When Others Won't Forgive YouErwin W. Lutzer | May 4, 2003
Selected highlights from this sermon
In this message, Pastor Lutzer wraps up the seven principles for reconciliation by reminding us that forgiveness must be granted whether it’s sought or not—and that there is a distinction between forgiveness and reconciliation.
We need to see reconciliation, however it’s sometimes impossible to achieve.
We prayed a number of times today, but I want you to bow your heads with me and close your eyes one last time as we invite the blessed Holy Spirit of God to do something in us that no man could ever possibly do. Would you join me?
Father, in Jesus’ name we ask that as these truths are shared (For many they may be painful and obedience may be difficult.), we ask, oh Father, that whatever You say to us, You shall grant the ability, the courage and the strength to do. And we pray that we may not listen for others today, but listen for ourselves. We ask this in the blessed name of Jesus, upon whom we depend, and the One whom we love, Amen.
We’ve been learning in recent weeks that there are two connections. And all of us are born with a desire (an indistinguishable and an exhaustible desire, I should say), a thirst for God and for others. As a matter of fact, everybody is seeking after God, even those who go headlong into pleasure, and who try this and that. They don’t know what it is that they are looking for, but they are seeking for God because “Thou hast made us for Thyself,” said Augustine, “and our hearts are restless until they find their all in Thee.”
But also we’re looking for meaningful connections with other people. We were created as social beings, and God made it very clear that it is not good for man to be alone. And it is not good for man to be alone, nor for woman to be alone. We all desire that there be others who share their lives with us in some way. The problem is that sin always breaks human relationships. Sin destroys our relationship with God, and it destroys our relationship with one another. Consequently, we’ve been speaking on the topic entitled After You’ve Blown It – Reconnecting with God and with Others.
Three of the messages particularly had to do with connecting with God. Today we’re going to be speaking about connecting with one another. We’re going to be talking about reconciliation, and forgiveness and oneness, and unity and love as we talk about our differences, and discuss how they can be laid aside.
Now you know that in the last message in this series I gave you seven principles, but I got through only three of them. Today we’re going to pick up the last four, in order, though, to provide some kind of continuity. But I do need to say that it is very important that you get the message that preceded this one on this particular topic of reconciliation. I’ll simply review where we were. We mentioned, first of all, that sometimes reconciliation is impossible, and I gave you some instances in which reconciliation simply does not work. That was in the preceding message.
But now the principles!
Number one, we must confess our faults and failures to those we have wronged. And we emphasized that even if our part is only say 20% and someone else’s is 80%, we treat the 20% as if it were 100%. We take care of our side of the teeter totter.
The second principle that we discussed is that confession must be as broad as the offense. All those who are involved in our offense should be involved in our forgiveness, in our restoration, and in the unity that should be achieved as a result of that forgiveness and restoration.
Third, and this became very difficult you remember in the last message, reconciliation, whenever necessary, involves restitution. Restitution should be made whenever there is a debt that can be paid, a debt that has occurred because of our own sin, and because of our own negligence and our own offense.
True story! Here’s a man who works for Ford Motor Company, and when he comes home at night he brings more than an empty lunch basket. He also brings some tools with the Ford insignia, and he uses them at home. And then the Holy Spirit of God begins to speak to him and he begins to pray really sincerely – not all those little prayers like “Oh God, bless everyone.” But he really wants to have power with God and men. He is really desperate, and God says, “Don’t bother. Look at the tools that are on your bench in the basement.”
Now he has a decision to make. Can he simply say, “Well, I accept God’s forgiveness?” Well, he accepts God’s forgiveness, but to have a conscience that is without offense before God and man, he has to go back to Ford, and he has to say, “I took these tools.” You say, “Well, there could be terrible consequences.” Yes, there could be, but again we’re back to the question, “How much are you willing to pay to be fully right with God and man?”
You say, “Well, the things that I’ve done, there could be no restitution for.” Maybe you swindled so much money there’s no possibility of paying it back. Well, in a case like that you have to commit the matter to the Lord. And sometimes maybe even there may be a way to make it right. In the New Testament there’s an interesting story about a man by the name of Onesimus who ran away from his slave owner, and the Apostle Paul says, “Whatever he has taken I will repay.” So Paul made restitution for Onesimus. This is where we need wisdom. I mentioned to you last time that what I’m sharing with you is biblical counsel, hopefully with huge doses of good wisdom. And you have to seek the Lord.
