Sermon: The Need for Forgiveness
The Role of Forgiveness in a Christian's Life
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Given 15-Jan-00; 69 minutes
Most of us know Acts 20:35. We might not recognize that right away; but it is there that the apostle Paul quotes Jesus Christ as saying, "It is more blessed to give than to receive." Most people probably think that is in the Gospels, somewhere; but actually it is not. It is in the book of Acts, where Paul is talking to the Ephesian elders and showing them that his example had been a good example of this principle that it is more blessed to give than to receive.
We all nod our heads and say, "How true. What a wonderful thing." Most often, we think of this in terms of physical things—material gifts. Like money—it is more blessed to give money than to receive it. Or, feast presents. Or something like used clothing—it s more blessed to give than to receive.
Maybe some of the deeper thinkers among us understand it in terms of giving our time, or our efforts, and our service to others. Certainly, that is more important (in the long run) than giving of our material goods to one another. But have we ever thought of this principle beyond this? That is, beyond giving of our time and our efforts.
Let us start in Romans 9. I want to pull something out of this section, because I want you to get what Paul is saying here.
Romans 9:1-4 I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen [kinsmen] according to the flesh, who are Israelites . . .
What is Paul saying here? Remember, we just discussed that it is more blessed to give than to receive. What is Paul driving at? If I could put it into my own words, what Paul is saying is that he would be willing to give up his eternal life to ensure the salvation of Israel. He is talking about unconverted, immoral God-rejecting Israelites—the ones who were major players in killing our Savior. It was not just the Jews. It was not just the Romans either. (But they were the ones, who said, "Crucify Him. Crucify Him.") And Paul was willing—"If it were possible," he says—to give up his own eternal life, so that they could have salvation. He would be accursed, and they would be saved.
If it were possible for a human to do so, it would be more blessed to give eternal life than to receive it. (That is, putting these two scriptures together.) That sounds like the penultimate in giving. "Penultimate" means next to the last—next to the ultimate. The ultimate in giving, of course, was the One who actually did this! That is, gave up everything in order to give us salvation. That was the attitude that He went in with. He was willing to risk everything so that we might have salvation. I am talking, of course, about Jesus Christ. But Paul was willing to do the same thing for his people Israel.
Now, is this something that we would be willing to do? Would we be willing to give up everything that we have been promised so that others might have salvation? Are we converted to this point? That we would sacrifice everything that God has laid down before us, so that someone else could inherit God's Kingdom. I dare say that few of us have reached this point.
I include myself in that mix. Very few of us have reached this level of conversion.
We have not learned this principle of self-sacrifice, which is the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We find that in Philippians 2. He gave up everything and became just like us. In order to do what? Die—for us, on the cross (on the stake). Most of us find giving up a few minutes of sleep in the morning to be a sore trial. But here Paul—and, of course, Christ—would be willing to give up eternal life and all of the promises, for others to have the blessings that God promises His people. That is an incredible thing to think about.
I decided to begin this sermon this way, not because I am going to speak about "self-sacrifice" per se. Rather, because I think most of us are quite willing (in our humanity) and eager to receive the blessings, and the promises, and the benefits that God has promised us—and very parsimonious in giving them to others. Think about it. We want all the good things that God has laid out for us. But are we willing to turn around and give those same benefits (if it were within our power to give them) to others? I am speaking particularly of forgiveness. That is what I am going to be speaking on today—the need for forgiveness.
I could just as easily be speaking about patience, or forbearance, or mercy, or love, or justice, or joy, or peace, or any of the other virtues that are within our power to bestow upon another person—in the sense of "giving of ourselves" in those ways. Is not the whole purpose of this life to change us into God's image? Does He not want to give us these things, by His Spirit—so that we can, then, show them (manifest them) in our relationships with other people? Are we not supposed to be putting on "the new man"—who has all these characteristics? That is, acting—and actually being—like Christ Himself!
Are we not actually supposed to put God's character into practice, as we learn it? Of course, we are. I am speaking a little bit sarcastically, because we know these things. But I am serious about it too. When are we going to stop being petty, and carnal—letting our human nature come through all the time—and begin showing signs of godliness, of holiness, of God's perfect righteous character manifested in us?
Think about it from God's point of view. He wants to see some fruit of His efforts, and He must see them before He is going to grant us eternal life. He is not going to assume that we are going to be like this. He is going to want to see it. He wants to see fruit produced. He wants to see overcoming and growth.
