Robert Jeffress - Developing A Forgiving Heart
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. At some point in your life, you're going to be hurt, and hurt deeply by another person. It may be a mate who walks away from a marriage, a friend who shares a secret behind your back, or a doctor who misdiagnoses a very serious illness. So in those intense moments of pain and betrayal, how do we find the power to forgive? My message is titled, developing a forgiving heart on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
C.S. Lewis once said: forgiveness is a beautiful word until you have somebody to forgive. Have you discovered that's true? You know in my 40+ years in the ministry I discovered that the issues, the two issues people struggle with the most in life both have to do with forgiveness: either receiving God's forgiveness or extending forgiveness to others who have wronged us. And, by the way, there is an inseparable link between the two: receiving forgiveness and extending forgiveness to others. Somebody once said: forgiveness is like letting go of a rattle snake. Sure, it benefits the snake, but it benefits you more. The same thing is true of forgiveness.
There are great emotional benefits to forgiveness, but both the physical and emotional benefits of forgiveness pale in comparison to the spiritual benefits of forgiveness. Pastor, what do you mean the spiritual benefits? Well, very simply, if you refuse to forgive other people, God won't forgive you. And I hear people try to rationalize this. They say: well what Jesus really meant was... No, Jesus really meant what he said. He said: if you don't forgive, God is not going to forgive you. There's an inseparable link between receiving God's forgiveness and granting that forgiveness to others: and both receiving and granting forgiveness are marks of a true follower of Jesus Christ, a disciple of Christ.
Now to see the link about receiving forgiveness and extending it to others, I want you to turn in your Bibles to Matthew 18 to a story Jesus told to illustrate both why we should forgive and how we should forgive. Now we've looked at this parable before so today I'm going to give you just the reader's digest version just to remind you of what the story's about. This story is about a king who was having some serious cash-flow problems, and so he needed to call in the IOUs he was holding, people who owed him money, and he started with the person who owed him the most amount of money. It was a slave who owed him 10,000 talents. Now in Jesus' day a talent was a unit of measurement of gold. It would be about 70 or 80 pounds. 1 talent - 70 or 80 pounds of gold. This servant owed his king 10,000 of those talents.
I did a quick calculation. According to today's price of gold, you know how much money that would be? 10,000 talents of gold? That would be about $16 billion in today's money. You think: $16 billion? How could a lowly slave ever get into debt that much? I mean did he go to Vegas too many times? I mean what was going on here? Remember this is a story Jesus told, a parable. He was trying to illustrate a man who owed a debt that he couldn't pay in 10,000 lifetimes. So the king says: I want my money. He had a right to say that. And the slave fell down before him and begged him, and said: master, please be patient with me, and I will repay you everything. Can you imagine a more pitiful sight than that? A little slave saying: if you'll just give me a little more time I'll pay you back that $16 billion.
Look at verse 27 of Matthew 18, "The Lord of that slave, the king felt compassion and he released him and he forgave him of the debt". That's what forgiveness is - literally it means to release a debt, to let go of. Can you imagine the relief that slave must have felt as he heard the words "You are forgiven"? You don't owe me anything. You're free. Slave got up, he walked out of the palace a new man, but as he was thinking about what he had heard from the king: you are forgiven of your debt. It dawned on him: and he remembered a fellow slave, a friend who owed him 100 denarii, Jesus said. Now a denarius was 16 cents in today's economy. One day's wage. 100 denarii would be $16. And this slave remembers: I know somebody who owes me $16. So he goes out, Jesus says, grabs him by the neck, begins to choke him, and says: repay me what you owe me. Now that was a very real debt too. And so the fellow slave says: have patience with me and I'll repay you everything. Sound familiar? That's what the first slave said to the king. But unlike the king this slave refused to forgive that paltry $16 debt.
Well when the king heard about this he was incensed. Look at verse 32, "Then summoning the slave, the king said to him, 'you wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave in the same way that I had mercy on you'"? I mean even this king who was a pagan understood there was something fundamentally wrong with a man who had been forgiven so much to refuse to forgive such a little debt. And then, verse 34 says, "The king moved with anger, handed that slave over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him". And then Jesus adds the zinger in verse 35, "So shall my Heavenly Father do to you if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart".
You see the relationship between the king and the first slave is like God's relationship with us. All of us owe God a debt we could never repay: and yet when we ask him, God in his mercy forgives us of that debt through Christ. We have been forgiven a $16 billion spiritual debt so to speak. When we refuse to grant forgiveness to those who wrong us, well it's just like that slave refusing to forgive that $16 debt. Now don't misunderstand what Jesus is saying here. Jesus is not denying that you may have been hurt and wronged. Jesus is not asking you to play like it never happened or to minimize the wrong that has been committed against you, but Jesus said whatever your hurt is, just keep that hurt in perspective.