Here’s a woman who writes an essay in college and she gets several hundred dollars because hers was the top essay, which she did not write. There’s no way there to go back and to correct this because the essay contest has long since passed, and the organization that sponsored it no longer is in existence. So what does she do? She takes the money that she wrongfully received and she puts it into the offering plate as conscience money, because what she wants to do is to make sure that she has done everything humanly possible to make things right with God and with others.
And last time I told you the story of a man for whom restitution meant jail time possibly for the rest of his life, but it’s worth it because there is nothing as important as living to please God.
Well, all of that by way of review. Now we come to the fourth principle. Forgiveness must be granted whether it is sought or unsought. Now you and I know that forgiveness is very difficult. You say, “Pastor Lutzer, why is it so hard to forgive?” Well, I’m here today to tell you. Forgiveness is so difficult because forgiveness is so unjust. That’s the problem with forgiveness, because forgiveness says, “I’m not demanding what is owed me.” Forgiveness is saying, “Even though I’ve been wronged, I will bear the wrong, and I will no longer hold you guilty of having done the wrong. I’ll let God take care of that,” as we shall see in a moment. “But I set you free. I set aside what is owed me and I give up my demands to be paid.” Oh, that hurts, but it’s the only way of freedom, and it’s the only biblical way.
Now there are some of my friends who disagree and they say, “Forgiveness always means reconciliation.” I don’t believe that. If we had more time I would go through all the Scriptures and show you why I disagree with some people who have many good things to say about forgiveness, but on this point we have a disagreement. What I am saying is that it’s possible to forgive someone who has died, some relative of yours who abused you. There’s no possibility of reconciliation, but you can forgive. You can choose to lay down your bitterness and commit the matter to the Lord, as we shall explain today. You can forgive someone who does not even ask for your forgiveness. If you’ve been wronged by someone, if you’ve been abused, and that person does not come and ask for forgiveness (And may I add that they seldom do?), what you can do is to choose before God to give up that bitterness, and to say, “Lord, this is yours. I can’t deal with it. It is ruining me.” Hasn’t that person done enough damage against you yet? Must he also poison the rest of your life by you carrying the resentment and the bitterness? No, you forgive in the sense that you give that resentment and bitterness and revenge to God.
And then you can even forgive those who ask for forgiveness. But catch this now. You may withhold reconciliation. This gets sensitive now because I don’t want to be misunderstood, but you remember in the preceding message that man, that womanizer, who thought that his wife should forgive him whenever he was out with another woman, and no matter how often he asked for forgiveness? What was it Jesus said? Seventy times seven?? Yes, she should forgive him. Yes, she may forgive, but reconciliation is another matter.
You can forgive someone who chiseled you out of money, but you don’t have to do business with them again. Why? Reconciliation has three legs to its stool, if I can put it that way. It’s a stool – it’s a chair with three legs. And the first one is definitely forgiveness. That’s the beginning of it all. That’s what starts it, but the other two are trust and respect.
Forgiveness sometimes can be granted quite quickly, but trust may take a great deal of time to rebuild. Trust is like that vase that crashes on the floor and all the pieces have to be glued together very carefully, and even after you have them in place, it still doesn’t look quite right. And that’s what takes time. It takes only one person to forgive, but it takes two to be reconciled. Reconciliation is based also on trust and respect.
Please don’t use what I’ve just said as an excuse to say, “Okay, well we can’t be reconciled because he doesn’t respect me and I can’t trust him.” True Christians always work toward reconciliation. That is their burning desire and zeal, but sometimes it’s not possible to achieve. And when there is that rebuilding of trust that needs to take place, oftentimes you need Christian counseling.
Somebody says, “Well, why do Christians need counseling?” I have a friend who answers that question this way. It’s because they don’t do drugs and alcohol. That’s why. God doesn’t let us bypass our problems. God doesn’t let us avoid and deny and drown our difficulties. God confronts us with reality and says, “Here is a problem, and you cannot go around it, you can’t go under it, you can’t go over it. You must deal with it. And sometimes we need some biblical help and some wisdom in dealing with it.
Because I’m a pastor and I believe that I have sensitivity to people, I’m always thinking to myself, “I’m preaching to people who have been hurt, and these dear people need to forgive even though they’ve not been asked to, etcetera, etcetera.” And I’m sure that there are hundreds of people who fit that category here today. But I also have to wake up and realize that I’m not only preaching to people who have been hurt. I am also preaching to people who have done the hurting. And I appeal to you today. You know what’s out there. You know what you have done to others. You know that the other has no offense against you because of your actions, and because of issues that you’ve not been willing to face. Would you please today by God’s grace take the initiative and say to someone, “I have hurt you. I seek forgiveness and hopefully reconciliation.” I’m speaking to everybody today. Everybody!
