Free from Anger, Free to Forgive (Ephesians Sermon 31 of 54)
March 13, 2016 | Andrew Davis
Works of the Flesh, Humility, Forgiveness
Well, I was just praying a moment ago about the spiritual vision that faith gives us, the ability to see into the invisible realms. That's faith. And I don't doubt that many of you walked in here today in some kind of spiritual bondage, as though there were chains around your heart. I'm speaking even to believers in Jesus Christ, that there are chains that Satan can put around our souls that hinder us in our walks with Christ. And I don't doubt that if the Lord has sovereignly brought unbelievers here, that you are wrapped up in the chains of bitterness and unforgiveness. And the thing that's so beautiful about the Gospel is that Jesus has the power to set us free. He has the power to set prisoners free. And my desire for this sermon today is that you would be set free from bitterness and unforgiveness, that the Word of God might be at work in your lives and in your heart so effectively that you would feel a sense of liberation. Jesus said this in John Chapter 8, "Everyone who sins is a slave to sin. But if the Son sets you free, you'll be free indeed,” or truly free. That's my vision, my heart is that all of God's people would have that sense of liberation.
The Key to Escaping Doubt
As we come to the last two verses of Ephesians 4, I had in my mind, a picture of a dark and looming castle, foreboding and terrifying, and the image comes quickly in my mind to Pilgrim's Progress, which we were reading with my family. And you remember that story about how Christian and Hopeful are making their way on the journey to Heaven, it's an allegory of the Christian life, and as they're making their way to the celestial city, they come to a particularly difficult stretch of the road. And there's this convenient, pleasant little path along the side, in this meadow, and it looks a lot easier than the path they're in, so they jump the fence, which you just learn in Pilgrim's Progress never to do. Never leave the straight and narrow. As soon as you do, you're in trouble. But for a while, it ran alongside and things were comfortable and things were good for a while. But soon they found themselves in great distress, for they were on the grounds of a dreadful castle called ‘Doubting Castle.’ It was owned by a terrifying ogre, a giant called Giant Despair, and that was his property. And he found them sleeping on the ground because they couldn't find their way back onto the road, and he arrested them, seized them, and threw them into his dreadful dungeon. And there he kept them, and tortured them, and tormented them and afflicted them so bitterly that they wanted to die, and as a matter of fact, he tempted them directly with suicide. He offered them dagger, or a little vial of poison, or some rope whereby they could kill themselves. And he was saying, "If you don't do it, I am going to just rip you limb from limb. Here are the bones of all the others that I have killed." And so they were in deep despair until suddenly at one moment, Christian remembered something. Something came to his mind. "Why are we sitting in this stinking dungeon?" And he reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a key, a miraculous key that fit every lock in Doubting Castle. It was called the Key of Promise. And by believing in the promises of God, they were set free, and they were liberated from Doubting Castle.
The Castle of Bitterness
So, I haven't asked John Bunyan's permission for this, that would be weird, but I want to take the images and transfer them some. I want to imagine that some of you pilgrims, who are on your way, are locked up in a different kind of castle, but very much like this one. And I'm going to call it the ‘Castle of Bitterness’ or ‘Bitterness Castle.’ And the giant that's beating you up is, I'm going to give him the name Giant Vengeance. And there you are languishing in these chains in this prison of bitterness, and everyday the giant comes and gives you a seemingly delicious elixir to drink. And it's sweet in the mouth, but bitter in the stomach. And it fills your mind with all kinds of hallucinations and images of harm done to your enemies, all the people who have hurt you and sinned against you. And you have dark thoughts of what you would like to do to them, and this poison that you're drinking makes you, increasingly angry, and unbeknownst to you, makes you more and more powerless, more and more enslaved, less and less likely to get out of Bitterness Castle, when suddenly Christian remembered that you have a key in your breast pocket and the key is called forgiveness. And by forgiveness, you can be set free from this vicious castle. That's the image I have in my mind today.
