Robert Jeffress - Forgiving Without Forgetting - Part 2
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. Most of us can brush off a small insult or a minor offense, but when somebody hurts us deeply and profoundly, and when the wounds seem like they will never heal, is it really possible to forgive? Well today, I'm going to share with you how to pardon those offenses that are so painful and vivid we can never erase them from our memory. My message is titled forgiving without forgetting on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
I remember talking to a woman some time ago who had been involved with an extra marital affair with somebody else in the church, and she had repented of her sin. She had gone to her husband and asked for his forgiveness and he had forgiven her and she was really walking with the Lord, but she said, "Pastor, every time I'm in church and I'm listening to the message, all of a sudden, I have flashes of memory of that terrible sin I committed. When I'm alone with the Lord trying to read my Bible or pray, I still remember my sin. What am I supposed to do? Is it because I really haven't been forgiven by God"? One of the things I explained to her was forgetting is a biological function. Forgiveness is a spiritual function. We shouldn't get the two confused.
One counselor explains it this way. To me, this was fascinating. "All memories are stored in the brain by electronic impulses and by chemical transference. Messages are sent simultaneously from nerve to nerve, both electronically and chemically. Memory is not a spiritual function, it's a biological function. Our brain can store at least 600 memories a second, that would work out to almost one and a half trillion bits of information if we were to live for 75 years". Can you believe that? I mean, everything you do is seared into your mind electronically and chemically. Every experience is up there. That's hard for me to understand I can't remember what I had for breakfast yesterday, but it's up there. It doesn't mean that everything can be recalled instantly, but it's there to be recalled in certain circumstances. And so when you talk about asking people to forget what has happened to them, you're really asking them to do the impossible.
Forgetting is a biological function, forgiveness is a spiritual function. In fact, the truth is there are some benefits to remembering offenses. You say, "What benefit could come from remembering, especially the sins we've committed in the past if we've been forgiven by those things"? Think about the experience of the apostle Paul. Paul had done some horrible things in his life. He recast them in 1 Timothy 1. He said that before he was a Christian, he was a zealous Jew who thought he was doing the will of God by trying to stamp out this new heresy called Christianity. He was a blasphemer of Jesus Christ. He was a persecutor, a violent Christian. He had Christians imprisoned. He had Christians tortured. He had Christians put to death. All of that changed on the Damascus road when he met Christ as his Savior. But you know what? That confrontation with Christ didn't do a memory wide for Paul. It didn't erase the memory of what he had done against the Christian movement. Nobody was going to let Paul forget even if he tried. There were people until the day Paul died, Christians who said, "He's not fit for service. We can't trust him. Look what he's done to us". Other times, Paul would go to a city and he would come face to face with those who he had persecuted, with the relatives of those he had had killed.
Paul spent his remainder of life being confronted with his sin, but did you know Paul saw some benefit in that? Listen to his words that we read in 1 Timothy 1:12-16. "I thank Christ Jesus, our Lord, who has strengthened me because he considered me faithful putting me into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor, and yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was more than abundant with the faith and the love, which are in Christ Jesus. It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners among whom I am the foremost of all. And yet, for this reason, I found mercy in order that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate his perfect patience as an example of those who believe in him for eternal life".
If you're one of those like Paul, who are having trouble dealing with memories of your past, let me mention three benefits of remembering your sin. Number one, such memories encourage gratitude to God. That's what Paul says in verse 12, "I thank Christ Jesus who has strengthened me". The more and more we remember what we did in the past, the more of an occasion that is to praise God for his amazing grace in our life. When God brings those memories to mind or the chemicals and electronic impulses bring them to mind, use that as an occasion to thank God, to express gratitude for what he's done for you. Secondly, remembering our past offenses extinguishes pride in our life. Look at chapter one, verse 15 of 1 Timothy. "It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners among whom I am the foremost". Anytime Paul was tempted to get puffed up about being the greatest evangelist and missionary in the world. Any time he was prideful over his deep understanding of the Word of God, he couldn't help, but remember what he had been and that extinguished any pride. He said, "I was the foremost of sinners".