For, you see, the difference between how much somebody has wronged you and how much you have wronged God is the difference between $16 and $16 billion: and that's why forgiveness is the obligation of those who have truly been forgiven. And yet in spite of the physical, the emotional, and certainly the spiritual benefits of forgiving other people, we still find it hard to do, don't we? I think there are four reasons, four misunderstandings, that cause people difficulty in forgiving other people.
So let me dispel a few of those myths about forgiveness that may be hampering some of you right now from experiencing the freedom of that gift of forgiveness. First of all, understand forgiveness is not ignoring or rationalizing offenses. When you forgive somebody you're not engaging in some mental fantasy playing like what happened to you never actually happened. Forgiveness is not about rationalizing or ignoring offenses. Secondly, forgiveness is not about surrendering our desire for justice. When you forgive, you're not surrendering your desire for justice.
I remember in my last church there was a man, a father whose daughter had been brutally, brutally murdered. As you can imagine he struggled with that issue of forgiveness. And finally he reached a point that he felt like he had forgiven his daughter's killer. But then he was asked to testify by the prosecution at the killer's trial. And he came to see me. He said: pastor, I've just now barely been able to forgive this man for what he did to my daughter, and now I'm being asked to testify, and my testimony could easily result in a guilty verdict and a death penalty for this guy, and I'm just not sure as a Christian should I testify? Frankly I'd like to see him in the electric chair for what he did, but I've forgiven him, so what am I supposed to do?
And that afternoon I explained to him the difference between vengeance and justice. When we forgive we give up our right to vengeance. You know what vengeance is? Hurting somebody else for hurting us. That's what vengeance is. But justice on the other hand, justice is the payment that God or other people may require for my offender. Justice is the payment that God, or other people, or government officials might require from my offender. And while we're to give up our desire for vengeance we never have to surrender our desire for justice. We want justice because why? We're made in the image of God who wants justice. We serve a just God.
Thirdly, forgiveness is not about forgetting the offenses committed against us. Forgiveness is not about forgetting. People say to me: well pastor, I still remember, I keep thinking about what that person did to me. I guess that means I haven't really forgiven them, right? Wrong. Remember this: forgetting is a biological function. Forgiving is a spiritual function. I think the best way to understand what God's forgiveness means is found in Romans 4:7-8 when Paul quoting Psalm 32 says, "Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, whose sin has been covered: blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account". That's what it means. He no longer charges our sin to our account. That's a forgiveness transaction. When God forgives us he no longer holds us accountable for our sin.
Listen, the Bible says every time we sin against God we owe God for the sin we've committed. Sin always creates an obligation and the more we sin the bigger the IOU that we owe God. I mean just think about it. And our sin-debt is spinning around quicker than the National Debt right now. Our sin-debt to God is incalculable, and the longer you live the bigger that debt becomes. And listen, if you die without having paid off that sin-debt then you spend eternity in hell separated from God trying to pay off that debt. The Bible says, "For the wages of sin is death", eternal death. The biggest choice you and I make in life is the choice: who's going to pay for my sin? It has to be paid for. The Bible says God cannot overlook our iniquity. He can't turn his back and play like it never happened. God is a holy God who demands payment for our sin. The question is: who's going to pay for it?
Do you think jumping in that baptistery over there is going to wash away your sins? Nuh-uh, not enough water in the world to wash away your sins. Think joining a church is going to do it? No, baptism and church membership are important, but they have nothing to do with paying your sin-debt. No, there is only one person who can pay your sin-debt, and his name is Jesus Christ: and that's exactly what he did on the cross.
Let me show you what God did with your IOU and my IOU if we really have trusted in Christ. It's in Colossians 2:13-14, "He has forgiven us of all of our transgressions", this is so great, "Having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us which were hostile to us, and he has taken that certificate of debt out of the way having nailed it to the cross". Isn't that a great truth? Remember some of Jesus' final words on the cross were, "It is", what? "Finished". The Greek, one Greek word there, tetelestai. Tetelestai. That word literally means "Paid in full". Isn't that great? Jesus paid the debt we could never repay. That $16 billion sin-debt. He's done it all.
There is nothing we can add to it, but there's something we must do to receive it. The biggest choice we ever make in our life is the choice who's going to pay for my sin. We can spend all of this life and all eternity in hell trying to pay off that debt and we'll never do it, or we can say by faith: Jesus, I believe you paid the debt for me. I'm not trusting in myself. I'm trusting in what you did for me. I'm going to allow you to pay the debt for me. That's what Jesus Christ offers to do. No, forgiveness is not about forgetting - it's about not holding to account somebody else's sin.
