This month we’re going to take a deeper look at a subject that’s difficult for many Christians.
All of us have struggled at some time or other with the subject of forgiveness, having encountered situations where we must offer forgiveness to someone who has hurt us.
Most times, it’s not something we agonize over and find ourselves bogged down. But for some of us, we’ve been hurt so severely—or even repeatedly—by another person that the word “forgiveness” makes us look away, mentally changing the subject.
Let’s delve into this issue—and if you’re one of the many who struggle with forgiveness, this is a study you’ll want to internalize slowly and prayerfully.
When someone has wronged you and you find it difficult (or impossible, you believe) to forgive the wrong, you’re in danger of falling prey to two harmful psychological effects: guilt (because you know we all should forgive) and bitterness.
That bitterness may assume two forms: you resent even the thought that you are required to forgive, and you are bitter toward the person or situation that harmed you or someone you love—your spouse, your friend, or especially your child.
Dr. David Jeremiah once shared a quote he liked about parenthood:
“Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. ”
If you are a parent, you can relate. Every day our hearts “walk around outside our body” and inside our child. We love our children so much, we would die for them if need be. If someone hurts them, we’re wounded more severely than if we had been the target.
Whoever is wounded and wherever the hurt comes from—it may even come from another member of your family—we may find ourselves saying, “I can’t forgive that.” But forgiveness is the answer to the pain we feel from such hurts.
We need to remember that God’s forgiveness of us sets us free from the prison of guilt. Likewise, our forgiveness of others sets us free from the prison of our bitterness.
When you truly forgive from your heart, you set two prisoners free. One is the person you’ve forgiven; the other is yourself. Thus we need to look deeply into the subject of forgiveness.
If you’re struggling with forgiveness, thinking, “I just can’t do it,” keep reading. In a moment we’ll see how it’s going to be possible for us to do this. But first, we need to understand that there are
Compelling Reasons for Forgiveness—all of which will apply to us
1. Turn to Ephesians 4:31-32
Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice; And be ye _______ one to another, tenderhearted, _______________ one another, even as ______ for _________’s sake hath _____________ you.
We see in this passage—
Compelling Reason #1—God commands us to forgive.
2. Turn to 1 John 4:19
We love Him because _____ ______ loved us.
a. According to the apostle John, who loved who first?
b. According to the Ephesians passage above (4:31-32), who took the initiative and forgave first?
Compelling Reason #2—God loved us before we loved Him, and He forgave us first, before we knew to forgive others.
3. Turn to Matthew 6:9-13. The Lord Jesus is giving His disciples the template for how we should pray, known as The Lord’s Prayer.
9 After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
10 Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread.
12 And ____________ ____ our ________, as ____ ____________our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.
The word “forgive” comes from a word meaning “to bear the burden.” To forgive actually means to wipe out a debt. You and I have sinned against Heaven. Sin is a debt we owe but cannot pay. We can only be released from it if our debt is forgiven.
a. Notice an important word in verse 12—the word in between “forgive us our debts” and “we forgive our debtors”—the word ___. It means “in the same way, the same manner, to the same degree.”
b. In The Lord’s Prayer, Jesus tells us to ask God to forgive us to the same degree that we forgive others! What does this mean for the believer who refuses to offer forgiveness to someone else?
4. Continue in Matthew 6 to verse 15:
But if ye forgive _____ men their trespasses, ____________ _____ your Father _____________ _______ _________________ .”
We must soberly weigh that. If you don’t intend to forgive others, then you should never pray “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” because you’re praying “Father, treat me like I’m treating them. Forgive me in the same manner I forgive others. Father, if I don’t forgive, don’t forgive me.”
When you come to the Lord and ask Him to save, cleanse, and forgive you, He does; you’re forgiven and placed into the family of God. But you’re not done with forgiveness then. Not at all. You must then learn to practice forgiveness of others.
You receive mercy; you must show mercy. If you don’t, you’re going to dam up the stream of God’s mercy.
God has willingly, lovingly, freely forgiven me when I sin—that’s grace. And the mercy that was shown to me, I must show to others.
Forgiving and being forgiven go together. The person who refuses to forgive destroys the bridge over which he must travel. The only person who can afford not to forgive is one who will never need forgiveness.
You say, “But wait a minute. If you knew what they did to me, you wouldn’t let them off the hook.” What I’m trying to tell you is, you’re on the hook with them. And you’re not “letting them off the hook.” You’re going to hand the hook to Jesus.
