Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Forgiveness Motivation

As I tore through a quick tangent on forgiveness today, I pointed out that our excuses to postpone forgiveness (need to see the fruits of repentance, need to be more spiritually mature, don't want to be a hypocrite and forgive when I don't feel like it) don't hold water with Jesus' teaching in Luke 17. Due to a horrifically fast-moving clock in our classroom, I didn't have time to take you over to Matthew 18 and look at the unforgiving slave.

You all know the story - the slave who is forgiven a massive debt by a merciful king, only to turn around and demand payment of a day's wage from a fellow slave. The point of this story is driven home with Christ's conclusion: "And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart."

Ouch. That one hurts.

Just to clarify, Jesus wasn't threatening our salvation. He's NOT saying that if we have unforgiving spirits to those around us that we will have to suffer the price of our own sin eternally. What He IS saying is that to the extent that you live with a forgiving spirit here on earth, God will be willing to forgive your daily sins.

There's always a consequence to sin. God doesn't take away the consequences, only the penalty. But the severity of the consequences can be greater if our character requires it. Let me explain.

See that darling picture above? This was taken shortly after the twins were adopted as six year olds. Notice the wild eyes on Alex. These were common eyes for the first two years of their existence in our home...for both of them.

They loved to play soccer and we have a large, open space in our basement where hundreds and hundreds of hours have been spent playing soccer, baseball, basketball, tennis, 5-run and other inventions of my husband. And though they came in a small package, the twins were fierce competitors. They didn't let their size dictate the outcome of the game. Their aggression often scored them a lot of goals.

The problem was that their aggression and desire to not be discounted because of their size had turned one of them into the playground bully. I would receive calls from the teachers here and there that Nicole had once again, as a first or second grader, bullied a fifth grader off the soccer field in tears. She wasn't in tears...HE usually was. Yes, HE. She was ruthless. A fearless, tireless opponent to whomever had the ball.

She also played this way in the basement and it frustrated her siblings to no end.

One day Dave came up with a great idea. He pulled Calvin, our oldest and one of the kindest, most gentle-hearted children that walked the face of the earth, aside and told him that every time Nicole had the ball playing soccer in the basement, he was to swipe her feet out from under her and put her on her bottom. He was 13, she was 7. He wasn't thrilled with the idea, but agreed. So the game began, Dad was the "ref" and Nicole was going to learn a lesson the hard way.

The first foul brought a "play-on!" from the lips of the ref (Dave) and Nicole was visibly mad at the call, but she jumped back on her feet and continued to play. 45 minutes later, tears streaming down her cheeks and her bottom aching from the falls, Dave stopped the game and knelt down before the embattled warrior. He explained to her that playing with a bully is never fun for anyone. Soccer was much more than scoring. It was about self control and about allowing your talent to shine rather than hurting people to win.

She got the point and I never got a call from a teacher after that. Well, at least not about bullying...

It was a hard lesson to learn, but in the same manner that she was treating other children, she was given a taste of her own medicine and it soured in her mouth. This is Jesus' point. If we are unwilling to forgive and restore relationships after the great forgiveness and restoration afforded us by the Father, then God is going to give us a taste of our own medicine and not restore us when we sin.

What does this look like? Lack of fruit production. No peace. No joy. Constant impatience. Ill-temper. And the list goes on and on. You're not going to produce the fruits of the Spirit that we all long for if we have broken fellowship with the Father. It just ain't happening.

So, amidst our look at Joseph and his brothers, how do you think he'll do on the forgiveness test? If you gather together Joseph's example and Jesus' teaching in Luke and Matthew, does that provide a bit more motivation to live with a forgiving spirit?

Oh, fine. I'll answer for you.

Yes, it does.


  1. When I don't forgive I become enveloped in a cycle of self-centered pain which only leads to bitterness and resentment. I then become as ugly as the sin of the person who offended me. God forbid that I hang onto something when He forgives me so readily!

  2. The stories absolutly provide awesome examples of how He forgives and how we are to forgive.
    I love the picture of forgiveness and the showing of mercy in the story of Joseph. Even when we have consequences we still find the chance of forgivness. He willingly forgives us as soon as we ask...even in the midst of our consequences.
    Can you imagine if He just turned His back on us when we were stuborn? Can you imagine what others must think when they see us fail to forgive? How is that a picture of Christ? I pray I remember the example of Joseph the next time I hesitate to forgive.

  3. What if you have been through a battle and forgiven the offender and told them so. And have tried to move forward over the course of years in reconciliation and they refuse. What to do when you extend in honesty and love and are rebuked?

  4. I guess my first question would be: did they repent? It sounds like you may have offered forgiveness without repentance. Remember, forgiveness does restore the relationship in the proper context, but it is more for you than it is for the offender.

    Let me put it this way - I sin against someone and when I finally own up to what I do, I feel great remorse and embarrassment and I ask them to forgive me. But they refuse. Do I bear the responsibility to carry the guilt of my sin because they won't restore the relationship? Of course not. But they will continue to suffer because of anger, bitterness and an unforgiving spirit.

    Now, when I choose to forgive someone when they repent, both benefit, but my forgiveness releases me of the emotional consequences of the sin. Remember the three part contract?

    So, the third scenario is when I forgive someone who truly hasn't repented. Even if I extend forgiveness, they haven't dealt with their sin and asked for forgiveness, you are offering restoration outside of the proper process. If they don't think they did anything wrong, then they will be offended by your forgiveness. There won't be reconciliation in this circumstance, unless you both agree to disagree on the matter. Even then, trust will be shaky at best.

    And finally, if someone repents and you forgive, but there is a distance rather than a restored, close relationship, sometimes that is the consequence of sin. Sin breaks relationships and sometimes that damage, though forgiven, makes it difficult to return to the original state.

    I guess Romans 12:17-21 says it best - don't return evil for evil and as far as it is in your control, be at peace with all men. You can't control what the other person does, you are called to live with a spirit of forgiveness until repentance, and forgive when it comes.

    Am I even close in helping???

  5. The interesting thing regarding this post is the underlying scent of the phrase: choose to sin, choose to suffer. Just as Nicco chose to bully and though the immediate affects of that sin were ideal for her in getting her way on the playground, the latter portion (consequence) of Dave's solution with Calvin shows that eventually the lesson needs to be learned and it most likely isn't a walk in the park. Consequence, just like the above story, is always meant to sway the offender toward God, not away. It is so interesting that the world sees consequence and blames God, when in reality, consequence of sin is a divine motivation to pursue a loving God who gives amazing amounts of blessing to those who love him and are called according to his purpose.

    ps. LOOOOOVE that picture.. I may use it as blackmail for my bro-in-law if I ever decide to sport the all-too-misunderstood bowlcut hairstyle. ;-)

  6. More then close in helping! It explains why there is nothing but strife and bitterness on the other side, when I have been in a place of "peace" for years. My sorrow is two-fold over this. 1) Their bitterness is toxic and hurtful to them - wish they could get rid of it. 2) Their belief is that I *must* continue to try to restore the relationship. Thank you for responding. I don't mind saying we're not perfect. I see the imperfections and want to fix them.