One of the reasons we find forgiving others difficult is the sense that they have gotten away with hurt and injury. Lead Pastor Ray Galea shows us from Romans 12 and Hebrews 12 that we can forgive because we have a God of justice.
Grace is the main motivator to forgive and make peace. How can we withhold forgiveness when we have been forgiven so much? And we have been commanded to forgive, it's not optional. We must get on that "peace train", we do it by going to higher ground. It’s never just you and that other person. It’s done for Jesus sake and for God's pleasure.
As we think through resolving everyday conflict there are a couple of pieces in the puzzle still missing. The first is found in Romans 12. When you have been profoundly hurt, making the other person suffer is the most natural response, hence the command to not do it.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. ~Romans 12:17 (NIV)
We instinctively want justice, it’s why we love payback and vigilante films, where the Father takes the law into his own hands. He makes others pay for killing his wife and kids.
I've noticed my wife, Sandy is taken with the Taken movie series with Liam Neeson, partly it’s a desire for justice. But God is saying - don’t retaliate. You may confront but don’t humiliate, you may call the cops but don’t personally retaliate. You may even need to use force to restrain someone from hurting but don’t be excessive
What sets Jesus words apart from every other is that He wants more from us than not hating and not hurting
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse ~Romans 12:14 (NIV)
When I lived next door in the church house, I must have called the cops 20 times over the years, we had the drunks, making noise, urinating in my bushes, but twice they pulled 5 new plants out and threw them at my bedroom window at 1:30am,
that’s downright mean. I found myself coming up with plans on how I could get them back, humiliate them, pulverize them, follow them home and rip up their plants. My mind naturally wants my pound of flesh.
At a good moment, I think of Jesus at the cross being nailed by the hands that he created, knowing he could invent a billion ways of making them suffer a slow death, but all you hear is Father forgive them for they know not what they do. Paul then introduces this radical idea, he wants you to punish your enemy by loving them to bits. This is how you can do it.
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." ~Romans 12:20 (NIV)
Such reverse logic, punish your enemy by doing good to them and it’s like dropping burning fire on their skull. The reason given for letting go of personal revenge, to reject hating, cursing, gossiping, shouting, slandering and withdrawing is the previous verse
Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. ~Romans 12:19 (NIV)
The reason why we don’t pay back is knowing that a day will come when God will judge. A day when his anger will be poured out on every sin levelled against you.
We need to remember:
What stops someone from picking up a gun and murdering their unfaithful spouse? It’s knowing that God says I will repay, leave room for my wrath. In other words friends, one key to forgiveness is believing in hell and knowing that justice will be served. This is a comfort, especially for persecuted Christians.
People think if you believe in a God who judges it will turn you into a violent person. Croatian Miroslav Volf said it’s the opposite.
My thesis is that the practice of non-violence requires a belief in divine vengeance…The truth is, if it’s forgiving people that you want, tolerant people, people who will answer evil with love and respond to violence with mercy, if that’s what you want, then you cannot have it, not really, unless you believe in cosmic justice; unless you believe in hell.
You see, we need a universe where evil doesn’t win, where righteousness triumphs, where we can refuse the impulse to take vengeance because we know that God the Lord is an almighty and just Judge.
What makes us able to forgive our enemies is knowing that God will deal with enemies who don’t repent. I don’t need to take things into my own hands because they are in God’s hands and he will do what is right. Vengeance is mine says the Lord.
There is an episode of Inspector Morse, a drug dealer is selling bad LSD to primary school kids who ended up dying from an overdose. The cops set a trap but when the dealer sees them he takes off. The car chase ended with the drug dealer killed in the car crash. At which point the policemen said “Damn it .. he got away” Because if death is the end then he did get away. The next day the policeman was looking at photos of the kids who had died, at which point he said “Its times like this I wish there was a hell.”
That is why in heaven we will join with angels praising God and declaring
“Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are his judgments... He has avenged on her the blood of his servants.” ~Revelation 19:1-2 (NIV)
God does not take pleasure in the death of a sinner but we praise God that justice will be served. I can let the injustice go because God will not. Every wrong will be righted.
A key to forgiveness is believing in hell. So now I get to punish my enemy by bombing them with love. OK, but what happens when Christians have done the wrong? Either before they become Christians or after? Have they not gotten away with it?
