Robert Jeffress - Good Grace Relationships - Part 1
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to "Pathway to Victory". Few people are lucky enough to make it through life without being wronged by another person. Maybe a friend breaks your trust or business partner takes advantage of you. What's the biblical response in those situations when we feel violated? Well, today I'm going to explain what the Bible says about grace, forgiveness, and reconciliation. My message is titled "Good Grace Relationships" on today's edition of "Pathway to Victory".
"Business and friendship don't mix," Laura's husband had warned her. How she wishes she had listened to Dave's advice five months before she partnered with her best friend, Janet, in a small at-home business. The business, called lasting memories, was a concept for teaching women how to make scrapbooks, and it was especially designed for stay-at-home mothers who wanted to earn some extra cash. Laura and Janet had been friends since grade school and they loved the idea of working together in a venture that utilized their artistic bent and required little startup capital. They immediately opened a joint checking account, depositing $500 each. After the first month of operation, they sat down at Laura's kitchen table to analyze their profits and losses. Their initial $1.000 investment had dwindled to $400. However, since any business requires non-recurring startup costs, they weren't too discouraged. After the second month, they not only recouped their initial investment, but they've added another $1.000 to their balance. Things were definitely looking up.
When Laura opened up the bank statement for their third month of operation, she was surprised to see that the balance the bank showed was $300 less than her own records. She examined the statement more closely and noted three separate ATM withdrawals for $100 each. Knowing that she had not used her card, she quickly telephoned Janet. Perhaps Janet's ATM Card had been stolen. "No," Janet said, "There were some miscellaneous expenses for the business that required cash. I'm sorry I forgot to tell you". Laura asked if Janet would give her the receipts since Laura was responsible for bookkeeping. "You don't trust me?", Janet snapped. "Well, of course I trust you, but we agreed we needed to keep good records," Laura said.
Laura had not even considered anything was wrong until that unwarranted outburst. A week later, when she casually mentioned the receipts, Janet said she had misplaced them. The next month, there were two more unauthorized withdrawals. Laura didn't want to think the worst about her best friend, but how could she ignore the mounting evidence that her friend was embezzling their funds? One day, Laura received a phone call from an officer at their bank informing her that one of her company's checks had bounced. "I don't understand how that could have happened, but I'll be right over to see what needs to be done". An hour later, Laura received a jolt for which she was not prepared. In examining the most recent batch of canceled checks for lasting memories, she came across one made out to first national mortgage company for $1.500 and signed by Janet.
Laura didn't even call ahead of time, but drove as quickly as she could to Janet's house. Ignoring any pleasantries, Laura confronted Janet with the check. "I'm so sorry," Janet began to sob. "Jeff had his hours cut in half three months ago and we were too ashamed to tell people we were hurting financially. At first, I used the withdrawals to pay for food, but then there was no money for the mortgage payment and I panicked. I always meant to pay it back. Please forgive me". Forgive her? Of course Laura would forgive her longtime friend, but what about their business that was now $1.000 in the hole? Someone had to make up the deficit and do it quickly. Should Laura dissolve their business immediately? Should the two families meet and work out a repayment plan? Should they continue their venture but remove Janet's name from the bank account?
Laura dreaded talking to her husband about the problem and hearing the inevitable, "I told you so," so she confided in Debbie, her small group leader at church. Debbie was wise beyond her years in spiritual matters and reminded Laura of a story from the Bible. "Do you remember the parable," she said, "That Jesus told about a slave who owed a debt he could never repay? After begging for mercy from his master, the slave was forgiven by his master. Then the slave went out and found a fellow slave who owed him a small amount of money, but he refused to forgive his fellow slave. When the master heard about it, he called the first slave in and said, 'how could you have been forgiven so much refuse to forgive such a little debt'? In the same way," Debbie said, "We who have been forgiven by God have an obligation to forgive others". "Does that mean I shouldn't insist that Janet repay the money", Laura asked. "Well, does God insist that you repay your sins on the installment plan before he forgives you," Debbie countered. "Well, do you think I should continue in business with Janet after what she has done"? "Laura, when God forgave you, did he say, 'I forgive you, but I'll never trust you again'"? "Well, wouldn't it be wise, then, to at least build some controls over our finances so this doesn't happen again"? "What kind of strings did God place on his forgiveness on you"?, Debbie replied. "Just as God forgives us unconditionally, we are to forgive others".
