Last weekend, Bryan and I were able to get away and enjoy our church‘s Adult Retreat at the Wilds Christian Camp & Conference Center (where Bryan and I met). Jim Newcomer spoke on the topic of Forgiveness, and it was a refreshment to be reminded of the grace and love of Christ from His Word. My notes from the weekend are below, and if you’re interested in listening to the five lessons yourself, you can download them for free on SermonAudio.com.
A lack of forgiveness leaves in its wake:
- Changed Relationships – heavy hearts (Proverbs 18:19)
- Destroyed Friendships (Proverbs 17:9)
- Ministry Casualties (Philippians 4:1-3; e.g. Paul and Barnabus over John Mark in Acts)
- Isolation (Proverbs 18:1; 22:24)
- Withered Fruit (Galatians 5:22-23)
- Untamed Tongues (Proverbs 12:18) – a bitter person is a scorekeeper and slanderer (can’t help talk about how they’ve been wronged)
- Unattractive Witness (Philippians 4)
Bitterness is a refusal to act/rely on the grace of God. This is serious stuff—serious enough for us to do something about it.
Bold Promise: If you complete the journey, you will find fresh resolve to be the forgiving disciple Christ desires.
So let’s make the first stop in our journey towards being a forgiving disciple of the King:
I. Admit Your Hesitancy
A. The Risks of Forgiveness
1. Note a couple of things about Peter which is revealed in his question to Christ:
a. He was being Generous (Rabbis said to forgive 3x in Amos 1-2; he offered to forgive 7x – more than double, Matthew 18:21).
b. He was being Hesitant (v.1-4 humble yourself like a child and stop arguing; Matt. 6:14)
2. Before we take up our hobby of “shaking our heads at Peter”…isn’t it common for us to be hesitant to forgive? Why?
3. Four Fears/Risks Surrounding Forgiveness
a. The Fear of Insincerity – how do I know they’re sincere? I “know” them; I’ve heard this 15x; predictable behavior, etc. You don’t have to answer for their heart; but you do have to answer for your obedience.
b. The Fear of Vulnerability – if I get soft, I’ll get hurt/taken advantage of (II Corinthians
12:7-10’s “thorn in the flesh”; people will take advantage of mercy, but is that all bad? Puts us in good company: Matthew 5:7-11)
c. The Fear of Change – comfortable not liking that person, feel safe with your margin between the person and self. If forgive, margin must go away completely. Patience. Don’t retaliate. Pursue reconciliation.
d. The Fear of Exposure – was your reaction sin? Were you participating in their sin too? Are you afraid of asking forgiveness for avoidance, words or lack thereof? (Proverbs
B. The Requirement of Christ – Christ’s Key Point—“It’s not a matter of Points [keeping score] but a matter of Posture!” Like two adjoining hotel doors: you can only open your door and lean on the other till the other person opens their side. A posture of forgiveness doesn’t mean you have forgiven; just willing to do so. Luke 17:1-4: Forgiveness is tethered to the gospel of the cross.
1. It is a posture that is Commanded. (Proverbs 24:29; Ephesians 4:32; Psalm 86:5; Colossians 3:13)
2. It is a posture that is Constant – even before the offense occurs, it is a character. Amy Carmichael said, “”If I say, yes I forgive, but I cannot forget as though the God who twice a day washed all the sands on all the shores of all the world could not wash such memories from my mind, then I know nothing of Calvary love. If the living God who made the tide and washes the shores daily cannot wash away from my mind the caustic remarks, the ugliness, the wrongs in someone else, then I haven’t even entered into Calvary love.” (Luke 6:36; Proverbs 19:11; 16:32; Romans 12:21)
3. It is a posture that is Cultivated – learned; not natural and strong at first. Only grown in the soil of trials—can’t learn without being sinned against (James 1: Romans 5)
4. It is a posture that is Christlike—II Timothy 4:16ff; Luke 23:34 – Is it possible to grow in Christlikeness if you do not possess the posture of forgiveness and grace? No. (e.g., Paul Tripp on Marriage in “What Were You Expecting?” 1. Two Sinners, 2. Fallen World, 3. Don’t
Take it Personally.)
II. Remember Your Story (Matthew 18:23-27; Proverbs 17:22)
“Bitterness is the acid that consumes its own container;” it’s like the U.S.Tang in WWII—it sinks itself.
Fact: When you are bitter/angry/unforgiving towards others (seek/desire their undoing)…you are the one that ultimately suffers. We are studying forgiveness—something that very well will set you free from self-destruction.
