Robert Jeffress - Moving From Bitterness to Forgiveness
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to "Pathway to Victory". When someone offends us, anger is a natural response, but when we allow that anger to simmer, the real problems begin. Unresolved anger festers into bitterness, and bitterness is like a deadly poison. Today, we're going to talk about how to overcome resentment before it completely destroys the blessed life God has planned for us. My message is titled, "Moving from Bitterness to Forgiveness," as we continue our series "Invincible" on today's edition of "Pathway to Victory".
It's an old story, but it's still one of my favorites. The story about the man who was bitten by a dog that was later discovered to have rabies. They rushed the man to the hospital and did tests and discovered that he, too, had contracted the dreaded disease. This was in the day before there was any cure for rabies, so the doctor had the choice of informing his patient that his case was both terminal and incurable. "We'll try to do everything we can," the doctor said, "To make you comfortable, but I strongly urge you to get your affairs together as quickly as possible". Well, the patient was stunned, he couldn't believe it.
Finally, he summoned the strength to ask for some paper and a pen, and he began to write as fast as he could. Not an hour later, the doctor came by to check up on his patient and he saw that the man was still writing. The doctor said, "Well, I'm glad to see you're getting your will together". The man looked up and said, "Doc, this ain't no will. It's a list of all the people I'm going to bite before I die". You know, we all carry around a list like that in our minds, don't we? People we want to bite or at least get even with before we die. Your list might include an employer who has mistreated you, maybe a friend who betrayed you, maybe a mate who abandoned you, possibly even a relative who abused you. Have you discovered that you cannot control what other people do to you? As hard as you try, you cannot control what people do to you. But you can control your response to those hurts that come into your life. You can either release them, let them go, or you can hold onto them and turn them over and over again in your heart until they metastasize into a tumor of bitterness.
That's why the writer of Hebrews said 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 be defiled". Bitterness is a deadly acid that not only destroys the container in which it's kept, the heart, but when it seeps out, it destroys everyone and everything it comes into contact with. And today we're going to discover how to conquer, how to scale the mountain of bitterness by moving from bitterness to forgiveness. I can say without any hesitancy that no decision you make affects your physical, emotional, or spiritual health anymore than the issue we're talking about today, moving from bitterness to forgiveness. If you have your Bibles, turn to Ephesians chapter four. Ephesians chapter four, first of all, what is the source of bitterness? Two words, unresolved anger. In fact, on your outline I put a little a formula that will help you understand bitterness and its cause. Unresolved anger plus time equals bitterness.
Now, what is anger? Anger is the natural physical and emotional reaction to perceived injustice. It is a natural physical and emotional reaction to a perceived injustice. What are the consequences of long-term unresolved anger of bitterness? First of all, there are real physical consequences to bitterness. The late Christian psychiatrist Dr. Frank Minirth noted that anger decreases the lymphocytes in our bodies and result in depressed antibodies necessary to fight infectious diseases. In fact, Dr. Minirth made this comment. He said, "Pent up anger is probably the leading cause of death in America". Isn't that amazing? A doctor, a psychiatrist saying the leading cause of death in America is unresolved anger. Secondly, beyond physical consequences, there are emotional consequences. It gnaws at your very soul. But the physical, emotional consequences of bitterness pale in comparison to the spiritual consequences of bitterness.
What happens spiritually when you refuse to forgive another? Remember the parable told in Matthew chapter 18 by Jesus? There was a slave who owed the king 10.000 talents of gold. The talent was about 70 or 80 pounds of gold. And here was a slave who owed the king 10.000 talents. I did a calculation, that would be about $16 billion in today's dollars. This slave owed him, and the king said, "I want my money and I want it now". And the slave said, "King, please be patient and I will repay you everything". I'm not sure exactly how he planned to repay $16 billion, but he begged for mercy. And that hardened king seeing that slave bow down and beg for his life, something was moved inside of that hardened king, he had mercy on him. And Jesus said he forgave him. He released the slave of what was owed. The Bible says the slave got up, thanked the king and off he went. And his first stop was to a friend of his, a fellow slave who owed him 100 denarii.
