April 18, 2021
All Scripture from NIV unless otherwise documented.
“32 Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. 33 When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. 35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.” Luke 23: 32 – 35
Last week we talked about the importance of accepting forgiveness from God, accepting forgiveness from ourselves, and accepting forgiveness from others. Today I want to address what is probably the more difficult topic of giving forgiveness to others.
When you have been injured by someone else, whether it be a close family member, a friend, an acquaintance, or someone you don’t even know, it can be really difficult to forgive them for what they have done. And the more heinous the offence, the harder it is to give forgiveness.
Some people struggle with forgiveness more than others. There are some people that just cannot let go of anything that someone has done to them, whether intentional or not. I believe that this is one reason that so many marriages end in divorce, because one or both parties will not forgive. Some people, even though they have said the words, “I forgive you”, turn around and bring up an offense from the past over and over again, indicating that true forgiveness was not given. This morning I want to share with you three reasons why you need to forgive others, even if they don’t deserve it.
But first let me define forgiveness for you. In an article titled “What is forgiveness?” it says that “Forgiveness means different things to different people. Generally, however, it involves a decision to let go of resentment and thoughts of revenge.” https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/forgiveness/art-20047692
In an article titled “Forgiveness: Your Health Depends on it” it says “Forgiveness is not just about saying the words. “It is an active process in which you make a conscious decision to let go of negative feelings whether the person deserves it or not,” https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness–and–prevention/forgiveness–your–health–depends–on–it
Notice in both definitions we find the words “let go”. If a person constantly dwells on an injury that someone has caused them, if they replay it in their mind, over and over again, even if they have said the words “I forgive you”, they really haven’t given forgiveness. They must let it go, as the article says, even if the person does not deserve it. Why? Let me share three reasons with you why you need to forgive others.
First, God tells us to. Not only do we have the example of Jesus, forgiving those who nailed him to the cross, we also have multiple examples from Jesus in His teaching ministry, telling His followers to give forgiveness to others. Let me cite just a few examples this morning. Jesus said: “25 And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” Mark 11: 25
He also said: “25 And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” Luke 6: 37 Not only does Jesus speak of our need to forgive others, but also of how limitless our forgiveness to others should extend. “21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Matthew 18: 21 – 22
And finally, in Matthew 6: 12 & 14, Jesus indicated that God’s forgiveness to us hinges on our ability to forgive others of their sin against us. “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. . .14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.”
Wow! “If” we forgive other people when they sin against us, God will also forgive us. And yet, so many people harbor unforgiveness in their hearts, unable to “let go” of what someone said or did to them. If you are currently in that state of mind, you need to listen to what God says and let it go, even if the other person doesn’t deserve it. A little later I will address why it is important to your physical, mental and spiritual health.
A second reason we need to forgive others is that they need it. How many of you need forgiveness from others in your life? If you know that you have done something to someone else, and hurt them in some way, it generally makes you feel bad doesn’t it? If it doesn’t, then you have some deeper issues that you need to deal with, such as anger, resentment, pride, and so on. If you can hurt others without feeling remorse, then you need to take a hard look at your own spiritual condition before you even begin to consider your feelings toward others. Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit said, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Ephesians 4: 32 How are you to forgive others? As God in Christ forgave you! And how is that? Sacrificially and unconditionally.
Concerning peoples need for forgiveness, I am drawn to the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. Both went to the temple to pray. The Pharisee in his arrogance prayed in essence, God, I thank you that I am not like other people, like this tax collector for example. In his self-righteousness, the Pharisee couldn’t see his need for forgiveness. Granted, there are people like that who don’t see a need for forgiveness in their lives, or a need to forgive others. I hope that you aren’t like the Pharisee, but that you are more like the tax collector, recognizing your need for God’s forgiveness, and your need for forgiveness from others. The tax collector, Jesus said, “stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” In his humility, the tax collector sought forgiveness from God, and according to Jesus, he went home justified. I would like to think that there are more people in this world like the tax collector, people that know they have a need forgiveness from God and from those they have injured by their actions. And knowing their need, they actively seek it.
I believe that giving forgiveness to others is crucial to your relationship with God.
In Matthew 5: 23 – 24, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said: “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” Offering a gift at the alter in the Hebrew culture was akin to worship. One article on the significance of the altar stated: “Sacrifice was the essential act of external worship. . . The act of sacrifice moved the offering from the profane to the sacred, from the visible to the invisible world. By this action, the worshiper sealed a contract with God.”
