NOTE: VERY POWERFUL SERMON ON FORGIVENESS, BY DARYL TOWNSEND (with Off the Chain Ministries in Middleburg, FL.
One of the most ungodly kings in Israel’s history and yet God forgave him when he repented. How about us? Should we forgive people the way God forgave Manasseh?
So, what does a person’s life look like when he or she is forgiven. It depends! How much have you been forgiven will permeate in like fashion, just ask Jesus (Lk. 7:36-50).
The great gift of forgiveness given by God should so transform our lives that we would have a divinely lead heart, ready to forgive others. That is a life not only made “white as snow” but lives that way as well.
Some Christians have a conditional view of forgiveness while other Christians view it unconditionally. Instead, we ought to look at the intent of forgiveness that utilizes both aspects of it: reconciliation.
Without the spirit of forgiveness we cannot imitate our Savior who forgave us of our sins, nor can we be in His eternal presence.
When God, thru Moses, led his people to the Promised Land, he instructed them to drive out all the inhabitants of the land. These people were idol worshipers and God did not want his people mixing with them for fear that the Jews would take on their idol worship and forsake God.
Given a Clean Slate, they could worship and serve the true God as he instructed and remain faithful to Him alone.
King Josiah served God from an early age. One of his first acts in serving God was to tear down the “high places” and destroy the wooden, carved and molded images. He too was creating a Clean Slate for the children of God to begin serving God again without the baggage of the previous evil kings.
The history of the Jewish people reveals that they were repeatedly rejecting God and turning to idols and worship of false gods.
When one is baptized to become a Christian we also are given the opportunity of a Clean Slate.
Psalm 51:7 says “we shall be whiter than snow.” All of our previous sins are forgiven by the grace of God. Yes, we will stumble and fall from time to time, but Christ’s blood continually cleanses us from our sins as we repent of them.
Let us not be like Israel of old. Let’s not turn back to our former lusts of the flesh. Let’s not take up our “idols” and reject God in doing so.
We have a Clean Slate – let’s fill it with good things (Philippians 4:8).
In Luke 15:11-32, Jesus told the Parable of the Prodigal to rebuke the Pharisees and scribes for grumbling against Jesus who was eating with tax collectors and sinners. I recognize that in the context the prodigal represents the sinners, the older brother represents the scribes and Pharisees, and the Father represents Jesus or God. He was asking the scribes and Pharisees to rejoice that the sinners were coming to Him. They just couldn’t get it.
However, as we apply this story to us today, I can’t help but ask when the prodigals come seeking help, how do I respond. Am I like the father or like the older brother?
Keep in mind what is happening here. The prodigal son had made all kinds of mistakes. The prodigal’s demise was completely of his own making. He was in dire straits because he had done stupid and sinful things. He hadn’t lived right, but life treated him poorly. He hadn’t just been a victim of circumstance. In the story, notice that he didn’t actually come back to the father seeking forgiveness; he came back seeking help. He didn’t say, “Forgive me and accept me back as one of your sons.” He planned to say, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.” Why was he planning to say this? Because he was eating with the pigs and the hired servants in his father’s house were better off than he was. His father could help.
However, he didn’t even get to finish his speech. The father was so excited that the son had realized his errors and was seeking him, he jumped in and said, “Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him…” You know the rest.
There was a fly in this ointment. The older brother got home and learned about the father’s compassion and mercy. He learned that the father hadn’t simply treated the prodigal like a servant but like a son. That “son of yours” didn’t deserve it. He had brought his misery on himself. He had made his mistakes. The older brother had never made mistakes. He hadn’t wasted his inheritance. He had always done just what the father asked. But the father hadn’t even given him a young goat. It would have been one thing if the younger son had lived like the older brother and life had just mistreated him. If he had ended up with the pigs through no fault of his own, the older brother could potentially see a reason for help. But this was ridiculous. It was perhaps even sinful. This was the wrong response. The right response was punishment. The right response was leaving him to suffer in the natural consequences of his own stupid, sinful mistakes.
Sadly, the older brother was unable to see the grace of his father in his own life. He hadn’t recognized that the clothes on his back came from the father. He didn’t see that every meal he had eaten in that home had come from his father. All he could see was his work and how he had accomplished so much for the father. This celebration should have been his, not the prodigal’s. The father should have declared a feast for him because of his goodness, not a celebration of this prodigal’s profligacy. The father should have shouted from the highest rooftop, “Look at my older son. He is awesome. Look at how well he has managed his life in my service. Let’s have a feast for him.” It was a slap in the face to his good service to watch this younger brother be helped when he hadn’t been as wise as the older. Which shows another struggle. The older brother didn’t understand what the celebration was about. The feast was not a reward for the prodigal’s sins. It was a celebration of the prodigal’s return. The prodigal recognized he had done something wrong and turned to the father for help. That should be celebrated. That should be met with mercy and compassion.
