Relationships: God’s Love is Forgiving

This entry is part [part not set] of 10 in the series Relationships - Buck McCallum

Relationships: God’s Love is Forgiving

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Issues to address

Just how forgiving God’s love is

Why we never feel the need for forgiveness

One of the main things that comes up between people

Texts I could use:

Luke 7:36ff.

Hebrews 12:15

Ephesians 4:32

Why is forgiveness good?

When I talk about the issue of forgiveness, I’m aware that not everyone agrees that forgiveness is even a good thing.  Lot’s of people think that getting even is better than forgiving.

The problem here is that these people don’t feel like they need to be forgiven themselves.  I don’t like to be in the business of persuading people that they are in need of forgiveness.  I find it just makes people angry.  It got Jesus in so much trouble, they killed him.

On the other hand, it’s exciting to see someone who does know they are forgiven.

Luke 7

There’s a story in Luke 7 which shows what I’m talking about, the contrast between someone who knows that they need forgiving and someone who doesn’t.

(Read v. 36, 37) Let’s stop right there.  It says that there was a woman in that town who was a sinner!  What does this mean to say that she was a sinner?  Does it mean that she was one of the only people who sinned?  Not at all.  What it means is that she was known that way.  She knew herself that way, and others knew her that way.  “There’s a sinner,” they might say.  “I’m a sinner,” she might say.

Other people wouldn’t want to say that about themselves.  How does it fit with you?  Can you say, “I’m a sinner?”  I find it’s actually kind of fashionable today.  But what’s key is to understand what you mean by that.  Do you mean, “I’m cool, and do things that are kind of dirty?”  Or, do you mean, “I do things that are wrong.  I’m the kind of person who needs forgiveness?”

Which is it for you?

Because unless you’re the second type–the type who knows “I need forgiveness–it will be next to impossible for you to really appreciate God’s love, as this story makes clear.

(Read v.38)  Why did she do this?  This is so embarassing!  She did it because Jesus taught something that blew her away.  Jesus taught forgiveness.  Jesus taught that God forgives.  Apparently this was so moving that she kind of got emotional here.  The onlookers thought that she was getting out of hand too (read through v. 48).

So, you can see the issues here.  The one person disgusted, because he doesn’t feel like the situation warrants this outburst.  And he certainly doesn’t understand why Jesus would associate with someone who admits she is a sinner.

And then there is the woman, who knows that forgiveness is no small issue.  And Jesus states a powerful principle in v. 47, “The one who is forgiven much . . .”  That saying was just a twinge sarcastice, as many of Jesus’ sayings were.  He’s not saying, “There are two types of people in the world, people who need a lot of forgiveness and people who need a little.”  There’s no such thing as people who only need a little forgiveness.  But there are plenty of people who feel that way.

This is like Jesus’ saying in other places where people challenged him, “Hey, what are you trying to say!?  What’s your message Jesus!?”  And he would say, “Hey, don’t worry about it.  I came for people who are sick and need a doctor.  So if you’re well, no sweat!”  And it would leave people with that feeling, “I think he’s trying to tell me something.”

“What have I done wrong?!”  “What’s the big deal?!”  “Why do I need forgiveness?!”  That’s the attitude Jesus is driving at.  With that kind of attitude, what motivation would there be for thankfulness?

Example: I remember I was confronted by a guy whom I had offended somehow.  And he came up and said, “Hey Buck, just wanted to let you know that I’ve been really struggling with  your attitude . . .  But I’ve been able to pray about it and I think the Lord has given me the power to forgive you.”  “OK, thanks!”  What was I supposed to say?  I didn’t feel like I needed his forgiveness.  I may have, but I didn’t feel like it!

That’s about how much sense it makes to some people to hear that God forgives them.  “Gee, that’s nice.  But, what’s the big deal?”

All I can say about that is that someone who feels that way is so far out of touch–there’s a rude awakening coming some day.

Why “loves much”?

Of course, the worst thing is, that someone who feels that way can love very, very little.  In other words, a person who is not deeply aware of their own need for forgiveness lives a loveless life.

That’s what Jesus says here.  I find it to be scary.  Because I, most of the time, don’t feel like I need very much forgiveness.  Does that mean that I have very little love in my life when I feel that way?  Yes.  That’s what it means.