Principles number five and six I’m going to lump together. We are talking here about not repaying evil for evil, and not taking revenge, and those two are basically the same so we’re looking at them together. The Bible says this in the book of Romans – Romans, chapter 12. You say, “Pastor Lutzer, why should we bring our Bibles to church?” I didn’t answer that question, did I? (chuckles) When you are looking at the text it becomes more firmly impressed on your mind, and you begin to see that it’s not my word but God’s Word. And the Word of God is then hidden in our heart.
Romans 12;17: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Even Paul said that in some situations it may be impossible, but notice verse 19: “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath for it is written, ‘It is mine to avenge. I will repay,’ says the Lord.” On the contrary, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this you will heap burning coals upon his head. Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.” Wow, what a statement from God’s Holy Word!
You see, there is something within us that wants vengeance. You say, “Well, where did that come from?” Well, we are created in the image of God, and therefore, there is something within us that cries up for justice. You remember in the first murder that was ever committed, Abel was killed at the hands of his brother, Cain. And what did God say to Cain? He said, “Cain, the blood of your brother cries up to me.” God was saying, “It cries up to me for vengeance.’
There’s something within us that says, “Where is justice?” And it says in Revelation 6:10 that the martyrs say, “How long, oh Lord, will it be until you avenge our death and our martyrdom on those who are upon the earth?” How long, oh God, before justice is brought to the situations and the evils that have been done against us?
Have you ever cried that? “How long, oh Lord?” You’re crying the same cry as the martyrs. We want justice, but notice what the Bible says. Vengeance is God’s. Do not repay evil for evil. Don’t say, “You stick it to me, I’ll stick it to you. You hurt me, I’ll hurt you. You cheated me, I’ll show you. I’ll cheat you. I’ll get even.” You know, “I don’t get mad. I get even.” That’s a bumper sticker. That’s not God’s Word.
You see, vengeance is this strong desire to even the score, and in the process of evening it, justice even will probably not be served, because vengeance goes beyond a desire for justice. Vengeance says, “I’d like to destroy you. I’d like to give you what you deserve ten times over.”
Remember the woman? I said, “What would you like to have done to your husband?” She said, “Hell sounds good to me.” That was not exactly justice. That was vengeance.
Do you know why the Bible says, “Do not allow a root of bitterness to fester with you and to spring up and defile many?” It’s because many are defiled. Where the devil cannot go, he sends a bitter Christian, and that bitter Christian will do all the devil’s work and more. They will defile themselves and in the process, in their complaining and in their bitterness and in their gossip, they will do all the work that the devil ever wanted to be done, and they defile many. That’s why the Bible says, “Do not seek vengeance. Vengeance is mine. I will recompense,” says the Lord. Do not render evil for evil.
You say, “Well, shouldn’t we pursue justice for those who are marginalized?” Absolutely! The Bible has much to say about pursuing justice for the widows and for the orphans, but it’s very interesting that when it comes to ourselves it is very careful lest our pursuit of justice turn out to be vengeance. And the Bible says, “Vengeance is mine. I will recompense,” says the Lord. And God is saying, “Can you trust me to do what you think you should do?”
Let’s get to the seventh principle. What we have to do is to commit all unresolved matters to God. All unresolved matters! You say, “Well, what’s an unresolved matter?” An unresolved matter is people whom you’ve had to forgive to whom you are not reconciled because they do not acknowledge their sin, people maybe whom you’ve asked their forgiveness, and they have not granted their forgiveness to you, so it is a situation that is untidy. It’s not wrapped up very nicely at all. It’s unresolved. And if you’ve done everything before God that you possibly know of to resolve the situation, all that you can do is to commit the matter to God.
All kinds of situations in our lives must be left with God because we may pursue justice, but at the end of the day we know that it’s not going to be attained in every situation. May I say that in this world seldom is justice actually attained? Occasionally, but seldom! So you have all of these matters that impinge upon the soul, and what we need to do is to commit it to the Lord. Why? “Vengeance is mine; I will recompense,” says the Lord. “Don’t you do my work for me!” says God.