When it comes to forgiveness, we often hide behind the easy and trite excuse that only God can truly forgive. (I have probably said that myself a time or two.) This is a true statement if we only limit it to the forgiveness that is necessary for salvation. It is really God's forgiveness that is necessary for us to receive so that we can be in His Kingdom.
But we must also forgive those who sin against us. Are we not? Is that not one of the commands of Jesus Christ? If a person sins against you and he repents, then you are supposed to forgive him. When Peter asked Jesus how often do we have to forgive our brother, he inquired, "Seven times?" But Christ says, "Sorry Pete. Seventy times seven." It is a lot more than just seven times. As many times as a brother comes to you in repentance, we are supposed to forgive.
What about when the sin is a little bit more general? Let us say that it is against society. Pick something out of the air—maybe something like the Columbine shootings. What if those boys had not killed themselves? What if they had lived, and they had shown remorse? What if they had accepted Christ as their personal Savior and came into the church? Could we forgive them for the massacre of, what was it, thirteen (or, so) people? Could we forgive them for something like this?
You know that happened in the church of God. His name was the apostle Paul. He was the one who was responsible for holding the coats—meaning that he was the power behind the martyrdom of Stephen, and the hauling of many of the people in the church into prison; and who knows how many of them were martyred. It does not say. But could we be as righteous as the first century church, and accept Paul into our fellowship? And make him a minister! Or, accept him as a minister? (An apostle?) As one who leads an entire church body? It is starting to get a little tough, is it not?
Would we be able to do something like this? Would we be able to extend forgiveness? It would be tough. It would be very, very tough. And those first century Christians had a hard time doing it. Could you imagine being the one that God sent to baptize Paul? That is, Ananias. The guy's character is just wonderful to behold. God says,"Go down to Straight Street, and baptize that Paul." And Ananias, I am sure, did a step back; but he said, "Okay, Lord." And he did it.
Then, when Paul came into Jerusalem, they had a little bit of a tough time accepting him there. But once he went to James, and to Peter—he seemed to be pretty generally accepted. Tough to do! It is not uncommon to hear people say something like, "I'll never forgive him for what he did to her all those years." (Let us say that there was some man who was abusing his wife.) Some things seem to be so heinous that we will not extend forgiveness to a person, for having done that in his past—even though there are heinous things in the Bible that were forgiven.
What about a brother in the church who does something sinful (in a moment of weakness, or while under some kind of duress or stress, or simply out of ignorance); and his sin becomes public knowledge. Let us use a hypothetical situation; and just throw something out in the air, just to see how it hits us. This friend has a wife and a family. He is a pretty good member of the congregation. He seems to have a very stable career. Never rocks the boat; and has been in the church for years.
Well, he goes to a business convention; and he has a little bit too much to drink. He winds up with a rowdy crowd; and he ends his night with a prostitute. This becomes known. How do we take something like that? There are three ways to approach it; but there are two extremes to approach a situation like that. One is the condemnatory ditch. Some would say, "The man is unconverted, a pervert, a heathen, and obviously a reprobate"—and assign him to the Lake of Fire [snap] just like that. These are the people that are out for blood. These are the ones that have no merciful bone in their body. All they want is to see the man punished—and as severely, and as soon, as possible; because they have this mindset that that if you sin, well, that is it. Are you not glad God is not like that?
On the other hand, there is the second ditch—of wholesale tolerance. This is kind of the old Protestant, sickly sweet, "Forgive him, brother" type of attitude. "Oh, the poor soul. He was deceived. He was misguided. Let's bring the poor little lamb back into the fold." These are the type of people who, out in society, let criminals back on the street without hardly a slap on the wrist. These are the kind of people who are so enamored of rehabilitation that they forget justice and punishment altogether.
There was a situation in the church at Corinth where there was something similar to this. If you want to start to turn to I Corinthians 5. And this church had to face something like that. It was not a prostitute; but it was incest. How did Paul approach this situation of forgiving a sinning brother?
I Corinthians 5:1 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles [This was really bad stuff! This was the kind that adults whispered to one another. Paul says]—that a man has his father's wife!
Evidently this was not his mother. Otherwise, it would say, "His mother." It was probably a second marriage; and this young man had taken his father's second wife (whether as his own wife, or whether living with her).
