First Reading: Matthew 18:23-35
Second Reading: Acts 7 – Stephen’s Stoning
“R.T., you must totally forgive them. Until you totally forgive them you will be in chains. Release them and you will be released”. This is a piece of advice that R.T. Kendall, renowned Christian writer, speaker and former minister of Westminster Chapel, received from a friend, Josif Tson. R.T.’s response to this counsel highlights the depth of difficulty we encounter when faced with forgiving those who’ve wronged us. “Nobody should have to tell a mature minister of the gospel of Christ the most obvious and fundamental teaching of the New Testament. Here I was in the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ but filled with so much hurt and bitterness that I can only say I didn’t deserve to be there”.
Unforgiveness can be a stumbling block even for the most mature and senior members of the church, it can bring pain, bitterness and as Tson pointed out – our own enslaving. For this reason we cannot be passive about developing a heart to forgive. Forgiveness is a battle, not just something we do once but something we’re constantly learning to do by the grace of God. In this Sermon Round-Up we’ll look at What forgiveness is, What is the Nature of Forgiveness and What We are To Do With It. Alongside this we will look at 3 different characters from our first and second reading and the type of forgiveness they display:
1. Peter and the Unmerciful Servant (Matthew 18) 2. Stephen (Acts 7) 3. Holocaust survivor – Corrie Ten Boom.
Peter and the Unmerciful Servant – Limited Forgiveness
Before looking at these characters and the forgiveness they demonstrate, let’s note a general definition of what forgiveness is. Forgiveness is the ability to let go of unintended or otherwise offences committed against individual(s).
On the surface forgiveness sounds very reasonable, everyone makes mistakes right? But how many times can one forgive before it becomes too much? Peter poses this question to Jesus, suggesting that 7 times is more than a fair amount. How did Peter come up with 7 times though? Where did he pull this number from? This wasn’t a random estimation. It was a Rabbi custom to forgive 3 times when someone wrongs you, but Peter went the extra mile in his mind by suggesting 7 times. Probably expecting some praise for this, Peter was heavily surprised to hear Jesus’ response that we must forgive 70×7 times! Peter was suggesting a limited forgiveness but Jesus is saying we must totally and continually forgive!
Forgiveness isn’t something we do irregularly, but a pattern and practice of the life for every follower of Jesus. He illustrates this perfectly in the parable of the Unforgiving Servant. A servant owes the King 10,000 talents, which if put into context is about $20Million or as a rate – 1 talent=20 years wage. So it goes without saying that this servant owes the King an incredible and unpayable amount. The King threatens to throw the servant in prison along with his wife and children, but after begging for mercy, the servant is pardoned of all his debt. The King wipes the slate clean!
Imagine the complete joy and relief of the servant after being pardoned such an amount by none other than the King. He cried and pleaded for mercy and the King offered grace. Does that remind you of anyone? It sounds very similar to the way in which God acquits us from the debt of our sin and gives us freedom by the death and resurrection of his son Jesus Christ. And so we sing “My chains are gone, my debt is paid!”
Going back to the parable, you’d expect the servant to go forward in the joy of his freedom and express grace and love to all around him. But we see in verse 28 of Matthew 18, that same servant meets a fellow servant who owes him but 100 denarii, and instead of being gracious or merciful, he begins to choke the man! In the same fashion as he did with the King, the fellow servant begins begging for mercy, but the servant with no forgiveness in his heart, throws this man into prison.
But there is a cost for unforgiveness. Other servants see the harshness of their fellow servant and report him to the King. After all he had been pardoned of, everyone expected this servant to also show this same kind of grace. This servant was pardoned by the King for an amount worth millions, but he couldn’t even pardon his fellow servant for an amount worth about 4 month’s wage. For his wickedness, the King sentenced this servant to prison until all his debt was cleared, which as mentioned is practically an unpayable amount – he will die in prison!
This is the severe cost of unforgiveness. Unforgiveness can lead us to a place we didn’t plan to be in, because God is never pleased with wickedness or ungraciousness, and every time we fail to extend grace to others, we forget the immense saving grace God has shown to us. Jesus says in verse 35 of Matthew 18 that if we also fail to forgive our brother from the heart like the unmerciful servant, this is how his Heavenly Father will treat us.
It’s important we understand that unforgiveness is an illness of the heart, it’s not just an attitude. Jesus says in Luke 6:45 that “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks”. So we must take heed to the command of Proverbs 4:23 that says we should guard our hearts above all else, because truly the matters of life flow from it. God gives us a further insight into the heart of man in Jeremiah 17:9 where he says “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick, who can understand it. I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind”. No one knows what’s in a man’s heart but God, and therefore the only and best way to guide our hearts is through the Word of God.
So then we move on to Stephen, a man of God who was full of God’s Word, grace and Holy Spirit.
Stephen – Total Forgiveness
The life and death of Stephen displays the true nature of godly forgiveness. In Acts 6 we’re told that Stephen is a man full of God’s grace and power and is working many wonders and signs among the people (Acts 6:8). But with that we also see the opposition and jealously Stephen faced; many of the Jews could not stand that he was filled with the Holy Spirit so they stirred up a conspiracy of false accusations to have him killed (Acts 6:12-14). The crowd attack Stephen, stoning him, but in the midst of all this it’s Stephen’s response which demonstrates the power and love of God. He says “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60).
It was Jesus who also prayed that God not hold the sin against those that crucified him; this is the life and heart Stephen demonstrated in his willingness to also forgive his enemies. But how was Stephen able to do this in such a painful and vulnerable time? We see that Stephen was working signs and wonders so why couldn’t he just call down fire to destroy his accusers or angels to protect him? Stephen was full of the Holy Spirit and grace of God, he understood all the sin he had been pardoned of in Jesus’ death on the cross, so he had forgiveness in his heart to even pray for those who hated him the most. And this is what godly and total forgiveness is about, recognising God’s grace towards us in our own salvation and leaning on his grace to extend forgiveness and grace to others.
Total forgiveness is a necessity in God’s Kingdom, not wishful thinking. Paul approved and was at the killing of Stephen (Acts 8:1), but look at how Paul became the fruit of Stephen’s powerful prayer to God. And it’s Paul who gives us a charge from God regarding forgiveness in Colossians 3:13, saying “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity”.
So in closing we look at an encounter described by Holocaust survivor Corrie Ten Boom. Miss Boom recalled a time when she was in Berlin and was approached by an ex-Nazi Soldier who asked her for forgiveness for all his atrocities against her in the camps. The man explained that he was now a Christian and understood that there was forgiveness in Christ for all his wrong, but he wanted to ask forgiveness from one of his victims. “I could not forgive him, I remembered the suffering of my dying sister through him. I could only hate him” she recalled.
But when she realised she could not forgive, she also realised that she had no forgiveness for her own sins against God. In that moment though, she recalled remembering Romans 5:5 which says “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us”. She thanked God that his love was stronger than her hatred and unforgiveness, and praised him that she was now able to forgive. “You’ve never touched so the ocean of God’s love as when you forgive your enemy. Can you forgive? No, but He can!” Miss Boom stated.
To that end, we ask God to fill us with his Holy Spirit so that we can be able to forgive our enemies and walk in the grace and love of God!
The Nature of True Forgiveness – Pastor Akin Akinola – 17/09/2018
First Reading: Matthew 18:23-35
Second Reading: Acts 7 – Stephen’s Stoning