Summary: Leave vengeance to God.
Text: Romans 12.17-19
CT: Leave vengeance to God.
Matt Woodley told this story. My friend Steve warned me that he didn't believe in forgiveness. "God could never forgive me," he said. "Okay, maybe he could forgive 70 percent of my sins, but not all of them." When I tried to explain that when we trust Jesus he forgives 100 percent of our sin, Steve interrupted, "Yeah, fine, but you don't know the stuff I've done." Then he told the following story:
Nineteen years ago this guy stole my wife away from me. They got married and moved to Florida while my life unraveled. After I was arrested for assaulting a police officer, this guy smirked through the entire court hearing. When I was convicted, he flipped me the finger. I've hated him for nineteen years. He's coming up here next week, I have a 32-caliber pistol strapped around my ankle, and when I see him I will kill him." Then he chillingly concluded, "I've thought all about it. I'm 63-years-old. I will get a life sentence, but I'll also get free medical and dental and a warm bed and three meals a day. All of this bitterness and resentment feels so right; forgiveness seems weird.
Steve was right about one point: forgiveness often feels like an unnatural act. So what should followers of Jesus tell Steve? Why forgive?
After Steve told me this story, I paused for a long time before I finally stammered, "Well, I guess it doesn't matter if you go to jail, because you're already in jail. The guy who stole your wife and smirked at your hearing isn't in jail. You are. That guy is free, but you're a prisoner of your own hate; and you're slowly killing yourself. And unless you forgive, you'll remain trapped for the rest of your life."
A week later he called me and said, "You know, I get your point. I put the gun away. I don't want to spend the rest of my life in jail or enslaved to my own hate. Will you pray for me that Jesus will release me?"
Forgiveness, like every other aspect of following Jesus, involves a long journey. As we consistently receive Jesus' forgiveness for our sins, it will soften our hearts towards those who have wounded us. Then, as we continue to trust and grow in Christ, slowly, by God's grace, we'll find more freedom to forgive than we ever imagined.
Matt Woodley, Chicago, Illinois
In 1882, a New York City businessman named Joseph Richardson owned a narrow strip of land on Lexington Avenue. It was 5 feet wide and 104 feet long. Another businessman, Hyman Sarner, owned a normal-sized lot adjacent to Richardson’s skinny one. He wanted to build apartments that fronted the avenue. He offered Richardson $ 1,000 for the slender plot. Richardson was deeply offended by the amount and demanded $ 5,000.
Sarner refused, and Richardson called Sarner a tightwad and slammed the door on him. Sarner assumed the land would remain vacant and instructed the architect to design the apartment building with windows overlooking the avenue. When Richardson saw the finished building, he resolved to block the view. No one was going to enjoy a free view over his lot. So seventy-year-old Richardson built a house. Five feet wide and 104 feet long and four stories high with two suites on each floor. Upon completion he and his wife moved into one of the suites.
Only one person at a time could ascend the stairs or pass through the hallway. The largest dining table in any suite was eighteen inches wide. The stoves were the very smallest made. A newspaper reporter of some girth once got stuck in the stairwell, and after two tenants were unsuccessful in pushing him free, he exited only by stripping down to his undergarments.
The building was dubbed the “Spite House.” Richardson spent the last fourteen years of his life in the narrow residence that seemed to fit his narrow state of mind.
The Spite House was torn down in 1915, which is odd. I distinctly remember spending a few nights there last year. And a few weeks there some years back. If memory serves, didn’t I see you squeezing through the hallway?
Revenge builds a lonely house. Space enough for one person. The lives of its tenants are reduced to one goal: make someone miserable. They do. Themselves.
Hebrews 12.15, See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.
God will heal. He will move us out of the house of spite. He will move us from a cramped world of grudge and toward spacious ways of grace. He moves us from hardness to forgiveness. He moves us forward by healing our past.