Matthew 18:21-22
Romans 12:9-21

Although we have taken a couple of breaks, for the past 6 weeks, we have been considering the grace of forgiveness. I believe that forgiveness is the most important subject in the Bible. To be sure, God’s forgiveness of us is the big picture of the entire Bible. And once we are forgiven we know that we are to extend the grace of forgiveness to those who have wronged us. The two sides of the coin of forgiveness are declared by Paul to the Ephesians, “Be ye kind, tenderhearted, forgiving one another just as God in Christ has forgiven you” (4:32).

Dr. E. Stanley Jones, wrote: “A rattlesnake, if cornered, will sometimes become so angry it will bite itself. That is exactly what the harboring of hate and resentment against others is: a biting of oneself.” 1

And so, we have seen in this series that forgiveness is in our self-interest, that forgiveness sets us free from the bitterness that we harbor in our hearts.

And yet we have also noted that forgiving someone who has wronged us can be very difficult.

Today, I hope to make it easier by doing a little myth-busting. I want to expose two myths that have the power to keep us from forgiving others and therefore they have the power of keeping us in chains.

Sven and Hilda, a Scandinavian Christian couple, sang in the choir, attended Sunday School every Sunday, prayed at every meal, attended every church function. But alas, they could just not get along. At home, it was terrible: bickering, complaining, fussing and fighting. After both of them had devotions one morning, separately, of course, Hilda said to Sven, “You know, Sven, I have been tinking. I got de answer to dis hopeless problem we’re livin wit. I tink ve should pray for de good Lord to take vun of us home to be wit Him. And then, Sven, I will go live wit my sister.”

Marla had a falling out with her father because he did not approve of the man she began to date. Each time they tried to talk about it, they ended up in a screaming match until finally, they stopped talking altogether. When Marla married Steve, things between her and her father only became worse. They wouldn’t even get together to celebrate holidays.

After her father unexpectedly died of a heart attack, Marla learned that in his will he had left all of his money and the house to her brother. When she approached her brother to ask if she could at least have the bedroom furniture that had been hers, he refused to even let her in the house. At first, Marla was hurt, but it wasn’t long until the hurt turned to anger. How could her brother be so cruel when he knew how painful this whole experience had been for her? She thought about confronting her brother and giving him a piece of her mind but decided she didn’t want to risk being ostracized further.

Marla was a Christian. She knew that Jesus commanded her to forgive her brother but there was a stumbling block in her way: she had bought into the myth that forgiving her brother also implied that she also needed to rebuild her relationship with him. And since she wasn’t ready for that, she felt she couldn’t forgive him.

It is very possible that you and I have bought into that same myth.

Perhaps we are one of those people who are very hesitant about forgiving because we have absolutely no desire to be reunited with that: boss who continually abused us, friend who has slandered us, mate who has cheated us, or you fill in the blank.

Does Marla’s forgiveness of her brother hinge on her rebuilding a relationship with him?

Let me say from the start that the Bible does not require us to reconcile with the person who wronged as part of forgiveness.

Mark Ballenger, a Christian author who has a master’s degree in pastoral counseling and who founded the Christian website writes, “God always calls every Christian to forgive others, but God does not call us to always be reconciled.” 2

Jesus said we are to forgive 70 times 7, but doesn’t say anything about having to reconcile 70 times 7.

So let’s not allow this myth to keep us from doing what we know is right: forgiving those who sin against us. To allow the myth to hold sway over us condemns us to continue in bitterness. And the good Lord does not wish us to live like that. Life is too short.

However, what about reconciliation after forgiveness?

Now I realize that there will be cases where we have been hurt so badly that to consider rebuilding a relationship with that person who wronged us will be, for all intents and purposes, seemingly impossible. I’m thinking about cases where there has been some kind of abuse that has taken place over a period of years, or where a capital crime has occurred, things of that nature. I said seemingly impossible because we have all heard of cases where there has been not only been forgiveness but also reconciliation; even between someone who has taken the life of a loved one and the family/friends of the victim.

But God does not call us to rejoin a relationship that would only continue in abuse. When people are threatening, a risk to you, a risk to others, although it is our biblical obligation to forgive we are not obligated to reconcile. Some people are obnoxious, mean-spirited, toxic. And some of these people will never change. So we need to change the way we respond to them and quit expecting them to be different.

It’s also true that when we have been wronged it is simply not always going to be possible to bring about reconciliation between them and us even if we desire it. Because while I can unilaterally forgive another person, I cannot unilaterally be reconciled to my offender. Forgiveness depends on me; reconciliation depends on me and that person who wronged me. In other words, it takes both parties to effect a reconciliation.

However, I still believe that after forgiveness takes place it will bring God glory for reconciliation to follow at some point. “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Romans 12:18).

