Robert Jeffress - How Can I Know How To Forgive Someone Who Has Hurt Me?
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. As Christians, we know that we're called to forgive no matter what the offense is, but after we've been deeply wounded, forgiveness becomes much easier said than done. Well, no decision in life is more difficult or more essential than the choice to forgive those who have wronged us. And today I want to show you how to let go of those past hurts in your life. We're answering the question, "How can I know how to forgive someone who has hurt me"? On today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
God's perfect will is that we be reconciled with anyone who has offended us, God wants that reconciliation to take place, but it's not always possible. Paul is saying in this verse, "As far as it depends upon you, be at peace with people", but it always doesn't depend upon us. You see, forgiveness has no strings attached to it, but reconciliation has a number of strings attached to it. In fact, on your outline, I've mentioned three requirements for reconciliation, cross out the word forgiveness, put the word reconciliation there, and notice the three requirements for a genuine reconciliation with somebody who has hurt us. You can forgive them without any of these conditions, but you can never be reconciled with them without, first of all, their expressing repentance, repentance.
As we'll see in just a moment, I can forgive somebody who never says, "I'm sorry", or even knows they need to say, "I'm sorry", but we can't be reconciled with them until they say, "I'm sorry". Until they realize the seriousness of what they've done to us, it will be very difficult for there to be a reconciliation. Remember Amos 3:3, "How can two people walk together lest they be agreed"? In other words, if a person who has hurt me will not agree with me that a wrong has taken place, how can we ever hope to walk together again, there has to be repentance.
Secondly, there needs to be rehabilitation, that is, before there can be reconciliation, my offender has to show some kind of rehabilitation, a change in his heart and his actions before that reconciliation can take place. In 2 Corinthians 7:10, Paul writes, "For the sorrow that is according to the will of God, produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death".
Let's say this wife moves out of her husband's home because of physical abuse. That husband can be really, really sorry about his situation. He can be sorry that he has nobody to cook the food and wash the dishes, and keep the house, he can be sorry, but that's the sorrow of the world. No, true repentance means a change of mind that leads to a change of direction. For that, wife can be willing to move back in with her husband, she has every right and the responsibility to demand change in her husband, that the husband go through counseling, that the husband show genuine repentance, that the husband refrain from any physical abuse again, rehabilitation.
Thirdly, reconciliation sometimes requires restitution, restitution, for example, you can forgive a business partner who cheats you out of $50.000, but if he comes to you and says, "Well, now that you've forgiven me, let's go back into business together", what's going to be your response? "Where's my $50.000? No, lay that on the table and then we'll talk about reconciliation, restitution". Understanding the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation is vital. In summary, forgiveness has no conditions, reconciliation has several conditions. Forgiveness can be offered to those who never admit they're wrong, reconciliation can be offered only to those who admit they're wrong. Forgiveness depends upon me alone, reconciliation depends upon us.
Now, we talked about what forgiveness isn't, in these last few moments, let's talk about what authentic forgiveness is. When I was growing up, I used to listen to my parents argue occasionally about money. Did you ever hear your parents argue about money? Occasionally, my parents argued about money. I remember hearing my dad say to my mom, occasionally, "If you keep spending like this, we're going to end up in the poorhouse". Remember the poorhouse? You know, as a child, I never knew what the poorhouse exactly was, but I knew that someplace I never wanted to go.
Well, the poorhouse, the term is an allusion to debtors prisons that were common centuries ago, if you had a debt that you couldn't pay, your people who held the debt would throw you into debtors prison until you could repay what was owed. Now, there are some obvious drawbacks to debtors prison. I mean, if you took somebody who owed a lot of money and put them into prison, guess what, they weren't in a position to earn any money to repay your debt, so they died in prison, secondly, your family, the family of the debtor, starved to death because there was nobody to make income for them, and thirdly, the debt went unpaid. Debtors prison was really a lousy idea.
I think the king understood that, the king in the parable Jesus told in Matthew chapter 18, that's why he released the slave of his $16 billion debt. You see, Jesus said, the reason the king forgave him of his death was because he felt compassion for him. And obviously, that's true, even that pagan king saw how pitiful it was for a lowly slave to say, "Have mercy on me and I'll repay you the $16 billion". He had compassion on him, that's one reason he forgave, but I think there's an unspoken reason the king also forgave the slave, and that is he realized how worthless it was to expect that slave to pay back the $16 billion. The king realized he was holding an account receivable that was worthless. The only logical thing to do was to let go of that debt so that the king could get on with his life.