Number three, remembering our past also helps exhibit grace. It exhibits grace. Again, in chapter one, verse 16, he says, "And yet for this reason, I found mercy in order that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate his perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in him for eternal life". Paul said whenever he remembered how terribly he had sinned against God, he used that as a way of saying to other people, "Look at me, I'm exhibit a of the grace of God. If God can forgive me, he can forgive you, he can forgive anyone". Paul used his past as a way of proclaiming, exhibiting the matchless of God. "Well, pastor, what am I supposed to do? If these memories keep flooding my mind, either memories of what I've done against God or memories of what other people have done to me, how do I handle those painful memories"?
Four quick suggestions, number one, release them if possible. Now, while it's true that every experience is electronically and chemically stored in our brain, the fact is some of those trivial hurts can be dismissed as long as we don't concentrate on them and continue to think about them. I remember one time, not long ago, somebody approached me after the service and said, "Pastor, I've been under deep conviction by the Holy Spirit". And they were very sincere. And I wanted to apologize to you for what I said to you two years ago, after a service one Sunday and they repeated what they had said, well, I didn't remember it. I didn't remember it all. I don't know if I was preoccupied at the time they said it and just wasn't listening or maybe I thought, consider the source and it didn't make any difference to me, but I didn't remember it and I dismissed it. Now, Amy will be the first to tell you, I'm not always that forgiving and dismissive of things said to me, but I happened to be that day, and because I had dismissed it, I really hadn't thought about it any longer. The Bible says when possible, we ought to overlook trivial and minor offenses that come our way. In Proverbs 19:11 Solomon says, "A man's discretion makes him slow to anger and it is his glory to overlook a transgression". Release those painful memories if possible.
Secondly, recall your own failures. Admittedly, some of the past wrongs that are done against us can't be easily dismissed and require action. In a former church, I served, one of the leaders was caught in immorality and it became a very public thing. And one of the church leaders said to me, he said, "I just can't look at this person any longer without thinking about what they did. Every time I see that person, I think about the sin that they committed". And I said, "I appreciate your honesty, but let me give you this suggestion, you're not going to be able to quit thinking about that. That's impossible, but whenever you see that person and you remember what they did, I want you to recall and think about a sin that you've committed, a secret sin that is so embarrassing that if it were displayed on that iMag up there for the whole church to see, you would crawl under the pew. Do you have that sin in mind? That sin you hope nobody, your mate, your children, your grandchildren ever finds out about? Whenever you look at that leader and recall his sin, remember your sin as well".
That's what Jesus had in mind in Matthew 7 when he said, "Do not judge lest you be judged". And he's not saying never make a judgment about anyone or anything, he's saying don't pronounce a final condemnation of saying that somebody is beyond God's forgiveness. Don't do that, "For in the same way you judge, you will be judged and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in another brother's eye and don't notice the log that is in your eye"?
Number three, when memories won't go away of an offense, remember your past act of forgiveness. Do you remember those Saturday morning shoot-'em-up westerns that used to be on television. I remember watching them all the time and I think I had even a little toy set of guns and holsters I used to wear, and you remember the good guys, they never went around with one gun. They always had two pistols. And when they would confront the evil guy, what did they do? With lightning speed, they would pull out both pistols out of the hostler. We know we need to use that same principle whenever we're confronting painful memories. Yeah, it's true, we're going to recall what somebody did to us, but with lightning speed, we also also pull out the other pistol and remember that we forgave that person. Don't ever pull out one without pulling out the other.