A Denarius was 16 cents, 100 denarii would be $16. And he grabbed that fellow slave by the nape of the neck and began to choke him and say, "Repay me what you owe me"! And that second slave said, "Be patient with me and I will repay you everything". But unlike the king, this first slave was unwilling to forgive. And when the king heard about what had happened, he had that first slave dragged into the palace, and seething with anger, the king said, "How is it that you who have been forgiven so much could refuse to forgive so little"? And then the king ordered that the slave be turned over to the torturers in prison until he should repay everything. And then Jesus added this to his audience, Matthew 18:35. "So shall my Heavenly Father do the same to you if each of you does not forgive your brother from your heart". Don't try to explain away what Jesus said. He was very clear. If you don't forgive others, God will not forgive you. Forgiveness is the obligation of those who have been truly forgiven. How do we move from bitterness to forgiveness? The Bible gives us four important steps on that road to forgiveness.
Number one, you have to acknowledge, first of all, that you have been wronged. You have to acknowledge you have been wronged. Some people try to be more spiritual than God is, and they want to just say, "Forgiveness means I'll just play like this never happened. I'll do this mind game and just erase this from my memory". No, that's not what forgiveness is. You cannot forgive somebody you're not willing to blame. Forgiveness is a debt. When somebody wrongs you, they owe you a very real debt. And until you acknowledge the wrong and the debt, you can never release somebody from it. I think about, for example, the story of Joseph. We're going to look at the story of Joseph this summer, but remember his story, when he was a teenager, he was sold into slavery by his brothers? And through a series of miraculous circumstances he ended up being the second in command to Pharaoh in Egypt.
Decades after his brothers wronged him and left him for dead, they were reunited with Joseph. And remember what Joseph said to them in Genesis 50:20? He didn't say, "Guys, it's good to see you again. Let's just let bygones be bygones. Maybe you all were having a bad day and that's why you did what you did, but let's just forget about it," did he say that? No, in Genesis 50:20 Joseph said to his brothers, "And as for you, you meant it for evil". He's very clear, what they did was wrong. And until you're willing to acknowledge what was done to you was wrong, you'll never be able to forgive. Again, you cannot forgive those you're not first willing to blame. Acknowledge that you have been wronged.
Secondly, trust in the sovereignty of God. Joseph didn't stop there. He said, "You meant it for evil, but God used it for good to bring about this present circumstance and to preserve many people alive". You remember the story, because Joseph ended up in Egypt and became Pharaoh's right-hand man he was able to provide food when there was a worldwide famine. Not only for Egypt, but for his brothers and father who were the nucleus of the nation of Israel. I mean, think about it. Had there not been a Joseph in Egypt, this nucleus of the Israelite nation, the 12 sons and Jacob, they would have been obliterated. There would have been no Israel. There would have been no Jesus, the Savior of the world, who came from the line of David. None of that would have happened if Joseph had not ended up in Egypt, and Joseph wouldn't have been in Egypt if his brothers had not sold him into slavery. You meant it for evil, but God used it for good.
You know what Joseph was saying to his brothers? He said, "What you did was wrong, but thank God I serve a God who's bigger than you are, a God who has the power to take the worst things you did to me and still use them for good". Ladies and gentlemen, let me just say this. You will never be able truly forgive until you trust in the sovereignty of God. I want to be very careful here because I know this is a sensitive topic. There are some of you who are struggling right now with forgiving somebody who may have abused you, even as a child.
I've talked to people who have gone through that horror and they said, "Pastor, I just can't believe in a God who would have the power to have prevented that abuse or have stopped that abuse and yet chose not to stop it. I can't believe in a God like that". And I understand that. I understand that sentiment. But I always try to gently say to them, "Do you find more comfort in believing in a God who wasn't able to stop the abuse, a God who doesn't have the power to control the circumstances of your life? Do you really want to serve a God that makes you nothing but a victim of random circumstances and random people and people are free to hurt you however they want to without any purpose at all"?
