If we’re always waiting on someone else to make the first move, we might be waiting forever. If you’re planning to reveal your romantic interest only after the other person does it first, you might be waiting forever. If you’re only going to pursue a specific job opportunity once a recruiter comes after you, you might be waiting forever. If you’re only willing to meet your neighbor after they make the first move to introduce themselves to you, you might be waiting forever. And:
If you’re only willing to do forgiveness after someone else goes first, you might be waiting forever.
And forever is a long time to live without forgiveness.
Unforgiveness keeps the other person in prison, but it will keep you there too.
When we choose resentment over forgiveness, it doesn’t just punish our offender. It takes away our joy too. And we lose the freedom that could be ours. No matter how it feels, we do not want to become known for who we are against.
“Either way, spiritually speaking, to not forgive somebody is to put yourself in a kind of jail.” Tim Keller, Forgive
In week 1 of this series, I taught out of Matthew 18:21-35 to frame everything else we were going to learn over the life of this series. In the parable Jesus told, do you remember where the servant ended up after he had been forgiven, but refused to forgive the person who owed him just a fraction of what he owed? Do you remember where both servants ended up? In prison. If we don’t want to end up there, we’re going to have to do some work. I’m calling today’s message, “Freeing Prisoners”.
Romans 12:14-21 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Well, that seems super easy. Isn’t this how you naturally want to respond when someone hurts you?! It’s important to remind ourselves that we don’t want a life that’s natural, but one that is supernatural.
Pray for those who have cursed you.
When someone has wronged me, the last thing I want to do is pray for them. And here’s why – I know that praying for someone’s good will soften my heart towards them…and I don’t want to let go of the anger or the hatred or the desire to punish them. Praying for someone who has offended us is how we keep ourselves from being in prison. As we orient our lives around Jesus, remember how he did this at the height of his suffering:
Luke 23:34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.
Do your part to live in peace and harmony with everyone.
If Possible – It is not always possible because it takes two people to have peace.
As Far as it Depends on You – You will not be held accountable for someone else’s part, but you will be held accountable for your part.
You cannot make your parents behave a certain way.
You cannot make your spouse do the right thing.
You cannot even make your kids do you the right way.
But you do have control over what you do with you.
Do not take revenge.
“Do not take revenge, but leave room for God’s wrath.” When you just read that part, you’re like, “Okay, I wanted revenge but I’ll let God get my revenge. Go get them God.” But if you keep reading on, I don’t think that’s the point. He says, “to the contrary, if you’re enemy is hungry – feed him and if he is thirsty – give him something to drink.”
“Forgiveness is more satisfying than revenge…Revenge is paying twice for a hurt that someone else did to you. You pay a price when they hurt you. You pay double when you carry that pain inside your heart and it causes you to say and do things you wouldn’t otherwise say and do…Forgiveness doesn’t let the other person off the hook. It actually places them in God’s hands. And then, as you walk through the forgiveness process, it softens your heart.” Lysa Terkeurst, Forgiving What You Can’t Forgive
It seems hard enough for us to put our desire for revenge on the shelf and not hold onto it. But it’s a whole other thing to bless our enemies by giving them what they need. But what if this is the only way out of the prison we’ve been living in?
What is one practical way you could bless someone who has wronged you?
Overcome evil with good or you will be overcome by the evil.
When you seek to overcome evil with evil, you imprison yourself and the other person. This is so hard because it is the exact opposite of what we feel like doing. We want them to hurt like they made us hurt. We want them to be wounded like they wounded us. We want them to pay the high price that they’ve made us pay. And those things seem like they’ll be so satisfying, but they never satisfy. And they turn us into angry, critical, cynical, joyless human beings. And I know this is a call to selflessness if we’re going to live this way, but let me offer you this too:
Forgiving other people is one of the best ways to build the future life you will want to live in.
“Unforgiveness can turn you into a bitter, vengeful person. It causes you to lose aspects of your soul and life to the person who betrayed you. As long as you hold on to what wrong they did, they still own you.” Henry Cloud, Trust
So where do we go from here? For starters, you don’t need to feel guilty if there is nothing in you that feels like forgiving the people who have wounded you. At the same time, don’t wait until you feel like forgiving them before you start forgiving them.
“Loving our enemies starts with small, concrete, particular actions in the direction of our knowledge. It does not start in the direction of our feelings. We can act according to what we know. We know that God loves us. We can trust our knowledge and eventually our feelings will catch up. The feelings follow our knowledge. In a world where feelings have become so dominant this is an important spiritual truth to remember.” Henri Nouwen, Following Jesus
“Forgiveness is a practice before it is a feeling. It is something you can begin to do daily, and if you do, eventually your heart will soften instead of harden and you’ll escape the prison.” Tim Keller, Forgive
Your freedom is found in freeing others through forgiveness, but the choice is yours. You can hang on to the hurt and the grudges and the bitterness and the anger and the unforgiveness. But it will enslave you and imprison you. You don’t want that for your future.
Or you can free the other person and free yourself.
“When we forgive, we set a prisoner free and then discover that the prisoner we set free was us.” Lewis Smedes, Forgive and Forget
We probably can’t do this alone. We need the Spirit of God to help us with our freedom. I’ve got good news for you:
2 Corinthians 3:17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
Pray for a genuine experience of the Spirit’s love + power + healing. Declare, “Today is the day we’re freeing prisoners, just like Jesus has freed us.”