The Causes of Bitterness and Unforgiveness
There may be many of you in the throes of bitterness, the bitterness of unforgiveness, and that Satan has wrapped, or continually is wrapping chains around your heart, secretly around your heart. Perhaps you have been sinned against greatly in your life. I've been in pastoral ministry for well over 20 years, I've done a lot of counseling, and I don't doubt at all that many of you have been sinned against, even very viciously. Perhaps you were abused as a child, maybe physically, emotionally, maybe even sexually. Maybe you were attacked or assaulted by a criminal. Maybe you were mugged, or some other criminal act happened to your family. Maybe some loved one was murdered, even. Perhaps you are and have been for many years a victim of racism or other social injustice. And so, those kinds of terrible things happen.
We know that around the world, our brothers and sisters are viciously persecuted. I mean they are actually persecuted. They're tortured, they're imprisoned. We know that these things actually happen in the world. Then there's the other context, and I was just thinking about all of you. I'm thinking about the context of marriage, and I don't doubt that many marriages have been severely hurt by serious sin. That there is the sin of sexual infidelity, of adultery, or internet pornography, or other things that have seriously damaged trust, and there's one of you that's deeply wounded by the sin of another. Or, I think about the parent-child relationship, which is so challenging and so imperfect as sinners try to train other sinners and things aren't done well, and it's so easy to have bitterness up toward your parents, or for the parents to feel bitterness toward, especially grown children who aren't walking with the Lord. And so, in the family life, there's so much of temptation toward bitterness. And then I think about church life and how church life, local church life, I mean is so poisoned by bitterness and unforgiveness. Things happen. Sinners are gathered together in covenant relationship with one another and things get said that shouldn't be said. Things get done that shouldn't have been done, or vice versa, things that should have been said weren't. Acts of kindness that should have been given or sacrificial acts of love that should have been given weren't. I don't doubt that for a moment. And so, there can be a deep-seated hostility towards that specific church, or just church in general.
I remember years ago, I was witnessing to a man and he hadn't been to church in years, raised in a Christian home, but he just hadn't been and it wasn't long until we got talking and he told me a tale of woe about something that happened years ago at a local church. I thought it was a significant issue, but it was even more significant that he hadn't been back to church since. So I asked him, I said, "Have you ever had food poisoning? Has that ever happened to you?" He said, "Yeah, actually, I have." I said, "Was it bad?" He said, "It was really bad." I said, "Did you give up eating?" He said, "Good point." We don't give up eating because we had one bad meal and we don't give up on local church because something happened once. But you may lack the means to know how to have a complete work of forgiveness in your heart, a work of grace so that you're genuinely, truly set free. As Jesus said, "free indeed." And that's the desire I have. So I don't doubt that there have been real hurts in your life.
I also wonder so much about imaginary hurts. You can be so genuinely hurt that you lose trust in other people and then you start ascribing bad motives, and reading people's hearts, and looking into what they're doing and looking at a look on the face, or a reluctance, or something, and you just see so many sins there as though you can read their minds. Those imaginary sins can be just as powerful as real ones.
Brothers and sisters, Jesus can set us free from all of this. And that's the beauty that I have of preaching at the end of Ephesians 4, these two verses. Now, I want you to know that I don't intend to continue to go this slowly through the Book of Ephesians. I was talking to one brother. He said, "You know, I was talking to another person and we were thinking that you are preaching through Ephesians as though you'll never preach through this book again." “Well,” I said, "Actually, I always preach like that." I never assume that I'm going to get a second crack at Isaiah 55 or Genesis 12 or Galatians 3. I try to maximize the time we have, but I don't want to slow down in a micro-way. I really am excited about what books are yet to come, and the passages yet to come. So yes, we are right in the middle of a sermon from last week.
So I preached on one verse last week, verse 30, "Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God with whom you're sealed for the Day of Redemption." I'm going to rectify the problem today by preaching on two verses. So that's my desire. I'm going to preach on two whole verses today. But I think, as you can see, and you can always see, already see the way I've kind of set up, or introduced this is how vital these verses are for us. And honestly, I don't apologize for slowing down in this very practical section of God's word because I actually think some of the topics that Paul addresses in Ephesians 4, 5 and 6 are going to be the weightiest, most significant, most practical issues you'll ever face in your life, and we may never have a chance to look at specifically how Ephesians addresses these things again. And so, I want to maximize it.