No, the comfort comes from believing in the God of the Bible. The God who works in ways we don't understand, a God who would never condone evil or create evil, but is able to use evil to achieve his purpose in your life and for his glory. A God that Paul described in Romans 8:28, a God who causes all things to work together for good to those who love him and those who are called according to his purpose. Sometimes, like Joseph, we get to see some good that comes out of the hurt we experienced. As an old man, he was able to look back and say to his brothers, "You meant it for evil, God used it for good". Many times we live and die without ever seeing the ultimate plan of God. It won't be till heaven that we get to see what that ultimate plan was. But whether we see it or not, our healing comes from believing in that kind of sovereign God who causes all things to work together for good.
Third, how do you move from bitterness to forgiveness? Admit your own failures and receive God's forgiveness. You cannot give away something you don't have yourself. It is impossible for you to truly forgive others if you've not been forgiven by God. In the Bible, there's an inseparable link between receiving God's forgiveness and extending that forgiveness to others. I think about it as an emotional seesaw. Do you remember playing on seesaws when you were little? You know how it works, you get on one end and then hopefully somebody of equal weight gets on the other end, and as long as you are balanced, the seesaw remains in equilibrium. Or remember what happened, that jerk you were playing with would get off first and let you come crashing down the other side, remember that? No, to maintain equilibrium, you had to maintain the weight on both ends of the seesaw.
Now, think about that picture. Each one of us carries an emotional seesaw in our minds. On one end is guilt that we feel for things we've done wrong. And the only way we can keep from crashing down is if we balance our guilt with blame toward other people who have wronged us. As long as we have the same amount of guilt and blame, we're able to rationalize things. But whenever you ask somebody to forgive another person, it's like asking that person on the blame end to get off the seesaw and all you're left with is your guilt over what you've done and you come crashing down. No, the only way to keep an equilibrium is, before you forgive somebody else for what they've done and get rid of the blame, you have to get rid of your guilt. And the only way to get rid of your guilt is through faith in Jesus Christ.
The moment you trust in God for the forgiveness of your sins, it removes the guilt that you have, and only then can you quit blaming other people for what they've done. And that's why Ephesians 4:32 says, "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ has forgiven you". Does that make sense? You cannot give to others what you have not experienced yourself. And then finally, and most critically, moving from bitterness to forgiveness, there has to come that time when you choose to forgive your offender. Just as there is a moment in time you choose to receive forgiveness when you trust in Christ as your Savior, there has to be an actual time when you choose to release your offender of what they've done to you.
Now, remember, when you're forgiving, you're not denying the reality of the hurt. You're not diminishing it in any way. You're not even letting go of your desire to see that other person experience justice for what they've done to you. When you forgive, what you're giving up is your right for vengeance, your right to hurt somebody else for hurting you. When you forgive somebody, what you're saying is, God, what this person did to me was terrible, it's wrong. They deserve to suffer for it. But I'm going to let you settle the score. Today I'm surrendering this offense to you so that I can be free to get on with my life. And by the way, you can do that regardless of what the other person does or doesn't do.
Remember in Mark 11:25, Jesus said, "Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone so that your father who is in heaven will also forgive you of your transgressions". You can be sitting here in the pews of First Baptist Church, Dallas, you can be sitting watching on your laptop or television, it may be you haven't seen your offender in years, and maybe they're even dead, but you and you alone have the power to forgive. You don't have to wait until that person asks for your forgiveness. You don't have to wait until they repent. You don't have to wait until they make some change. When you put conditions on your forgiveness, you're making yourself an emotional slave to that other person. But when you forgive, you're letting go so that you can be free to experience the abundant life that God has for you. And here's the best part. As lewis Smedes says, when you forgive, you set the prisoner free. And the prisoner you set free is you.