I Corinthians 5:2-3 And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you. For I indeed, as absent in the body but present in the spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed.
He says, "It's obvious what needs to be done. And you guys, who are in the ditch of wholesale tolerance." They said, "Well, we just love this person; so we are going to keep him here among us." But Paul says, "Look. I may be 500 miles away; but I know what to do. You should have mourned and put this man away from you."
I Corinthians 5:4-5 In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit [meaning the spirit that was accompanying this letter], with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ [he was putting the full authority of Jesus Christ behind it], deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.
There was punishment, was there not? This was a very terrible thing that this couple had done. And Paul, evidently, places most of the blame on the man. Maybe he was "converted" (I put that in quotes, because I do not know how well converted.), and maybe the woman was not—because everything seems to be directed at the man here. But there was a process that Paul put him through. He wanted this man to be saved. It says "that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." That by the end of this whole process this man would, indeed, be given salvation.
But, in the meantime (for now), he says that this man should not be defiling the church. Put him away. Get him out. "The defilement" was worse than "the benefits"—of him staying among the church. So he says, "Deliver him to Satan. Let him go back into the world. If he wants to act like the world, he should be in the world. He shouldn't be among the brethren."
But this is not over yet. Paul's attitude, at this point, does not seem to be like the first that I mentioned. He immediately sends this man out into punishment. It seems like there was very little mercy there. Paul said, from 500 miles away (or whatever it was), "Remove that man from the church!" But, then, there is this chapter next to balance that out. Now listen to what he says:
II Corinthians 2:3-4 And I wrote this very thing to you, lest, when I came, I should have sorrow over those from whom I ought to have joy, having confidence in you all that my joy is the joy of you all. For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you, with many tears . . .
Now we see the attitude in which he had written his "judgment." He did not write it like a stern judge: "Get this man out of the church right away." He says that it was out of "much affliction and anguish of heart." He was grieved, all the way down into the deepest part of his marrow, that he had to write this judgment to the people.
II Corinthians 2:4 . . . not that you should be grieved, but that you might know the love which I have so abundantly for you.
The reason that Paul had sent this judgment was not necessarily because he needed to punish this man. It was the thing that needed to be done, yes. But the reason he did it was because he wanted to show them his love. His love was manifested in the fact that he got that man out of the way—because he was defiling the church. Out of Paul's love, he made this judgment—not just for the man, but for everyone else in the church who would come in contact with him.
II Corinthians 2:5 But if anyone has caused grief, he has not grieved me, but all of you to some extent—not to be too severe.
That is, this man. That is the "he" here. This man "has not grieved me, but all of you to some extent"—you were the ones who were most effected by this. Remember, Paul was 500 miles away (or, wherever he was) when he wrote this. But "not to be too severe," you see, because there are mitigating bits here. He was not the stern judge. He said this in grief. He did this out of love for them; and he did not want to be too severe.
II Corinthians 2:6-7 This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man. [It is what should have been done, and it is sufficient as far as it has gone.] So that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him . . .
Boy, what a change! Here this man had been put out of the church. Time has gone by. You can see what his attitude is now, and Paul says that the church is to:
II Corinthians 2:7 . . . lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow.
Now you are beginning to see what the attitude of the sinning man is. He was just overflowing with sorrow. And Paul says to go and forgive this man, and welcome him back to the church so that he does not become swallowed up in self-pity and grief.
We put him back in the world (for Satan); and this man had the right attitude about it. He grieved. He sorrowed. He repented. And now all he wanted was back in the fellowship of the church. And Paul says, "We've seen enough. Let's welcome him back—and comfort him." Not just say, "Okay, bud. You can come back into the church; but you better watch it." No. He says to forgive and comfort. That is almost like saying "Forget it ever happened." It is past. It is done. The man ought to be here now. Forgive and comfort him.
II Corinthians 2:8-9 Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him. [Make it public! Make it very noticeable.] For to this end I also wrote, that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things.
Paul knows how tough this is going to be. But it was a test to them whether they would show the attitude of Chris—the character of Christ—in welcoming this reformed sinner back into their midst.
II Corinthians 2:10-11 Now whom you forgive anything, I also forgive. For if indeed I have forgiven anything, I have forgiven that one [man] for your sakes in the presence of Christ, lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices.
