The Challenge of Forgiveness

Steve Viars September 20, 2008 Luke 17:1-10

 

- When I was growing up, I had two close friends who lived on either side of us who were each 1 year older than me…

- the father  of one of my friends owned an auto parts and repair shop on a busy corner in Gary and when my two friends reached a certain age, they were allowed to go down and hang around during the summer and sort of unofficially do work…

- I obviously wanted to go with them and eventually his dad said one day that I could come along…

- my parents let me go so I showed up that morning and found out that my first work assignment would be to go clean out the employee restroom used by the mechanics…

- when I walked in there, I determined that…let’s just say, nobody had been given that work assignment for a good long time, if ever…

- I’ll spare you the details, but I learned later that my friends actually did that as a joke on the assumption that I would take one look at the mess and refuse to do what I was told…

- (that tells you something about the kind of friends I tend to attract, but that’s another story)

- my response was to view it as a challenge…

- the nice thing about how bad it looked was that you couldn’t possibly make it any worse…and with a bit elbow grease and what few cleaning supplies they had on site, you could actually make it look a lot better…

- so I just got to work, and a couple of hours later, I couldn’t believe the difference…

- later that day my friend’s dad went in and was shocked at how much better it looked…and all of a sudden I became the hero for the day…because I had the courage and the fortitude to just stay in there and clean up the mess…

- that same level of skill and determination are necessary to keep relationships going…

- like it or not, they’re messy…

- whether we’re talking about a marriage, a family relationship, friends, co-workers, neighbors…

- they’re just messy…for a variety of reasons…

- and people respond differently to that…

1.  For some, their approach is to discard and move on…

- so you can look back over a period of their life and see a whole series of unresolved problems with people that they are no longer speaking to…

- which is really amazing because it might be a blood relative, or a friendship that at one time was very close…

- their story is almost like this junkyard of trashed friendships…

- and maybe they have some new ones going but history will probably repeat itself because they’ve never learned how to clean up the mess…

2. Then is the person who just learns to live with the mess…

- one of the things that amazed me about that restroom was the question of how adults could tolerate that…

- It had to have been years since even the sink had been cleaned…

- yet that is the way some people live with others in their life…

- they just ignore the mess…

- so there are all kinds of topics that are off limits…

- we can’t talk about that, and we can’t talk about that…

- and we used to do this…but we don’t do that anymore…

- and we used to be able to talk and laugh and enjoy one another, but now it’s more stares and silence…

- the mess exists, and its getting more and more crusted over…but nobody seems to know what to do about it…or is even willing to try…

3. Then there is the kind of person who understands that messes are for cleaning…and problems are for solving…

- and so they are committed to doing that…

- regardless of how difficult….regardless of how distasteful…

- they aren’t going to discard people who at one time were important in their life…and nor are they going to leave the mess alone…

- they see a relationship mess as something that needs to be cleaned up, and deserves to be cleaned up…

- and my question to you this morning would be…in which category do you belong?...

- do you discard relationship messes, ignore them, or clean them up?...

- and a related question would be – which category do you believe God wants you to be in?

- with that in mind, let me invite you to open your Bible this morning to Luke chapter 17 [page 61 of the back section of the Bible under the chair in front of you]…

- this morning we’re beginning a brand new series on Seeking God’s Plan for Forgiveness…

- this has been a strategic planning year for us, so we’ve structured all our messages around various aspects of the plan God has laid out for us in His Word…

- if you’re just joining us today, we want to thank you for coming…

- one of the reasons we offer these series is to provide natural entry points for people who are considering getting involved in church, or pursuing what it means to have a personal relationship with God…so if you’re brand new today, thanks for coming…

- one observation I believe we’ll all be able to make today is that much of God’s Word is very easy to understand, and immensely practical if we’re looking for answers to the questions we face every day…

- some sections are challenging – we just completed a 5 week study of the book of Habakkuk and that stretched us a bit…but we made it…and if the church family can handle Habakkuk, we can handle about anything…

- This morning we’re going to look at the first 10 verses of Luke 17 and talk about The Challenge of Forgiveness…

- read Luke 17:1-10

- now let’s think about 3 principles to help us handle the challenge of forgiveness well.

I. Problems Between People are Inevitable.

- sometimes people think the Bible is the pious book of platitudes that presents this unrealistic view of life where everything is a bit of heaven on earth and people don’t have problems and difficulties…

- really, nothing could be further from the truth…

- the Word of God is a very practical book because it was written by the person who made us, and understands the kinds of problems we all face…

- and Jesus is clear in this text…

A. Stumbling blocks will come – v. 1

- skandalon – offenses, snares.

- and the idea is, anything that will trip a person up…or hinder their progression…

- it is important to note that elements of this discussion occur in other gospels, and it is likely that Jesus discussed this topic multiple times…

- but in this text we need to at least ask what the snares in verses 1-2 have to do with the specific process described in verses 3-4…

- and the answer is…what happens when you sin against another person, or they sin against you…and specifically whether you and I are going to handle such a situation well..