Fourth, forgiveness is not reconciling with our offender. Forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciling with our offender. I've talked to many women who have been physically abused by their husbands, and they've made the right choice to separate, to move themselves and/or their children away from that abusive background. God doesn't ask us to go through physical harm in the home. That's not God's plan at all, and yet somewhere along the way after they've separated they realize as a Christian they need to forgive their husband, but they're reluctant to do so because they're afraid that if they forgive their husband that that means they have to automatically move back in, put their lives or the life of their children in danger.
No, there's a big difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. Forgiveness is unconditional. It doesn't depend on what my offender does or doesn't do, but reconciliation is very conditional. Now let's talk very quickly about the steps to understanding authentic forgiveness. Go back to Matthew 18:27, "And the Lord of that slave felt compassion, and released him, and he forgave him of the debt". First of all notice genuine forgiveness acknowledges the offense that has taken place. Again, we're not asking you to ignore it, rationalize it, pretend it never happened - you cannot forgive those you are not willing to blame.
Secondly, genuine forgiveness calculates the debt that is owed to us. It calculates the debt that is owed to us. You need to know what you're forgiving before you can let go of it. Genuine forgiveness calculates the debt, and, thirdly, genuine forgiveness releases the debtor to God. Don't miss this: why did that king forgive a $16 billion debt? Jesus said because of compassion. Obviously, I think Jesus was right. It was compassion. Even though he was a hardened king he felt compassion for that pitiful slave offering to repay an unrepayable debt. He knew he would never get that money back. The IOU he had was worthless.
I mean think about it, what could anybody repay you to make up for a marriage that was destroyed by adultery? What could anybody do to repay you for your reputation that was unfairly ruined by slander? What could anybody do to make up to a parent whose child was killed by a drunk driver? Letting go, forgiving is really the only reasonable response when you think about it. We all hold this worthless IOU. That's what happened here. You're sitting there thinking: you know, as pastor Jeffress has been talking I remember all these people who have wronged me. What are you to do about it? One word: forgive. It doesn't matter if they're sitting next to you in the pew, whether they're there in the next city, the next state, it doesn't matter even if they're in the cemetery, you can forgive them right where you are. Let go of it regardless of whether they ever ask for forgiveness or not.
Do you all remember - did you ever go to those kinds of old-fashioned picnics that we used to have more of and where they would have a contest, a game called the three-legged race? Did you ever participate in a three-legged race? You know you get you right leg bound to the left leg of your partner, and you've got several different teams, and you're trying to make it to the finish line, and you're hobbling along like this? You're hobbling along, and if you've ever had the thought that I have you probably have through at some point in that: if only I could get loose from this nitwit, I could go a lot farther and a lot faster and win the contest. But you see, three-legged races don't allow for solo contenders. The fact is when you're bound to somebody else you can go only as fast and as far as they're willing to travel.
Now listen to me, when you make forgiving another person dependent on what they do, it's like you're emotionally tying yourself to that other person. If you're saying: I can't forgive them until they say 'I'm sorry', then you can go no further in life, no more quickly in life than they're willing or unwilling to go. When I say, if not to them directly, to God: I no longer want to be bound to this other person. I'm letting go of the hurt that they've committed against me so that I can be free to live the life that God has planned for me. Today I am letting go, I'm unbinding myself so that I can go where God wants me to go.
Remember that first slave? Because he didn't forgive he was put into the prison, the torturer's house where he was tormented day and night forever and ever. When you refuse to forgive until somebody does something, you're going through mental, emotional, and spiritual torture just waiting for them to free you. No, you need to be free of that other person. Lewis Smedes said: when we forgive we set the prisoner free, and the prisoner we set free is us. That's the practical reason to forgive, but the greater reason is the spiritual reason. As Jesus said, "If you don't forgive others, God will not forgive you".
Pastor, I don't understand that. Are you saying that we earn our forgiveness by forgiving other people? Of course not. Paul said, "For by grace, God's grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is a gift of God not of works, lest any man should boast". Well then pastor, are you saying that if we don't forgive we lose our salvation? Not saying that either. Romans 11:29 says, "The gifts of God are irrevocable". God doesn't take away what he's given as a gift.
What I'm saying is: if you find yourself saying what I hear many people in the church saying: I cannot forgive. I cannot forgive. I will not forgive. It doesn't mean you lose your salvation, it means you never had salvation to begin with. Because somebody who has truly received God's forgiveness, who has understood the magnitude of his own sin, that $16 billion debt will naturally forgive somebody of a much less offense than we've committed against God. Forgiveness is the obligation of those who have forgiven. Paul said it this way in Ephesians 4:32, "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another just as God in Christ has forgiven you".