it. Remember what Jesus said in the sermon on the mount? You've heard it say, "An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth, but I say to you, don't resist the one who does evil," and so forth. You know, we think of that as a barbaric rule, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. But really it was a law. We call it lex talionis, the law of retribution, that was given to keep order in society. In other words, the punishment should not be any greater than a crime. It shouldn't be a life for an eye. It's an eye for an eye. It's not a tooth for a toenail. It's not a truth for a toenail. It's a tooth for a tooth. In other words, you measure the punishment.
But here's the problem. Gandhi pointed out the problem with an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is that eventually everybody turns out blind and toothless. There's got to be a better way. And in the end, when you've lost your tooth, you've still lost your tooth. You lose your eye, you've lost your eye. It's really impossible to earn forgiveness. For example, what could somebody pay back to you to make up for a child killed by a drunk driver? How could anybody repay you for a marriage that is torn apart by adultery? How do you repay for a reputation that has been lost through slander? Once it's lost, it's lost. What do you do about that? It's impossible to earn forgiveness. Secondly, and this is key, earning forgiveness really binds you to your offender. It makes you a partner with your offender when you're waiting on them to do something before you free yourself from the prison of regrets.
I remember reading about a man named Kevin Tunell. In 1982, he was convicted of drunk driving that resulted in the death of an 18-year-old girl. The family wanted $1.5 million to be paid for restitution. They didn't get that. Instead, they got $936. But this is what the court ordered. They ordered that Kevin Tunell would pay that debt $1 at a time. Every week on Friday, the day of the girl's death, he was required to send the family a check for $1, and he had to do that for 936 weeks. The punishment was obvious. The court wanted Kevin to remember every week what he had done to extinguish the life of this girl. But here's the problem. He mailed the check, but the family was forced every week to open the mailbox and remember what had happened to their daughter. And after 936 weeks after the payment was made, they still didn't have their daughter back.
You see, when you require your offender to do something, you are making yourself a prisoner to them. You remember, maybe you've been to those old-fashioned picnics before and remember for the games, they sometimes have the three-legged races, and you would have your leg bound to a partner, and y'all would hobble down to the finish line together. You'd try to go as fast as you could, but you couldn't do it. And if you ever had a thought like I did, I would think how can I get loose from this jerk so I can get further and faster? But you see, three-legged races don't allow for solo contenders. You have to have a partner. You can travel no farther or faster than he's able to.
It's the same way when you require that your offender ask for forgiveness or earn your forgiveness. You are making yourself emotionally bound to that other person. You can travel no farther or faster in life than they're willing to go. But forgiveness is the process by which we separate ourself from our offender. We say, "What you did was wrong". If we don't say it out loud, we say it in our hearts, "You did wrong. You deserve to suffer for what you did, but I'm gonna let God deal with you. I'm gonna be free of you so I can get on with my life". That's what forgiveness does. Earning forgiveness binds you to your offender. There's a second mistake that many people have about their thinking of forgiveness. They think that forgiveness is a one-time act. We think that we can forgive a person once for all and never have to deal with it again.
But did you know that outside of becoming a Christian, there really are no one-time decisions about anything that's important in life? I mean, somebody decides they're going to quit smoking. But if you've ever had that experience, you know, you can make that decision. You may be successful in it. But that decision doesn't quench your desire for nicotine. It's something you battle with for weeks, for months, perhaps for the rest of your life. Or you can make a decision in your marriage. When you are married to somebody, you make a vow that you shall be faithful to them and to them alone till death shall part you, and you're sincere about it.
But at some point in your marriage, you'll be tempted to break that marriage vow, and you have to remake that commitment. All of us who are Christians drift in our relationship with God, and one day we decide to rededicate our lives to Christ. That's important. Those decisions are important, but we know it's not a once for all decision. The tendency is to drift again. And so it is with forgiveness. There's no one-time act of forgiveness. It's something you will struggle with with that same person for that same offense many times later. That doesn't mean you haven't forgiven them. It just means you have to keep on forgiving them.
Do you remember the late Corrie Ten Boom, who wrote the book, "The Hiding Place"? She writes about having difficulty continuing to remember what a Nazi soldier had done to her in the concentration camp at Ravensbrück, how he had mistreated Corrie and her sister, Betsy. And for several weeks, she struggled because she couldn't forget this, and she was afraid that it meant she had not forgiven the soldier. She writes, "God's help came to me in the form of a kindly Lutheran pastor, to whom I confessed my failure after two sleepless weeks. He said, 'up in that church tower,' and he pointed to the church tower, 'is a bell, which is run by a sexton pulling on the rope. The bell keeps on ringing, even after the sexton has let go of the rope.