Someone who doesn’t believe they need very much forgiveness is proud.  Someone who doesn’t believe he needs very much forgiveness is hard.  Someone who doesn’t believe he needs very much forgiveness isn’t aware of how he affects people.  If I really knew how I affected people, I would be agonizing for forgiveness.  I couldn’t sit there and say, “What’s the big deal?”

Right there is the main reason for what Jesus said.  A person who doesn’t think they need very much forgiveness would never go to God and say, “God, help me!  I can’t do it!  I can’t love people!  I’m terrible at it!”

And love is something that is supernatural.  Love is something that comes from God.  Love is something we cannot do on our own.  That’s why it’s so rare!  It’s so rare, that chances are good a person could go through their whole life and not really encounter someone who can really love.

Example: I have a relationship with my mother that’s probably not too unusual for someone in our culture.  She’s mom. Actually, she’s “the old lady,” as us kids affectionately call her.  And I go out to see the parents regularly.  But, you know how it is.  Kid’s don’t run back to the house to hang with the family at every opportunity.  Well, I started to notice that whenever I was out there people would be coming over to talk to her.  And they would call.  And as I was leaving, someone else would be showing up to spend time with the Old Lady.  This was puzzling to me.  Because my mom is quite old now.  And here these people like 20 years old are coming to spend time!  So I finally asked somene, “Why do you suppose that is?”  And the answer was, “Because she has a lot of love to give.”

That struck me.  I realized that love is so rare, that you can sit there and it’s like you’re a magnet.  People want to be with you.  It’s so rare.

And it’s forgiveness–forgiveness is the spark that starts love burning in someone.  Until someone is stricken by his need for forgiveness, their heart is hard and cold.

How can I see my need?

I can’t do anything to you to make you see your need for forgiveness.  This is a matter of your heart–whether it will be hard or soft, proud or humble.  It’s something that you have to be into and want.  It’s something that God has to bring about in your life.

But you know what’s funny.  People pray, “Oh God, I want to be able to love people more.”  Or, they pray, “Oh God, I would like a heart of gratitude.”

And then God answers that prayer.  And we walk around saying, “I’m such a screw up.  I’ve got so many problems.  I don’t see God working in my life at all!”  I just want to scream, “Don’t you see it!  That is God at work in your life!”  God is the great exposer.  He reveals the truth.  He shines a light in dark places to reveal just how dark they are!

It’s not that God causes problems in our lives.  He only reveals things that are already there.

Example: People who don’t have God working in their lives are like the “king with no clothes.”  They’re struting around, “Hey! . . .”

That is sad.  Someone who knows about their problems and is acutely aware of them, well, we may feel sorry for them but we shouldn’t.  God is at work in that person’s life.  They may be naked but at least they’re staying in their bathroom.  What’s sad is people who are clueless.

Example: I have a lot of opportunity to talk to people about problems and issues.  So sometimes I’ll be talking to someone and ask them, “Do you think you have a problem in this area?”  And they’ll say, “Not at all!”  And I have to look away!  Because it’s hard to keep the smirk off my face!  I’m looking at the king with no clothes.

If God is showing you how deep your problems are, let me suggest to you that you thank him.  “Thank you God for revealing to me things that I could never face on my own.  Thank you for your forgiveness!”

And that humility is going to become a spark to start real love in your life.  You’re not going to say, “Hey, I can love people.”  You’ll pray, “God, help me love people.”  You won’t say anymore, “Hey, I think I can love people OK.”  You’ll say, “I can’t.  I stink at it!”  And the people you hurt, or the people you never have any effect on at all, will say, “That’s right.”  But that’s where love starts.

I never thought I had a problem with forgiveness

I’ve talked about God’s forgiveness, and how that is a catalyst for our own love.  But I do want to talk about forgiving each other.  I’m not going to be able to spend a lot of time on it.  But, fortunately, there is a nice paper on this subject at the back of the room . . .

I don’t have a problem with forgiveness.  I’m basically an easy-going guy.  When I look at people who have wronged me, I don’t feel any feelings of hatred.

Sure, when I get hurt or wronged, I get angry like the next guy.  Sometimes I think about it several times.  But eventually it gets worked out and I just get over it!

These are things that I really thought about myself!  I believed them about myself!  What’s funny is that people who know me say I’ve always tended to be a little bit negative about myself.  So, I’m going to bet that a lot of us here feel the same way.

