Theme: letting go of bitterness..grabbing hold of forgiveness
Purpose: Because Jesus gave his life for me—I will sacrifice my ‘right’ to bitterness and anger—I will let go!
I am going to brag this morning. Is it ok to brag once in a while? I want to tell you that I am involved with a great group of guys that is meeting weekly in our church. We are reading generous sections of God’s Word and then talking about it together, praying for each other, holding each other accountable. It’s our Life Transformation Group. It is great and I appreciate each of the guys in my group. Men, if you are looking for something like this, talk to me. As I said, we read lots of Scripture through the week, and one of the passages happened to be Matthew chapter 10, where Jesus empowered the 12 disciples to heal and cast out demons and then He sent them out preaching for Him before the crucifixion.
And when I study, I use my NIV and other study materials, but when I am just reading for me, sometimes I like to use the Message paraphrase. And as I read Matthew 10, it jumped off the page at me. Let me show you.
“Don’t begin by traveling to some far-off place to convert unbelievers. And don’t try to be dramatic by tackling some public enemy. Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood. Tell them that the kingdom is here. Bring health to the sick. Raise the dead. Touch the untouchable. Kick out the demons. You have been treated generously, so live generously. Don’t think you have to put on a fund-raising campaign before you start. You don’t need a lot of equipment. You are the equipment, and all you need to keep that going is three meals a day. Travel light.” Matthew 10:5-8 MSG
We have spent time this past several months talking about what it means to be the church in our neighborhood—meeting the real needs of people. This morning we will/have planned some meal ministry time with a partner church in Detroit. We have spent time talking this past month about living generously because God has been generous to us. All those things are very good, but you know what hit me? Two words, “travel light”.
Jesus obviously meant, don’t load up the donkey with tons of stuff, just go and let me, let God take care of you. But the Lord seemed to turn over those two words in my mind—so much so I changed the title of the sermon mid-week as the Lord kept revealing more to me. Travel light. What does it mean for you and I to travel light in this life? Most of us are not full time pastors or evangelists so we’re off the hook right?
Turn in your Bibles to Ephesians 5. Paul writes to the church at Ephesus about “traveling light” in this life. While Jesus was addressing the disciples’ physical concerns about where to stay and what to eat, Paul wants to address the spiritual concerns of “traveling light”. What are the things that keep you up at night? What are the things you worry about? What are the weights in your life that keep you from being the most effective Christian you can be? Paul jumps right into the heart of the matter in Ephesians 5:1 when he says,
“Be imitators of God, therefore as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
Oh, that’s rich pastor. Imitate God. Right. How do I do that with a husband or wife like mine? How do I do that with kids like mine? In my school? How do I do that in MY work environment? How can I love them when they just keep making me mad! It’s not my fault they are a bunch of jerks! It would kill me to love them like Jesus!
And that is the point. Because to imitate God means we have to give up the rights to our lives—just as Jesus did, as a sacrifice to God. Some of you are ready this morning to give up the humdrum life of Christianity to enter into something deeper, something more rich, more fulfilling, and I am telling you—it comes at the crisis of sacrifice—laying down our rights—it means traveling light.
So we know we should be imitators of God if we want to live the way God intended for us. As we look at our passage in Ephesians 5, it is clear that 5:1-2 is a summation of what Paul has been talking about in chapter 4. How do we travel light? How are we to be imitators of God?
In 4:25 Paul reminds us that we ought to “put off falsehood and speak truthfully” to one another. Why? Because if we are going to be imitators of God, and God is truth, and all truth is measured against God, then falsehood has no place within us. Paul notes here too that we ought to do this in part because we are all members of one body. Lies don’t have colors you know. I have seen them destroy whole churches and ministries because someone had an agenda. We need to be a reflection of all that is true. And you know, when it comes to traveling light, when you are honest and have integrity there is real freedom in a clear conscience.
Paul nails us on another issue in verse 26, “In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” We are going to get angry, and that is not a sin. Some Christians live like getting angry at all is a sin, and so they never allow themselves to deal with the issues and problems they face. Let’s be clear, the Holy Spirit through Paul is saying here that we need to deal appropriately with the things that make us angry. We ought to deal with things quickly, settle matters if we can, that very day. Melody and I have strived to live this principle in our marriage—sometimes successfully, sometimes not. But I am so glad we made this part of our equation, because it changes everything. Instead of thinking of ways to bolster my position in the battle, I am thinking, how can we resolve this? That’s a completely different attitude.
So much of the things that make us mad could be changed with a softened answer on our part, a kind word of appreciation, or the humility to say we are sorry. For those things that we cannot change, we have to take them to the Lord. And the admonition to not let the sun go down on our anger is an important one. If we are stewing for days about something that makes us angry, we are allowing the devil space in our head—space to make us bitter, space to use precious brain cells to plot, scheme and plan—even if we never carry it out—to tell them off, to get even, to have our say.
You want to travel light? You want to be an imitator of God? Don’t give the devil head space. Release your anger to God. Tell him your disappointment, your hurt, your anger, and then leave it with him. Don’t use your anger as an excuse to sin.
In verse 28 Paul challenges God’s people to live with integrity. Quit stealing and work hard so you’ll have something to share with those in need. To imitate God means that it cannot be about me. It is about Him—it’s about loving others. And if I truly love others, I don’t want their stuff, I want to share mine. Traveling light brings freedom—freedom of conscience, freedom to live as God intended.
