Summary: Learn to practice the grace of forgiving other people.
Introduction: Several years ago there was an article in the Tuscaloosa News entitled “Would you forgive these men?” The article mentioned Mohamed Atta, the man who led the attacks on the world trade center; Timothy McVeigh, who bombed the Federal Building in Oklahoma City; Ted Kaczynski, the man who was called the Unabomber. The writer discussed the merits of offering forgiveness to another person who has hurt you. The caption underneath the article stated “researchers are finding that forgiving even the most heinous acts can do more than just bring peace; the act of forgiving can affect one’s emotional and physical health.” (Jan. 13, 2002; Tuscaloosa News; Staff Writer, Stephanie Hoops) It is interesting that social scientists are recognizing something the Bible has been teaching for years. They are finding out, as the Bible teaches, that forgiveness is important spiritually, psychologically and emotionally. A six year old displayed pretty good theology when she prayed this prayer, “forgive us our trash passes, as we forgive those who passed trash against us.” Unforgiveness in our hearts is like trash in our house, it makes an unsightly mess.
It is important that we learn to forgive. Forgiveness is a learned response. It is not something that is instinctive. The opposite is true. Our sinful nature keeps us from seeking or giving forgiveness. However, the greatest teacher who ever lived, Jesus Christ, wants to teach us to forgive. He has many valuable lessons he wants to teach us. These lessons will help us spiritually, physically and emotionally. Jesus wants to give us the gift of eternal life. He also wants to give us victory in this life as well. Let’s look at one of the passages that teach about forgiveness. Then Peter came to Him and said, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’’ Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”(Mt. 18:21-22 NKJV) What a challenging text. We are to forgive other people up to 490 times. What does this text teach us about practicing forgiveness? There are three valuable lessons to be found.
1. This text teaches us the Importance of Forgiveness. Jesus stressed the importance of forgiveness by using a breath taking challenge. He instructed Peter to forgive up to four hundred ninety times. Forgiveness is important!
Illustration: “The Spanish have a story about a father and son who became estranged. The son left home, and the father later set out to find him. He searched for months with no success. Finally, in desperation, the father turned to the newspaper for help. He ran an ad. His ad simply read, ‘Dear Paco, meet me in front of this newspaper office at noon on Saturday. All is forgiven. I love you. Your father.’ On Saturday, eight hundred young men named Paco showed up looking for forgiveness and love from their estranged fathers. The world is filled with people who desperately long for reconciliation—with each other, and with God.” (Illustration 705 in Something to Think About; edited by Raymond McHenry) Forgiveness is important!
Besides saying that forgiveness is important, I want to mention two practical reasons why forgiveness is important!
A. First, forgiveness is important because God’s forgiveness of us is dependent on our forgiving others. Look at what the Bible has to say about this concept. "And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.’’ (Mk 11:25-26 NKJV)
B. A second reason why forgiveness is important is because our spiritual freedom depends on our forgiving others. Whenever you harbor unforgiveness in your heart you will be in bondage. You will not have freedom when you try to worship.
"Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Mt. 5:22-23 NKJV)
Unforgiveness hinders worship.
Unforgiveness keeps you in bondage.
Illustration: Two little brothers, Harry and James, had finished supper and were playing until bedtime. Somehow, Harry hit James with a stick, and tears and bitter words followed. Charges and accusations were still being exchanged as their mother prepared them for bed.
She said, “Now boys, what would happen if either of you died tonight or you never had the opportunity to forgive one another?” James spoke up, “Well, OK, I’ll forgive him tonight, but if we’re both alive in the morning, he’d better look out.” (Contributed to Sermon Central by Greg Buchner)Obviously James went to bed and slept in bondage. He had unforgiveness in his heart as he slept.