In Matthew's Gospel, chapter 6 -- Jesus gives us the model prayer -- which we commonly call the Lord's Prayer. Let's jump into the middle of that prayer -- beginning with Matthew 6:12 -- & hear what Jesus teaches us about forgiveness!
Matthew 6:12-13 -- "And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. -- And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: -- For thine is the kingdom, & the power, & the glory, for ever. Amen." Then Jesus expands on that one phrase about forgiveness -- by saying in verses 14 & 15 -- "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: -- But if you forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."
Allow me to ask you a very important question this morning: -- What do you do when people hurt you? -- How do you deal with your hurts? Hurts are a part of everyone's life! How we deal with our hurts is one of the major issues of life! So what do you do when someone hurts you?
Maybe -- maybe you were abused as a child. Or you've been deeply hurt by a stranger -- a relative -- or even a friend. You've experienced the rejection & the hurt that comes with a divorce. Your character has been slandered & smeared. You have been given a raw deal at work. Maybe you have been betrayed by your spouse. On & on -- the list continues. -- Hurts come at us from every direction -- in many forms, shapes & colors!
As a small lad -- if I fell & was bruised -- I'd go running into the house -- crying -- & into the arms of my dear mother -- & she would dust off my owie -- & kiss it -- & everything would be made okay.
Some of the hurt which we receive are only minor in nature. They amount to nothing more than day-to-day bruises -- & need to be brushed aside as quickly as they arise. They haven't been intentionally inflicted. They are not all that serious in nature. There is simply no point exaggerating them; -- no point in making a mountain out of a molehill; -- or a federal case out of a misdemeanor. Some hurts are going to come to us in the normal course of day to day living. -- It's simply the price for being alive! These kinds of hurts should require nothing more than a heavenly kiss -- or a band-aid & little time to heal.
I wish I could say that all the hurts we receive are minor hurts -- but not all our hurts are minor. -- Many are far more serious. Some hurts cause great pain & require a lot more than a kiss or a band aid in order to heal! Some of the hurts we receive are more like open wounds. The pain they cause is deep & lasting.
If we fail to deal with these hurts adequately -- they will spread anger, resentment, bitterness, malice, suspicion, distrust, hatred & cynicism through our lives like a blight through a tree. How we cope with & deal with these deep kinds of hurts will determine what sort of emotional & spiritual -- & even physical health we are going to experience in life!
A number of options are open to us when it comes to dealing with these deep kinds of hurts in our lives. Let me discuss three of these options with you this morning: --
1. The First Option is that we can internalize our hurts!
We can grit our teeth -- hold our chin up & repress the pain we feel -- & pretend all is well -- when we know inside that it isn't. We can bottle up the hurts we receive. We can take our licks -- bite our lips -- & try to be Mr. Nice! We can go through life smiling -- when we really feel like crying. We can pretend that nothing is wrong.
But when hurt is internalized -- it usually causes resentment -- bitterness -- & hostility to take root in our lives! Like a toxic waste -- it poisons us inch-by-inch from within! Like a boiler whose value has been turned off -- it generates an enormous amount of internal pressure which easily explodes at any given moment!
The hurts we receive can have either a positive -- or a negative effect upon us. -- They can make us better -- or they can make us bitter!
Johnny was a sweet, little boy. -- He was adored by his family & friends. He had a pleasant personally -- was trusting & helpful -- simply delightful to be around. By the time Johnny reached retirement age -- however -- he had become the community crank. Now he had a sour personally -- was full of cynicism, suspicion, & mistrust. -- The world -- as he saw it -- was out to get him. Over the years -- sweet little Johnny had turned into a cynical old buzzard. When his wife asked how he wanted his eggs cooked for breakfast one morning -- he said: -- "One boiled & one fried." Then when she served his eggs -- one boiled & one fried -- he grumbled -- "You boiled the wrong one."
Have you ever met anyone who is so down on life that he or she is painful to be around? How did they get that way? -- They weren't born like that! The hurts they received over the years were internalized. Because they failed to cope with their hurts adequately -- their entire personality has become affected! Their negative spirit is nothing more than an outward reflection of the bottled-up resentment they held within!
We're all familiar with the Bible story of Job & his wife. God allowed them to experience some of the deepest kinds of hurt. The things they worked for all their lives -- their servants, their cattle, their camels -- were all taken away by invaders in one single day. Then came the terrible news that their ten children had been killed in a violent storm. -- Their whole world came crashing in around them. There's no way to fathom the grief & loss they felt! Ten children lined up in ten different caskets all on the same day! The depth of Mr. & Mrs. Job's pain boggles my mind!
When the funeral was over -- & the broken hearted couple returned home -- Job prayed through his hurt -- & found spiritual victory. Anyone can say: -- "The Lord gives & the Lord has taken away" -- because that in nothing more than a statement of fact. But when Job went on to say: -- "Blessed be the name of the Lord" (1:21) -- he revealed how deeply he loved & adored the Lord God!