But what about us? When prodigals seek help, how do we respond? Are we like the father, responding with compassion and mercy? Or are we like the older brother, responding with self-righteous indignation? When the drug addict comes forward for the 100th time, do we turn up our nose or are we willing to embrace him and compassionately help him in this decision to return to the Father? “Why do the elders keep putting up with that man? Haven’t they noticed me? I’ve never done drugs.” When someone’s child goes astray spiritually, are we willing to weep with the parents who weep or do we remain aloof asking, “What did they expect with the way they raised that child?” Do we think to ourselves, “Why does everyone rush around to support them? I’m the one who raised good kids”? When poor stewards of money come to say they are in dire straits and they need advice and help, do we embrace them for recognizing their problem and offer compassion or do we judge them saying, “You made your bed, go lie in it. Nobody ever gave me any handouts. I’m doing so well because I’ve worked at it”? Do we grumble, thinking, “It just isn’t fair. It’s all these people who mess up their lives that get help. Nobody ever helps me”? When the adulterer whose family is falling apart asks the congregation to pray for her, do we not only pray for her but with her or do we walk passed with eyes askance, avoiding her look because we just can’t understand how anyone could do such a thing and then have the nerve to ask us to pray for her. Do we think, “How dare she come here asking for this after what she’s done. She should be more like me. I’ve never committed adultery”?
Of course, we are certain we are like the father because if folks from the world come to us with these awful stories but are willing to become a Christian, we race to them, embracing them, forgiving their past, and offering to help. However, keep in mind in the context of this story, the sinners and tax collectors were not “alien sinners” coming to God. They were children of the covenant who hadn’t kept the covenant. The Pharisees and scribes were lawyers of the covenant, spending their days and nights studying it to the nth degree. Yes, we’ll often be the father to folks from the world coming in, but what about to our younger or older brethren who have made different mistakes from us? Are we the father to them? Or are we the grumbling older brother, complaining, resting in self-righteousness?
Finally, at the heart of this story is the fact that the older brother did not recognize his own prodigality. It is utterly ridiculous for him to claim, “I never disobeyed your command.” He may not have gone off into the far country. He may not have been as vile and rebellious as the prodigal. However, there is not a son alive and never has been (except Jesus) who never disobeyed his father. He didn’t realize how much he needed the father’s mercy and compassion himself. He thought he had earned what he had and that the father hadn’t actually given him what he deserved. Perhaps if we can all recognize how prodigal we’ve been, how much we need mercy and compassion, we’ll be more like the father to our brethren.
Walk into a doctor’s office and look around. Why is everyone there? Because they’re sick and they need a physician to get better. Walk into a Toastmasters club and look around you. Why is everyone there? Because they want to get better at speaking in front of people and they need help. Walk into an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and look around you? Why is everyone there? Because they are struggling with alcohol and they need help overcoming.
Here is what is interesting about the above organizations. No one tries to hide their sickness in a doctor’s office. No one tries to hide their fear of public speaking in Toastmasters. No one tries to hide their struggles in an A.A. meeting. Why? Because in these settings they all know everyone is there for the same reason and they are all too desperate for help to hide it.
Now, walk into a church’s assembly and look around you? Why is everyone there? The reality is everyone is there because they are all sinners and need a Savior (Romans 3:23-24). They are all there because they’ve learned without God they can’t make it and they need Him to help them win the victory over sin in their lives (Romans 7:14-25).
This is where we start having trouble. Even though that is where every single one of us is. When we come into a church’s assembly, we often perceive something different. Instead of seeing a group of people who are struggling with sin and have gathered to get some help, most of us see ourselves as struggling with sin but see everyone else as really good people who are just coming together because they are so spiritual. When we’re at a doctor’s office, we don’t care if everyone knows we’re sick, but when we’re “at church” we try to cover up any spiritual sickness we have going on. We don’t want others to see. We’re afraid they’ll look down on us.
Sadly, some Christians are like that. Some are like Simon the Pharisee in Luke 7:36-50 who actually don’t realize how sick they are. If asked why they are there, they really might say, “Because I’m so spiritual,” while in their mind adding, “Too bad everyone is not as spiritual as I am.” Having met too many of these Christians, many of the rest of us put a lid on our real struggles and try to fight them alone until they become too big to hide. Sadly, in those situations some folks just give up the spiritual fight entirely.