Who could argue with logic like that? Well, Laura's husband, Dave, for one. He said that kind of argument was fine for the Sunday school classroom, but didn't apply in the business world. Refusing to make Janet repay her debt and continuing their business arrangement with no changes would be like hanging a kick-me sign around Laura's neck. When Laura used Debbie's analogy from the Bible about how God forgives us unconditionally, Dave snapped, "Yeah, but we're not God". How does a proper understanding of grace impact our relationship with those who have wronged us? Does grace require that we unconditionally forgive people who show no remorse for their actions? If I do forgive somebody, does it mean that I continue to suffer abuse from them with no repentance on their behalf? And what about people who sin, not just against me, but against the church? Is a church obligated to reinstate a staff member who has been caught embezzling funds? Does grace demand that we overlook those in the church who sow dissension in a congregation?
Forgiveness is an important issue. That's why the writer of Hebrews warned in Hebrews 12:15, "See to it that no one of you come short of the grace of God: that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many are defiled". Sooner or later in your life, and probably sooner, somebody's going to wrong you, they're going to hurt you deeply. And perhaps the most important choice you make in life is what do you do with that offense? Do you hold on to it? Do you continue to turn it over and relive it in your mind until that hurt metastasizes into a tumor of bitterness? Or do you choose to let go of that offense? That's what the word forgive literally means. It means to let go of an offense.
I believe that outside of receiving God's forgiveness for our sins, the most important choice we make in life is whether or not to forgive those who have wronged us. And it was out of that conviction about the physical, emotional, spiritual benefits of forgiveness that more than two decades ago I wrote a book, titled "When Forgiveness Doesn't Make Sense". Today it continues in print because it's an issue that every Christian struggles with. But when I set out to write that book 20 years ago, I partnered with the Barna Research firm and we conducted a nationwide survey on the subject of forgiveness and Americans' attitudes toward forgiveness.
Now, as you would suspect, we discovered that non-Christians don't have a biblical understanding of forgiveness, but what was surprising to us in the survey was that only 25% of those who professed to be Bible-believing Christians actually have a biblical understanding of forgiveness. Instead, they have bought into five of the myths about forgiveness, including the myth that we can only forgive those who ask to be forgiven or the myth that forgiveness automatically results in the reconciliation of a relationship.
Today, as we continue our series, "Grace Gone Wild," about the use and the abuse of God's amazing gift of grace, we're going to look at the subject of grace and how it should impact our relationship with those who wrong us. And today I want to make three simple statements about good grace that come directly from God's word. Write them down on your outlines, if you will. How should grace impact how you deal with those who wrong you? Number one, good grace, good grace affirms the necessity of forgiveness. If you really understand grace, you'll understand forgiveness is not optional. It is a requirement for every Christian. Jesus said this clearly in Matthew 6:14-15. He said, "For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your father will not forgive your transgressions".
I've heard people try to explain these words away of Jesus. Well, what Jesus really meant was... Well, what Jesus really meant is what Jesus really said. He's real clear. If you forgive, you'll be forgiven. If you refuse to forgive, you will not be forgiven by God, period. It's not optional. And Paul said it this way in Ephesians 4:32, "Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ has forgiven you". There is an inseparable link between God's willingness to forgive us and our willingness to forgive other people.
You see that link in that parable that Debbie, the small group leader, gave to Laura reminded her of for Matthew 18. In our series on the parables, we looked at that in depth, so I'm not going to rehearse all the details, but remember the story, a king was having some cash flow problems so he called in everybody who owed him money, and he started with the one who owed him the most money? It was a slave who happened to owe him 10.000 talents. A talent in Jesus' day was about 80 pounds of gold. One talent, this slave owed 10.000 talents. You can imagine how much money that was. I did the calculation one time. It would be about $16 billion in today's currency. Here's a slave who owed a king $16 billion. The king said, "Pay up, or I'm going to put you in prison and execute you". And the slave said, "Oh, please have mercy on me, and I'll pay you everything".
How in the world was a lowly slave going to repay $16 billion? Jesus said the king, having mercy on him, forgave him, released him of his debt. This slave went out. As he left the palace, forgiven of a $16 billion debt, he happened to remember a friend of his, a fellow slave who owed him a payment. He owed him a debt. The debt was 100 denarii. In today's currency, that would be about $16. And he went out and found this friend who owed him a measly $16, began to choke him and say, "Repay me everything, or I'm going to have you executed". What did the second slave say? "Oh, have mercy on me, and I'll repay you everything". No mercy, no mercy. He had him thrown into prison. Well, when the master heard about this, the king, he was angered and he called the first slave in, and he said, "How could you, who has been forgiven so much, how could you refuse to forgive such a little debt"? And he was so angry, the king had him thrown into prison until he repaid everything. And then Jesus added the zinger. He said, "So shall my Heavenly Father do to each of you if you do not forgive your brother from your own heart".