A Life of Tenderhearted Forgiveness in the Spirit (vs. 31-32)
So look at verses 31 and 32. There it says, "Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." So, the context of all of these ethical injunctions should not be ignored. We're not just being told to be moral, to be good people, we are taught in Ephesians how the morals, the ethics of the Christian life are built on the solid foundation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The plan of redemption that God has worked, “that God planned from before the foundation of the world, how God chose us in Christ before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight and how in love He predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ and how Christ shed His blood on the cross. In Him we have redemption through His blood the forgiveness of sins,” and that's going to be vital for the lesson even today.
Brief Overview of Ephesians
So we're told in Ephesians 1, the depths of the work of God, His eternal plan and how Christ executed, and how the Holy Spirit then in His sovereign grace to you applied it to you personally. It says in Ephesians 1:13, "And you also, when you heard the word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation, having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of God." And so, he gives us that great vision in Ephesians Chapter 2 of this, of the spiritual temple rising brick by brick, “living stone by living stone to be a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit, the eternal Church of Jesus Christ.” So, that's Ephesians 1-3.
Then in Ephesians 4-6, he talks about how then shall we live in light of these things given that we have this incredible Gospel, this eternal plan of God, what kind of life should we live in this world? Begins in Ephesians 4:1 where Paul says, "As a prisoner for the Lord, then I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received." He goes right from that into talking about unity. He says in verses 2-4, "Be completely humble and gentle. Be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit," he says.
So I think all of that's very relevant. Anything that ruptures the Body of Christ, any sin that hurts the Body of Christ is grievous to the Holy Spirit, and damages the work of God in this world, any sin. But I would say, there are a few sins so destructive as bitterness, and anger, and unforgiveness. They're just guaranteed to destroy families and they're guaranteed to destroy churches. And so we have in Ephesians 4, a beautiful vision of the power of God to liberate His people from these sins. The remedy for us is we, Christians, who have been forgiven so much, must forgive much as well. That's the lesson that we're going to see.
A Central Work of the Spirit: Supernatural Unity in Christ’s Body
And so last week, we talked about the grieving of the Holy Spirit of God, verse 30, "Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God with whom you were sealed for the Day of Redemption." We talked about how this teaches us about the person of the Holy Spirit, and how the Spirit is a person. He is not an impersonal force like electricity or wind, for He can be grieved. And so, we have this sense of the sins of our lives being grievous to Him and so we spent the whole time on that, but we're transitioning now to talk about what flows from that. "Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God with whom you were sealed for the Day of Redemption." And then it says, "Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger."
So the idea here is that our bitterness, our unforgiveness is grievous to the Holy Spirit of God, and how He is commanding us here now to get rid of it. So, this is talking about a life of tender-hearted forgiveness in the Spirit. So the central work of the Spirit here is the supernatural unity of the Body of Christ that we just mentioned.
Get Rid of Defiling Sins that Destroy the Body
And so, Paul then lists sins that work to rip apart the unity of the body, that pollute us, that corrupt our souls. So we're talking about the pattern of sanctification, of becoming more and more holy, and how He gives us a rhythm of sanctification in verses 22-24. Look again at that if you would. In verses 22-24, Ephesians 4, it says, "You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off the old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires," put it off, "to be made new in the spirit of your minds and to put on the new self created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness." And then, He just goes through various topics of the Christian life. He talks right away about lying. “Each of you,” verse 25, “must put off falsehood.” So, we're going to put off lying and deceit and falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor for we're all members of one body. So, we're putting off lying, we're putting on truth-telling.
And then again in verse 28, "He who has been stealing must steal no longer but must work, doing something useful with his own hands that he may have something to share with those in need." Same thing, we're putting off the corruption of stealing, but we're not left neutral doing nothing not knowing what to do. Instead, we are putting on labor, we're going to work hard with our hands, we're going to develop a skill, a craft, and we're going to generate money and resources with which we can now help others, not hurt others by stealing from them, it's a new way of living. And the same thing in verse 29, with our speech, "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouth." So this is negative sanctification, things that we must not do. “Don't let corrupting speech come out of your mouth,” “but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs that it may give grace to those who hear.” So no, we're not taking a life time vow of silence, but we're actually supposed to speak, we're supposed to speak the truth in love, and build each other up by the Word of God, and by gracious words that will strengthen the Body of Christ. So it's that same rhythm here. “Get rid of these sins that defile the body, that corrupt the body, and be made new in your mind and put on a new way of relating” that we're going to see the same rhythm in verses 31 and 32.
