Robert Jeffress - Good Grace Relationships - Part 2
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. The Bible clearly instructs us to forgive those who wrong us, just as God has forgiven us. But what exactly does forgiveness entail? Are we just supposed to brush off any and all wrongdoing? And what are the next steps once forgiveness takes place? Well, today, I'm going to show you what it looks like to apply good grace to the areas of forgiveness and reconciliation. My message is titled "Good Grace Relationships", on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
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 is 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 mistake 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 chapter 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, we can 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.
And one day David's friend had had enough. He said, "David, let me handle this for you. If it's okay with you, I'm going to separate his head from the rest of his body". Now, if I were David, I would say, "Go at it". But David's response was remarkable. In Second Samuel 16:11, he said to his friend Abishai, "Leave Shimei alone, and let him curse, for the Lord has told him". What do you mean the Lord has told him? David believed that God had allowed this persecutor in his life to remind him of his failures so that he would never be tempted to stray again. And yet, after that gracious response, when David was on his death bed, you know what he told his son Solomon to do? "First executive order you need to issue when you ascend the throne is get rid of Shimei. Put him to death".
What made David change his mind? Was he overwhelmed with a new case of bitterness? No, he knew that if Shimei were allowed to continue, it would hurt the Kingdom of God. He needed to be dealt with, but he needed to be dealt with by another person. David knew if he dealt with Shimei, it would be bitterness, it would be vengeance. But if somebody else dealt with him, it would be justice. The Bible says that when we forgive somebody, we give up our right for vengeance, but we never give up our desire for justice.
Number three, and this is so key. The most important principle about good grace forgiveness. Good grace understands that while forgiveness can be granted, reconciliation must be earned. In our study we did with Barna research, the most pervasive myth about forgiveness is perhaps one you're holding onto as well, and that is we can only forgive those people who are willing to ask for forgiveness. This myth says it's impossible to forgive somebody who doesn't show repentance or somebody who doesn't ask for forgiveness. The problem with that is if you make your forgiveness dependent upon what another person does or doesn't do, you remain a prisoner of bitterness until they choose to ask.
You know, Jesus had a word about that in Mark 11:25 and 26. He talked about whether or not it's possible to unconditionally forgive somebody who never asked for your forgiveness. Look at verse 25 of Mark 11. "Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions. But if you do not forgive, neither will your father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions". Now, here's the situation Jesus has in mind. You're sitting there or you're watching online right now. You're listening to the message, and all of a sudden, God brings to your mind or you bring to your own mind somebody who hurt you, somebody who wronged you. Maybe it was your boss last week who made an unkind comment about your work. Maybe the person who comes to your mind is a mate, a former mate who betrayed you, cheated on you, and the result was a divorce. Maybe the person who comes to your mind is a parent who many years ago abused you in some way as a child.
Now, what are you supposed to do with that hurt? That employee or employer who offended you, he's not sitting next to you to ask you for your forgiveness. That mate from whom you're divorced, you don't even know where they are. They can't or won't ask you for forgiveness. And that parent who abused you in some way, they're dead, they're at the cemetery right now. They can't ask for forgiveness. So are you going to be a prisoner of bitterness the rest of your life? What are you to do with that offense? Jesus said right there, while you're in your pew or watching this service, what are you to do? Forgive, you've got the ability right where you are right now to let go of that offense. Why should you do that? Well, Jesus commanded it. He linked it to God's forgiveness of you. But beyond the spiritual obligation we have to forgive, there's a practical benefit to forgiving. When you refuse to forgive, you hold onto resentment.
That word resent means to feel again. That is, when you refuse to let go of that offense, you remain tied to the person who wronged you. And as you relive that offense, you experience it all over again and again. The only thing worse than being hurt one time is being hurt multiple times by the same person. And yet when you turn over that offense, that's exactly what happens.
I remember when I was in high school, I went with my good friend David Dunlap to go see a movie. It was one of those b movies. It was called "The incredible Two-Headed Man". Did you ever see "The Incredible Two-Headed Man"? It was a terrible movie. It was about this guy, well, I won't go into all the details, but it was a guy with two heads, and the two actors who were definitely at the bottom of their career in this, Ray Milland and Rosie Greer, and Ray Milland was the good guy, and Rosie Greer had his head right on him and he was the bad guy. And Rosie Greer was always tormenting the good guy, Ray Milland, with taunts and sarcastic comments and so forth. But I thought, as bad as that movie is, it is a perfect example of what it is to remain emotionally bound to the person who wants to hurt you over and over again. But when you forgive somebody, you are surgically removing yourself, if you will, from that other person.
When you forgive somebody, what you're saying is, if not to them at least to yourself, what this person did was wrong. They deserve to pay for what they've done to me. But I'm not going to remain bound to them any longer. I'm going to separate myself from them and let God settle the score. That's what forgiveness is. When you refuse to do that, it's like somebody said, drinking rat poison and waiting for the rat to die. Bitterness hurts you much more than it does the other person. While you're turning that offense over and over in your mind again, they have no idea that you're doing that. They're free to go on and do whatever they want to do.
