Christianity is not fundamentally about morality. It is not, finally, just a system of ethics. If Jesus were merely another guru telling us how to live better and more moral lives, with perhaps this or that original flourish, I’m not sure how compelling I’d find his message. Instead, I understand Christianity as a faith for those who can’t help but sin, one that assumes our inability to be moral. And this isn't because we all fail to uphold certain ideals on occasion, but because we are sinners, meaning that even our supposed good works are tinged with self- interest or self-regard. Nothing pure issues forth from human hands, nothing escapes from the fallibility and brokenness in which we are inevitably implicated. Jesus didn't just talk about our deeds, but our motives (we looked at that a few weeks ago)….What I find distinctive about Christianity is that, in the face of all this, it offers the promise of forgiveness…. And this forgiveness comes not as a reward for getting our acts together, but despite the fact we never quite get our acts together. Christianity says you are loved unconditionally, loved before you deserve it – which you never really will, anyway. To be a Christian means most of all to perceive, however falteringly, that God forgives and loves you in the midst of your brokenness, and to then live in light of that love. As John put it, “We love, because He first loved us.” The order really does matter. And we forgive, because He has forgiven us.
Hence my title for this Sunday: The Forgiven, Forgive.
Anyone who is someone has said something on the topic of forgiveness: CS Lewis
He importantly latches on to the truth that a refusal to forgive leads to a build up of resentment deep within. Augustine said this in the context of forgiveness and resentment:
This is holy ground, and it is on such holy ground, your holy ground, that Jesus speaks, when you and I, like Peter ask:
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?”
Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
“At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
“But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.
“His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’
“But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened. “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
Nelson Mandela probably best sums up the meaning of this parable with his words:
Our unforgiveness towards others.....imprisons us.
As you sit here, are you angry with someone?
Are you bitter about something?
Is there some resentment towards someone?
And there are degrees of these things – we might say “so and so is full of bitterness” or “every now and again one senses such a bitterness in so and so.”
Sometimes you might find yourself saying: “Shew, where did that come from?”
A volcanic eruption of anger – Mt Vesuvius boils over at a peaceful tea party.
There are a lot of nods/acknowledgements – you know what I’m talking about.
You see it in others; you might even see it in yourself.
I call them the terrible, troublesome triplets. Anger, bitterness and resentment, and you’ve heard me talk about them before. And in my experience as I read, as I study, and as I have the pleasure of ministering into your lives (and that is a pleasure and an honour that you give to me and to Chris when you invite us to share your lives) in all these things I have found that the terrible, troublesome triplets (anger, bitterness and resentment) are conceived in us when someone sins against us, hurts us; they come to term and are birthed in us when we harbour unforgiveness. Unforgiveness is the womb from which anger, bitterness and resentment erupt.
(You might find the odd exception, but this is the general rule.)
An angry person is a tormented person.
A bitter person is a tormented person.
A person full of resentment is a tormented person.
So we use language like – what’s eating him up?
Sometimes we have a problem with mosquitoes – I remember a holiday at St Lucia quite a few years ago and we got attacked – Battle of Britain in our bedroom neow, clap neow, neow. We didn’t sleep the whole night. We probably fell asleep at about 5am when the mozzies were called back to base.
And at about 5:30am Candice and Stu came through – let’s go down to the beach......I don’t think I was very gracious – I’d been tormented all night and so I was unreasonable all day.
A lack of forgiveness torments us and makes us unreasonable.
In verse 34 of Matthew 18 – after the master who has forgiven the servant millions discovers that that forgiven servant has gone and demanded a few cents from another servant who owes him, when the master discovers this, the KJV says he delivered him to the tormenters, the NIV says he delivered him to the torturers.
The Greek word means torturers.
That’s what the master did to the one who refused to forgive.
Jesus is saying here that if you and I don’t forgive (and sometimes this is incredibly difficult – but God knows that. He knows what forgiveness costs.) Jesus is saying a lack of forgiveness in us, a refusal to forgive, results in us being tormented.
We might say: That’s so unfair......but it’s the Truth. And Jesus said something beautiful about the Truth – He said: “The Truth will set you free.”
Maybe you’re in line for some freedom this morning.
Do you need to be set free from a jail of torment that has been erected around you because of a lack of forgiveness towards someone else? I hope not, but another truth is that if I were to ask everyone who needs help in this area to stand, there would be few people left seated. I asked you at the start – are you angry, bitter or resentful?
Now – do you need to forgive someone – might be someone else
– might be yourself
– might even be God who you blame for something
It’s not easy.
- Perhaps all that will happen today is that the seed will grow in you – the idea that you must try and forgive.
- Perhaps you’re at a place where you’re ready to pray – Lord help me to forgive.
- Perhaps you’re ready to say I forgive so and so.
Set yourself free – forgive.