Now, understand what Jesus was saying. He wasn't denying the fact that other people have hurt us. That first slave that had been forgiven $16, the $16 debt he was holding was a very real debt. That fellow slave really owed him that money. He had a legal right to demand that $16 repayment. He had a legal right, but he had no moral right to demand it, given the great debt from which he had just been relieved. Jesus is saying to you this morning, he said, "I'm not asking you to sweep under that hurt you've experienced". You don't have to deny it. You don't have to play like it didn't happen. Go ahead, acknowledge it that somebody has wronged you, but just keep that hurt in perspective. Because the difference between how much that other person has hurt you and how much you have hurt the king is the difference between $16 and $16 billion. And only when you understand that great debt of which God has forgiven you are you willing to forgive those who owe you for what they've done.
That's what the Bible teaches about forgiveness. Good grace affirms the necessity of forgiveness. Secondly, good grace recognizes that forgiveness does not erase the consequences of wrongs. Good grace recognizes that forgiveness does not erase the consequences of wrong. Dave Hagler serves as an umpire on a recreational baseball league in his community. And one day Dave was driving and a policeman pulled him over for speeding. And Dave said, "I'm so sorry. Please don't give me a ticket. You know, I wasn't thinking, and I'll do better next time". Policemen wouldn't hear any of it. He just said, "If you don't like it, take it up with the court". A couple of days later, Dave was umpiring a game, he was behind home base, the first batter that came up was the policeman. The policeman recognized Dave and said, "How did that thing with the ticket turn out for you"? Dave said, "All I can say is you better swing at everything".
You know, revenge is sweet, even if it's short-lived. But when we forgive somebody, what we're doing is we're actually releasing them of our right to revenge. When we forgive somebody, we're letting go of our right to hurt somebody else for hurting us. And yet, even though we can relieve others of our right to hurt them for hurting us, one thing forgiveness can't do is erase the consequences our offender may face from other people. Here's a great illustration in the Bible of that in acts 7:60. Remember the story of Stephen, the first martyr, he was being stoned to death? And the Bible says, "Then falling on his knees, Stephen cried out with a loud voice, saying, 'Lord, do not hold this sin against them'. And having said this, Stephen fell asleep," he died. Even in his last moment, Stephen, the Christian, was willing to forgive those who were killing him. And he said, "God, don't hold this offense against them".
That's a wonderful thought. That's a sweet thought, Stephen, but really Stephen didn't have the ability to withhold God's judgment from them. The fact is God did punish them. God held them accountable for what they did to Stephen. And it's the same way when we forgive somebody. We can release our right to seek vengeance from them, but what we can't do is relieve them of the punishment they may face from others. For example, when Laura said, "Janet, I forgive you for embezzling the money," what she was doing was she was letting go of her right to demand repayment for the funds, to sue Janet in court for the funds. She was giving up the right to continually remind her of the mistakes she had made. But what Laura couldn't do through her forgiveness was relieve Janet of the guilt she may have felt. She couldn't relieve her of the wrath of her husband that Janet may face. She couldn't even relieve her of the legal action that the bank might take against her for writing a hot check.
There's a difference between vengeance and justice. The fact is, vengeance, and I want you to write this down, a great definition. Vengeance is the desire to make others suffer for the wrongs they've committed against us. And the Bible says we're to give up vengeance. In Romans 12, beginning with verse 17, Paul says, "Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God". In other words, let God settle the score for you. "For it is written, 'vengeance is mine. I will repay,' says the Lord".
When you forgive somebody, you're giving up your right, your desire for vengeance to see them suffer for what they've done to you. We're to give up vengeance, but we can never give up justice. Our desire for justice. What is justice? Write it down. Justice is the payment that God or others might seek from our offender. Psalm 37:28 says God loves justice. Somebody has to make things right. Somebody does have to settle the score, it just can't be us, the ones who have been offended. We have to let somebody else do it.
Genesis 9:6 says, "Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall also be shed". The Bible demands that somebody settle the score. It can't be the victim, but it can be God, or in God's place, government. That's the difference between vengeance and justice. You know, you see a great illustration of that difference between vengeance and justice in the Old Testament story of David. Remember later in David's reign there is a man who just dealt him misery until the time he died. He was a man named Shimei, and every time Shimei would see king David. He would hurl rocks at him, both literal rocks and verbal rocks. But he was always slinging rocks at David, and while he was doing it, he was reminding David of all of the mistakes he made. David, remember that night with Bathsheba that everybody found out about? Or he would remind him about his own son, Absalom, who had led a rebellion against him. He was continually reminding him of all of his failures while he threw the rocks at David.