Archive for November 17th, 2010

Get Rid of That Unforgiving Spirit!

In the book, An Invitation to Healing (Chosen Books, 2001), author Lynda Elliott writes, When I was in my twenties I was badly hurt by a neighbor. For months, I replayed the hurtful scene in my mind, talking about it often with a friend. As I expressed my feelings over and over, my pain became deeper and more invasive. It was becoming a part of me.

One day as Lynda relived the scene again, her friend asked, do you know we become like the people we think about most? Lynda says the Lord used that question as a wake up call. She says, I had a choice to make. If I choose to behold Jesus, to focus on Him, I could be transformed into His image. Likewise, if I continued to behold the image of my neighbor, I could be transformed into her image. In fact, that was already happening. Lynda’s choice involved forgiving her neighbor. She reminds us that forgiving those who hurt us does not mean they go unpunished. It means that we step aside and allow the Lord to deal with punishment. If we are going to leave the matter in Gods hands, we must decide to trust Him. God does not take the hurts of his children lightly. If He says He will repay, He will repay.

 The recent terrorist attacks in New York and Washington D.C. offer Americans this same choice. We can choose to focus on the men who planned and executed the awful attacks, or we can offer forgiveness, and allow our Lord to handle the punishment. While we seek justice, let us be careful to maintain a proper focus, least we become like the evil men who inflicted this hurt on our nation.

What was your response the last time someone hurt you? Perhaps you felt the urge to retaliate. Maybe you took no action, but instead harbored bitterness in your heart. If so, you failed to realize that you do great damage to yourself when you have an unforgiving spirit. Failure to forgive is a devastating form of self-punishment—a destructive landmine in the path of the believer. In Ephesians 4:32, the apostle Paul writes, “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” It sounds fairly simple, doesn’t it?

Yet, you and I know the truth that, though it’s simple, it’s not necessarily easy. When someone commits a terrible offense against you—no matter whether the hurt came by way of words or deeds—forgiveness can be terribly difficult. The enemy will entice you to be so angry that you take revenge. As a mature believer, however, you must avoid the enemy’s landmine and choose the peace of forgiveness as Christ has shown you.

Ephesians 4:26–32 Scriptural Principles:

1. The definition of Unforgiveness. If you want to understand Unforgiveness, you must first know what forgiveness is. Forgiveness is the willingness to give up your resentment toward someone who has wronged you, regardless of how serious or painful that wrong might have been. In other words, you renounce any desire to get even. We can identify three elements to forgiveness: to give up resentment about the wrong; to give up resentment toward the wrongdoer; and to give up plans for retaliation. Forgiveness is more than just saying some words; it must come from the heart. Unforgiveness, on the other hand, is a deliberate mindset to do the opposite—to resent the wrong and the wrongdoer, and to seek revenge. In Ephesians 4:31, Paul associates Unforgiveness with bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, and malice. It is hard to understand why anyone would choose those painful attitudes over tenderness, gentleness, and a forgiving spirit. However, many people today are physically ill because they do just that. They live day by day, year by year, with the cancer of an unforgiving heart.

2. The description of Unforgiveness. The unforgiving heart clings to the past, refusing to extend to others what our heavenly Father has extended to us. In Ephesians 4:32, the apostle insists upon our “forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” As a result of a resentful attitude, there will be certain negative consequences in the life of an unforgiving person. One of the most significant repercussions is that bitterness takes root in the heart, and then it spreads its poison to choke out every godly trait there. The truth is that people choose to be unforgiving—it is a deliberate decision and a self-inflicted pain. We carry the illusion that other people have caused our misery, but in reality, we have elected to take on a form of self-imposed bondage. It is a spiritual “acid” that eats through the spirit within us. Few people realize the terrible effects of Unforgiveness.

3. The disobedience of Unforgiveness. This root of bitterness will keep you from being the person God wants you to be, and prevent you from carrying out His will for your life. The refusal to forgive is an act of pride and rebellion—deliberate disobedience to the Word of God. When He taught His disciples to pray, Jesus added, “If you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions” (Matthew 6:9-15). This does not mean the believer loses his salvation, but it does indicate God will hold him accountable—there will be discipline. We are never given the right to harbor an unforgiving spirit. In Matthew 18:21-35, Jesus teaches us that we must forgive “seventy times seven,” which means we must always forgive. Paul, too, writes that we should bear with one another and forgive one another because, in the same way, God has forgiven us. All of these passages from God’s Word make it very clear that Unforgiveness is never an option for the committed believer.

