Summary: This is the third in a series of three sermons dealing with the issue of Church Discipline, restoration, and the freedom we have through forgiveness in the process.
The Loving Act of Church Discipline, Part 3:
The Freedom of Forgiveness
I was talking with a friend of mine recently who was telling me of just an incredible run of adversity that he had been going through. He and his wife were arguing about a new house and not talking. He was having problems with the pastor at church. His boss was making him work overtime, and through lunch hours and not paying him for it. He found out in the mail that he was being audited by the tax department. His best friend called him out at a softball game when everyone knew he was safe, including his friend. I’ll never forget what he said next. The worst part is that my spiritual life is being effected. I pray and God doesn’t answer my prayers. When I asked him what he was praying for he said he wanted a more forgiving spirit. I looked at him and said "God is answering your prayers. How can you have a more forgiving spirit, if there is nothing to forgive?"
One of the most difficult issues to deal with in the restoration of a fallen brother or sister is the issue of forgiveness. Forgiveness goes against our natural tendencies. When someone has hurt us, we want to retaliate, to make the person who has hurt us, hurt just as much, possibly even more. A case of church discipline is even more frustrating because the person who has hurt us, or made us angry, is our own brother or sister in Christ. It’s like the old saying: "To dwell above with saints we love, Oh, that will be glory. But to dwell below with saints we know, Well, that’s another story"
In some ways I believe we want to hold back our forgiveness, and use it as a means of punishment for the individual. The Scriptures are very clear however, that this is not the domain in which we, as Christians, live. Romans 12:17-19, gives the Christian mandate to walk in a totally opposite direction than vengeance. James tell us in James 2:12,13. That mercy will always triumph over judgement. This is why forgiveness is in the Christian community an indispensable ingredient among those who identify themselves as followers of Jesus Christ.
As much as it is essential, it is also one of the hardest things to do. There was a man who loved dogs. He served as a speaker in various civic clubs to benefit the SPCA. He was known far and wide as a dog lover. One day his neighbor observed as he poured a new sidewalk from his house out to the street. About the time he smoothed out the last square foot of cement a large dog strayed across his sidewalk leaving footprints in his wake. The man muttered something under his breath and smoothed out the footprints. He went inside to get some twine to string up around the sidewalk only to discover dog tracks in two directions on his new sidewalk. He smoothed those out and put up the twine. About five minutes later he looked out and the footprints indicated that the dog had cleared the fence, landed on his sidewalk and proceeded as he desired. The man was mad now. He trowelled the wet concrete smooth again. As he got back to the porch he saw the dog come over and sit right in the middle of his sidewalk. He went inside got his gun and came out and shot the dog dead. The neighbor rushed over, "Why did you do that?" he inquired, "I thought you loved dogs." The man responded as he cradled his gun in the crook of his arm. "I do, I do like dogs. But that’s in the abstract. I hate dogs in the concrete." I wonder if it might not be the same with forgiveness. We love it in the abstract, but when we really have something to forgive, we hate it in the concrete.
Finding forgiveness for others is difficult, but finding forgiveness for ourselves is almost impossible. One of the hardest things for some people to understand is that God could love them enough to send His son to die for them. Think of the person in a jail cell, guilty of some terrible crime such as murder, who receives a visit from the victim’s parents, and instead of hearing words of condemnation, hears "I forgive you".
You see forgiveness is uniquely designed by God to give release to the forgiver first and also the person forgiven, if the person forgiven can forgive themselves as well. Forgiveness was designed by God to be the successful conclusion of a hard time in our lives. It could be something simple such as a husband & wife argument over who does the dishes (thank goodness I can now load the dishwasher ), or it could be something as significant as the restoration of a marriage or relationship with the Lord.