Objection: “You don’t know how far I have to go to forgive <<insert name of offending party>>.” Reply: “True…but I know how you’ll get there!” At this “Stop” you will need to do 2 Things:
A. Get the point out of the parable.
1. Hopeless Accountability (18:23-25) – Gentile king had regional governors (aka “servants” in this passage). Four Realities of this debt:
a. Personal Debt
b. Incalculable Debt (10,000 talents owed: 1 talent = 6,000 denarii; 1 denarius = 1 day’s work; In one person’s lifetime, the most that could be expected to earn was 3-5 talents)
c. Unpayable Debt
d. Growing Debt
2. Desperate Agreement (18:26)
a. There was NO:
iii. Blaming Others (aphiami in Greek)
b. There was Only:
i. Admission of Debt
ii. Expectation of Justice
iii. Pleading for Mercy
3. Complete Acquittal (18:27) – to unworthy servant an unpayable debt
B. Put Yourself into the Parable – This parable of the Kingdom (time between Christ’s first and second advents) is about a reality today. This parable was given to Peter…and to everyone…who keeps track of points instead of having a posture of forgiveness. See Ecclesiastes 12:13-14;
Habakkuk 1:13; Romans 3:23; Exodus 34:7. Let 3 Questions serve as a reminder to you:
1. Was your Accountability Hopeless?
2. Was your Agreement Desperate?
a. Never to be Met again (Psalm 103:12; Psalm 51; Matthew 5:3-4 “poor in spirit”; Job 42:6)
b. Never to be Seen again (Isaiah 38:7)
c. Never to be Found again(Micah 7:19)
d. Never to be Read Against You again (Isaiah 43:5 – wiped out of the book)
3. Was your Acquittal Complete?
a. The difference between me and this parable is that my debt was fully paid for, not just wiped away (Isaiah 53:6; II Corinthians 5:21)
b. Only things Christ is building is His Church, heaven (II Thessalonians 1:7-9), and his wrath.
God and I Time: Isaiah 53 – Meditate on your story in the Gospel
III. Guard Your Heart (Matthew 18:21-35; Proverbs 4:23)
Dr. Jay Adams in his From Forgiven to Forgiving writes, “Forgiveness is the oil that keeps the machinery of the Christian home and church running smoothly. In a world where even those who have been declared perfect in Christ sin, there is much to forgive. Christians who must work together closely find themselves denting each other’s fenders, now and then taking out a taillight or two, and at times even having head-on collisions. Under such conditions, forgiveness is what keeps things from breaking down completely.”
Principle: Lack of forgiveness on the outside reveals a significant heart problem on the inside.
Real Question: Is it me now? 4 Characteristics of the “Non-forgiver.”
A. Mirrored Reaction of World (Matthew 18:28) – We may not “strangle” (physical assault, debt violence) but we might typically respond with:
- Verbal Assault (to, about)
- Social Assault (isolation, teams, public testimony)
- Motive Assault (read heart, question everything) – Any assault is always sin (Proverbs 12:16; 14:17, 29; 27:4; Eccl. 7:9; Ephesians 4). The Gospel that transferred you is transforming you.
B. Skewed Perspective of Offenses (Matthew 18:24, 28)
1. “Big is Little” (300+ lifetimes; Proverbs 17:15; Isaiah 5:20)
2. “Little is Big” (3+ months; Ephesians 4: gossip – news but timing has motive; slander – just enough truth to destroy testimony; malice – intent to injure)
C. Short Memory of Mercy (Matthew 18:29-30a) – Spurgeon said, “Just now he was a lowly suppliant, but now he is a hectoring tyrant!” What is going on here…so soon?
1. There is a Failure to Understand the Doctrine. Obviously, he has yet to grasp:
a. The Guilt that was Removed (Forgiveness)
b. The Debt that was Absorbed (Atonement)
c. The Relationship that was Restored (Reconciliation)
d. The Declaration that was Issued (Justification)
e. The Motivation that was Revealed (Grace)
2. There is a Failure to Revisit the Scene. Never get over the unpayable debt that was forgiven you, an unworthy servant. “And Can It Be?” Treasure Mercy; Honor/Remember the Forgiving King.