The Taste of Chloroquine
And so, we come right away to this issue of bitterness, bitterness. So what is bitterness? When you think of bitterness, what does that mean? Well, I think it's a deep-seated anger. It's a long-term unforgiveness that corrupts the heart. Something happened a long time ago, and maybe a pattern of sins happened, and you just can't let it go. I remember on my first mission trip, it was in 1986, I went to Kenya. And I had to take medicine to prevent me, hopefully to prevent me from getting malaria. And one of the medicines that was prescribed for me with something called Chloroquine, and the “quine” is related to quinine. I have never, in all my life, put something so bitter in my mouth as that pill. It was a bitter pill. I mean literally, not metaphorically, literally a bitter pill. And to make matters worse, it was incredibly water soluble. So it didn't matter how much moisture I sucked from my tongue and got it absolute as dry as I could, having a bottle ready to take it down, it would start to melt instantly as soon as I put it on my [tongue]. It just was bitter, it would taste bitter for 15 minutes. Well, that was good when it was 15 minutes.
There was one time, and I'll never forget it as long as I live, when as I was washing this pill down, it got wedged right between my molar and the inside of my cheek, just stuck there and completely melted in my mouth. Now some things you want to melt in your mouth, some things you don't. This is in that category of things you absolutely don't want melting in your mouth. I was thinking about Chloroquine and malaria the rest of the day. I couldn't get the taste out of my mouth, it was so bitter. Some people are like that in life. They're just bitter to interact with. Every encounter you have with them, you're left with that bitter taste.
What is Bitterness?
It's a persistent gloomy disposition. It's an outlook, a way of looking at life: grumpiness, irritability, sourness, negativity. It's usually displayed in sharp words, in a negative outlook, a negative way of looking at the providential circumstances that God brings in life. Seeing negative things in people. They complain about circumstances. There's not a lot of worship, not a lot of joy. Now, I would say unbelievers are persistently characterized by bitterness. However much they may cover it over with a veneer of joviality or their personality, but they are, inside their hearts, in some sense, nursing grievances. I think this is where secular counseling makes a lot of its money, it's just people just can't forgive their parents, or they can't forgive their spouse, or they can't forgive this or that, and they're just forever getting counseling as a result, and it's just an ongoing rhythm of bitterness.
And so, I picture inside the heart of a bitter person, it's like they have one of the world's largest private zoos, a menagerie, and you've got all these wild, and untamed animals roaming your property, and roaming the halls of your zoo. And I was thinking I was reading about William Randolph Hearst, he had the largest private zoo in the world at the time, in the 1930s. He had skilled veterinarians that would feed these animals. Some of them roamed free. And I just get the picture of his veterinarians and animal handlers just going up and down and feeding these animals. And so, just metaphorically, they're just people that feed, that nurse their grievances. They keep them strong, they keep them alive, they bring them up again and again in their own minds, they feed those grievances. It's as though you don't ever want to forget that so and so did such and such to me. And so you're feeding it by remembering it.
So, I believe non-Christians struggle deeply with this. It says in Romans 3, "Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness." Peter said to Simon, who tried to buy the power of the Holy Spirit with money, he said, "I see that you're full of bitterness and captive to sin." So I just think this is characteristic of the unbeliever's life. But friends, it should not, it should not, it must not be characteristic of the Christian life. We've been set free from that. We have been set free. We should not be negative. We should be filled with joy and contentment in the Christian life. The Apostle Paul said so beautifully in Philippians 4, "I've learned the secret of being content. In any and every situation, whether well-fed or hungry, living in plenty or in want, I've learned that secret of being content." Bitter people have learned the opposite secret of being discontent in any and every situation. They could be very well-fed, they could be staying in an incredible hotel, they could be wearing the best of clothes. They're still not happy. They're high-maintenance people, if you know what I mean. We should not be that way. We should be walking in a sense of contentment and forgiveness. Psalm 34:8, "Taste and see that the Lord is good." Now, we've tasted, haven't we? We've tasted the goodness of God. We've tasted His kindness in Christ. So we must get rid of all bitterness.