But Mrs. Job internalized her hurts. She said: -- "You can go on serving God if you wish -- but count me out!" Her bitterness became an added burden for her husband Job to bear. When Job became covered with painful boils from head to toe -- she became even more furious with God! She wanted Job to curse God to His face -- & lie down & die.
Why was it she wanted Job to curse God first? Why didn't she simply say: -- "You'd be better off dead"? It was because she was already cursing God in her heart! As she saw it -- God had let them down! She wanted Job to curse God because that is what she felt God deserved! -- The hurts had embittered her inner spirit!
We should always remember that even a small wound which becomes infected causes far more pain than a large wound which heals! If we internalize our hurts they will sour our personality! They'll make us so critical, suspicious, & grumpy that we'll be unpleasant to be around!
2. The Second Option we have is that we can retaliate!
Eye for eye -- tooth for tooth -- blood for blood! -- We can give back to the one who has hurt us what we think he/she deserves! We can hurl back the stones which come our way with even greater velocity then they were received! In doing so -- we may feel that a wrong has been righted -- when in reality -- two wrongs have been committed!
If revenge is what we want more than anything else -- we can spend the rest of our lives trying to get even. We can throw nails into our offender's driveway. Anything at all to help make his life miserable. We can even try to get even by holding a grudge! No matter how long you nurse a grudge -- it will never get better!
We have this crazy notion that if we hate the person who has wronged us -- this will somehow make their life miserable. The hate which we harbor is somehow supposed to make them unhappy! The truth of the matter is -- our offender probably couldn't care less what we think or feel!
But meanwhile -- we can ruin our health -- wreak our marriage -- & upset our own peace of mind -- by holding a grudge! When we attempt to get even with our offender -- we do two things: -- First -- we have to get down on the same level with them. Secondly -- we violate the commandments of God!
The problem with retaliation is -- God has not turned the judgment of this world -- the judgment of our friends -- nor our enemies over to us! God alone is the Judge of the Universe! He has appointed civil government to administer justice -- but when civil government fails -- He promises to handle the matter Himself! "Vengeance is mine, I will repay -- saith the Lord" (Rom. 12:20). Settling the score is not our prerogative; -- God alone has the right to do this. And whether God chooses to punish -- or to forgive -- is His business. God doesn't need our help; -- He doesn't need our advice; -- & He doesn't need our interference.
Retaliation is the worst possible way for handling our hurts. Someone does something to you -- you feel you must do something back. -- You do something in return in an attempt to get back; -- now they feel they have to do something to you again. -- The cycle never ends!
Someone said: --"If we insist on living an eye-for-an-eye-kind of justice -- the whole world will go blind." All retaliation ever does is perpetuate evil! There has to be a better way!
It is said that the grizzly bear can whip almost any animal in the West. There's one animal -- however -- which the grizzly will allow to eat with him -- even though he resents the intrusion. Do you know what that animal is? -- The skunk! The grizzly bear deeply resents the skunk's intrusion -- but he's decided it would be better to co-exist than to pay the high price of getting even.
The moral of that story is: -- Don't retaliate when someone hurts you! -- All you'll succeed in doing is creating a stink!
3. The Third Option we have is -- we can Forgive!
Forgive those who hurt you -- whether they ask for forgiveness or not!
The greatest example of forgiveness -- of course -- is Jesus Christ. Evil men accused Him falsely -- convicted Him unjustly -- beat Him unmercifully -- mocked Him cruelly -- & spiked Him to a Cross -- & hanged Him up to die! With blood running over His forehead -- down His arms & across His feet -- with His back scourged unmercifully -- Jesus looked down from the cross -- at the hostile crowd -- & prayed: -- "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34).
There was not the slightest sign of any bitterness! There was only love & forgiveness in His heart toward those who had put him on the cross!
"But that was Christ!" you say! -- Surely He doesn't expect that of me. -- Oh, yes, He really does! "But you don't know how deeply I've been hurt!" No, I don't, but Christ does! -- And He wants you to forgive!
Extending forgiveness is difficult! -- There's no doubt about it! It seems so unnatural -- & it is such an expensive thing to do. The cost is always borne by the one who does the forgiving. If I break an expensive vase of yours -- & you forgive me -- you suffer the loss -- & I go free. If I ruin your reputation & you forgive me -- you bear the pain & I go free. Forgiveness is taking a note that is owed & canceling it so that nothing remains. -- If I owe you a $1000 -- & you forgive the debt -- the amount you forgive is the amount you lose! Forgiveness doesn't restore the goods which were stolen. Forgiveness doesn't restore the marriage which was broken up. Forgiveness doesn't repair the damage which was done. Forgiveness just writes it all off!
But you may say -- "I don't feel like forgiving the person who has injured me!" -- No one ever does! If we wait until we feel like forgiving an offender -- we never will forgive! Forgiveness isn't a "feeling"! -- It is something we choose to do by an act of the will.
