Forgiving When it is Hard

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Can you forgive those who hurt you? People are so hurtful sometimes aren’t they. We say hurtful things to one another. We neglect one another. We do things that are hurtful to one another. Sometimes we don’t value the relationship as much as our opinions and we don’t work through our problems. So what is the result? We become bitter, angry people. If thoughts of every bad thing the person has ever done to you come to mind when you think about that person you are bitter. If those thoughts rile up emotional distress every time you think about them, you are bitter. If you cannot stop thinking about what they did to you, you are on the way to becoming bitter.
As pastors and ministry families, this can be elevated because no church is ever perfect. People will always hurt you because you are a public figure. People treat pastors and pastors wives often not as people but institutions. They don’t often consider the personal relationship you have with them or how something will make you feel, but can you forgive people who hurt you?
Pastors often hurt people. Our ministry involves using words and sometimes something that should be said is not said in the way it should be said. Sometimes the business of our lives can be interpreted as not caring because we can’t always drop everything and come immediately. Sometimes the fact that we have to prioritize certain things can be misconstrued as not caring about other things. It is easy to preach on sin without being involved in the lives of the people. I pray to God that I can diligently invest myself in your lives. But can you forgive me when I have hurt you or must every pain be a divorce.
Husbands and wives will inevitably hurt one another. Heated arguments. Forgetting important things the other person has told you or important dates. Not being aware that the other person is having a bad day and might need some help. Shooting out snide comments about areas that aggravate you. Aggravating one another. But can you forgive your spouse when they hurt you.
Children, fathers are commanded not to provoke our children to wrath and yet we do it so often. We don’t listen when we should. We yell before we have heard the facts. Maybe we are unfair in the decisions we make. Every parent fails. But children can you forgive us when we hurt you.
Forgiving those who hurt you is not easy. Today I would like to draw a connection between Jesus and Stephen who both forgave those who were hurting them. The connection is not accidental because Luke records the sayings of Jesus and the sayings of Stephen and there are some direct parallels between them. Luke 23:46 “And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.” is parallel with Acts 7:59 “And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” and Luke 23:34 “Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots.” is parallel to Acts 7:60 “And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.”
These two “men” were both beaten, rejected, and killed by a group of men who were not seeking to make things right and yet they both asked for God to forgive the mobs. As believers we should forgive as Christ forgave us. Eph 4:32 “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” From these two accounts, I want us to look at four principles of forgiveness.

I. Only those who have been sinned against can forgive the sin

Acts 7:60 “And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.”
The key word here is Lord. Ultimately this sin was a rejection of Jesus Christ. This is why we had the entire sermon of Stephen read this morning. Stephen in Acts 7:51-52 “Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers:”
Stephen obviously forgives. It is assumed by the very fact that he asks God to forgive them. But the point is this, only the person who has been sinned against can forgive the sin.
A. the priest can’t forgive your sins- there is no biblical example of a priest forgiving anyone else's sins on behalf of God. I as your pastor cannot forgive your sins. We don’t have a confessional booth up here at the front where I absolve you of your sins.
B. You can’t forgive your sins.- There are many times in Christianity where we have wronged someone and so we feel bad about it, but we do nothing about it. We don’t go to the person who we wronged and try to make it right. We pretend like it did not happen. Fathers are especially guilty of this when it comes to their children. Rather than make things right we just move on. Here’s the thing: sin is committed against someone and that someone has to be the one to forgive you. You don’t get the right to forgive yourself and just move on. The only person who can forgive you is that person you sinned against and God.
Matt 5:23-26 “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 reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.”
Even God is not listening or accepting your worship until you make things right with the other person.
1 Peter 3:7 “Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.” Husbands, God will not listen to your prayers if you do not make things right with your wife and dwell with them according to knowledge.
If you want to make things right, you have to go to the person you wronged. I can’t do it for you, you can’t just move on and God isn’t just moving on either.

II. Forgiveness is a releasing from the debt of sin

A. The next principle comes from the phrase lay not this sin to their charge. All sin against God and others creates a debt. We owe them restitution. We owe them an apology and a recompense. Forgiveness is at its root a releasing from that debt. Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines forgiveness as “remission of a debt, fine, or penalty.” In Greek there are a couple different words for forgive, but they carry meanings like to leave off, pardon, release. Kinda like a prisoner who we have held in a jail cell. We release them. When you refuse to forgive, you are holding that person in the jail cell of your heart.
Notice in the case of Jesus and Stephen, these men had not asked to be released from their debt. I can choose to release you even if you never come to me and ask me to be released from that debt.
Its like someone who borrows a tool of yours and breaks it. Properly, logically they owe you another tool or equal or greater value. That is the just thing to do. Some people don’t think about it. Some people don’t even remember to bring the tool back. I don’t really have tools so know that this illustration is totally hypothetical. But I can choose to just let it go. To not hold it against that person when I think about them. To release them from the debt that they rightfully owe me because they lost and or broke my tool.
B. Another Greek word means to show favor. So not only are you freeing them, but you are treating them like they were never prisoners.
C. One of the Hebrew word for forgive means to carry or lift. The idea here is that instead of putting the burden of the debt on them, you are taking it on yourself. It isn’t easy to let things go sometimes. Forgiveness though is you being willing to take on that pain yourself and not try to force it on the other person. You are not punishing them for the hurt.
We have a beautiful illustration in one of Jesus’ parables of this very truth. Matt 18:23-27 “Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. But forasmuch 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 to be made. The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.He released Him and set Him free. Have you released those who have hurt you?
How often though are we like the rest of the story? Matt 18:28-35 “But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt. So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.” We have been forgiven, released from our monstrous debt of sin; we ought to be willing to release those who hurt us of their debts as well.

