Robert Jeffress - Forgiveness On Trial
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to "Pathway to Victory". As Christians, we're called to forgive those who wrong us just as God forgave us for our sins, but is there such a thing as an offense that's so evil so horrific it's beyond the realm of forgiveness? Well, today I'm going to present my most convincing arguments for and against forgiveness, and let God's word have the final say. My message is titled "Forgiveness on Trial" on today's edition of "Pathway to Victory".
Let me ask you a question, when is the last time you heard a sermon against forgiveness? That's what I thought. So as we explore this subject of forgiveness in our new series, I thought it only fair that we be fair and balanced. And so today to be fair and balanced about forgiveness, I think it's only right for me to present to you the best case I know against forgiving other people. Today we're going to put forgiveness on trial and we're going to look at the reasons not to forgive as well as the reasons to forgive and let you make the final decision.
The best argument against forgiveness that I know of is found in a true story in history involving a man named Simon Wiesenthal, perhaps you have heard of him before. He was a Jewish architect who was incarcerated in a concentration camp near Poland toward the end of World War II, one day, Wiesenthal was sent on a work detail to a local hospital, and upon arriving at the hospital a nurse ordered him to follow her to a patient's room. There Wiesenthal met Karl a 21-year-old dying Nazi. With his body wrapped in bandages, he was barely able to speak yet Karl wished to confess a crime of his to a Jew before he died. Karl then related to Simon Wiesenthal the specific scene that tortured his memory. Karl had been fighting in a Russian village in which 200 Jews had been captured. Karl's squad was ordered to plant cans of gasoline in a vacant house, and then had Jewish men, women and children into the home. They were so tightly packed into the house that they could barely move. The soldiers then threw grenades through the windows igniting the gasoline in the home.
Karl and his fellow soldiers were ordered to shoot anyone who tried to flee the burning house. Karl said to Wiesenthal, "Behind the window of the second floor, I saw a man with a small child in his arms. His clothing was on fire. By his side stood a woman doubtless the mother of the child. With his free hand the man covered the child's eyes then he jumped into the street. Seconds later the mother followed. We shot, oh God I shall never forget it, it's haunts me," Karl confessed. Wiesenthal did not utter a word as Karl continued. "I know that what I've told you is terrible. I've longed to talk about it to a Jew and beg forgiveness from him. I know that what I'm asking is almost too much but without your answer, I cannot die in peace. Will you forgive me"?
Wiesenthal later wrote, "I stood up, I looked in his direction, at his folded hands and then I made up my mind, and without a word, I left the room". Wiesenthal struggled with his decision. Should he'd forgiven the repentant Nazi or are there some crimes so heinous that they can never be forgiven? What would have been your response to that dying Nazi? And if the word forgive comes too easily ask yourself, what if it had been your mate, your children who had been murdered? Would you have forgiven? Are there some offenses that fall outside of the circle of grace because they're so horrible? Are there some wrongs that cannot be absolved by a simple I'm sorry?
I believe Simon Wiesenthal story illustrates the four greatest objections to forgiving other people that hurt us, jot them down. First of all, forgiveness denies the seriousness of sin or at least that's what some people say. To forgive somebody, well that's like saying what you did to me really wasn't that big of a deal. Now the truth is every day you and I endure hurts from other people that aren't that big of a deal, unreturned phone calls, forgotten birthdays, interrupted sentences, and the Bible gives us some wisdom about how we ought to handle those slides that we all incur every day. In Proverbs 17:14, Solomon wrote, "For the beginning of strife is like letting out water so abandon the quarrel before it even breaks out". Proverbs 19:11, "A man's discretion makes him slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook a transgression".
We all go through these petty slides every day, and what Solomon is saying is yes, the pain is real, but get over it, take the loss yourself, suck it up. That's what Solomon is saying. It's our glory to overlook these petty transgressions. But what about a woman who is dealing with the sexual abuse she suffered as a child? What if you tell her, "Well, just get over it, overlook it". Is it there asking her to do the impossible? The fact is there are some hurts and wounds that demand surgical procedures, major surgical procedures and forgiveness is that procedure that God has given us not to deal with minor infractions that we can just overlook, but the major hurts of life.
Number two, objection to forgiveness. Forgiveness lets people off the hook too easily. We fear that if we forgive somebody, we're actually inviting them to abuse us even more. If you're an employer, and you forgive an embezzling employee, aren't you inviting them to steal more? If you're a wife whose suffering physical abuse from your husband and you forgive him aren't you inviting him to hit you again? That's what we think. We think forgiveness is like putting a sign around our neck that says, "Kick me again, please". Many people feel like forgiveness is letting people off the hook too easily.
