I was asked to preach at church for three days on the power of Jesus and His grace. On the third day, I sensed that the Holy Spirit was leading me to preach on forgiving the unforgivable. Because my staff and I had counseled hundreds of people through the years, I knew that most, if not everyone in the room, had been sinned against and hurt by at least one person. Some probably had horrific acts committed against them. We have heard some terrible stories that breaks Jesus’ heart and ours. We often feel His compassion for the person so deeply that we shed tears of sorrow.
Sometimes when you preach, there are particular spots in the sermon where people clap or shout “Amen!” That wasn’t the case this day. It was eerily silent and I knew why. The Holy Spirit was reminding people of the hurt or anger they felt towards certain people. Yet, He was also giving them the understanding that our Father was offering them a way to move them towards healing and freedom. The wheels were turning in their minds resulting in the churning in their emotions. Some were also probably struggling with facing their pain because they had spent many years erecting a wall to keep them from it.
Most Christians know they are “supposed” to forgive but often misunderstand how. That is why I knew Christ in me wanted me to explain it clearly to them. I showed them from Matthew 18:21-35. You can read it for yourself but it starts with Peter asking Jesus how many times he had to forgive someone, offering seven times as the maximum. Jesus blew Peter away and all of us by giving the answer of 7X70 (some versions say 77 times). His point was that we always forgive. Why? Because it begins to heal us. Then the master storyteller, Jesus, illustrates with the tale of three characters: a king, a servant who had borrowed a ton of money from him, and a servant who had borrowed a small amount from the first servant. They represent in order, God, us with all of the sins, and those who have hurt us.
Use your name for the first servant to make it more personal. You have been forgiven by God for all your sins from birth until death because of the mercy at the cross. As a result, God wants you to extend mercy to others who have sinned against you by forgiving them. That’s what Ephesians 4:30 tells us. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Sometimes we can’t reconcile with a person after we forgive.)
What happens to us if we don’t forgive? Does God punish us or send us to hell? Absolutely not. The last part of Matthew 18 indicates He will. However, Jesus spoke this before His death, burial, and resurrection ushering in forgiveness based on what He did, not what we do. In addition, if we don’t forgive negative thoughts and emotions, they will control us in ways that have consequences. For example, we may suffer in our relationships or be plagued with depression and illness.
Back to my preaching, before the service began on the last day, a middle-aged lady in a business suit asked if she could speak to me in private. She told me she had never shared what she was about to reveal. She had been carrying the weight of an elephant-sized hurt due to being sexually abused as a child. This had seemed unforgivable to her for decades. (Maybe you struggle with acts against you that seem unforgivable.) After the previous service, she had closed the door to her bedroom and forgave. She exclaimed, “Today I feel freer than I have ever felt for as long as I remember!” Her countenance revealed a peace that we often see at GLI when people forgive.
I leave you with a prayer to guide you in forgiving people in your own life. However, you may need more help facing the pain. If so, there are resources I offer to you. Get in touch with us for counseling. Register for our upcoming coed Advanced Discipleship Training. We spend three hours on this one topic alone. Read the chapter, “Christians Will Not Feel Free unless They Forgive,” in God’s Best-Kept Secret. Here’s the prayer.
Father, I’m coming to you now to forgive ____________. He/She did this to me: ____________________ and I feel __________________. __________ doesn’t deserve my forgiveness. But I didn’t deserve your forgiveness either, and you forgave me for all my sins when I placed my faith in Jesus Christ as my Savior. I forgive because you tell me to forgive even as you completely forgave me in Christ. I also realize I am a forgiver through my identity in Christ. I choose to forgive __________ even though I don’t feel like it. I release this person from what they did to me, which was/is ______________________. I’m sorry for my sin(s) of anger/bitterness/revenge toward __________. I thank you that Jesus Christ died on the cross for this sin so that I am already forgiven. I choose to trust you and to believe that you can use this experience to reveal Jesus Christ in me in a deeper way. In His name, amen.