A couple things happened to change my mind.  First, I was counseling once, getting some marriage counseling in fact.  We were just sitting there talking about other people.  And as people’s names would come up, I would say, “Oh yeah!  That’s the guy who didn’t pay his rent and got thrown out of his house!”  Then we’d be talking about someone else and I’d say, “Oh yeah!  She’s the girl who dumped that one dude and then we found out later that she was dating someone else all along!”  “Really!?  When?”  “Oh, about 4 years ago.”

And this guy who was counseling with us said, “You never forget, do you?”  “What do you mean?”  “You never forget when someone screws up!”  And my mouth just dropped because I didn’t picture myself that way!  I did not see myself as someone who doesn’t forget.  I saw myself as someone who says, “Live and let live.  We all screw up in many ways.”

Then I started to notice.  It’s not that I hated people who did me wrong.  I didn’t sit around growling about them.  I just excised them from my life!  I eliminated them!  I refused to associate with them any more!

My basic message to them was, “Fine.  You’re an idiot.  You can hang with all the other idiots in this world.  I’m movin’ on!”

I started to see myself as the vengful, unforgiving person that I am.  And it was an ugly picture.

It’s a picture I’ll bet a lot of us here aren’t willing to accept about ourselves.  But you just need to think about the people in your life who have wronged you–really hurt you.  Think about how you treat them now versus how you treated them before.

Of course we can explain it all away.  “I’m just protecting myself.  He’s hurt me too much.  So I have to keep my distance.”

The Bible says we are unforgiving

God, in the Bible, says that we have a problem with forgiveness.  And he says it with characteristic clarity.

Titus 3:3

We too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.

This is Paul the apostle, admitting that before he understood God’s forgiveness he lived in hatred.  That was a way of life.

I Corinthians 3:3

You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men?

When Paul says that they are “worldly” he is just saying that they are acting like the rest of the people in this world.  As he says, “You’re acting like mere men.”  Nothing could be more typical of people than strife and division.

It’s hard for us to see it

I think that it’s hard to see just how deep the problem of being unforgiving is until you start to fight against it.

Example: When I started to take this issue seriously I saw this about myself.  Someone would say, “Hey Buck, how’re you getting along with so-and-so?”  “Great!  No problems at all!”  “How long has it been since you’ve seen him?”  “Uh, well . . .”

I don’t have any statistics, but I think this kind of thing–a failure to really forgive–is what drives more people apart than any other thing.

I don’t have a lot of time to get into the practicals of forgiveness.  Like I said, there is a paper on it in the back if you want more.  But I can leave you with a few thoughts about it.

Like I’ve been talking about tonight, it starts with realizing that I need forgiveness.  This is becoming a Christian . . .

But it’s more than that.  You also have to realize that you have wronged that person–the person you are angry at.  This is true in almost every single case.  You have also wronged them somehow.  I don’t care what the balance is, what the score is, what the ratio is.  That’s not the point.  The point is to admit, “I have also wronged him.”  And get specific.

This is such an important step.  Because the fact is, we can sometimes get angry and outraged at a person in order to keep ignoring what we’ve done.  It helps us keep our eyes off our own problems.

Can you enumerate the things you’ve done wrong to that other person?  Usually this means you haven’t even started to forgive them yet, because you haven’t seen your own problems.

That goes for about 90% of the cases where there is hostility between people.  There is a small percentage of the cases where we are just victims.  But even there, God can help us forgive.

Acknowledge just how wrong they were

Now there’s a step in here that some people have a harder time with than others.  I think the reason might be that sometimes seeing just how wrong someone has been can be threatening to us, especially if they are family or something.

But let’s just put it this way: You can’t forgive someone for something they didn’t do.  And if you minimize what someone did, then you are never forgiving them.  You may think you are.  But you’ll still feel uncomfortable around that person because you forgave them for the wrong thing!

Example: If my wife is cruel and beats me up, then I could say, “Sometimes she gets a little out of hand but it’s OK.”

That’s not forgiveness.

Begin to pray

Notice I don’t say, “Pray.”  That gives the impression that it will happen after once.  The  idea is that you have to start to talk this over with God . . .

Begin to love

Trying in your heart is not enough.  You have to start to do something positive for that person.

Jesus said, “Bless those who persecute you!”  Paul said, “Return good for evil!”  You have to begin to do positive things for that person.

And in this case, the maxim is true: Your heart will follow your actions.  You will start to feel better about that person because you are loving them . . .


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