How do we do this? May I give you some suggestions? Maybe, in fact, they aren’t just suggestions. Maybe I should turn them into commands. Is that alright with you, Phil, if we just say these are commands? These are not options. This isn’t something you can say, “Well, you know if the pastor stands up there and he gives us suggestions…” Did you notice that on Mount Sinai God did not give ten suggestions? This could be transforming in the lives of many of you. Many of you could walk with a new sense of freedom and relationship with God and others. Many of you could experience personal revival if you take seriously these commands.
Number one, empty your heart of all vengeance. Don’t become obsessed with vengeance. Leave room for God’s wrath. Don’t say to yourself, “I have to even the score no matter what, and it’s going to be my lifelong pursuit.”
I remember meeting a woman whose father died because of a botched surgery in a hospital. Now there’s nothing wrong with pursuing some kind of justice because of what they did, but seven years later she was still going from attorney to attorney and from pastor to pastor, looking for someone to take up her cause to bring justice to that situation and vengeance because the hospital got by with it. Maybe the hospital did get by with it. One of the problems in hospitals - a real big problem in a hospital is that it’s run by human beings, and these human beings are full of flaws and they sometimes do wrong things. And I’m not saying they shouldn’t be held accountable for it. I’m just simply saying that… Maybe she was right. I don’t know. But I want to lovingly look across the table into her eyes and say, “Look into my eyes for just a moment. I have something I would like to say to you. Give it up! Be free. Leave room for the wrath of God. Exercise faith in God’s governance of the world and that this is one situation that clearly you’re not getting anywhere in, and you can spend the rest of your life, and you can go to the grave seeking the justice and the vengeance that you will never get. And you have a life to live. Give it up.”
Again, I don’t want to be misunderstood. It’s not wrong to seek justice, but there comes a time when you simply give it up. Some of you have been hurt by others. Give it up. You’ve been chiseled out of money that is yours. Give it up.
I spoke to a woman who married a man who had miles of lakefront property in one of the richest states in these United States. When her husband was dying some people came in and they had him sign something. And he was so drugged he had no idea really what he was signing. And then when he died she discovered she had nothing. Nothing! God bless that woman. I remember she said, “I have boxes and boxes of papers and attorneys who have looked at this throughout the years and they’re going to…” Hey, listen, when there’s big money involved like that and when you have people who are following you, as in her case, ready to kill you, remember this: Big money makes people irrational. It makes them become criminals. If they do not have deep-seated principles, money will absolutely consume them and make them evil. There has to come a time in this dear lady’s life when she simply says, “Look, I’ve been dealt injustice but I’m going to leave room for the wrath of God. I can’t deal with all these evil people.”
And so what we do is we take vengeance, just like this water. I have a glass of water up here for those of you who are listening only. And you take and you look at that vengeance and take a good hard look at it, a really good hard look. And then you go into a desert, or you go into a forest preserve, or you so somewhere where you spill all of your heart and your tears to God. And then you take that vengeance and you pour it out symbolically at the foot of the cross, because you are leaving room for the wrath of God. You do not have to resolve issues that in life are by and large irresolvable. That’s number one.
The second command: Use the experience as one of positive growth. Do you think that God abandons you when injustice has been done to you? Does God say, “Oh. injustice has been done to this person; I’m out of here?” God comes along and puts his arm around you and says, “I want to walk with you through this injustice, and I want you to deepen your relationship with me.”
Somebody said this. I wish I could take credit for it but I can’t, but this statement has blessed me many times.
Your friends can only take you to your potential. Only your enemies can take you beyond it.
Isn’t that great?? Your friends can only take you to your potential. Only your enemies can take you beyond it. Those whom God deeply hurts, God deeply blesses with a double portion of Himself, and you honor Him by recognizing that He’s the One who will right all wrongs. And that’s a third command. Affirm that God will set the record straight. God will set the record straight.
And so what you do is you realize that at the Judgment Seat of Christ (That’s where Christians meet together) this person had this grievous situation that’s been unresolved, and this person says this happened, and this man divorced this woman, and he ran off and he didn’t pay child support, and now he shows up at the Judgment Seat. And his wife, who had to be a single mother, shows up at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Do you tell me now that they’re going to walk into heaven pretending everything is okay, and Jesus will say, “Well, you know, let bygones be bygones; this is heaven after all?” That’s where all those disputes are going to be reconciled – at the Judgment Seat of Christ. That’s why the Bible says, “Do not judge things before the time but wait until God comes, who will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, expose the motives of men’s hearts.” And that’s where it’s going to be resolved. The truth will come out. Listen to me carefully. If the truth does not come out, God is not God. (applause) Amen! It’s always nice to know that I’m not alone up here, you know.