D. Quiet Desire for Suffering (Matthew 18:30)
1. Unreasonable Expectations
2. Undeniable Agenda – no plan to forgive at all; place self over instead of beside “fellow servant,” on level ground (Proverbs 18:23)
IV. Fear Your Lord – If you’ve come this far on your journey…and still lean towards being a non-forgiver…You better be sure to get the whole picture! Be sure you clearly see 3 Realities you must deal with:
A. You Will Face God’s People – ready to love you to whatever degree necessary (Matthew 18:31)
1. The fact is…non-forgivers (you) will Stand Out in a forgiven/forgiving community (Hebrews 13:17; I Corinthians 1:10-11)
2. The fact is… non-forgivers (you) will Show Up in believers’ prayers (concerned for a. Inconsistency of brothers, b. Burden on offender, and c. Testimony of King Himself).
B. You Will Face God’s Rebuke (Matthew 18:32-33) You can’t miss the…
1. Accountability (II Corinthians 5:9) – “the world should be impressed with my sufferings” No! They should be impressed with your God! You are only a fellow servant and you’re becoming your own “god.”
2. Accusation – you wicked servant! (II Corinthians 5:11); ponaros – evil/devil
3. Expectation – to forgive others (your story paves the way; your brother/fellow servant belongs to Me; your mercy reflects Mine).
C. You Will Face God’s Discipline/Correction (Colossians 3:13; Matthew 18:34 “jailors” = torturers; NOT executioners; NOT purgatory; NOT loss of regeneration; NOT loss of salvation; Romans 8:28-30; Hebrews 12:5-11 “sons”; I Corinthians 11:32; John 13)
1. Wiersbe – “The world’s worst prison is the prison of an unforgiving heart. If we refuse to forgive others, then we are imprisoning ourselves and causing our own torment. Some of the most miserable people I have met in my ministry have been people who would not forgive others. They lived only to imagine ways to punish these people who had wronged them. But they were really only punishing themselves” (67).
2. MacArthur, Freedom and Power of Forgiveness – “Early in my pastoral ministry I noticed an interesting fact: nearly all the personal problems that drive people to seek pastoral counsel are related in some way to the issue of forgiveness. The typical counselee’s most troublesome problems would be significantly diminished (and in some cases solved completely) by a right understanding of what Scripture says about forgiveness” (7).
3. Today’s Torturers include: guilt, illness, consequences, loss of ministry, loss of freedom, church discipline, etc.
V. Enact Your Forgiveness
A. Wisdom Needed for Forgiveness
1. Prayerfully Consider the Options (I Peter 4:8; Proverbs 10:12; 17:9; 19:11; I Corinthians 13:5 “love”)
a. Lovingly Cover (you will later say, “What offense?”)
b. Lovingly Confront
2. Prayerfully Make the Decision:
a. Confrontation is needed if the Relationship is Broken (Matthew 18:15; 5:23)
b. Confrontation is needed if it is a Serious Offense against Someone Else (e.g., infidelity, etc. should not be kept from spouse, etc.)
c. Confrontation is needed if God’s Glory and/or Church are Marred (I Corinthians 10:31; Ezekiel 36:21; I Timothy 5:14)
B. Promises Made during Forgiveness
1. “I will Not Hold this in my heart.” (Luke 17)
2. “I will Not Spread this around to others.” (Proverbs 18:18; 6:16-19 “spreads strife” = “the Lord hates”)
3. “I will Not Bring this Up against you.” (Proverbs 17:9; forgetting is passive – not fixate; not remembering is active – meditate on something else, like “10,000 talents”)
C. Goals Pursued in Forgiveness
1. Put God’s Glory on Display
a. His Love towards Sinners
b. His Grace in You
2. Promote the Other Person’s Christlikeness (disciple)
3. Prove your Love for God through Obedience (John 14:15 – the harder it is to obey, the greater the opportunity to display God’s love)
D. Relationship Created after Forgiveness
- Beyond Restoration
- The Humility required on both sides Deepens the relationship (Philippians 2:3-4)
- You are both now Traveling Companions on this journey (Amos 3:3)
- If forgiveness is complete and restoration accomplished, you should both now be better Biblical Counselors (II Corinthians 1)
- What about unsaved? Go as far as you can. The main offense is still against God. You can do your part: lean on the door, extend an arm, offer the gift (Romans 12:18; Galatians 6:10).
- What about unrepentant? How do you forgive someone who doesn’t think they’ve done wrong? How do you forgive someone who doesn’t want it? Confront. Matthew 18:15-18.
- What about you? Replace hostility and separation with peace and friendship.
- Jay Adams, From Forgiven to Forgiving
- John MacArthur, The Freedom and Power of Forgiveness
- Chris Brauns, Unpacking Forgiveness