- we all know that is the one of the most frequent snares we face…

- that is why relationships falter and stumble…it’s because we sin against one another, and fail one another, and are rude, and inconsiderate, and mean, and selfish…

- for example, in the way we communicate…James 3:2 - For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well.

- James 3:6 - And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell.

- so aren’t you glad that the Lord was willing to talk about that openly…It is inevitable that stumbling blocks will come…problems in relationships in a variety of ways…and that is especially compounded when we do not respond to such situations well…

- which is why Jesus went on to say…

B. Failing to handle problems between people properly is a serious issue.

- I’m not sure what else the Lord could have said to get our attention on this one…

1. Woe to him through which they come – v. 2

- there will be consequences for causing someone else to be hindered in their growth, either by sinning against them, or by failing to respond properly when they sin against us…

2. It would be better if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown in the sea – v. 2

- that was one of these big stones that was used for grinding grain…and some Gentiles used it as a form of capital punishment where such a stone was tied around someone’s neck and then they were thrown into the water and drowned…

- can you imagine what it would be like to die in that fashion?...

- and Jesus said – it would be better to die like that compared to the consequences of not cleaning up relationship messes properly…it other words, this is really serious…

- that’s why he begins verse 3 by saying…

3. Be on your guard – v. 3

- just like a soldier who is ready at his post…

- if you’ve followed this train disaster in Los Angeles you know that they think the person driving the train may have been sending text messages just before the accident…

- it that proves to be true, that will be the second train disaster this year caused by someone being distracted by electronic gadgets instead of paying attention to what they were supposed to be doing…

- and sometimes God’s people are like that when it comes to cleaning up messes in relationships…distracted…not paying attention to the road…

- a very cavalier attitude toward dealing with relationship messes in a way that honors God…

- We review our membership list regularly to be sure that problems are being handled…also the fact that we had a 99% vote on our strategic plan – that kind of unity comes from keeping problems solved – not to say that it is wrong for someone to not vote in favor – but having any degree of unity among a group of people is impossible unless people take solving problems as seriously as Jesus does in this text…

- let me just pause and ask you – would the way you respond when a person sins against you, or you sin against then, demonstrate that you take this matter as seriously as the Lord does?...

- some people blow up, others clam up, others start gossiping…very irresponsible---like a train engineer sending text messages instead of watching the track]

- now, how do the next two verses fit in?...

II. Problems Between People Can Be Solved.

- there is a difference between something being challenging, and being confusing…

- what Jesus says about this matter, on one level, is crystal clear…please note the..

A. Step One – If you believe a person has sinned against you, go and speak to him privately.

- the text makes it very clear – if a relationship mess has occurred, you have a responsibility to be actively involved in seeking reconciliation…

1. But doesn’t the person who sinned have a responsibility?

- and what’s the answer to that?...yes…

- cf. Matthew 5:23-24

- but that’s not the focus right now…

- ideally what would happen is that the person who sinned would be obeying Matthew 5 while the person who was sinned against would be obeying Luke 17 and they would actually meet on the way…

- but please keep in mind, someone else’s irresponsibility never absolves you from the responsibility to do what God wants you to do.

2. What does it mean to “rebuke”?

- that word is translated differently in various places…

- epitamaw - “to show him his fault”

- but please keep in mind, you are to go tentatively…there may be things about this situation that you do not fully understand…

- so you go asking questions, not making accusations…[it is amazing how frequently that step is missed…people generally wait way too long, and they assume they know the facts and they start by making accusations and end up making things worse not better]…

3. Why?

a. (as we just said)Because your understanding of the situation may be incorrect.

b. Because the other person may not realize he sinned against you.

c. Because you may have sinned during the interchange as well and you will also have to address that part of the problem.

- now, those three reasons are exactly why many of God’s people do not follow this principle…

- they’ve already made up their mind about what happened – and they would rather nurse their grudge or feed their bitterness with false/incomplete information than risk having to see this from someone else’s point of view…

- or, they have already made up their mind that the other person won’t respond properly so they use that as an excuse to disobey God’s clear commands (which is very unloving because you cannot know what someone is going to do in a given situation…]

- because they don’t want to have to be faced with the possibility that they may have sinned as well…

- and so on the one hand – this is very simple, in the sense that it is crystal clear…but for many of God’s people, they cannot remember the last time they actually took the very step outlined here…

- and what was Jesus said a few verses earlier about the seriousness of all of this?...

4. One other caveat.

- 1 Peter 4:8 - Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.

- we have to be very careful about using this one, especially if you tend to be a person who clams up…

- but we’re not talking every minor issue that comes up…

- but when it’s a habit, when it can be detrimental to that person or someone else’s spiritual growth…then you must follow this step…

- now, can I ask you a question – are there people in your life who have sinned against you and you have not followed this step?...and if so, what do you need to do about it?...