The second myth we want to bust today can also be illustrated with a story:

Chuck Swindoll tells the story of a seminary student in Chicago who faced a forgiveness challenge. Although he preferred to work in some kind of ministry, the only job he could find was driving a bus on Chicago’s south side. One day a gang of tough teens got on board and refused to pay the fare. After a few days of this, the seminarian spotted a policeman on the corner, stopped the bus, and reported them. The officer made them pay, but then he got off. When the bus rounded a corner, the gang robbed the seminarian and beat him severely. He pressed charges and the gang was rounded up. They were found guilty. But as the Judge was sentencing them, the young man, attempting to be like Christ, asked the judge if he could serve their sentences for them. The gang members were dumbfounded. “It’s because I forgive you,” the young man explained to them.

It is apparent to me that the seminary student had been taught the myth that to forgive implies wishing to see the person who wronged you relieved of having to pay any consequences for their wrongdoing.

Consider a wife who divorces her husband because he has been unfaithful. She has three small children at home, and her income is insufficient to provide for their needs. Her husband is required to make child support payments but he has been increasingly lax in that regard. He comes to her begging for mercy: “I’m sorry for the pain I caused you but these support payments are killing me financially. If you’ve really forgiven me, don’t make me keep paying for my mistake.”

Does forgiveness require the woman to agree to reduce her husband’s child support payments? In a recent survey, 60% of a national sample agreed that to forgive required doing just that; releasing that other person from consequences. Such a misunderstanding makes many people hesitant to forgive and could condemn them to a lifetime of unnecessary emotional stress.

Let’s be clear: nowhere in the Bible does it indicate that we must pair forgiveness with the release our offender from the consequences of their actions.

The Bible is however full of stories where forgiveness takes place, yet the person who did the wrong was held responsible for their actions.

God forgave David of his sin but those who have studied the life of David know all too well that he and his family endured several negative consequences. David is just one of many examples, where although God forgave did not exempt people from having to endure the consequences of their actions.

However, please do not take me to imply that we who have been wronged should do all in our power to make sure that person suffers negative consequences. Today’s text warns us against harboring that kind of desire in our hearts. Romans 12:19: “Never take your own revenge, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’”

While we are to avoid vengeance, we are to allow justice to take its course, through the actions of someone else. For example, the court sought justice on behalf of the wife who was wronged. Her forgiveness of her ex doesn’t require that she plead with the court to reduce his child payments. Her responsibility is to let him endure the consequences of his actions. The same with the student who thought his forgiveness would only be complete by seeing them let off the hook.

What about a case where it has come to your attention that someone, perhaps someone you considered a friend, is talking untruthfully about you behind your back. In other words, you have been wronged. That wrong has created an obligation for repayment. But you have chosen to release that person from their obligation. Now, in addition, you could exact vengeance by spreading untruths about them. Or you could allow justice to take its course through the actions of others.

How will that justice be meted out? Justice will be meted out by the people this person talks to, as they realize this is a person who is obviously a gossip, and therefore not to be trusted and worth having as a friend.

But let’s not allow the point of this discussion to be lost on us: Forgiveness is releasing your offender from their obligation to you. But it does not exempt that person from enduring any consequences as a result of their action.

Let’s think about this last dynamic as it concerns God’s forgiveness of us.

Whereas we do not have to release our offender from having to pay consequences, God has released us from having to pay the ultimate consequence. The Bible indicates that the consequence of our sin is separation from God forever. But in God’s Amazing Grace, He releases us from having to pay that consequence.

Presbyterian pastor Phil Ryken, who now serves as President of Wheaton College, relates in his book When You Pray the true story of a Romanian pastor so badly beaten in a Communist prison that he was about to die. As he lay there, the very guard who tortured him was thrown in, after being betrayed and beaten by his fellow jailers. That night the former torturer cried as he said, “Pastor, I know I don’t deserve it, please say a prayer for me. I have committed such crimes, that I dare not die.”

The man who witnessed this event tells of how amazed he was when the pastor struggled over and said to the man who had viciously destroyed his body, while gently caressing his head, “I have forgiven you with all of my heart. If I, who am only a sinner can love and forgive you, more so can Jesus who is the Son of God and who is love incarnate. He wishes to forgive you much more than you wish to be forgiven.” That pastor then listened to the long confession of this man’s wretched crimes. Then they prayed to Christ together for their mutual forgiveness, returned to their cots, and then they both died.

And Phil Ryken writes: ‘It is hard for me to imagine anything I might do in all my life that would glorify God so much as that.’” 3




Ryken, Phil. When You Pray: Making the Lord’s Prayer Your Own.
[Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P & R Publishing © 2000]