Listen, all these hurts and many others are real. They’re not small or imaginary. They have lifelong consequences. Then—
How Do We Forgive Such Debts As Those?
We can’t deny it happened or whitewash it—that would be phony. So how do we forgive such terrible evil?
You have a meeting in prayer with the Lord Jesus Christ, in which you’re going to tear up the I. O. U. they owe you.
Here’s what you’re not saying: You’re not saying, “Oh, it wasn’t that bad,” denying there is a debt. The debt is real. They owe you that debt. It’s legitimate. But you’re going to forgive the debt. You’re going to tear up the I.O. U.
Here’s how you can do it:
You write out the I. O. U.—what they genuinely owe yo— and say to the Lord Jesus,
“Here, Lord, is the debt. Here’s how they wronged me. Here’s what they did. I know You know all about it already. But now, You take it from me. I’m handing it to You. The debt is real; they owe it, but I’m handing it over to You. It’s Yours. You can choose to do with it as You please. It’s not mine to collect on anymore.”
Then you give it to the One who reaches out to take it from you with His nail-scarred hand, a hand that was torn and bloodied as He forgave you. This is how you do it if you find the words “I forgive” catching in your throat.
The debt is no longer in your hands but the hands of the Lord Jesus Christ. The loss is still real. The wound is real. But as you dust your hands off—newly emptied hands—you breathe deeply with the release of knowing you no longer carry it around. And you’re not going to try to collect on it somewhere down the road.
An unforgiving spirit is not merely “missing a blessing;” it is a gross sin, in the same category as stealing or blasphemy.
Because it is God’s nature to forgive. As His child, our goal is to become like Him. If you don’t forgive, you’re not like God. You’re not allowing Him to form you into the image of His Son. That is ungodliness. An unforgiving spirit is ungodly.
5. Turn to Lamentations 3:22-23.
The steadfast love of the Lord __________ __________. His mercies [and that includes His forgiveness] _________ come to an end. They are _____ ________ morning.
God didn’t just forgive us once, and that was it for all time. No, He forgives us every day, for each day we have sinned and need forgiveness. Remember,
Is there someone who’s wronged you, but you’re holding back forgiveness? Yet our Lord with the gold of His precious blood and the silver of His tears paid your sin debt. Sam Jones, a great evangelist of yesteryear, said—
“I made up my mind I’m never going to fall out with anybody until they treat me worse than I treated Jesus Christ.”
6. Turn to James 2:13.
For He shall have judgment ____________ ___________ [on those] that shewed no mercy.
What did Jesus teach in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:7)?
Blessed are the ___________, for they shall __________ ___________.
The person who refuses to forgive destroys the bridge over which he must travel. The only person who can afford not to forgive is one who will never need forgiveness.
Only a person who never sins can afford not to forgive—and that is no one. Forgiving and being forgiven go together.
Compelling Reason #3—We experience God’s forgiveness to the degree we’re willing to forgive others.
To forgive costs something. When someone is forgiven, someone else has paid.
There are no free pardons. If someone owes me a thousand dollars and tells me, “I can’t pay,” if I say, “All right, I forgive you,” the moment I say that, what did it cost me?
A thousand dollars.
7. Turn now to Ephesians 1:7. When our Lord forgives us, what price does He pay?
In whom we have redemption _____________ _____ _________, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace.
Jesus purchased our redemption with the price of ________________________.
Out of the riches of His grace, He paid the debt Himself, and our debt—my debt, your debt—was cancelled. It cost Him something! That’s why we call GRACE “God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense.”
Compelling Reason #4—Jesus Christ paid a heavy price to win God’s forgiveness of our sins.
In response to His sacrifice, we must be willing to pay the price that comes with forgiving others.
8. Turn to Matthew 18 and read verses 23-35.
Therefore is the kingdom of Heaven likened unto a certain king who would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents.
A CLOSER LOOK AT A TALENT
A talent represented a rather large sum of money. According to New Nave's Topical Bible, one who possessed five talents of gold or silver was a multimillionaire by today's standards. Some calculate the talent in the parables to be equivalent to 20 years of wages for the common worker.
But for as much as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment be made. The servant therefore fell down and worshipped him, saying, “Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.” [That was a vain boast because there was no way he could have done it.] Then the lord of that servant was moved with ________________, and loosed him [set him free], and ____________ the debt.
Jesus is talking about an enormous debt. This man owes ten thousand talents—a debt he can’t possibly ever repay. Yet the king forgives him! At that moment, it costs the king ten thousand talents.