S.I. McMillen in his book "None of These Diseases," describes the scenario perfectly when he says, "The moment I start hating a man, I become his slave. He even controls my thoughts. I can't escape his tyrannical grasp on my mind. When the waiter serves me steak, it might as well be stale bread and water. The man I hate will not permit me to enjoy it". That's why the Bible says if somebody wrongs you, you've got the ability to forgive right now, to let go regardless of what your offender does or doesn't do. Forgiveness is unconditional, it can be granted, but reconciliation is a completely different story. Reconciliation has to be earned by the person who has wronged you. Forgiveness has no strings attached to it. Reconciliation has a number of strings attached to it.
Remember in Romans 12:18? Paul said, "If possible, so far as it depends upon you, be at peace with all men". But it doesn't always just depend upon you. Sometimes being in unity with those who've wronged you depends upon them as well. Let me mention three of the strings on which reconciliation depends. First of all, reconciliation demands repentance. In our little scenario at the beginning of the message, Laura could forgive Janet for embezzling the funds, but for them to go back into business together, if ever, Janet would have to certainly repent of what she had done. That means admit that what she did was wrong, demonstrate remorse for it. And if she's unwilling to do that, not only can their business probably not be saved, their friendship won't be saved either.
You remember in Amos 3:3, the prophet said, "How can two people walk together less they be agreed". Now, that verse originally referred to Israel and God walking hand-in-hand. They were not having fellowship. Their fellowship had been broken because Israel was continuing to sin, saying, "We haven't sinned". And God said, "Oh yes, you have sinned". And the prophet's saying, if Israel and God can't agree on this about Israel's sin, they can't have fellowship together. It's the same way in a relationship with somebody who's wronged you. If a family member, if a friend has hurt you, and hurt you deeply, and yet they're unwilling to admit that, you aren't agreed on that, it's going to break fellowship.
A reconciliation begins with a need for repentance. You can forgive them, but you can't be reconciled to them. Secondly, reconciliation sometimes demands restitution. Again, back to Laura and Janet. Laura can forgive her, Janet can be repentant of what she did, but Laura has every right to ask, "What about the $1.500? I mean, before we go back into business again, there needs to be some restitution here". Not before forgiveness is granted, but before reconciliation can be earned. Remember Zacchaeus, Luke 19? He was a tax collector who cheated people every way he could, and he met Jesus, and what was his first instinct? As soon as Jesus forgave him, Zacchaeus stood up and said, "I will repay everyone I've cheated four times the amount I have taken from them".
Don't ever confuse revenge with restitution. Revenge is my desire to see my offender suffer for what he's done. But restitution is what my offender wants to do to make repayment for the wrong he has committed. If you're going to be reconciled to somebody, they have to be willing to make restitution. And thirdly, reconciliation demands rebuilding trust. Reconciliation demands rebuilding trust. For example, a woman being physically abused by her husband, she has not only the right, I think she has the responsibility to move out of that situation. Move her children out of that situation. We believe in the sanctity of life. That's just not for babies in the womb. That's for everybody. Life is holy, it's a gift from God, and it needs to be protected at all costs. And that's a very important principle.
A woman can forgive her husband. She must forgive her husband. But that doesn't mean she has to live under the same roof with him. She can move out, and before she's willing to reconcile, she can demand several things of her husband. First of all, her husband must show repentance, a deep remorse for what he's done. He has to be willing to make restitution. In this case, not money, but perhaps go into counseling and making some needed changes in his life. And thirdly, there has to be a rebuilding of trust. Reconciliation necessitates the rebuilding of trust. And that takes time, especially after a deep hurt of some kind. The offender has no right to demand immediate reconciliation. He doesn't have a right to demand anything. All he can do is request forgiveness and give his victim, the one he has hurt, time to heal. And that leads to the basic difference between bad grace and good grace when it comes to the issue of those who have wronged us. Listen to this, bad grace equates forgiveness with reconciliation, they're not the same thing.
Bad grace underestimates the serious and long lasting consequences of sin. Bad grace places all the burden for reconciliation on the offended party and little responsibility on the offender. There are a lot of churches that are purveyors of bad grace on this issue. Good grace, on the other hand, understands that forgiveness depends upon me, but reconciliation depends upon us. Good grace teaches that forgiveness has no strings attached, but reconciliation has several strings attached. Good grace recognizes that although reconciliation is always preferable, it's not always possible. Remember Paul's words, "But as far as it depends upon you, be at peace with all men". But please don't misunderstand what I'm saying. Reconciliation is always the preferred outcome for Christians, always. The Psalmist said in Psalm 133:1 "How good, how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell in unity".