Thirdly, some people say forgiveness places too much responsibility on the victim. When you ask somebody, especially who has suffered a major offense, when you ask them to forgive, you're asking them the victim to do something they're incapable of doing. They would say it's like coming up on a car accident and seeing the victim lying in the street mangled and bloody and handing him some bandages and an antiseptic and say, "Take care of the wounds yourself". You're asking somebody, a victim to do something they can't do. One counseling center gave this advice to victims of incest that reads in part, "Dear victim, you are not responsible for the sexual abuse you've suffered and you are not responsible for forgiveness. Your offender is responsible for both of those things". Is that true? Is it true that if you've been hurt deeply, it is impossible to ask you to forgive?
Number four, some people say forgiveness is unfair and that's the bottom line, objection to all forgiveness. It is just an unfair to let people who have sinned go unpunished. Now all of these very logical objections to forgiveness are based on a basic misconception of what forgiveness is and what it isn't. Let me explain to you briefly what forgiveness is not. First of all, forgiveness is not denying the reality of our pain. Asking somebody to forget the hurt they've experienced, well, that's like asking a person without any arms to pass the ketchup. I mean, you just can't do it. And in the same way is absolutely impossible for somebody who has been hurt to forget what has happened to them and deny the reality of their pain. Secondly, forgiveness is not letting our offender off the hook. Just because you forgive doesn't mean your offender gets a pass. It doesn't mean that the consequences he experiences are erased forever. And thirdly, forgiveness is not unfair.
Forgiveness does not violate some cosmic rule of justice. God would never ask us to do anything unjust. Remember what Paul wrote in Romans 9:14, "There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be". Well, if forgiveness is none of those things, what is forgiveness? And the word forgive is actually in Greek financial word. It means to let go of, to release a financial obligation. And so when we talk about forgiveness of other people, what we're talking about is letting go of their obligation. The way I define it as this way, forgiveness is letting go of your right to hurt me for hurting you. We're saying I'm not going to be responsible for settling the score with you. I'm going to let somebody else do that. That's what forgiveness is, surrendering our right to hurt somebody else for hurting us.
There are three components of forgiveness. First of all, admitting that somebody has wronged us. It is impossible to forgive people you're not willing to blame. Before you can forgive, you have to assign blame. That means admitting that a person has wrong us. Secondly, recognizing that that person owes us for an offense. When somebody wrongs you, they incur a debt to you. They owe you for what they've done to you. Forgiveness involves recognizing that debt. And thirdly, forgiveness means surrendering our right to settle the score. Again, when we forgive, we are not surrendering our desire for justice. That's impossible, we're made in God's image. What we're surrendering is our right to vengeance, to exact the justice ourselves. We're leaving that to somebody else to settle the score.
Now I've presented to your pretty strong case about why not to forgive. Now, let me present to you the case for forgiveness and the best arguments that I know of for forgiving another person are also found in another story, a parable that Jesus told in Matthew 18:23-34, turn there for just a moment. "There is a king," Jesus said, "Who is having a cash flow problem in his kingdom. So he decided to call in all of his accounts receivable, everybody who owed him money, it was time to pay up. And so logically, he started with a person who owed him the most money. It was a slave who owed him," Jesus said, "10.000 talents". Now a talent was a measurement, 60 to 80 pounds of silver or gold. If you do the calculation, it was about $16 billion in today's currency that this slave owed the king.
You say, "No, wait a minute, how could a slave get into debt that much"? Remember this was a story, it was a parable. Jesus was using hyperbole exaggeration to show that this slave owed a debt he could never repay. And so the king calls him and says, "I want my money, and I want it now". And the slave said, "Oh, please have mercy on me," and he threw himself down before the king, he said, "If you'll just give me a little bit of time, I will repay you everything". The king looked at that situation, and Jesus says in verse 27 the king was moved with compassion. That pagan hard Ruthless king when he saw the slave begging for time to repay the debt, Jesus said his heart was moved with compassion and he released him, verse 27 says, and forgave him the debt.
Now there's a picture of what forgiveness is to release, to let go of an obligation. Now, why would a hardened king do that? Well, Jesus says the reason was he felt compassion, and it was a pitiful sight, but I want to suggest to you that there was something else in the operation here as well. There were some logical reasons that the king chose to let go of the debt rather than hang on to the debt, and it offers us for reasons that we ought to forgive. First of all, forgiveness is often the only way to settle a debt. Here you got a slave who owes a debt that he could never pay in 10.000 lifetimes, so what alternative did the king have?