The man who had been forgiven goes out and finds someone who owes him money.
But that same servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred pence [a day’s labor], and he laid his hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, “____ ____ ______ ______ ____ __________. And his fellow servant fell down at his feet and besought him saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.” But he would not, and went and cast him into prison, until he should pay the debt.
Here’s a man who’d been forgiven millions, yet somebody owes him a day’s wages and begs for mercy, but he takes him by the throat and has him thrown in prison! Jesus speaks of the wickedness of that man who had been forgiven yet would not forgive. The king, when he learns of it, becomes furious and put the man in prison himself. Jesus adds, (v. 35)
“So likewise shall My Heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts __________ ______ every one his brother their trespasses.”
The one who failed to forgive endured the severest discipline.
Compelling Reason #5— I Need the Mercy of God, not His Judgment
It is absolutely wicked for those of us who have been forgiven so much to refuse to forgive somebody else.
9. Turn to Hebrews 12 :15
Looking diligently lest any man _______of the _________ of God [fail to receive and give grace] “lest any root of _________________ springing up _______________ you, and _________ thereby be _______________.
If you don’t forgive, you’re going to be troubled, and others around you are going to be troubled. An unforgiving spirit hurts not only you but others around you.
You need to forgive because of what the unforgiving spirit will do to you. You forgive them for your sake, for others’ sake and for Jesus’ sake. Forgive them for your sake. Remember, when you forgive you set two people free, and one of them is yourself.
Compelling Reason #6— My Unforgiveness Will Hurt Me and Others Around Me
10. Turn to Matthew 5:23-24
a. Who is speaking?
Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee, Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be _________________ ___ ____ _________, and then come and offer thy gift.
Having an unforgiving spirit is so important, Jesus says don’t even bother bringing your offering to the temple until you’ve first gone to the person you’re in conflict with and you two have been reconciled.
b. Still in Matthew, turn over to 18:15.
Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, ____ and tell him his fault between ______ _____ ______ ________. If he shall hear thee, thou hast ____________ _____ _____________.”
c. Who is allowed into this conversation?
d. In both these Scriptures, what is Jesus’s primary purpose and goal?
A brother is a precious thing. When you forgive, you heal a broken relationship and gain back a brother.
Think what we gain when we gain a brother or a sister.
The Costly Requirements for Forgiveness
Remember, there are no bargain forgivenesses.
Jesus is the model, and He paid the price: redemption through His blood. As His follower, you will experience a little personal Gethsemane and Calvary if you truly forgive someone who has deeply hurt you.
To forgive as Jesus forgave, it must be offered:
We are to forgive as Jesus forgave. His forgiveness is free, spontaneous, and quick. Don’t forgive after you have collected your revenge. When Adam and Eve sinned against God in the Garden of Eden, God didn’t sit in Heaven saying, “Well, I’m going to wait, and if perhaps they come to Me, I might be persuaded to forgive them.” God came to the Garden and said, “Adam, Adam, where are you?” It wasn’t the voice of a detective, but a brokenhearted God, seeking the one who had sinned against Him, ready to forgive.
11. Turn back again to Matthew 18. See verses 21-22
Just before Jesus tells the story about the man who owed millions but wouldn’t forgive a brother who owed him a day’s wages, Jesus takes a question from Peter.
Then came Peter to Him and said, “Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Till ________ times?” Jesus saith unto him, “I say not unto thee, until seven times: but until seventy times seven.”
Peter believed he was being generous to the offender. After all, seven is the number of perfection. But Jesus said, “Four hundred and ninety.” By inference, He didn’t mean stop at 491. Don’t keep score. Forgiveness has no limit.
A CLOSER LOOK AT “I’M SORRY” and “I APOLOGIZE”
By the way, when you must ask someone to forgive you, be sure you don’t say, “If I hurt your feelings, I’m sorry. I want to apologize.” Not “IF” I’ve hurt you but, “Please forgive me.”
“Apologize” comes from the Greek word apologia, which means “to make a defense.” What many of us are really doing is just defending ourselves.
If you’ve wronged someone, say, “Would you forgive me? I was wrong.” And if someone has wronged you, don’t say, “Oh, forget it. Never mind.” Say, “I forgive you.” Do it fully. Bury it in the grave of God’s forgetfulness.
Don’t bring it up again. Do it finally, once for all.
12. Turn to Isaiah 43:25.
“I, even I, am He that ________________ _____ thy transgressions for Mine own sake, and I will _____ _______________ remember thy sins.”