The nearest thing to that which we practice in the church today is communion. It was Jesus who offered the sacrifice on our behalf, but when we participate in the Lord’s Supper, we remember that sacrifice as a part of our worship. How can we honor God taking communion if we harbor unforgiveness in our hearts toward others? If you have unresolved forgiveness issues with someone, you really need to wrestle with that and ask God to help you resolve them, even if they don’t deserve it. Whether or not you actually address the issue directly with the person you have offended might depend on whether he or she is willing to listen or accept your forgiveness. And finally, this morning, we need forgive others for our own benefit.
Unforgiveness is like a cancer that continues to eat away at you until you either find a cure for it, or you die. Nelson Mandela said, “Hating someone is drinking poison and expecting the other person to die from it.” Let that sink in for a moment. “Hating someone is drinking poison and expecting the other person to die from it.” Your hatred may or may not affect someone who has injured you, but it sure has a huge impact on your life. Fortunately, there is a cure for unforgiveness in Jesus Christ.
As I researched this topic of forgiving others, what I continually ran into, article after article, was the benefits that “we” derive from forgiving others. And what I found wasn’t just on religious websites. Many of the articles I found were on health organization websites. In an article from John Hopkins Research University titled “Forgiveness” Your Health Depends on it” we read: “Studies have found that the act of forgiveness can reap huge rewards for your health, lowering the risk of heart attack; improving cholesterol levels and sleep; and reducing pain, blood pressure, and levels of anxiety, depression and stress. And research points to an increase in the forgiveness-health connection as you age.” It sounds to me like you are never too old to start practicing forgiveness in your life.” In another article from the Mayo Clinic it states: “if you don’t practice forgiveness, you might be the one who pays most dearly.
By embracing forgiveness, you can also embrace peace, hope, gratitude and joy. Consider how forgiveness can lead you down the path of physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. . . The act that hurt or offended you might always be with you, but forgiveness can lessen its grip on you and help free you from the control of the person who harmed you. (Did you catch that, forgiveness can help free you from the control of the person who harmed you.) Forgiveness can even lead to feelings of understanding, empathy and compassion for the one who hurt you. Forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting or excusing the harm done to you or making up with the person who caused the harm. Forgiveness brings a kind of peace that helps you go on with life.”
Another article, this one from a site at bellevuechristiancounseling.com states: “Unforgiveness creates an emotional storm of distress in which feelings of stress, anxiety, depression, insecurity, and fear surface. Unforgiveness also creates a hardened heart. The hardened heart feels anger, resentment, bitterness, and hatred toward the offender. Negative emotions come flooding back when you see the person who hurt you, or when you hear the person’s name. The offense may even have become all-consuming ̶ to the point where you have lost enjoyment in life and lack direction and purpose.”
It goes on to say that: “Unforgiveness affects your spirit and your soul, hindering your spiritual growth and fruitfulness. You may feel spiritually dry, stuck, or stalled in your spiritual life. Unforgiveness builds a wall between you and God.
Fear replaces peace and imprisonment replaces freedom. You may feel tormented by the injustice, but God feels far away. You may feel less sensitive to the Holy Spirit. You might even feel angry with God, which may cause you to avoid or run away from Him.”
In short, forgiving others has huge physical, emotional and spiritual benefits for the person who is willing to forgive those who have injured them in some way. And although it is always good to be able to tell someone that you forgive them for what they have done, forgiveness does not necessarily hinge on confronting them personally. But as I stated earlier, forgiveness does require you to “let go” of the anger, the resentment, the fear, and all the other thoughts associated with the person who you are harboring unforgiveness towards.
There may be some of you here today that need to turn to God and ask Him to help you to forgive someone in your life that, like a cancer, has been eating away at your spiritual, emotional and physical health. There may be some of you here today that needs to seek the forgiveness of someone that you have hurt in some way.
Until we as believers start practicing what Jesus and the disciples taught concerning our need to forgive and be forgiven, we will always be hindered to some degree in our spiritual walk with God.
Do you want to be freed from the shackles of unforgiveness? Then pray seriously the prayer that Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who have sinned against us,” and begin to practice true forgiveness in your life.