Ridding Ourselves of Sinful Anger
Secondly, he talks about rage and anger, we'll take it together. Earlier in the chapter, Paul spoke of, I think, righteous anger, "Be angry, but don't sin." So there's righteous anger. This is not talking about righteous anger here at all, in verse 31. This is all unrighteous anger, wickedness. So get rid of it all. So, there's a whole range of sinful anger, from just normal anger, I don't know, peak irritation, all the way up to red faced, vein popping, and here's this word, “brawling.” Do you see this? Are you shocked by this word? “Get rid of all brawling. Dear friends stop that brawling. No more brawling.” Think about that. Do you guys struggle with brawling? Is this a problem for you? I picture a Western, a movie, a saloon with a bunch of drunken cowboys and gun-slingers throwing chairs at each other and people through windows. And I think it's just amazing the range of sins that the Apostle Paul felt it necessary to address. Well, some translations say it's a brawling, just like clamor. And so there's a sense of really the top end of anger, where you've really lost self-control. You're yelling, face is red. Now you've lost self-control. It says in Proverbs 29:11, "A fool gives full vent to his anger." So you're giving full vent to this person that you're zeroing in on and yelling at. How terrifying is this list of sin, and how great a cancer it is, and how far it will take us.
Then he mentions something different; “slander.” Evil speaking is mentioned here. That's a little bit different, a little cooler, more calculated, in some ways, more vicious. It's like with a calm, cool, collected heart, you're going to assassinate someone's character by slander or gossip. The word here is related to our word for blasphemy. So you're going to just tear down someone who is created in the image of God, speaking against him, as James mentions. And then malice, which is just a deep seated determination to do someone harm. It's, I think, very related to vengeance at that point. Get rid of all feelings of vengeance.
The word malice probably had its most famous use in American history in the second inaugural address of Abraham Lincoln. As you remember, at the end of that incredibly painful war in which so many hundreds of thousands of men were killed, North and South, he already had a vision for the reconciliation of the nation. And then in the second inaugural, he said this, "With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right. Let us strive on to finish the work that we're in, to bind up the nation's wounds, and to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and for his orphan."
So, Lincoln had a view of that. So I can imagine how bitter, some of those women and sons and brothers could have felt about their loved ones that died, and how much they still perhaps wanted to get vengeance on the other side, whoever the other side was, it didn't matter, but there's that sense of malice of vengeance. All of these things listed in verse 31, “grieve the Holy Spirit of God.” And we are told very simply to get rid of them. Like is it really that simple? Can we just take them out like the trash? I would say take them out like toxic waste. Take them out like something that's going to destroy your family. Yes, take it out. And frankly, in the end, it's going to be as simple as that, you're going to make a decision to forgive, and you're going to ask God for the empowerment of the Holy Spirit of God. I'm going to talk about how to do this at the end. But yeah, in the end, that's what it's going to be.
Put On a Godly Demeanor Toward Others
Instead, put on godly demeanor toward others, look at verse 32, "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other just as in Christ, God forgave you." So, here we've got that same rhythm, put off the old, the corruption, and then put on the new, and so we have this command. Now literally, it says, "become kind." I think that's more realistic, isn't it? Not, “Be as kind as you've been being toward this person.” You weren't being kind. Become kind. There's a transition that has to happen. There's a beautiful image that Martyn Lloyd-Jones gave me, as I was preparing for this message. And as you can see it my yard, there are trees that hold on to their old dead leaves all winter. Have you seen them? Some, they're old, get rid of them. But there's some that hold on to their dead leaves until the spring. And then they start falling because these beautiful, shiny new green leaves are coming in behind them, and pushing out the old. And that's a beautiful picture here of how kindness pushes out bitterness.
So, what does it mean to be kind? That's a very common word. And as I've analyzed and I've studied it I think it has to do with a generous helpfulness. Kindness is a generous or a cheerful helpfulness. Whereas bitter people don't help at all, there's nothing helpful about bitter people. Kind people want to alleviate suffering wherever they see it. It's everything from giving a cup of cold water to somebody that is thirsty, to propping pillows behind someone who's bed ridden or alleviating suffering, even scratching someone's back or anything that you can do to alleviate misery in this world, that's kindness, done cheerfully. That's the key is your demeanor, your disposition.