You say, "Well, the king could have had him thrown in prison. That would have been the jest treatment". You see the king was an astute businessman. He understood this account receivable I'm holding right now, it is worthless. I might as well go ahead and incur the loss myself, take a financial blood bath and get on with things. And I think Jesus understood that. That's why he said in the passage we read this morning, Matthew 5:38 and 39, "You have heard it said an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you do not resist him who is evil, but whoever slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also". What Jesus is saying is sometimes the only way to end that vicious cycle of hurt and vengeance, hurt and vengeance, hurt and vengeance, the only way to end that is through forgiveness, to take the loss and move on with your life.
That leads to a second benefit of forgiveness. Forgiveness does free us to get on with our life. I'm reminded of the words of that great theologian Buddy Hackett. Who said one time I've had a few arguments with people, but I've learned not to carry grudges because while you're carrying the grudge, the other person's out dancing. Forgiveness, frees us to get on with our life. Thirdly, forgiveness is an antidote to needless suffering. It's an antidote to needless suffering. Now up through verse 27, the focus is on the king and this first slave, and the king forgives the slave. It's a picture of what God did for us. You and I owe God a debt we could never repay, but God offers us complete forgiveness. That's a picture of our relationship with God. But then in verse 28, the story takes a turn. "This slave who had just been forgiven $16 billion goes out and finds a fellow slave who owes him," Jesus said in verse 28, "100 denarii".
Now Denarius was 16 cents, one day's wage, so a hundred denarii would be $16. So he goes out and finds this guy who owes him 16 bucks. "He grabs him by the neck," Jesus said, "Begins to shake him and choke him and says, 'I want my money, and I want it now'. And the second slave said, 'oh, please be patient with me, and I will repay you everything'". Sound familiar? But unlike the king, this slave was unwilling to forgive. And the Bible says, instead of releasing him, he threw him into prison and had him tortured until he should repay everything all for a lousy 16 bucks. The Bible says when the king heard about this, when words reached his ear about what this slave had done, look at verse 34, "The king moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he the first slave should repay all that was owed him". And then in verse 35, Jesus adds the, "So shall my Heavenly Father also do to you if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart".
Is Jesus saying God is some sadist who will torture us if we don't forgive? I don't think so. I think what he is saying is when you and I refuse to forgive, we enter into our own private torture chamber. One writer vividly describes the results of unforgiveness. He says, "Unforgiveness is a toxin. It poisons the heart and mind with bitterness, distorting a person's whole perspective on life, anger, resentment and sorrow begin to overshadow and overwhelm the unforgiving person, a kind of soul pollution that inflames evil appetites and evil emotions". You see, we can't control the offenses that come into our life. You have no choice about what other people do to you but you can choose what to do with those offenses. You can let go of them and become better or you can hold on to them and become bitter. Letting go of those hurts produces healing, holding me to them, produces an infection of the spirit that will destroy us and everyone and everything around us. Forgiveness is the only antidote to needless suffering in life.
Finally, why forgive? Forgiveness is the obligation of the forgiven. In the Bible, there's an inseparable link between receiving God's forgiveness and giving that forgiveness to other people. Interestingly, even non-Christians understand that relationship. That's what you see in this parable. I told you that the relationship between the king and the first slave is a picture of God's relationship to us. He's willing to forgive us of any and all of our debts. We can earn it, we receive it as a gift, but the relationship between the first slave and the second slave is a picture of our relationship to other people who are wronged us. Now I want you to remember something here, that slave had a legal right to his $16, just like the king had a right is $16 billion. He had a legal right, but he had no moral right to it given the great forgiveness he had just received. And that's what Jesus is saying to every one of us today.
There are some of you here when I talk about forgiveness, the moment I talk about it, God brings to your mind somebody who has wronged you and hurt you deeply. It might be a parent who abused you. It may be a mate who abandoned you. It may be a business partner who has cheated you, maybe a friend who betrayed you, it may be some stranger who is injured you, but somebody is in your mind right now. Did you know Jesus is not denying the reality of that hurt? He's not asking you to sweep it under the rug. All he's asking you to do is to keep that hurt in perspective. As you think about what somebody did to you, think about what you have done to God. The whole point of this parable is simply this, the difference between how much somebody has wronged you and how much you have wrong God is the difference between $16 and $16 billion. That's why c.S. Lewis said one time, "To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable in other people, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in us". 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". That's the best argument I know of for forgiveness.