A CLOSER LOOK—CAN GOD ACTUALLY “FORGET”
If God is omniscient, knowing everything there is to know, past, present and future, intellectually, He cannot “forget.” He doesn’t lose His memory. Rather, “I will remember them no more,” means “I will not bring them up. I will not use them against you. If I remember them, I remember them as forgiven sins, not with that spirit of resentment that human beings tend to have. The sin is buried.”
Don’t be one who says, “I’m going to get rid of it, but I’m going to remember it.” No, you forgive finally.
Last of all, forgive forcefully. What do I mean? It is not natural to forgive. Our spirits demand justice: “They need to pay. They hurt us and they need to understand just how badly they hurt us.”
It has well been said, “To err is human; to forgive, divine.” You can only do this by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Where do we get that? It comes from Jesus. The same one who has forgiven us is the one who puts His Spirit in us, enabling us to have the force and the power to forgive.
You have probably heard or read of Corrie Ten Boom, a Dutch girl in World War II, who, along with her beloved sister, Betsie, was taken by the Nazis and put into Ravensbrook concentration camp for their “crime” against The Third Reich for hiding Jews. Betsie died there due to the unimaginable brutality.
On one occasion, a prison guard forced Corrie to strip naked and take a shower while he watched her with his leering eyes, humiliating this righteous and godly girl. Later, after Corrie got out of prison, she traveled the world serving God, bringing the message of forgiveness. One night a man walked up, put out his hand and said, “Corrie, isn’t the grace of God something wonderful? Isn’t forgiveness wonderful?”
When she looked into that man’s face, she froze! It was that prison guard, the one who had humiliated her. Now he saunters up and says, “Isn’t forgiveness wonderful?” She said, “I wanted to put out my hand because I had spoken on forgiveness, but I couldn’t. And I prayed, ‘O, Jesus, help me to forgive.’ I put my hand in his hand, and the grace and love of God began to flow through my body.”
Don’t insult the grace of God by saying, “I can’t forgive.” You can. Think about how Jesus Christ has forgiven us. It is the power of Jesus Christ who forgave us that enables us to forgive somebody else.
Is there somebody who has wronged you, and you say, “They owe me, they’re going to pay?” Friend, bury it in the grave of God’s forgetfulness and forgive.
You ask, “Pastor, can I forgive someone who continues to do the same thing, someone who hasn’t repented, who continues to hurt me, to withhold what they owe me, who continues to abuse or to lie or to slander? Can I forgive them?”
It’s a hard question, because even God doesn’t forgive without repentance, does He? What if that personal hasn’t repented? Then is it up to you to “get ‘em?”
13. For our last Scriptures, first turn to Romans 12:19.
a. In his great letter to the Romans, which some call “The Constitution of Christianity,” Paul reminds them:
Dearly beloved, avenge _____ yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, _________________ is ________; I will repay, saith the Lord.
Remember, you no longer have the I. O. U. It’s in God’s hands. If you cannot forgive them because of their continuing practice, you can have the spirit of forgiveness.
b. What did Jesus do on the cross? Turn to Luke 23:34. He prayed,
“___________, ____________ them, for they ________ ______ what they do.”
If you cannot forgive them because of their continuing practice, you can have the spirit of forgiveness. On the cross as they were nailing Him up, Jesus is praying for forgiveness: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
IN CLOSING, A PERSONAL STORY
I once had someone who horribly sinned against me and those I love. I made up my mind I was not going to carry a load of resentment. One morning about 2:00 a.m., I wrote out a full, complete forgiveness, not only forgiving, but receiving back that individual. Before God, I signed my name to it, uploaded that forgiveness to Heaven, and put the letter in the drawer in my study. The forgiveness is there, anytime that individual wants to download it. It’s already on file.
It’s already given! It’s done as far as I’m concerned. I don’t bear that burden. Whether it’s ever received or not, it’s offered.
Isn’t that what Jesus did on the cross? Not everybody is saved, but He bought salvation for us all. All we have to do is receive it.
When you begin to practice a lifestyle of forgiveness, 3 things will happen.
Has someone wronged you? Friend, don’t carry around that load, even if you have to put forgiveness in escrow, waiting for that individual to come along and write the check of repentance and faith. You have uploaded it and they can download it.
But don’t go around in the prison of guilt, swallowing the poison of bitterness.
Bury it in the grave of God’s forgetfulness and forgive.
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