And then for those who are unconverted, at the Great White Throne Judgment they will have to bear their own penalty, of course, but all of the sins, and all of the deceptions and all of the lies, and all of the evil, and all of these things are going to come to the surface. Why? It’s because throughout all of eternity we are going to sing “Just and true are Thy ways, Thou King of saints.”
God is a God who is into reconciliation. I want to end on that note. Jesus said, “You know, if you’re praying to God and there you remember that you have a brother who has an offense against you, go straighten it out.” Isn’t that interesting? As you are praying, God brings it to mind. Right? And the reason is because as we come to God in all sincerity, you see, what God is doing is He’s saying, “You know, you may be right with Me, but you know you can’t be fully right with Me until you take care of all of these other things – this bitterness, this sense of unforgiveness, this lack of reconciliation.” And that’s what God wants us to do. And it means that we lovingly confront situations.
There was a woman in a church who wanted to be fully right with God and man, so she went to another woman, and she said, “You know, I’ve never spoken to you face to face before.” She said, “I’m very nervous because up until now I’ve only spoken behind your back.” So you no longer speak behind people’s back. You lovingly bring to their attention some issue that they have done, and you resolve it in the name of Jesus.
The Bible says in Colossians, “Bear with each other, and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you (That’s a whole sermon.) and over all these virtues put on love which binds them altogether in perfect unity.”
One more story of the power of reconciliation! In Canada there were two brothers who had not spoken for twenty years. In fact, their feud went back to their teenage days. It was well known in this small church that one came in through one door and the other came in through the other so that they didn’t even have to see each other. And they’d sing the same songs and they’d listen to the same prayers and to the same sermon, and go home unchanged. Remember this: There is no message that you will ever hear that you want to rationalize as much as the one that you’ve just listened to.
And so they would go home. Well, God was working in this church, and so the pastor, knowing of this feud, took some deacons and took them into the church basement, brought these two brothers in and put them in the middle of a circle and surrounded them with deacons, and said, “You’re not leaving until you’re reconciled.” And one of the brothers looked at the other with some bitterness and said, “Well, it’s about time he asked for my forgiveness.” (chuckles) I never cease marveling at the human heart.
And the pastor said, “Well, clearly that’s not good enough. Deacons, keep praying.” As they prayed, the blessed Holy Spirit of God broke in on that little prayer meeting, and two brothers, with tears, asking one another to forgive each other, were gloriously reconciled, and so were their wives who also were estranged understandably.
The next night they gave their testimonies in the church and sang a duet together. As a result of that, God so mightily moved in the congregation that hundreds of people made right all kinds of grievances, all kinds of petty bitternesses, all kinds of things lodging in the human heart. (Oh yeah, I really know what that person is like.) All of those things were laid down, and the Holy Spirit of God who oftentimes is so grieved because of these sins, began to work so mightily that from that church blessing flowed to literally hundreds of others. It all begins here, letting go of grievances, forgiving, and getting on with what God wants us to do.
Would you join me as we pray?
Father, blessed Holy Spirit of God, we ask today, Lord Jesus, that you will bring to the surface things that we have harbored in our hearts against one another. We pray today, Father, that you will give us honest hearts. May we not say, “Well, this applies to So-and-So.” No, Lord, it applies to me, and it applies to all those who have listened. Grant, oh God, the power of Your Spirit to do what is right no matter the cost.
Before I close this prayer, how many of you say, “Pastor Lutzer, there are issues in my life that I know I have to deal with because God has talked to me?” Would you raise your hands please? “There are issues in my life.” I see many people raising their hands in the lower rung. What about in the balcony? You folks in the balcony? I see those hands. On the other side! Yes, thank God there are many. I don’t know how many. Probably, across the auditorium there are maybe twenty or thirty – could be more than that, but I do know this – that there are probably many more who didn’t raise a hand who need to deal with whatever God has shown them, and so let me pray for you. Let us ask God to give us the grace to deal with whatever He has shown to us that we might be free in Jesus.
Father, we know that Satan, who has listened to this message as well as we have, would like now for that Word that has been sown to simply be put aside in the press of other duties so that we might not once again have to deal with issues that You’ve brought to our attention. Help us, Lord Jesus, to overcome that, we ask, and seek You until our hearts are pure and clean, and our consciences cleansed before You and others. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.