There's a cheerful helpfulness in kindness. Now it goes all the way up to infinity, because we're told that God was kind in saving us in Jesus. There's a link between kindness and salvation. And so it says if you look back at Ephesians 2:7, I love that verse. And it says in Ephesians 2:7 "In order that in the coming ages, [in the coming ages,] He might show the incomparable riches of his grace expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus." He's going to show us how kind He was to us, while we lived in this world, and how kind He still wants to be to us going forward. I just love that picture. There's a beautiful illustration of this kind of kindness in the life of Joseph. You remember how Joseph was so viciously dealt with by his jealous brothers. And how they were so jealous of the affections of Jacob who didn't handle his family life well, we know that, but he just showed clear favoritism and Joseph's brothers hated him, and were jealous of him, and they wanted to murder him, instead they sold him into slavery. It's just a vicious story. Do you remember how God in His providence raised Joseph up to be second in command in Egypt? And how in the course of time, Joseph's entire family, Jacob and all of his brothers came to live with them in Egypt and it's just incredible and very moving, very emotional story.
But then Jacob died. The father died. And the brothers came crawling to Joseph. Basically pleading for their lives. They thought that Joseph had been waiting for Jacob to die, and now that he's dead, he's going to take vengeance on them. And Joseph wasn't like that, he was just so free from bitterness. Jacob noted that his arm stayed limber in his blessing on Joseph, he wasn't stiff, rigor mortis hadn't set in, he was limber and yielded to the purposes of God and he says, very beautifully and very famously, he says "You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good to save many lives."
Now that's a famous verse. The next one is the one I want to focus on, Genesis 50:21. Listen to this. "‘So then don't be afraid, I will provide for you and for your children’ And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.” That's stunning to me. He's got the big picture theology right. And then, rubber meets the road, he provides food and clothing and shelter, and then even below that just speaks kindly to them. That's a stunning picture of the kind of supernatural kindness God wants us to have. It's not like ostrich head in the sand. "Oh, you didn't hurt me. Oh, don't think about it, it was nothing." No, sin is sin, and he felt the weight of it. You did mean it for evil but you know God had a higher purpose and I can see God's higher purpose in all of that, and he dealt with them kindly.
Oh, I yearn to see that in my life, to just see other people that way. And so it says, "Be tender-hearted, look at other sinners like you are a sinner. See them in the bonds of their sin, even if they are not Christians, even if they've never even confessed the sin to you, or don't even think they did anything to you. See them the way God saw you when you were unconverted, and how you were seething with malice and at one time, you were hating and being hated. ‘But God in His kindness, showed you mercy,’ Titus 3, ‘and He saved you by the washing of regeneration and rebirth through the Holy Spirit,’ that's what God did when you were seething with hatred and wickedness, so be tender-hearted, see other sinners the way God was tender-hearted to see you in your slavery to sin, and be compassionate towards them, be tender-hearted and forgive.”
And so, we come to this clear command, “forgive each other just as in Christ, God forgave you.” Here we come to the power of forgiveness. The power of forgiveness is the cross of Jesus Christ, that's the power. We're going to forgive, horizontally, other sinners the way, vertically, God forgave us in Christ. This is deep theology, this is even more significant theology than Joseph seeing the hand of God with the famine and the rhythm of bringing the Jews to Egypt. He saw some of God's overarching plan. This is bigger than that. This is the overarching plan of God to forgive sinners like you and me through the shed blood of Christ. That's how God the Father, in Christ, forgave you. He sent His only begotten son who drank the bitter cup of God's wrath, the cup He shrank back from at Gethsemane. He drank to its dregs for you. And so He completely atoned for all of your sins and so the wrath of God has been removed from you forever. And you will never taste the bitter wrath of God, ever. You're going to go to Heaven, all of your sins forgiven. That's how God forgave you. Picture the father and the prodigal son running down to embrace this repentant sinner coming home. That's how the Father forgave you. So gracious, so cheerful to welcome you back. In that same way, you must forgive.