4. The destruction of Unforgiveness. Mark 11:25-26 What are the consequences of an unforgiving spirit? Jesus teaches us that God wants to answer our prayers, but that we must first forgive others. If we don’t, it will make us bitter and will affect our prayer life. Likewise, our worship will be affected. Jesus teaches us that when we are in conflict, we are to stop—even in the middle of our worship—and go to set matters right. Our witnessing, our giving, and our overall spiritual growth are terribly weakened by a heart that carries bitterness. Every other aspect of life is affected as well. When we are loaded down with stress, anxiety, and resentment, physical illness may result. Finally, because others don’t enjoy being around bitter people, our relationships are poisoned.

5. Dealing with Unforgiveness. To confront an unforgiving spirit, the first requirement is to take it seriously and assume full responsibility for our own decisions and actions. We acknowledge Unforgiveness as a sin and confess it honestly to God. The next step is to lay our anger down—strip it away—because then we can ask God’s forgiveness. After that, we should begin praying for the other person. If that person has been aware of our bitterness, we should go to them and ask their forgiveness. We can live out God’s grace by asking Him to show us something we can do on that person’s behalf—serving them instead of resenting them. Finally, we prevent the devil from trapping us again by refusing to rehash the same old issue or allowing the bitterness to seep back in. This debt must be forgiven and canceled in the same way our sins are.

6. Demonstrating forgiveness. Some Christians believe they have forgiven the person that’s wronged them, but the roots of bitterness are still deep in their hearts. So how can you know you have truly forgiven someone? There are two indications that you have been obedient to Christ in this area. First, you know you have forgiven when your feelings toward the other person have changed. When you see him or her, you will be aware that the resentment is gone. Second, you know your forgiveness is genuine when you feel concern for the other person—you care about his or her spiritual welfare and you want what is best for him or her.

Forgiveness, after all, is the real issue isn’t it? Actions of yesterday, last week, or even decades ago that are a cause for retaliation today, and, likely, tomorrow and who knows how much longer. Maybe forever. The hurt, the anger, the resentment, the hatred run so deep. Will they ever get past it?

Ah, but then how many of us have also been hurt and have found it hard to forgive? Divorce, abuse, humiliation, being robbed, getting fired, being taken advantage of or stabbed in the back. People have hurt us. It seems so hard to forgive. People tell us, “This is going to consume you. Come on, get past it. Forgive. Forget.”And we reply, “I would like to, but I can’t.” Why is that?

Why do we find it so hard to forgive?

When people wrong us it is like a debt that they now owe us. You could say they have robbed us. Love, joy, dignity, respect, and self-worth are things that people “steal” from us. They do this through abuse, gossip, taking advantage of, backstabbing, ridiculing, neglecting, cheating, leading us on, rejecting us and so on.

One theologian, Timothy Keller, suggests that our ability to forgive depends on the amount of emotional wealth we have. In other words, if I have a vast reservoir of self-worth or dignity or joy, someone might gossip about me, verbally assault me or walk out on me and I can say, “That’s okay. I forgive him. There is plenty more where that came from.”

Thus our lack of forgiveness is not a matter of stubbornness but of emotional poverty. This then forces the question: Why am I so emotionally impoverished that I cannot forgive? What would it take for me to become a forgiving person?

As far as I can see it is simple: Experiencing forgiveness.

1. Showing kindness to an aged person.

2. Destroying a letter written in anger.

3. Offering an apology that will save a friendship.

4. Stopping a scandal that was ruining a reputation.

5. Helping a boy or girl find themselves.

6. Taking time to show consideration to parents, friends, brothers and sisters.

7. Refraining from gossip when others around you like it.

8. Refusing to do a thing which is wrong, although others do it.

9. Living according to your convictions.

10. Accepting the judgment of God on any question.

I have discovered how God blesses us when we choose to forgive others. He removes all the baggage of resentment, malice, and wrath that weighs us down. Then, all the goodness of His righteousness can come flooding into our spirits and our lives can be as joyful and fulfilling as He created them to be. What about the person who wronged you? Let God sort that out. He is righteous, sovereign, and just. In time, even the one who wronged you will stand before God in judgment. Your responsibility is simply to let go of all resentment—owing no one anything except the ongoing debt of love. Unforgiveness may explode slowly, but it destroys us just the same. Through the power and grace of the Lord Jesus, however, we can be free from its terrible devastation—free from old grudges to walk in peace, joy, and victory.

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