In Matthew 18:27, Jesus said, "And the king of that slave felt compassion, and he released him, and he forgave him the debt". I want you to notice in that single verse, the three necessary steps for authentically forgiving someone who has wronged you, first of all, genuine forgiveness acknowledges the offense. It acknowledges the offense. Never in this parable, is there a suggestion that this debt was an imaginary debt only in the king's mind? No, Jesus said that the servant quote, owed him, end quotes. That's important, and acknowledging a wrong is key to being able to forgive people. You cannot release somebody from a debt that does not exist, in the same way you cannot forgive somebody for an offense that has not occurred, I can only forgive those I'm willing to blame. If you really forgive somebody, first of all, you have to acknowledge that a wrong has occurred.
Now, people ask me as pastor, "Well, pastor does that mean that I need to verbally go to the person who has hurt me and say, 'you did wrong, you hurt me'. Do I need to verbally personally confront my offender"? Sometimes they'll say, "Isn't that what Joseph did, Genesis 50:20, he went to his brothers and said, 'you meant it for evil'. So doesn't that mean I need to confront my offender"? I think the answer of whether you confront your offender depends upon your motivation for confronting him. If you're confronting him, hoping that you're going to elicit an "I'm sorry" from him, if somehow your confrontation is going to make him break down into tears and say, "I know I was wrong, please forgive me", then I would advise you not to confront your offender. Because more than likely, you're going to be disappointed, and you're going to leave saying, "I'll never forget that person, he doesn't even realize what he did to me".
Now, the reason Joseph confronted his brothers was not to encourage them to repent, in fact, if you look in the story, you'll see that Joseph had already forgiven his brothers years earlier, before he finally saw them. He had made that decision to forgive years earlier, but the reason he confronted his brothers was to ease their guilt and pave the way for reconciliation. Because in Genesis 50:20, he said, "You meant it for evil", but then he went on to say, "But God meant it for good. Therefore do not be afraid, for it was not you who sent me here, it was God who put me here. That is, God worked through your offense to bring about this present result, to allow me to protect you and to provide for you and your family". You see, what Joseph was doing by confronting his brothers was paving the way for a reconciliation. But whether or not we ever confront our offender personally, we have to acknowledge in our own minds that yes, an offense has occurred, genuine forgiveness acknowledges the offense.
Secondly, genuine forgiveness calculates the debt, it calculates the debt. Remember, wrongs always create an obligation. In the parable that Jesus told, Jesus didn't say the slave owed him some unspecified amount of money, no, he was very specific, he said the slave owed the king 10.000 talents of gold, $16 billion, there is a precise calculation of the debt. I think if we're going to forgive other people, we need to calculate, mentally, what that other person owes us for what they did to us.
When people are trying to forgive somebody, I encourage them to do a mental calculation of what their offender deserves for what they've done. Maybe they deserve a divorce, maybe they deserve prison, they may deserve the death sentence, but just as you cannot forgive an offense that is not acknowledged, you cannot cancel a debt that has not been calculated. Before you can let go of that debt, you have to really calculate what debt you're letting go of.
Remember, Joseph said to his brothers, "Do not be afraid". By saying, "Do not be afraid", he was really saying, "You have every right to be afraid. Fact is, I'm prime minister of Egypt, I could have you executed for this. But instead of giving you what you deserve, death, I'm going to do something else for you, I'm going to allow you to settle in the richest land of Egypt, Goshen, and settle there and never have to fear retaliation from me". The Bible says we need to calculate the debt that we're releasing our offender from before we can truly forgive.
Number three, genuine forgiveness releases the debtor to God, genuine forgiveness releases the debtor to God. Now, notice what the king did with the first slave, the Bible says he released him, he forgave him of the debt. But what did that first slave do to the second slave? He seized him and he choked him. Unforgiveness refuses to let go, unforgiveness retains a death grip on both the offender and the offense. When we refuse to forgive somebody, we are choking them, trying to exact some payment that will compensate for the hurt that we have felt. But what we fail to realize is our offender is incapable of doing anything to relieve that hurt.