It is an amazing thing that happened there in Corinth. It was such a terrible sin—but it was repented of. And evidently these people did, indeed, welcome that man back into their midst. That is hard to do—but is this not the same process that God puts us through? Think about it. How many sins have we done, that He knows about?
When we sin, does not Isaiah 59:1-2 say that we are separated from God? It causes, at least, a temporary separation. Our sins have separated us from God, so that He will not hear—it says.
So our punishment, then, is a temporary severing of our relationship with Him. Remember that He cannot abide in the presence of sin!
When we seek forgiveness, and when we seek repentance, it says in Romans 2:4 that God is quick and good to grant it. It is the goodness of God that leads us to repentance. And what does He do? Does He point the finger at us? Does He say, "I've got My eye on you. And if you aren't good, I'm going to send one of my super-deacons over and usher you out of the church." No, He gives us grace. He gives us more grace; and He welcomes us back into fellowship with Him. That is what He wants! He wants us in fellowship with Him. And, good for us, the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin. We can, therefore, have access to the very throne of God and come before Him in our time of need.
Luke 6:37 "Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.
That sounds like an "if...then" statement to me. If you forgive, then you will be forgiven.
Let us go to Colossians 3. This is a list of things—part of the character of "the new man" that we are supposed to be inculcating into our own character.
These all are part of the forgiveness process. If you do not have these things, you probably are not in the right attitude to truly forgive the person.
Colossians 3:13 Bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.
It is part of the process. It is part of the whole kit 'n caboodle of being a true Christian. Now that we have been forgiven of our sins, we then have to forgive others of theirs. That is what Christ would do, is it not? That is what He came for! To give His life—that we may be forgiven, be granted repentance, be given God's Spirit, be saved and inherit eternal life. That is godly character coming out. If we are supposed to put on Christ—to have Christ living in us—then we will be forgiving others as we have been forgiven.
I think we understand this. The church has been teaching this principle for years and years and years. It is very clear. But I do not think that we have appreciated the utter necessity of forgiving our brethren. We need to forgive one another.
"Forgive one another" has become an insipid platitude. You can just see a robed figure (like in the movie, "Jesus of Nazareth") saying, "Forgive one another." It is a platitude. It is something that is meaningless—and does not have the strength or the intensity that it should have.
But it is an urgent command in God's Word. "Forgive and you will be forgiven.""Forgive one another."It is not something that we might do. It is something that we should do. It is a must, not a can—if you know what I mean.
I want you to get this: Forgiveness is bound up not just with our personal salvation—but also with our fellowship and responsibilities within the Body of Christ. It is not just "good" to forgive others. There are very good reasons for it to involve the entire church.
Let us go to I Corinthians 12. This is the "church as a body" chapter. It starts with spiritual gifts; and then goes on to give the analogy of the church as a body. We are going to skip down through here and pick up three major principles that come out.
I Corinthians 12:12-14 For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. [He is introducing the analogy here.] For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. For in fact the body is not one member but many.
I think that we understand this. Now let us skip down to verse 20, where he starts out by just saying this in a different way.
I Corinthians 12:20-22 But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you"; nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary.
This is the second principle. Now, let us go down to the middle of verse 24.
I Corinthians 12:24-27 But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, that there should be no schism in the body [meaning that it should be unified], but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually.
The three major principles that are shown there are: There is one Body, made up of many members. That is the first one. We are an organism—like a multi-celled animal that you might see under a microscope. But this is much bigger. It is a whole Body. Each one of us is like "cells" in that body. It is one body, but it is made up of many cells. Same way that the church is—it is one Body made up of many individual members.
The second principle that I want you to think about is that "the weak and the base" are just as necessary as "the strong and the noble." Is that not what He said, there in verse 22? "No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary." They are part of the Body—and the Body needs to be whole. So, even though they may be weaker (or, baser) than us, they still form a very vital part in that Body.
So what if they do not dress quite as nicely as we might. They might not have as much money as we have. They might not have come from the same background that we did. However, even though they seem weaker (or, baser), God—through Paul—says that they are just as necessary as those of us who seem stronger (or somehow better, or more noble, or come from a different background or area).
The third one is that what affects one member affects all. What this means is that if we hold a grudge...And you know what it is when we hold a grudge. That means that we are not forgiving somebody of something. When we hold a grudge against a brother, everybody (in the whole church) suffers. There is something about it that weakens the entire Body—when there is a sin festering in us. That is, the sin of not forgiving another.