Here are some signs that you have not done this and here speak I not necessarily scripture:

1. If it causes you to treat them differently, you have not released them.
2. If it stirs up emotions in you when you think about it, you have not released them. The emotions don’t automatically go away, but every time they come up, you must choose to forgive. If you dwell on them, you have not forgiven.
3. If you feel the need to punish them, you have not released them.
Does this mean we trust them again and invite to hurt us again? No Trust is something that is earned, but forgiveness gives them the opportunity to earn that trust.
You releasing them is more about you than it is about them. The bitterness will destroy you if you let it fester. Releasing them from the debt does not mean they will never see justice. Romans 12:19 “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.”

III. Sin implies guilt

Similar to the point that sin creates a debt: sin implies guilt. I deserve whatever punishment comes my way because I am guilty of a crime against that person. When others get angry at you because you did something wrong, do you ever lash back at them saying why are you acting like this. In your mind, you do not understand that you are guilty. You deserve some kind of punishment. On the grand scheme of things our sins against God incurs a debt and implies our guilt.
Romans 6:23 “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
When we have sinned against someone, the first step towards getting their forgiveness should be admitting that we were wrong. We are guilty and we have incurred a debt that deserves to be paid. Have you ever wondered why 1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” tells us to confess our sins. We must admit that we are guilty. There are three elements to a proper apology:
I am sorry- expression of contrition
I was wrong- admission of guilt
Please forgive me- request to be forgiven. Notice it is not a demand. No one owes you forgiveness.
So is an admission of guilt necessary for me to forgive you? The answer is no. Did the people who nailed Jesus to the cross ask His forgiveness. Did Stephens persecutors ask his forgiveness as they threw stones at Him? I can forgive someone who does not come to me and admit guilt and ask for forgiveness, but if you come to me to be forgiven, you must admit your guilt. We must admit our guilt if we want to be forgiven.
Forgiveness is really a transaction. And for it to fully take place and restore the relationship both people need to be involved. I can forgive on my end, but that doesn’t mean the relationship has been restored. It takes two to do that. For that to happen, the sinner must avail himself of that forgiveness.
Acts 13:38-39 “Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.”
If we come to Jesus believing having faith, trusting Him to forgive us of our sins, we can be forgiven. Even so we can have relationships restored if we will go and make things right and forgiveness is extended to us.

IV. Ignorance does not excuse the sin

Jesus adds the phrase “for they know not what they do”. The implication here is that ignorance does not excuse the sin. Jesus was not saying they were not guilty. You cannot forgive someone who has not sinned. Sin whether outright sin or sin in ignorance both incur a debt and imply guilt. In the old testament, there were two types of sins: sins of ignorance and sins of presumption Num 15:27-31 “And if any soul sin through ignorance, then he shall bring a she goat of the first year for a sin offering. And the priest shall make an atonement for the soul that sinneth ignorantly, when he sinneth by ignorance before the Lord, to make an atonement for him; and it shall be forgiven him. Ye shall have one law for him that sinneth through ignorance, both for him that is born among the children of Israel, and for the stranger that sojourneth among them. But the soul that doeth ought presumptuously, whether he be born in the land, or a stranger, the same reproacheth the Lord; and that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Because he hath despised the word of the Lord, and hath broken his commandment, that soul shall utterly be cut off; his iniquity shall be upon him.”
The point is this: ignorance did not remove guilt Lev 5:17 “And if a soul sin, and commit any of these things which are forbidden to be done by the commandments of the Lord; though he wist it not, yet is he guilty, and shall bear his iniquity.” The implication really is that they should have known what they were doing was wrong. The Jews had the OT law to tell them what was right and wrong. So if they in ignorance violated that law, they still paid for the sin. Granted the payment was less than sins of presumption.
You cannot say but I didn’t know thats how it would hurt you. Or I was not thinking. Our ignorance does not make the hurt go away. It does not make the guilt go away. If you walk into a bank and accidently take an envelope of the counter with $1000 in it, do you just get to go on about your life and pretend it didn’t happen. Yeah, maybe you don’t go to jail for it, but you still have to make it right.


Here is the thrust of the message: Just like Stephen followed the example of Jesus Christ in forgiving those who hurt him, we must follow Christ’s example in forgiving those who hurt us. Today, we have looked at four principles about forgiveness that we need to put into action when other have hurt us. You can choose today to continue to hold on to that hurt and not forgive, but it is just going to destroy you. Like cancer that metastasizes and spreads throughout your body, it will kill you. Let’s take the issue or pain, hurts, forgiveness and reconciliation seriously. Here is what I am asking you to do today? Release those who have hurt you? Let them go because only them will you truly let yourself free from this burden. To those who have hurt someone Go, make it right. Admit guilt, confess the sin, ask forgiveness.
For those who have an eternal debt against God that has not been forgiven, He will forgive if you will come to Him in faith. Come today and let us show you how your sins can be forgiven.
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