In verse 29 Paul gets to meddling again. He says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Are we going to be perfect in this area? No, most likely not. But with practice, we can stop gossip, we can watch our joking, and we can learn to be real encouragers. Don’t you just love to be around the people who do this well? Every time you are with them, you are encouraged—and they don’t give false compliments. They build you up. Doesn’t God do that through his Word? That’s traveling light.
Jesus had some strong words for the Pharisees who tried to trap him in words. He said in Matthew 10:34-37, “You have minds like a snake pit! How do you suppose what you say is worth anything when you are so foul-minded? It’s your heart, not the dictionary, that gives meaning to your words. A good person produces good deeds and words season after season. An evil person is a blight on the orchard. Let me tell you something: Every one of these careless words is going to come back to haunt you. There will be a time of Reckoning. Words are powerful; take them seriously. Words can be your salvation. Words can also be your damnation.”
You want to imitate God and in the process travel light? Unload the baggage of ill-timed, ill-advised speech. Apologize, work hard to tame the tongue and use it to build up rather than tear down.
Paul reminds us of another way to travel light in verses 31 -32:
“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
Look at the list: bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander, malice, unforgiveness. Traveling light, Paul says, is letting God begin to deal with the hurts, the slights, the anger and unforgiveness that burdens us down. If we want to travel light, we have to unpack the donkey of all the baggage we have been loaded up with. Some of us are carrying things that are so heavy, it is no wonder our spiritual lives have suffered.
On February 9, 1960, Adolph Coors III, millionaire head of Coors Company, was kidnapped and held for ransom. Seven months later his body was found on a remote hillside. He had been shot to death. His son, Adolph Coors IV, was then fifteen years old. He lost not only his father, but also his best friend. For years he hated Joseph Corbett, the man who was sentenced to life for the slaying of his father.
In 1975, almost 15 years later, Adolph Coors IV became a Christian. Yet, his hatred for Corbett, the murderer of his Dad, still consumed him. He knew he needed to forgive Corbett as Jesus Christ forgave him. So he visited the maximum-security unit of Colorado’s Canon City penitentiary to talk with Joseph Corbett. Corbett refused to see him.
So Coors left Corbett a Bible with the following inscription: "I’m here to see you today, and I’m sorry that we could not meet. As a Christian I am summoned by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, to forgive. I do forgive you, and I ask you to forgive me for the hatred I’ve held in my heart for you."
Later he confessed, "I have a love for that man that only Jesus Christ could have put in my heart."
“The man who refuses to forgive, destroys the bridge over which he himself must cross.” — John Iverson
And you know the things that we have trouble forgiving, may not even be our fault. Someone has hurt us deeply. And it was not right. But what do we do with that?
In l880, James Garfield was elected president of the United States, but after only six months in office, he was shot in the back with a revolver. He never lost consciousness. At the hospital, the doctor probed the wound with his little finger to seek the bullet. He couldn’t find it, so he tried a silver-tipped probe. Still he couldn’t locate the bullet.
They took Garfield back to Washington, D.C. Despite the summer heat, they tried to keep him comfortable. He was growing very weak. Teams of doctors tried to locate the bullet, probing the wound over and over. In desperation they asked Alexander Graham Bell, who was working on a little device called the telephone, to see if he could locate the metal inside the president’s body. He came, he sought, and he too failed. The president hung on through July, through August, but in September he finally died-not from the wound, but from infection. The repeated probing, which the physicians thought would help the man, eventually killed him.
---So it is with people who dwell too long on their wound and refuse to release it to God. They allow the infection of bitterness and unforgiveness to seep into the wound of their souls, and it eventually causes spiritual death.
Jesus said in Matthew 6 that our sins and trespasses would be forgiven to the degree that we forgive others. He told the parable of the man who had been forgiven a debt he could never repay, who then went and ruthlessly demanded the payment of a much smaller debt from someone who owed him. Do you remember the end of that parable? Jesus said that when the master who forgave the huge, unpayable debt heard about the man’s treatment of someone who owed him just a little bit, He threw the servant in prison until his debt was completely paid off—translation—it never was. Do you see it?
Bitterness and unforgiveness is not consistent in a lifestyle that seeks to imitate God. Does your spiritual life feel heavy? Maybe you are not traveling light this morning. Jesus said in Matthew 11:28, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
You want to travel light? Speak the truth in love, watch your anger, work hard so you have something to share with others, watch your words but most of all, unpack the donkey. It’s time to lay down the hurts, the unforgiveness, and the bitterness that you have been carrying.
Maybe it’s a hurt you have felt since you were just a child, or it is something that happened to you on the way to church. When you came in this morning, you were handed a rock. You probably felt it, held it in your hand, became somewhat familiar with it over the last hour. That is how it is with our bitterness, our unforgiveness—the things we carry that keep us from traveling light.
Would you bow your heads with me? I want us to spend a moment and ask God, what is it that keeps me from traveling light? Is it my mouth? my anger? my laziness? my bitterness? my unforgiveness? the burdens of my week? What is it that keeps me from traveling light?
Would you stand with me? Here is the response this morning. Come and cast your cares on Jesus. Bring your rock as a representation of the things that are weighing you down, and bring them to Jesus. Feel free to spend some time in prayer and leave them with him.