This week's 'thought' has to do with forgiveness - total forgiveness. In fact, that's the title of the book it is taken from: "Total Forgiveness" by R. T. Kendall. He is the pastor who took over at London's Westminster Chapel after Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones passed.
There are few things more important to our ongoing spiritual health and growth than obedience to Jesus command to forgive (Matt. 6:14-15 / 18:21-35). That's why He places such a heavy stress on it. There is little that will poison the soul more than the root of bitterness that finds its source in our refusal to forgive -- and all the more when we fertilize it by convincing ourselves it's ok if we don't.
The root of bitterness we often permit to grow (because it gives us a sense of power over the perpetrator) will choke out our ability to love, experience joy, have inner peace and rest of soul, pray with a clear conscience before God, or come to God with confidence, and so forth.
In this sense Kendall's book is a good read for most and a must read for some. This section is on forgiveness as an "Inner Condition of the Heart." Enjoy.
"Total forgiveness must take place in the heart or it is worthless, for 'out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks' (Matt. 12:34). If we have not truly forgiven those who hurt us in our hearts, it will come out -- sooner or later. But if it has indeed taken place in the heart, our words will show it. When there is bitterness, it will eventually manifest itself; when there is love, 'there is nothing in (that person) to make him stumble' (I John 2:10).
This is why reconciliation is not essential for total forgiveness. If forgiveness truly takes place in the heart, one does not need to know whether one's enemy will reconcile. If I have forgiven him in my heart of hearts, but he still doesn't speak to me, I can still have inner victory. It may be far easier to forgive when we know that those who maligned or betrayed us are sorry for what they did, but if I must have this knowledge before I can forgive, I may never have the victory over bitterness. Those who believe that they are not required to forgive unless their offender has first repented are not following Jesus example on the cross.
Jesus said, 'Father forgive them, for they
do not know what they are doing.' And
they divided up his clothes by casting lots.'
If Jesus had waited until His enemies felt some guilt or shame for their words and actions, He would never have forgiven them.
It is my experience that most people we must forgive do not believe they have done anything wrong at all, or if they know that they did something wrong, they believe it was justified. I would even go as far as to say that at least 90 percent of all the people I've ever had to forgive would be indignant at the thought that they had done something wrong. If you gave them a lie-detector test, they would honestly say that they had done nothing wrong -- and they would pass with flying colors.
Total forgiveness, therefore, must take place in the heart. If I have a genuine heart experience, I will not be devastated if there is no reconciliation. If those who hurt me don't want to continue a relationship with me, it isn't my problem, because I have forgiven them. This is also why a person can achieve inner peace even when forgiving someone who has died. The apostle John wrote, 'Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God' (I John 3:21).
Confidence toward God is ultimately what total forgiveness is all about; He is the One I want to please at the end of the day. He cares and knows whether I have truly and totally forgiven, and when I know I have His love and approval, I am one very happy and contented servant of Christ... Relinquishing bitterness (an excessive desire for vengeance that comes from deep resentment, and heads up the list of things that grieve the Spirit of God - Eph. 4:30ff) is an open invitation for the Holy Spirit to give you His peace, His joy, and the knowledge of His will... How can we be sure there is no bitterness in our hearts? Bitterness is gone when there is no desire to get even with or punish the offender, when I do or say nothing that would hurt his reputation or future, and when I truly wish him well in all he seeks to do."
Hard? Yes. It goes without saying -- especially when it has to do with such things as rape, incest, abuse, betrayal, or having been used and then tossed aside like a worthless toy -- and even more so for a parent when it happens to one of our children. In such cases there is probably no more difficult thing in this world to do than to forgive -- truly and totally forgive.
Yet it must be done. Not so much for the perpetrator (who may never repent or admit wrongdoing) but for us, our conscience, and the sake of our relational intimacy with God. For at its root, all bitterness involves some degree of bitterness toward the all-knowing, all-powerful, sovereign God who could have prevented our pain but chose not (another section he deals with is the need to forgive God, odd as that may sound).
As one person once put it, "Refusing to forgive is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die." It only hurts us. Therefore, as hard as some cases of forgiveness are (and some will drive the victim to the brink) -- since it is commanded by God, He will give us the grace to do it. As with all things in the Christian life, God doesn't ask us to do it alone in our own strength and power. He offers His grace to empower and enable us -- the only thing that makes true and total heart-forgiveness possible in many cases.
In His Service, Pastor Jeff