I think you see that illustrated in Paul's words to the Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, he said, "Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the Kingdom of God? Do not be deceived, neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers nor effeminate nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards nor revilers, nor swindlers shall inherit the Kingdom of God". Now there are people who take these verses and rip them out of context. They say, "If anybody is guilty of this sin, adultery or drunkenness or homosexuality, they can never go to heaven, ain't that what the word says? They cannot enter into heaven". Well, if that's what it's saying, then none of us can go to heaven because every one of us is guilty of one or more of these sins in one way or another. I mean, every one of us is an adulterer. If not overly in our own hearts, every one of us is an idolater loving other people or other things more than we love God, we're all guilty of one or more of these sins.
So if Paul is saying nobody who does these things can enter into heaven, then nobody can be saved. Paul recalled what was true about the Corinthians, but in the next verse, he also recalled their forgiveness. He said, "And such were some of you," verse 11, "But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord, Jesus Christ, and in the spirit of our God". Whenever you try to remember, and you are tempted to remember what somebody did to you, remember also your act of forgiveness toward them. And by the way, if you can't recall your act of forgiveness toward them, it's a sign that maybe you need to forgive. Finally, what to do when the memories won't go away, realize that healing memories take time. Healing memories take time. I read a story about a group of workers who were striking against the plant where they worked and they were outside the fence with placards. And the placard said, "Time heals, time and a half heals more," and we've got this saying in our culture, time heals all things.
Have you ever heard that before? How many of you heard that before? Time heals, and I want to show you what an idiotic statement that is from a personal experience I had this week. Tuesday night, I had finished up with o'Reilly and was driving home and I'm coming up the tollway, and as I'm driving my front tooth about three, four, seven drops out completely. I mean, I lost three quite... There was a huge hole there. I thought this was the provision of God. I mean, it had happened 30 minutes earlier, I would have been on national television looked like one of the "Beverly Hillbillies" no teeth at all. And I got home. Now, I swear, I'm still trying to forgive Amy for this. But I got home, Amy did one look at me and she said, "I married you for better or for worse, but not for this". Now that was her quote exactly. She said, "You gotta get that fixed right away". Now what if I had said to her, "Oh, I don't need to get it fixed. Just let time pass, time heals all things". I'm telling you that no matter how much time elapsed, that tooth wasn't going to get fixed without a radical procedure.
So the next day I sit in the chair, go through the root canal and do all of that to get this thing fixed. Well, if time heals and time passes, the thing will blow over. It doesn't work that way. It's only after you go through a radical procedure called forgiveness that time works for you. And the truth is we're only going to diminish the sting of the past memories if we have taken care of those memories through the act of forgiveness. Corrie Ten Boom illustrates that truth perfectly in her own life. Many of you know Corrie's story, she and her sister, Betsie were taken prisoners in a Nazi concentration camp, Ravensbrück where terrible things happened to them. They were released from that prison, and Corrie testifies that long after this Nazi guard had wronged her, she had forgiven him, but she dealt with these painful memories and wondered why is it I keep feeling these memories in the sting of that hurt if I've truly forgiven him? She asked God to reveal to her why it was she couldn't forget the hurt she had experienced, and this is what Corrie wrote.
"God's help came in the form of a kindly Lutheran pastor to whom I had confessed my failure after two sleepless weeks. Pointing outside to a church, the pastor said, 'up in that church tower is a bell, which is run by pulling on a rope. But you know what? After the sexton lets go of the rope, the bell keeps on swinging, first ding, then dong, slower and slower until there's a final dong, and it stops. I believe the same thing is true of forgiveness. When we forgive, we take our hand off the rope, but if we've been tugging at our grievances for a long time, we mustn't be surprised if the old angry thoughts keep coming up for a while. And they're just the ding dongs of that old bell slowing down.' and so it proved to be true," Corrie said, "There are a few more midnight reverberations, a couple of claims when the subject came up in my conversations, but the force in the matter had gone out of them. They came less and less often and at last stopped altogether, and so I discovered another secret of forgiveness". Those dongs that continue to sound in your mind from hurts long pass may or may not disappear completely, but their frequency, their intensity will diminish over time if you have let go of that offense through the process of forgiveness.