So, if we hold a grudge against a brother, and the Body is affected somehow—this means that the work of the Body of Christ suffers. This sin impedes the work of God, which we here in Charlotte just heard from Mr. Armstrong. One of the first things that he said was that the Body of Christ does the work for the Head. If the toenail is sinning, somehow that is going to affect the walk of that body. The church's progress is impaired when wedo not forgive a brother.
Let us make this simple. I am going to use body parts. The hand slaps the knee—Ha, ha, ha—in jest. (That is something that we have all heard about—slapping our knee in jest.) But the knee does not like it. That hurts. It does not like being treated so shoddily, even in jest.So it holds a grudge against the hand.
Now these are two different parts of the body. The knee is very fundamental in standing and walking. And the hand is good at manipulating things. You do things with your hand. But what if the hand needs to go do something (like hammer a nail into a board); but the knee (because it holds a grudge against the hand) refuses to get the hand to the board. He is pulling back. "I'm not going to let that hand do what it needs to do—because He's offended me. He's slapped me. And I didn't deserve it."
Now, let us say that the hand is not even aware that it offended the knee. The hand meant no harm. He was just having a good old time. And the knee never went to the hand and asked him if he knew what he had done. Instead, the knee holds a grudge. And it holds this grudge; and it keeps the hand from doing the work that the head asked the hand to do.This is a simple little illustration; but I think it might be something that might stick in your head, when you think about something like this.
The "knee's" lack of forgiveness of the "hand" makes the whole Body suffer. And now we are talking about the Body of Christ!
Let us go to Galatians 5. This is right after Paul was talking about the fruit of the Spirit—as opposed to the works of the flesh. Once he gets finished with this, he launches into a section where he is giving 'Christian living' advice—how to get along with one another. Verse 25 is his intro into that section.
Galatians 5:25 If we live in the Spirit [He is transitioning now from the fruits of the Spirit, to actually living by what we have been taught. So, if you live in the Spirit], let us also walk in the Spirit.
"Walk" is conduct in Bible-speak. Our daily walk is how we conduct our lives. So, if we live in the Spirit (if we have been given God's Spirit) and it has given us that promise of eternal life (that "earnest") then we should conduct ourselves by that Spirit (or, in the Spirit).
Galatians 5:26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
Let us not have the wrong attitude here, just because we have been given this Spirit (above and beyond most of the people in this world). Now, verse one of chapter six, what does Paul hit first of all?
Galatians 6:1-2 Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
The first thing that he mentions is restoring a sinning brother. He does not use the word "forgive" here; but restoring a sinning brother includes forgiveness in it. That is part of the job of those of us who think that we are a little bit stronger in the faith. We are supposed to restore the one who is weak. He says, here, that it is part of us bearing one another's burdens—to restore a sinning brother.
We are all in this together! Remember that I just finished talking about how we are all members of this one Body.We are not in competition with one another—to see who will be saved. This is a cooperation with one another, so that we will all be saved! And so it becomes needful for us to forgive one another and to restore one another to fellowship. Why? So that we will all be saved; but, also, so that Body—whose Head is Jesus Christ—can do its work.
Let us go back to Romans 15. There is a very similar statement that he makes to the Roman church. This is very similar, but coming at it from a slightly different angle. In Galatians, Paul's emphasis is on restoring a brother in humility. He also mentions, there, knowing that you are no better than they are. That is part of the humility thing. Here, he highlights bearing with the weaknesses of the weak to strengthen the other. Let us read it.
Romans 15:1 We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves.
Now, it is very easy to please ourselves, rather than help our brothers. Often times, if we are not helping our brothers, we can be found pleasing ourselves—because we just simply do not care.
Romans 15:2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification.
That means building up. That means strengthening—making things better.
Romans 15:3 For even Christ did not please Himself . . .
Of anyone in the entire universe, He is One who should have the "right" to please Himself. He is the Lord and Master of all! But even He, when He came, did not please Himself.
Romans 15:3 . . . but as it is written, "The reproaches of those who reproached You [meaning God] fell on Me."
He took the brunt for the whole Godhead.
It is interesting that this is stuck in at this point. We will come back to that.
Romans 15:5 Now may the God of patience and comfort . . .
Notice what he is doing here. He is saying, "Okay, Christ came. He did not please Himself; but He took upon Him the reproaches that were aimed at God. He gave Himself. He self-sacrificed."