First ding, then dong, slower and slower, until there's a final dong, and it finally stops. I believe the same things are true of forgiveness. When we forgive, we take our hand off the rope. But if we've been tugging at our grievances for a long time, we shouldn't be surprised if the old angry thoughts keep coming for a while. They're just the ding-dongs of the old bell slowing down'". And so, Corrie said, "It proved to be true. There were a few more midnight reverberations, a couple of dings when the subject came up in my conversations, but they came less and less often, and at last, they stopped altogether. And so I discovered another secret of forgiveness. We can trust God, not only above our emotions, but also above our thoughts".
Isn't that great? Maybe those ding-dongs will stop in your life. Maybe they will never stop, but don't miss the point. Forgiveness is a continual decision. That's why, when Peter said, "Lord, how many times shall we forgive? Seven times"? Jesus actually said, "No, 70 times 7". Forgiveness is not a one-time act. A third mistake people make and they're thinking about forgiveness is that forgiveness is synonymous with forgetting. It is synonymous with forgetting. We talk about forgive and forget, as if they're the same thing. People think, "If I haven't forgotten, then I haven't forgiven". But the two are not the same. Remember this, forgetting is a biological function.
The reason we forget more and more things, where we put the keys and so forth, is our brain grows older and older, and things don't fire on all the cylinders like they ought to. Forgetting is a biological function. Forgiveness is a spiritual function. But we shouldn't think that we've got the ability to forget. We can't forget, and sometimes, when we equate forgiveness with forgetting, we think if we can just dismiss something, play like it never happened, that's the same as forgiving. It's not. In fact, trying to prematurely dismiss or forget those things done to us can actually short-circuit and shortcut the forgiveness process. Let me illustrate what I mean for you by that, how just dismissing something can actually be a hindrance in truly forgiving another person.
Two years after Amy and I were married, in 1979, we decided to buy our first house out in garland, Texas. You remember what interest rates were like in 1979? The interest rates were 13% on a mortgage, and they would head to eventually 18% in 1981, but they were 13%. And so our real estate agent said, "You know, if you've got a family member or somebody who cares about you, maybe you could get a second mortgage at a lower rate". And so I asked my grandfather if he would give us a second mortgage, and he said, "Yes, and I'll make you a bargain deal, 9% interest". And that was a great thing back when interest rates were 13%, 9%. So we signed a note with him, and we started making our payments every month, and we made those payments for eight years, and one day, he said, "Robert, you don't need to send me any more money. I'll just forgive the note".
Well, he died a few years later, and Amy and I decided to sell the house. One big problem, we found out there was not a clear title to the house. We couldn't convey it to the buyer. Why? Because even though my grandfather had great intentions, he had in his mind forgiven the note, he didn't go through the proper procedure to have a clear title on our property. And that's why I say just simply dismissing something may cause you to short circuit the actual steps you need to go through in forgiving another person. Forgiveness is a process. What kind of steps are you talking about? Well, first of all, I put it on your outline, you have to admit that you've been wrong. If you're gonna forgive somebody, you, first of all, have to acknowledge that they have wronged you. Secondly, you have to acknowledge that your offender owes you for his transgression. You need to calculate what it is that somebody owes you.
I tell people who are trying to forgive, "Don't only admit that you've been wrong. Calculate the cost". Maybe that other person deserves a divorce. Maybe they deserve imprisonment. Maybe they even deserve the death penalty, but you can't forgive a debt until you calculate what that debt is. And then thirdly, forgiveness is the decision to release your offender of his debt to you. If you don't go through this process, then you'll never reap the benefits of truly forgiving another person. We'll see a great biblical illustration of that in just a moment. A fourth fallacy people have about forgiveness is the belief that forgiveness requires reunion. In other words, if a wife is being physically abused by her husband, but she is required to forgive him, that means she has to go back and live under the same roof as he does and subject herself to that same punishment.