A middle-aged lady went to a Christian counselor one day -- terribly distraught. When asked in what way he might be able to help -- she answered: -- "I don't know where to begin." -- He said: -- "Begin anyway you like. -- Just spill it out -- whatever is on your mind." Then she blurted out: -- "I hate my son-in-law so much -- I wish he were dead." The counselor tried to reassure her -- "You really don't hate him that much." -- She insisted: -- "But I do!" Then -- after summarizing some of the evil things he had done -- she asked: -- "What can I do to get rid of this awful hatred that I feel? -- Should I attend church regularly? -- Should I put more money in the offering plate? -- How do I get rid of this terrible hate?" The counselor replied: -- "Attending church more regularly & putting more money in the offering plate may be a good thing to do -- but that isn't going to solve your problem of hate." "What am I going to do then?" -- she desperately wanted to know. He took her to Matthew 6 -- & read what Jesus said: -- "If you forgive men their trespasses your heavenly Father will also forgive yours" (6:14). She insisted -- "I can't do that. -- I can't forgive Bill for the things he's done." The counselor said: -- "You're using the wrong word. -- You can say I won't forgive Bill because that's your choice. -- Forgiving Bill isn't a matter of can or can't -- it's a matter of will or won't. -- We choose to forgive -- or we choose not to forgive. -- Extending forgiveness or withholding forgiveness is a matter of choice. -- You'll forgive Bill because you choose to forgive him -- or you won't forgive him because you choose not to do so. -- The decision to forgive or not to forgive is a decision which you alone can make."
The counselor continued -- "If you want to be relieved of the depression which you feel -- you're going to have to extend forgiveness to Bill. -- If you're unwilling to do this -- your hatred will continue." She asked: -- "Forgive Bill just like that? -- Just like that?" He replied: -- "Just as Christ has forgiven you the wrongs you have done -- you must forgive Bill the wrongs he has done. -- What's your decision going to be?"
After a long & deadly silence -- she said: -- "I will." "Good" -- came the answer. -- "Let's tell the Lord this is what you're going to do." -- She began by telling the Lord about the terrible things which Bill had done. Then -- finally she got around to saying: -- "As you have forgiven me -- today I also forgive Bill." After she had spoken those words -- she relaxed -- wiped the tears from her eyes -- looked up -- & said: -- "Wow! -- Does that ever feel good!" In one blessed moment -- all the hatred which she felt for Bill vanished away. -- A heavy load lifted from her heart! -- Her spirit was free! Healing doesn't come for everyone as quickly -- or as dramatically -- as it did for her. However -- when we forgive -- the healing process can at least begin!
Conclusion: -- Those, my friends -- are the options opened to us!
Hurts are a part of everyone's life! How we cope with our hurts is one of the vital issues of life. We can internalize our hurts -- bottle them up -- take our licks -- go through life pretending -- & end up in a deep depression -- with bitterness & misery! We can retaliate -- get even with our offender -- & spend the rest of our lives in revenge. -- God won't stop us! But there's a better way. -- "Be not overcome with evil" God says -- "Overcome evil with good" (Rom 12:21). Hate is a loser's game; -- a dead end street leading nowhere.
Forgiving others -- whether they apologize or not -- is the purest kind of forgiveness there is! Forgiveness is the healing which draws the poison out. It is cheaper in the long run to forgive than it is to hate.
Forgiveness does wonderful things: -- it repairs relationships which are shattered; -- it puts broken marriages back together; -- it removes long standing resentment between mother & daughter -- between father & son. -- It gives relationships a brand new start. It allows healing to return -- & wholeness to return -- at the deepest levels of relationships. The benefits which forgiveness brings are enormous!
When you forgive you set the prisoner free -- & strangely enough -- the prisoner you end up freeing most is yourself! Forgiving someone doesn't make them right; -- but it sets you free! The story is told of two men who traveled through life with sacks on their backs. Each time a hurt was received they would place it in what became known as their "injury sack." One man's sack became so heavy he couldn't walk without difficulty or pain. -- The other man's sack was empty & light. -- There was nothing in it. A stranger asked: -- "How can your 'injury sack' be empty? -- Have you never been hurt?" "Oh, yes -- I've been hurt many times. -- As my sack grew large & its weight became unbearable -- I asked a friend one day if he would help me carry the load. -- 'No one can help you carry the load of hurt' -- he replied -- 'but there is a way for you to rid yourself of it. -- Take the scissors of forgiveness & slit the bottom of your sack -- & your load of hurt will fall away!' -- That's what I chose to do that day. -- Since then -- I take all the hurts which I receive & place them into my 'injury sack' as before -- but now they simply slide out the bottom. -- That's one load I choose not to carry."
The decision -- my friend -- is your's alone to make! You can go through life carrying a load of unforgiveness -- or you can forgive your offender as Christ forgave His! The road to hell may be paved with good intentions -- but the road to heaven is paved with forgiveness!
(I am deeply indebted to Dr. Ralph Woerner,
founder of Gospel Publishing Association --
for much of what is contained in this sermon.)
Pastor Lyle Pettit -- Wynne Chapel --