- now, what’s the next step in the text?...

B. Step Two - If he repents, forgive him.

1. A word to those on the other side of the equation.

- if you happen to be the person who is in need of the rebuke, a lot about your heart is about to be revealed by the way you respond…

- Proverbs 12:15 - The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man is he who listens to counsel.

- Proverbs 17:10 - A rebuke goes deeper into one who has understanding than a hundred blows into a fool.

2. What is forgiveness?

- A three-fold promise:

1. I will not bring it up behind your back.

2. I will not bring it up to your face.

3. I will not dwell on it.

- we’ll discuss this in more detail in later weeks, but our forgiveness of others is to be modeled after God’s forgiveness of us…

- Psalm 103:12 – As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us.

3. Does this mean that forgiveness is conditional?

- what is the 5th to the last word in verse 3?...[what precedes “he repents, forgive him”?] – “if”

- God’s Word dopes not teach universalism…God forgives people when they repent…otherwise the Gospel would be meaningless and the death of Christ would be in vain…

4. Is it OK if I forgive the person but then refuse to have anything to do with them again?

- this too will become more apparent as the series unfolds, but the concepts of forgiveness and reconciliation are inexorably linked…

- remember that God is our model of forgiveness – he would never forgive us for our sin and then tell us He doesn’t want to do have anything to do with us…and He has a lot more reason to say that to any of us than we do to say it to anyone else…

5. Is it OK to make the person wait a while before I forgive them?

Mark 11:25 - Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions.

6. What should a person do in the meantime if a person they’ve rebuked will not repent?

1. Cultivate a “forgiving spirit.”

Luke 23:34 - But Jesus was saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among themselves.

2. Get others involved if necessary and appropriate.

- cf. Matthew 18:15-18

7. What if I have taken all these steps but the other person is no longer interested in the relationship?

- Romans 12:18 - If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.

- now, that brings up another question, doesn’t it?...

- if another person has asked you to forgive them, have you done it?...(or have you had a cavalier attitude toward this aspect of the process?)

- I wonder how many people I will be speaking to today who will have people in their lives who they should have forgiven long ago…but instead have nursed grudges, and bitterness, and messes that have never been addressed…

- in fact, if the truth were to be known, if you stuck your head in some of those relationships, it would stink more than the restroom I had to clean up at the auto parts shop…

- do you know what God would say about all of that?...

- it’s time to clean it up…

- it’s time to clean it up now…and it’s time to clean it up right…

- and please think about that possibility – of having that relational mess cleaned up…[develop]…

- now, you might say…boy, this is hard…actually, we haven’t gotten to the hard stuff yet…

- because what happens if you go through all of this…you just get things cleaned up between you, and boom, the person does it again?...

- you mean a year from now?...no- 6 months?...no…6 weeks…no – that very same day…

- well, then, all bets are off, right?...

C. Be prepared to do this as many times as necessary.

- Luke 17:4 - And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”

- and before you say – but that’s impossible – seven times in one day…

- when we compare this with other places in the Bible, we learn that it’s not seven times and the eighth time you can whack him…it’s an unlimited number of times…

- as many times as necessary…

- and if you say – I’m not sure I can do this…I’m not sure I want to do this…I’m not sure I’m willing to do this…

- that brings us to the third principle…

III. Problems Between People Must be Solved.

- I know this will come as a shock to some, but God is not particularly interested in whether we agree with Him…

- He can get along fine without our approval…the question is whether we can get along fine without His…

- and that is the point of these last verses…

A. The apostles’ question about faith.

- their response to this is…Lord, please increase our faith…

- that’s not a bad answer, it’s just a misdirected one…

- which is why the Lord concludes this discussion with the illustration of how a master would treat a servant…

- servants do what they are supposed to do…

B. The Lord’s answer about obedience.

- the issue for all of us is not whether we like what Christ is saying here, whether we agree…the question is whether we will obey…

- not just in principle, but in practice…

- that is fundamentally what it means to be a Christian…

- Romans 10:9-10 - that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved;for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.

- 1 John 2:3 - By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.

- Proverbs 10:8 - The wise of heart will receive commands, But a babbling fool will be ruined.

- conclude by talking about the joy of cleaning up messes.

Steve Viars

B.S. - Bible, Baptist Bible College
M.Div. - Grace Theological Seminary
D.Min. - Westminster Theological Seminary

Pastor Steve Viars has served at Faith Church since 1987. He and his wife Kris were married in 1982 and have two married daughters, a son, and two grandchildren. Pastor Viars’ gifted teaching ministry, enthusiasm for the Word of God, and organizational skills are instrumental in equipping Faith Church. He oversees the staff, deacons, and all Faith ministries and serves on the boards of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, Biblical Counseling Coalition, Vision of Hope, and the Faith Community Development Corporation.

Read Steve Viars’ Journey to Faith for the full account of how the Lord led Pastor Viars to Faith Church.

View Pastor Viars' Salvation Testimony Video