The Unmerciful Servant
Jesus told a parable about this. Many of you have heard it. I'm going to go ahead and lean on it, and tell it again. You remember how Peter one day said, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" I think Peter would be the guy that would bring the apple to the teacher and hope to get an A because he brought the apple. It's like, "Alright, the rabbi say three. I'm going to double it and add one." "Up to seven times." Jesus said, "I tell you not seven times, but 70 times seven times." And then He told this parable:
“There was a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. And as he began the settlements, a man who owed him 10,000 talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the king ordered that he and his wife and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. The servant fell on his knees before the king and said, ‘Be patient with me and I'll pay everything back,’ but the king took pity on him, or mercy on him, forgave the debt, and let him go. But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a 100 Denari, and he grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay me what you owe me!’ He said. Same thing. The servant fell on his knees before him and said, ‘Be patient with me and I'll pay back everything,’ but he refused. Instead, he went off and had that man thrown into prison until he should repay the debt. Well, the other servants heard what had happened and they went told the king, and the king called that servant back in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger, his master threw him over to the jailer to be tortured until he should repay the debt.” Now, listen to what Jesus says. "That is how my Heavenly Father will treat each of you if you do not forgive your brother from the heart."
Now it's an overwhelming parable. The 10,000 talents is an incalculable amount of money. But I'm a calculator, so I went and found out how much 750,000 pounds of gold would be worth today, it fluctuates day by day, but it's about $15 billion worth of gold. 15 billion. But more helpful is just realizing that that's more than the Roman empire took in in taxes in a year. So think of it as the total tax inflow to the federal government. Why did Jesus set the amount so high? I'm telling you, you, all of us, we infinitely underestimate how much we owed God because of our sins, we infinitely underestimated it. God didn't underestimate it, so He sent us an infinite atonement in Jesus. The infinite worth of His Son, His only begotten Son who shed His blood on the cross for sinners like you and me. That's what we owe. We should, we must forgive our fellow servants as God has forgiven us. We have been forgiven infinitely much.
Motivation to Forgive
Now, the 100 Denari, you are not well-served to think of it as pocket change, it isn't pocket change. It was about a third of a year's wages for a daily laborer. That would be about $25,000 to $30,000 today. It's a lot of money, it's a lot of money. And so, horizontally the sins we commit against each other are weighty things, but they are as nothing compared to the vertical dimension of our sin against God. And so, what I think the Lord is saying here is, it's a very negative presentation on this. There's fear involved that God won't forgive us and we should fear that. We should go more than that on the negative side, see how ugly the unforgiveness is. It was ugly to the other servants when they saw that, it was just an ugly thing. It was immoral to them that he didn't forgive. They were offended by it. And so, all on the negative side, it's ugly, horizontally, to not forgive. It's unjust, it doesn't line up with what God's done in our lives, and if we live like that, we are not Christian. We have not been justified, we don't have the indwelling Holy Spirit of God in us. That's all the negative side.
Positively, do you realize how beautiful and attractive supernatural forgiveness is to a world that knows nothing of it? How many times have Christian brothers and sisters been grievously hurt and wronged, even to the point of loved ones being murdered, and the mother or the parents or the father will stand up and say, "I forgive you because God has forgiven me." It happens a lot, and it's an incredible witness, and it's very beautiful, and it's virtuous and attractive to forgive. So you may ask, "What is forgiveness? What are you talking about?"
Thomas Watson Defines Forgiveness
The Puritan pastor, Thomas Watson, gives us seven descriptions. I'm not going to unfold them, I’m just going to read them. Forgiveness means resisting revenge, totally giving up on revenge. Secondly, not returning evil for evil. Thirdly, wishing them well. Fourth, grieving at their calamities, not rejoicing in them, but grieving when they're hurt. Fifthly, praying for their welfare. Sixthly, seeking reconciliation horizontally, as far as it depends on you. If they'll have it, you seek it and you want it. And then seventh, coming to their aid and distress.
That's a full, rich forgiveness that only God can work. Now, this whole chapter, this whole sermon really has been application. I don't have a lot more to say by way of application, but I want to just appeal to you who know yourself to be unconverted. You know that you're on the outside looking in, I'm telling you, I'm pleading with you to come to Christ and trust in Him. These verses have nothing to say to you because God in Christ hasn't yet forgiven you, in Christ. And so the most important thing is not for you at that moment to give forgiveness to your parents or to others who've sinned against you, that will come. It's the very thing I've been preaching about. But the first thing is you need to feel yourself a sinner under the just wrath of God, and that Jesus is delighted to save sinners like you and trust in Him. And if that happens, you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit will be working deeply in you to forgive those who have sinned against you. So, come to Christ, that's the first thing.