In this situation, the ones who should really be ashamed are not the ones who have continued struggles. Rather, the ones who should be ashamed are the ones who think they’ve got their lives under control on their own and aren’t being honest about how sinful they really are, how much they need a Savior, and how humble they really ought to be as they’re dealing with people whose sins are different. Remember, in the parable of the prodigal son, it wasn’t the prodigal son who was the bad guy. It was the older brother who was too good to go in and celebrate with the returning prodigal and the father.
Please, take a good long look at yourself. Why are you here?
1. You don’t have to cover up the sins to forgive.
2. Remember your place.
Now we’ll learn two more keys from Joseph that will help us grow in forgiveness.
3. See God’s work through it.
Joseph said, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20). I don’t believe Joseph means God directly caused this sin in order to preserve people. No, the sin came because Joseph’s brothers meant evil. However, God, in His awesome power used it to accomplish good. That is how amazing our God is.
Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” God works all things together for good. That doesn’t mean God directly caused all things. It simply means God uses all things. He even uses the sins of others for our good.
I’m not saying we should be excited about the sins of others with some kind of masochistic glee. However, as we look back and look at how we have been impacted, look for how God used these sins for our good just as He used the sins of Joseph’s brothers for their (and our) good.
4. Keep the relationship the primary thing.
I certainly realize that Joseph didn’t simply welcome his brothers with open arms right from the beginning. I know he tested them. However, I can’t read passages like Genesis 43:30; 45:1-5 without seeing that Joseph was thinking about the relationship. These were his brothers. He wanted that relationship restored more than he wanted them punished.
I can’t help but notice that not once does Joseph say, “Hey guys, remember that I told you that you would bow before me? Guess I was right.” The relationship was more important to Joseph than being right.
If we can keep the importance of the relationship in the forefront, we can much more easily forgive.
I know forgiveness is not easy. I know having a forgiving spirit is especially hard if the one who wronged us won’t even seek forgiveness. However, keeping these four principles in mind will definitely help us grow in forgiveness.
One of the hardest things God has asked us to do is forgive. When Jesus taught the apostles to forgive, their response was, “Increase our faith” (Luke 17:3-5). They knew forgiving was hard. I wish I could give you a perfect formula for easy forgiveness. I can’t. However, the story of Joseph provides four keys to make forgiveness easier and grow in your ability to forgive others even when they’ve badly mistreated you.
First, keep in mind that Joseph’s brothers did not just mistreat him. They sold him into slavery. Almost every bad thing that happened in his life came from what they did to him. If anyone had a right to a grudge or to sulk in misery because of his dysfunctional family, Joseph is the one. Yet, he forgave his brothers. Notice two of the keys from Joseph to help us forgive.
1. You don’t have to cover up the sins to forgive.
Some folks act like forgiveness means pretending the person never did anything wrong. That’s not the way Joseph dealt with it. When Joseph’s brothers came to him seeking forgiveness in Genesis 50:20, he didn’t cover up what his brothers did. He called a spade a spade. “You meant evil against me.”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you go around touting and reminding of the sins. I’m simply pointing out that forgiveness doesn’t mean acting like nothing ever happened, tiptoeing around some issue because we are afraid it might ruffle feathers. If someone sinned, they sinned. Call it that.
2. Remember your place.
When Joseph’s brothers feared Joseph would not forgive them, he set their minds at ease by saying, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?” (Genesis 50:19). He understood his place. He was just a man. He was not God.
For me, this means two things. First, it is not my place to seek vengeance. Nor is it my place to punish. That is God’s domain. (Clearly, I’m not dealing with the issue of family or congregational discipline.) My biggest hindrance to forgiveness is wanting the violator to be punished. But Romans 12:19 is pretty clear. “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
Second, since I am not God, I am also a sinner. I can get in a competition with others if I want about who is the worse sinner. However, that isn’t going to help me in eternity and it isn’t going to help any of my relationships. The fact is, there was one perfect person who had a right to hold all others in contempt for their sins. However, instead of doing so, He died so all others could be forgiven. I need to remember that I need forgiveness as much as anyone. Therefore, I should be as willing to offer it to others as Jesus was willing to offer it to me.
Joseph is a great example for us in many ways. Hopefully we can learn to grow in his forgiving spirit. Look forward to next week when we’ll learn two more keys to having a forgiving spirit.