And then he says, "This is the character of God. God is patient, and He extends us comfort."
Romans 15:5 Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded [like Him] . . .
That is, one who is willing to take reproach upon himself; one who is patient; and one who extends comfort.
Romans 15:5-7 . . . toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, [concluding statement] receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God.
It is amazing how often—in this subject—we keep being pointed back to what Christ did. He did not have to do all of this, for us; but He wanted to. It was His character. That is what GODs do! They seek to give comfort. They seek to extend forgiveness—if only we are willing to accept it. And that is the attitude that we in God's church are to have, too. We are called "Christians," are we not? That is what we are supposed to do. That is part of the character of a godly person—to extend patience, comfort, self-sacrifice, and forgiveness. So that we can restore one another and receive one another in our fellowship.
So what does this say? The ministers of this church have been talking about one subject for several years now. All these subjects that we have been focusing in on, for such a long time, have a part in that one subject. That subject is unity.
What Paul says here is that forgiveness is a vital part of unity in the church. If we do not forgive one another, we are going to be separated from one another. That is how it works. Sin separates! If someone sins against you, you are separated from him; and it takes the actions of both parties—one to repent, and one to forgive—for there to be unity again. If something does not happen—on both sides—then there is not going to be unity.
The one who does not repent—if he keeps on—is going to fall out of the church. That is between him and God, at that point. But it is up to the rest of us to extend forgiveness—to receive such a one to ourselves, and to restore such a one if we can. And we should, especially (especially, especially) if the person who has sinned is showing the fruits of repentance. We should always be willing to extend that forgiveness—but especially when someone is repenting.
Does it not say in the Scriptures (I think it is in Romans) that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us? That is the godly way! He was willing to bear the reproach even before men (we) repented. What a Standard! It says that we should be willing to "take a hit" rather than "press our rights."
Now, going back to Christ's own example, I want to show you how far this went. Let's go back to Luke 23. I just alluded to it, but this is so poignant.
Luke 23:32-34 There were also two others, criminals, led with Him to be put to death. And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. [Now, listen to this.] Then Jesus said . . .
Think of this. Here is our Savior—beaten, the lifeblood coming out of every wound. He has just been nailed up, on this piece of wood—hanging there for all to see, having trouble breathing. And what does He say? What is He thinking about?
Luke 32:34 . . . "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do."
Incredible! How many times did those Romans lash Him with their flagellum—the whip, with the steel (or the lead, or the bone) on the end? How much of His skin laid around that post (where He was tied) before they did that? How much of His blood lined the way to Calvary, where He had been forced, for at least some part, to carry that stake? How much of it was dripping now, at the base of that stake? How hard was He trying to catch a breath?—because that is what happens when one is crucified. Normally, they asphyxiate—rather than bleed to death. But He had been beaten to such a point that His lifeblood was just coursing out of Him—almost like through every pore.
Yet He was saying, "Father, forgive them." Can we do any less? Here were Romans, and Jews, who wanted nothing but for Him to die, and He was extending forgiveness—but we get mad when somebody does not say "Hello." Just let that sink in.
Back in Romans 15:4, Paul referred us to what was written before—to the Old Testament—for our learning on this subject of forgiving and bearing with the weak. There is one particular story that I want to go to before I close; and that is the story of Joseph. I am not going to take a long time there; but Joseph is a type of Christ.
Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers. They wanted to kill him, but Judah said,"I'd rather have the money." So, they sold him to the Midianites; and they, in turn, sold him into Egypt. This is very similar to what happened with Christ. We sold Him down the river, as well, by our sins.
Back to Genesis 45. This is twelve years later. What had happened at the end of Genesis 44 is that Joseph had told the brothers, "Look. You go back to your father, but Benjamin stays here." And Judah says, "No, I can't allow that. I will stay in Benjamin's place." Evidently, Joseph saw that Judah was speaking for them all. He must have seen that not only was Judah repentant—but also the rest of the brothers. They were sorry for what had happened. He mentions specifically that Benjamin's older brother was gone; and, if he took Benjamin, then Jacob would surely die.
So, out of love—for both Benjamin and for Jacob—Judah said, "I'll stay in his place."