I mean, after all, when you think about it, what can anybody ever do to pay you back for a marriage destroyed by adultery, or for a reputation that has been ruined by slander? What can anybody ever do to make up for the life of your child who was killed by a drunk driver? You see, the reason we don't let go is we are under the illusion that our offender can really pay us back for what they did to us. We don't really understand that the account receivable we're holding is absolutely worthless. And that's why the only reasonable thing to do is to let go, to forgive.
Notice here in parable that this slave was unwilling to let go, and so when the king heard about it, what did he do? He threw him into prison. Prison is an apt metaphor for what happens to us when we refuse to forgive. Now, get this, Jesus said, "If you refuse to forgive, you risk the eternal prison of hell separated from God forever and ever". But Jesus is also communicating, when you refuse to forgive, right here on earth do you enter your own private prison, for you are tortured over and over again, by that experience that hurt you so deeply. Again, it's like holding on to that rattlesnake, trying to punish it as it strikes you over, and over, and over again?
The Bible says that first slave was incapable of repaying the king his $16 billion debt, the second slave was incapable of paying the first slave that $16 billion debt as well. You know what forgiveness is? When I forgive, I release that obligation, if somebody owes me, I release it to God. You all are familiar with the concept of a debt collector, aren't you? If you run up a big bill at the department store and you can't pay it, what does the department store do after they try to contact you time and time again, they turn your bill over to a debt collector who has more persuasive ways of getting a payment from you. In a very real way, when you forgive somebody, when you let go of that debt that they owe you, what you're doing is you're turning over that offense to the ultimate debt collector, God. You're simply saying, "God, I'm going to allow you to settle that account, so I can be free to get on with my life".
Occasionally, people ask the question, and it's important one, "Can I forgive somebody who never says, 'I'm sorry', can I forgive somebody who never repents"? The answer is yes, it is not only possible, but it is essential that we learn how to forgive unconditionally. Remember what Jesus said in Mark 11:25, he said, "Whenever you stand praying, forgive if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven may forgive your transgressions". The picture is, you're in church, you're singing, you're listening to the preacher, perhaps right now God has brought to mind somebody who has wronged you, the Bible says, "You don't have to leave the church service and go talk to them".
Now, Jesus said in another passage, if you're sitting here in church and you remember somebody has something against you, you're to go be reconciled to them. No, he's talking about here, you're sitting here and you remember you have something against somebody else. What did Jesus say to do about that? He said, "Right then and there, forgive, right now". It doesn't matter where that other person is, they can be in the next room, the next state, or even in the cemetery, you had the ability and the responsibility to let go, to forgive.
We've seen that there are spiritual benefits of forgiveness, eternal consequences with forgiveness, but there's also a practical reason, ladies and gentlemen, for choosing to forgive unconditionally. If you make your offender's forgiveness from you dependent upon his restitution, his reconciliation, his repentance, you know what happens? You make yourself the prisoner of the person who's already hurt you. If you say, "I'm not going to let go until that person says, 'I'm sorry,' you have become that person's slave".
I like to illustrate it by one of those three-legged races you used to see the old-fashioned picnics, remember the three-legged races, have you ever been in one of those before? You know how they work, you bind your leg to the leg of your partner and you hobble down toward the finish line, trying to go as fast as you can, and everybody on the sidelines is hooting and hollering at that ridiculous sight of seeing you struggle to get to the finish line. If you've ever been in one of those races, you've probably had the thought, "If only I could get free from this lug I'm tied up to, I could run a lot faster and a lot farther". But you see, three-legged races don't allow for solo contenders, you can only go as fast and as far as your partner is willing to go.
Now, listen to me, when you make your forgiveness of other people dependent upon that other person, you are tying yourself, your emotional wellbeing, to that person. You can travel no farther or faster in life than that person who has already hurt you is willing to travel. But forgiveness is the process by which I separate myself emotionally, spiritually, from my offender.
Forgiveness is the process by which I say to myself, I say to God, "God, you know how much this person has wronged me, you know they deserve to suffer for what they've done, but today I'm separating myself, I'm releasing my offender, so that I can be free to get on with my life". That's the reason for unconditional, unilateral forgiveness, not because of what it does for our offender, but because of what it does for us. The late Louis Mead said one time, "When we forgive, we set the prisoner free, and the prisoner we set free is us".