But secondly, if I can just plead with all of you who are Christians, is there someone who comes to mind that you've not forgiven? Is there some situation? Even as I'm talking right now, I don't know what you're talking about, but you know. You know what the application is for you, you know there is a man, a woman, or a group of people, or something, and you've not forgiven. And you need to. And God is calling on you in this sermon, He's calling on you as a Christian, to forgive. And you're like, "How do I do that? How do I do that?" Well, just let me give you some practical steps.
First, as it just happened a moment ago, see the beauty, just the beauty of holiness, the beauty of virtue. And corresponding to that, the ugliness of unforgiveness. Just see those things as they really are. Look at it, just get a vision of how beautiful forgiveness is and how ugly unforgiveness is.
Secondly, commit yourself to forgive no matter what you're feeling. Commit yourself, your feelings need to come. Without it, you haven't forgiven. So it's not "fake it til you make it," I want you to just make it. So I want you to feel the feelings of forgiveness, but commit yourself, "I will forgive in this relationship. I will do what it takes to forgive."
Thirdly, repent of past bitterness of all the time you've spent up until point not forgiving and all the actions that came from that, there have been many. Maybe you underestimate how many moments you withheld kindness, you spoke a sharp word, you withheld love, you've grieved people around you because you wouldn't forgive, and they knew it, but you wouldn't do it. So repent, be humble. Say, "I've been wrong to hold out this long." Part of the reason we do it is pride, we want to keep the whip hand in the relationship. It's really arrogant. We want to keep that person subjugated, walking on eggshells around us, it's just wickedness. So please, forgive me Lord, repent of past bitterness.
Fourthly, understand it's going to be a battle, it's going to be something you'll have to be determined to do over a long period of time because Satan's going to try to get back in through that door. And now that you've locked it and barred it, he's going to be banging on that door so you have to be determined to forgive going forward, permanently.
Fifthly, trust in God's word. Go over these verses, just read them as just God's word to you. He's commanding you to do this. Read the parable in Matthew 18 I just quoted. So trust in God's word.
Sixthly, be humble about how much God has forgiven you. You're to forgive as God has forgiven you. Ramp up in your own mind a sense of how much that is. I don't think you'll ever get to 10,000 talents, I don't think you'll ever think you owed God that much. We all struggle. It's like, "That's just outrageous." No, that's it. We owed an infinite debt. The more we can feel the weight of that, not to feel guilty but to feel glad, and forgiven, and then give us power to forgive, the better it is for us. So be humble.
And seventh, rely on the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. He has been grieved over your bitterness and unforgiveness, that's grieved Him. Now, you be grieved too and follow Him back to the joy of just clear as light forgiveness, to follow Him. He's going to lead you to the “fruit of the Spirit, which includes love and joy and peace and patience.” He's leading you there, follow the power of the Holy Spirit. And then start acting in kindness, if you can, if there's an opportunity, act in kindness toward the person that you have not been forgiving. I don't know that you have to confess, it's not always helpful. "By the way, I've been bitter at you for the last 16 years and I wanted you to know." "Whoa! You have got to be one of the better actors I've known in my life. I never knew it." I don't think that's helpful. It's just between you and God. But if some things have happened, you'll actually need to go seek forgiveness because you have been unkind, etcetera. Whatever God leads you to do.
But act in kindness according to those seven things that Watson gave us today, let's close in prayer.
Father, we thank you for the things that we've learned from the Word of God. It's so powerful, so beautiful, but yet we find it so difficult sometimes to obey, though it's the very thing we need the most. Oh God, I pray that in marriages, I pray that husbands would forgive wives, and wives would forgive husbands. I pray that parents would forgive children, and children, their parents. I pray that brothers and sisters within this fellowship, First Baptist, would forgive whatever grievances they may have against one another, forgive freely and readily from the heart and not be bitter and negative people. Oh God, make this a sweet church, an oasis of Heaven, an oasis of the New Haven and New Earth, not a place where you're going to bump into some sharp and bitter people. Oh God, make this be a place where people can be set free from bitterness and know the joy of forgiveness. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.