Genesis 45:1-4 Then Joseph could not restrain himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, "Make everyone go out from me!" [He wanted to be alone.] So no one stood with him while Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept aloud, and the Egyptians and the house of Pharaoh heard it. Then Joseph said to his brothers, "I am Joseph; does my father still live?" But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed in his presence. [They knew what power this man had. And they were guilty before him.] And Joseph said to his brothers, "Please come near to me."
Think of what Christ did. It was His death on the cross that allowed us to come near to Him, and to His Father.
Genesis 45:4-5 So they came near. Then he said: "I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold into Egypt. But now, do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.
Is that not what God did with His Son? So that there would be eternal life—so that He could preserve us in life forever.
Genesis 45:6-7 For these two years the famine has been in the land, and there are still five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. And God sent me before you to preserve a posterity [or, remnant] for you in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance.
And what greater deliverance is there than the redemption that we have through Christ?
Genesis 45:8-15 So now it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt. Hurry and go up to my father, and say to him, 'Thus says your son Joseph: "God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not tarry. You shall dwell in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near to me, you and your children, your children's children, your flocks and your herds, and all that you have. There I will provide for you, lest you and your household, and all that you have, come to poverty; for there are still five years of famine."' "And behold, your eyes and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see that it is my mouth that speaks to you. So you shall tell my father of all my glory in Egypt, and of all that you have seen; and you shall hurry and bring my father down here." Then he fell on his brother Benjamin's neck and wept, and Benjamin wept on his neck. Moreover he kissed all his brothers and wept over them, and after that his brothers talked with him.
This is one of those examples that Paul was referring to—that out of the Scriptures we may have comfort and hope, because there is a man, a man like us, Joseph, who was able to forgive his brethren. They ruined twelve years of his life—most of which he spent in prison. But he was willing to look beyond that. How? What does he say? How was he able to do it? Why was forgiving his brothers easy for him?
Do you see God in your life? Joseph did! He said, "Look, guys. All that worked out for good. God sent me down here. Even though you guys threw me in a pit, and sold me for money, and I went through all that—look how it's turned out. God had me doing what He wanted me to do the whole time!" Joseph was not concentrating on just himself, and how awful he felt for having lived in the prison and gotten lice, or what have you. That, maybe, his fingers had been worked to the bone. That he had lived in pretty bad circumstances. That he was in fear for his life. All those things did not mean anything to him at this point, because he saw what God was doing.
That is how we can forgive our brothers—because we know that there is something bigger going on. It may not be to the importance of what God was doing with Joseph in Egypt. But God is still working out His plan in each of us, individually. And so, if we think of it that way, if we think of God orchestrating events; He orchestrates events so that we will learn and grow. Maybe He allowed this person to sin against us (1) to test him—to make him grow and overcome, and (2) to test us—so that we, too, will grow and overcome and be able to manifest the character of God in ourselves.
And, if we look at it from God's perspective, these sins against us, these offenses, these slights, do not seem quite so big anymore. There are more important things to worry about than whether Joe Church Member does not like you. Or, maybe, did something out of ignorance (or, what have you) that affected you. It becomes "easier" at that point. I use that in quotes again. It is not really easy; but it is easier to do it when we can see the bigger picture.
I Samuel 24, the whole chapter, just write it down. The same sort of thing happens with David; but this time he forgives Saul. Saul had been harrying him, all over the country. When he went in to relieve himself, David had a chance to kill him. But David said, "Why should I do this? This is God's anointed."
It says, in Romans 14:4, "Who are you to judge another's servant." Even though David had already been anointed king, it was not David's responsibility to execute judgment on Saul. "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay." —God says. David put it in God's hands; and it was easy, then, to forgive Saul.
Now, he did not trust him necessarily because he went off to his stronghold after that. And David had to do it one more time, because Saul kept coming after him. But he still extended the forgiveness. At one point, David even promised Saul that he would not take vengeance on his children—that they would live in peace from him.
Let us conclude in Proverbs 19. I just want to leave with this thought.
Proverbs 19:11 The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, and it is to his glory to overlook a transgression.
Do you want glory? Do you want to be glorified with Christ, at His return? Do you want God to see you manifesting His character in your life? Well, this is one way to do it. It is to His glory to overlook a transgression. It is a glory. It is a mark of spiritual maturity to forgive an offense—(a slight, a sin—against us.
So let us bring this glory into the church—by being like God and, like God, abundantly pardoning our brothers.