Sunday, November 8, 2015

What is Forgivness

Read: Matthew 18:21-34

What does it mean to forgive someone?  This is an important question.  Before we can begin to talk

about forgiveness we have to figure out what it is.  So what is forgiveness? 

Before we talk about what forgiveness is, let us talk about what forgiveness is not.  Forgiveness is not a feeling.  Too often, especially in our culture, we gage the effectiveness of something based on whether or not it made me feel good or not.  In forgiveness there is a large range of emotions that we have to work through and they are not all good.  We cannot base our forgiveness on how we feel about someone.  "I will forgive when I feel better about that person."  That is not forgiveness and is found nowhere in the bible.

Next forgiveness is not forgetting.  To forget something is to have brain damage.  When you get hit in the head and lose your memory that is something that you are completely passive to.  You do not have a choice in the matter.  If your brain will not hold information that is a passive thing.  When the bible says God forgets our sins it is not saying that he cannot recall them but it is saying that he chooses not to recall them against you.  It is a legal declaration of your new status before God. 

Forgiveness is not an excuse.  “Oh, that is ok.”  “You didn’t really mean it.” “You couldn’t help it.” When forgiveness is needed there is a true statement that what was said/did was beyond excuse.  There was a volition.  To quote Ken Sande*, “We both know that what you did was wrong and without excuse. But since God has forgiven me, I forgive you.”  Forgiveness must deal honestly with the offence or else it is a lie.

What then is forgiveness? It is an active decision.  I am going to forgive someone it is a choice.  In this parable the king actively chose to forgive, at great cost the servant.  The servant actively chose not to forgive.  Passively not dealing with a situation it is not forgiveness but an active decision to escape from a conflict or a hard confrontation.  You have to choose to forgive.

In Forgiveness you release the right to vengeance.  You actively say I will no longer use this incident against someone.  This is where we choose to no longer hold the history against them.  How many husbands and wives have a section of the journals dedicated to all the ways their spouse has harmed them, saved for just the right occasion, to bring that subject back up, just to harm the other or justify some action?  Forgiveness is saying I will not hold that against you again.  You will no longer “get even” with that person.

Forgiveness is actively absorbing the debt.  When someone has harmed us a debt is made, and to respond to that in forgiveness someone has to absorb that debt.  We see this happen in this parable.  The first servant had a tremendous debt and that debt was canceled.  This does not mean the ruler suddenly has his money back.  Instead he absorbs it for the sake of the first servant.  This is forgiveness releasing the right to repayment for an offence.

Let us ask a questions of this text: Why do we forgive?  In this passage we see the story of a servant who was given a tremendous grace and spurned it.  So here is what happened some servant owed the king a large debt 10,000 talents. 

To put this into perspective a denarii is equivalent to a day’s wage and a talent is about the equivalent of about 6000 denarii.  So working at a denarii a day it would take you around 20 years to pay off 1 talent.  It would take you 2000 lifetimes to pay off this size of debt. 

One guy worked out this level of debt, in American currency it is a 7 billion dollar debt.  The size of this debt is to demonstrate the tremendous scale that is being forgiven.  When the servant falls to his face and say’s, (v.26) “Have patience with me, and I will repay you everything,” the King realizing he could never pay this debt absorbs it and forgives the servant.  I wander what it would be like to sit there and hear the verdict: you are forgiven of this debt?  I would not be able to contain the Joy!

So this servant was given the grace where this astronomical debt is forgiven with a wave of the hand.  The good ruler absorbs the debt.  He is now free.  Whereas he would have had to spend his entire life and the next 1999 lives repaying the debt, he can now go home to his family and they can live a new life. 

But what does this servant do?  This servant is quite evil.  The parable tells us that same servant left the presence of the king and went to another servant who owed him 100 denarii.  Put it this way if you were just given a reprieve on 7 billion dollar. Debt would you begrudge a 5000 dollar debt? 

This servant did.  He went straight away and put his hands around the throat of a fellow servant.  This is one of his peers, and he chokes this dude out screaming, “Give me my money, or ill break your legs.”  Listen to the response of the second servant, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” 

Where did we hear those words before?  That is right the first servant just said the self-same thing to the King not 5 minutes ago!  The only difference is the 100 denarii servant could actually pay back his debt.  The evil servant had the second servant thrown into jail. 

What was the king’s response?  The king was furious, hear the evil servant was forgiven a massive debt and he could not turn around and do the same for a fellow servant?  This is the part that the king invokes his authority as king and reinstates the debt.  This evil servant was clearly not a servant to this gracious king.    The application here is profound for us. 
Who we are as child of God is a direct reflection of the forgiveness we received From God.  If your sin and mine required the payment of God himself, then the payment was infinite in its offence.  The debt absorbed was the life of God the Son.  You could not repay that debt if you were given 2000 lifetimes to live a perfect life.  So when we see the cost of our forgiveness, and the cost of our adoption, we should regard, even large offences against us, in light of that infinite price absorbed. 

Wikipedia: An Amish farm near Morristown in New York State.
When we face even murder we are still called to forgive because of Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf.  When a shooter went into an Amish school in Lancaster in 2006 and killed 10 little girls the Amish community stunned the world.  The first reaction we always have is, “Get that evil jerk his family and hang them up!” 

But these wonderful people extended, that same day, forgiveness to the shooters family.  Parents of the slain went to the funeral of the shooter to demonstrate their love and forgiveness to the family.  Here is a community that understands the depth of their own forgiveness when they can respond to horror with this level of forgiveness. 

It steals your argument, “you don’t know what they did to me pastor, I cannot forgive them, I will never forgive them!”  This reveals your heart, and speaks to which servant you are.  I am not making light of the sin that happened against you, nor am I saying that it is excusable.  What I am doing is holding it against the holy standard of God’s forgiveness, and you see how it doesn’t begin to measure up. 

Who is our king? Who is our heavenly Father?  How we forgive will be a direct reflection of how we view Christ’s forgiveness to us.  So when you hold your fellow servants to pay for their debts/sins against you, with no regard for the forgiveness given to you, then you are not a member of the family of God, you are the evil servant.  It was once said, “un-forgiveness is the poison you drink hoping someone else dies.”

Where does this leave us?  It seems rather desperate I have to forgive yet forgiveness is so difficult.  Make no mistake this is not something that you do on your own.  When you are a member of the family of God you have the help of the Holy Spirit.  He indwells you and empowers you to do the most incredible things. 

It is the Holy Spirit that empowers you to forgive a man who murders your daughter.  It is the Holy Spirit that empowers you to work through the pain of divorce and the forgiveness required.  It is the Holy Spirit that allows you to forgive after your spouse commits adultery.  It is the Holy Spirit that empowers you to forgive when your child tells you he never wants to speak to you again. 

The application I would want you to draw is a dependence on the Holy Spirit in forgiveness.  As we enter into conflict and we find opportunity to confess our sins we will find opportunity to forgive.  And you will find that forgiveness is not easy.  It takes a day by day step by step intentional dependence on the Holy Spirit.  You will have to pray time and again, “Lord I believe help my unbelief.”  Or “Lord I forgive help my un-forgiveness.” 

There will be times when we think I finally forgave and the pain from a deep wound resurfaces.  In those moments and we have to pray once again, “Holy Spirit help me to forgive.”  The Christian is marked by a willingness to forgive.  The Christian is not expected to be flawless in this but willing to improve.  When we are a family marked by Christ empowered, Christ emulating forgiveness we will develop a deep level of freedom and intimacy that is the envy of the world. 

* Ken Sande, Peacemakers, Baker Books Grand Rapids MI, p. 206

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