I believe these four fallacies about forgiveness keep many people from forgiving. You know who illustrates probably better than anyone in the Old Testament those principles of forgiveness is that character, Joseph. Now we've did a long study on Joseph. I'm not gonna rehash the story. Just remember the basics. He was one of the 12 sons of Jacob. He was the favorite son. Because of that, his brothers were jealous. They threw him into a pit to have him sold as a slave. They left him for being dead, but God used that great betrayal to put Joseph exactly where God wanted him to be, in Egypt, as Pharaoh's right-hand man. And because of Joseph's prominence, he was able to devise that plan to save not just Egypt but the entire world from the famine by setting aside part of the grain for the time of famine, and it was a famine that would cause Joseph's brothers, who had forgotten about him, to have to come to Egypt to buy the grain. Little did they know they would be making their appeal to the very brother whom they thought they had killed.
And we've got this remarkable scene in Genesis 50. The brothers were there. Joseph reveals himself to his brothers. They're scared to death. "Joseph said to them, 'do not be afraid, for am I not in God's place? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. So therefore, do not be afraid: I will provide for you and your little ones'". Notice the three steps of genuine forgiveness that Joseph illustrates. First of all, genuine forgiveness admits you have been wronged. Joseph didn't say to his brothers, "Oh brothers, let's just forget what happened to you and what you did to me. You must have just been having a bad day. We'll forgive and forget". No, he's very honest with them. He said, "You meant it for evil. What you did was wrong".
Remember this, you cannot forgive people you're not willing to blame. You have to blame people before you can forgive them. You don't have to sugarcoat anything. Joseph's brother said, "You meant it for evil". Genuine forgiveness admits you have been wronged. Secondly, genuine forgiveness acknowledges a debt is owed. When Joseph said, "Do not be afraid," he was basically saying, "You have every right to be afraid. I'm the big cheese now here in Egypt. I could have you executed if I wanted to. You have every right to be afraid".
Genuine forgiveness acknowledges a debt is owed. Again, you have to calculate what that other person deserves before you release them of those consequences. And thirdly, genuine forgiveness releases your offender of their debt. It releases them of your debt. When Joseph said, "You don't need to be afraid. I'm not going to kill you, but instead I'm going to give you what you don't deserve, the choicest land of Egypt, the land of Goshen," he was demonstrating that he had released them of their debt.
Now, when you forgive somebody, you release them of your right to hurt them for hurting you. Doesn't mean you give up your desire for justice. God, the government, somebody else may want to deal with them, but you're surrendering your right to seek vengeance against them. You know, this is such a remarkable story. I've often wondered how did Joseph conjure up that forgiveness? He had never read "When forgiveness doesn't make sense".
How did he know how to do that? Where did that come from? I think part of it's telling in what Joseph said in his first conversation with his brothers in Genesis 45, he said, "Do not be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance. Now, for, it was not you who sent me here, but God," hear that over and over again, you did this but God but God but God, "It was not you who sent me here, but God: and he has made me a father to Pharaoh and Lord of all of his household, and ruler over all the land of Egypt".
Joseph was able to see the hand of God in these offenses. Joseph believed in a God who was bigger than the ones who had hurt him. And ladies and gentlemen, you will never be able to forgive, truly forgive, until you come to the conclusion that God is bigger than your offender. God can take the worst things that have happened to you and use them for his good and his glory. That's the key to forgiveness. I think part of that was Joseph was able to see how God was able to work through those injustices. Little did he know how that would ultimately play out. I mean, we're still feeling the reverberations of his decision to forgive. I mean, think about it. If he hadn't forgiven his brothers and said, "No, you can't have any grain," what would have happened? The brothers would have starved to death.
If the brothers had starved to death, they were the nucleus of the nation of Israel. If there had been no grain, there would have been no brothers. If there'd been no brothers, there had been no Israel. If there were no Israel, there would be no Messiah. If there was no Messiah who had to come from Israel, there would have been no salvation, and you and I today would be dead in our trespasses and sins. We are saved today, when you think about it, because of one man's choice to forgive. I think that was his main motivation, but I think there's another secret to it. It's found in Genesis 45:2, "When he first saw the brothers," the Bible said, "He wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard of it as well".
Joseph knew what it was like to be a prisoner. He had been unfairly in prison for the rape of Potiphar's wife. He knew the exhilaration that came from being freed finally from that prison, but he was still a prisoner of hurt. I think of bitterness as the years unfolded, as he thought about his brothers and what they had done to him, and tired of that bitterness, tired of those regrets, he made that decision to forgive. Are you ready to be freed from that prison of regrets? Are you tired of being shackled to that person who hurt you maybe many years ago? Forgiveness is the key that will set you free to live the life God has planned for you. Lewis Smedes says it best when he says, "When we forgive, we set the prisoner free, and the prisoner we set free is us".