I was wrestling with this issue with a friend a few years ago, they were deeply hurt by a leader of a church. What stuck in their throat is that this Christian got away with it. And it made it harder to let it go. At the same time as I'm talking to this person
I had a deep sense that God was disciplining me. And it was painful.
So, let’s turn our attention to God's discipline of his people. It may help us to forgive Christians who seem to escape the consequences. The place to go is Hebrews 12, Jesus is God's final word. He brings in a better Covenant because He is the better perfect high Priest, offer the perfect Sacrifice, to the perfect God in the perfect Temple to make us perfect
Jesus is the pioneer and perfector of faith, so set your eyes on Jesus as you face suffering. Jesus who when he faced his own suffering and death He locked eyes on the joy before him, putting aside the shame of the cross. Now seated at the right hand of God. Then the writer says unlike Jesus don’t overestimate your suffering, it could be much worse.
In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. ~Hebrews 12:4 (NIV)
Too many overrate their suffering. You have not suffered to the point of death, then he says don’t underestimate the meaning of your suffering, it has a purpose.
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? ~Hebrews 12:7 (NIV)
View your suffering through Gods eyes. Consider this hardship as discipline, your hardship is a mark of the discipline of the Father toward a son. You need to reframe how you’re seeing your suffering. The writer quotes Proverbs
“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, ~Hebrews 12:5 (NIV)
Don’t make light and don’t lose heart, two mistakes, don’t be careless and unthinking, don’t be crushed under the weight of it. Be clear-minded on seeing hardship as discipline, your hardship is not some vindictive punishment from an angry God who takes pleasure at your pain. In fact it’s the very opposite.
because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” ~Hebrews 12:6 (NIV)
So suffering is an expression of God's love, not hate. The wrong application when we go through suffering is to think God is against me, that he is angry at me. Friends if you’re in Christ “You can't make God angry” Remember our Saviour learnt obedience as Son through suffering and he was sinless. In fact, discipline is a mark of adoption not a mark of rejection
If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all ~Hebrews 12:8 (NIV)
I only discipline my kids, not others. When I'm on the train and kids are swearing I'm not usually saying anything but if they were my own it would be very different. God disciplines you because you are his.
The question - What am I being punished for? Is not the right question. Better questions are:
In recent years both my wife, Sandy, and I have felt we have been disciplined by the Lord. We have experienced some painful experiences, not brought on by our sin directly but those experiences have exposed to us a quota of pride in us that needed to be put to death. And yes the writer makes the point when we are disciplined it’s always painful at the time. Whether it’s the discipline of your earthly Dad or your heavenly Dad.
No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. ~Hebrews 12:11 (NIV)
What is the purpose of Discipline? To punish? No! to produce a harvest of righteousness and peace.
God's one stubborn goal for all of us is to shape us into the image of his Son. To recycle your sins into the praise of God and your suffering to the fruit of the Spirit.
And it’s up to you whether you will become bitter or better. Discipline produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. If you don't fix your eyes on Jesus and paint yourself as a perpetual victim, you will become bitter. If you don’t rethink hardship as discipline from a loving father, you will become bitter. If you don’t let yourself be trained by it a bitter root will grow and cause trouble.
Don’t live your whole life as if you were a 5 year sent to their room for being rude, banging doors, saying I hate you Dad over and over. That is the picture of your whole life, kicking against God's sovereign loving hand. Lives that never get past the pain. I hope you have been thinking about Gods discipline in your life. But I want you to now ponder Gods discipline on other peoples lives.
Back to my friend who was struggling with the Christian leader who he thought was getting away with bad behaviour, I said you know God loves that person, he is Gods son and as part of his love, he will discipline them. You may or may not see it but he is doing a work and it will involve pain. So pray that they and you both will be trained by it. That they and you will consider hardship as discipline recognizing that God is treating you as his child.
Friends, Gods discipline and love is inescapable for his people.
You can escape formative discipline by closing your bibles, and ignoring God's word. You can escape corrective discipline by staying away from the church and avoiding the rebuke of the saints. But God will lovingly use all things in your life to get your attention and shape you to be more like him.
Vengeance belongs to God and discipline is for his people, so learn to forgive and let it go!