Which kind of person you want to be? Listen to these two stories and see which one you want to be like.
There once were two shopkeepers who owned stores across the street from one another and who hated one another. They had nurtured their hatred for one another for many years. One night the angel of the Lord came to the first shopkeeper and said, “The Lord has sent me to you with the promise to grant one wish no matter how extravagant. There is only one catch – Whatever you receive, your rival shopkeeper will receive two-fold.”
The shopkeeper thought and then replied, “My wish is that you would strike me blind in one eye!”
The second story took place while the Civil War was still raging. President Lincoln was asked how he would treat rebellious southerners after the war was over. The questioner clearly expected Lincoln to opt for some form of retribution or vengeance but was taken aback when the President replied, “I will treat them as if they had never been away.”
We have a choice as to which kind of person we want to be. We can be the one who nurtures our grudges and hatreds to the point of self-destruction or we can be the one who forgives! We can orient our lives around blessing or curse. Obviously, President Lincoln has long been admired a man of great character. The half-blind shopkeeper could only be admired by few people who cannot let go of their hatred.
Let me use a Biblical example. Stephen, you will remember, shared forgiveness with a mob outside Jerusalem at the very moment when the stones from the mob pounded the life out of him. “Lord, don’t hold this sin against them,” Stephen says in Acts 7:60. Those were his dying words. They were not words of defeat, but words of victory. None of us recalls what was shouted by the mob that day, but will anyone ever forget Stephen’s words?
The Model Prayer has been easy until now. Anybody can pray, “Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy. Let your Kingdom come. Let your will be done, as in heaven, so on earth. Give us today our daily bread.” But now the Lord’s Prayer turns to meddling, as we so often say of sermons that convict us. “Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors.” Easier said than done!
F.B. Meyer wrote that this shows we need forgiveness as often as daily bread. We can die from a lack of forgiveness – the kind we need to give and the kind we need to receive – as surely as from a lack of bread. This prayer can save our lives.
We all want and need forgiveness. The story is told about a man who’s relationship with his son was strained so badly that the son ran away from home. His father began a journey in search of his estranged son, and when he couldn’t find him, he decided to run an ad in a local newspaper. The ad read, “Dear Paco, meet me in front of the newspaper office at noon. All is forgiven. I love you. Your father.” The next day at noon in front of the newspaper office there stood 800 “Pacos,” all of them seeking forgiveness and love from their fathers. Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
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The study of forgiveness must begin in the fact that we have been forgiven by God. It is only in the grace of our own forgiveness that we are able to forgive anyone else. So let’s look at the Biblical words that describe forgiveness. There are three Hebrew words used for the idea of forgiveness in the First Testament and three Greek words used for forgiveness in the Second Testament. They make a pretty good survey of the meaning of the term.
The first Hebrew word is “salach” which means to put something behind your back or under your foot or even in the depths of the sea. Isaiah 38:17 says, “You have cast all my sins behind your back.” Micah 7:19 says, “You will cast all (our) sins into the depths of the sea.” We find this idea in Psalm 103:1-3, “Praise Yahweh, my soul! All that is within me, praise his holy name! Praise Yahweh, my soul, and don’t forget all his benefits; who forgives all your sins; who heals all your diseases”
Psalm 103:11-12 says, “For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so great is his loving kindness toward those who fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”
Only God can remove our transgressions from us “as far as the east is from the west.” This is a very interesting poetic image, given the particular shape of our globe. As you know, the distance from the north to the south can be measured in miles, because there are poles at each of these extremities. This means that if you started flying in a northward direction, you could go only so far and then you would be traveling south. There is a limit to northness and southness. However, there is no East Pole or West Pole. If you could start flying either east or west and had the fuel, you could fly forever and forever and still be going in the same direction. And what does the Psalmist say? “God removes our sins from us,” not as far as the north is from the south – that is something you can measure, but as far as the east is from the west – infinity itself. This is a graphic way of saying that when God deals with our sin, a radical removal takes place.
The second Hebrew word is “kaphar” which means to cover or conceal something by hiding it from sight, such as when forgetting or blotting out a painful memory. Psalm 32:1 says, “Blessed is he whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is covered.”
I Peter 4:8 says, “Above all things be earnest in your love among yourselves, for love covers a multitude of sins.”
The third Hebrew word is “nasa” which means to cleanse or wipe away something by removing an ugly stain or washing off that which is defiled. Psalm 51 says, “Have mercy on me, God, according to your loving kindness. According to the multitude of your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions…. Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me. Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.” (Psalm 51: 1, 7) In Isaiah 43:25 God says, “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake; and I will not remember your sins.”
A Catholic priest in Philippines carried a terrible burden. While in seminary he committed a heinous sin. Nobody knew it and the priest had sincerely repented and worked to change his life. But in spite of effective and fruitful service in the priesthood, guilt and remorse for his sin haunted him day and night. He was not sure he had God’s forgiveness.
There was a woman in his parish who claimed to see visions and that in some of these visions Christ himself came and talked with her. More than a little skeptical the priest devised a little test. He asked the woman if, the next time Christ came to talk to her in her visions, she would ask him to tell her what sin the priest had committed in seminary.
The woman agreed. A few days later the priest asked if she had any news.
“Oh yes,” she replied. “Christ appeared to me just last night.”
“Did you ask him about my sin in seminary?”
“I did,” the woman said.
“Well, what did he say?”
“He said, ˜I don’t remember.”
In the New Testament we find the Greek word “apoluo” apoluo which means to cancel an indebtedness by releasing someone from a binding obligation. The Lord’s Prayer says, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” In Luke 6:37, Jesus says “Don’t judge, and you won’t be judged. Don’t condemn, and you won’t be condemned…”
The second Greek word is “aphiemi” aphiemi which means not counting a penalty against someone or declining to enforce a judgment against someone deserving of punishment. Psalm 32:2 says, “Blessed is the man to whom Yahweh doesn’t impute iniquity, in whose spirit there is no deceit.” Acts 17:30 says, “The times of ignorance therefore God overlooked. But now he commands all people everywhere should repent.”
The third Greek word is “charizomai” charizomai which means to care deeply for someone in difficulty by being gracious, displaying generosity, showing mercy. In Luke 7:43 Jesus asks, “Which of them, therefore, will love him most?” Simon answered, “He, I suppose, to whom he forgave the most.” Ephesians 4:32 says, “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you.”
One thing in common to all these Biblical definitions is the removal of some hindrance to an effective relationship. Forgiveness is not an abstract theory but a decisive action whereby barriers between people are set aside.
What about the next phrase: “As we also forgive our debtors?” The idea is picked up again just after the Lord’s Prayer when Jesus says, “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you don’t forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15). We ALL want forgiveness. That’s easy. It’s the giving forgiveness that is hard.
A little boy away at summer camp received a care package from his mom one day. It was filled with her wonderful chocolate chip cookies. He ate a few and then slipped the box under his bed. He went off for an activity but when he returned, the box was gone.
The boy reported the theft to his counselor who a little while later saw the camp bully sitting behind a tree eating the stolen cookies.
The counselor pulled Billy aside and told him he knew who had taken the cookies. “Will you help me teach him a lesson” he asked.
Hesitantly, the boy said, “Yes.”
“Good! Please ask your mom to send you another box of cookies.
Billy did and soon another box arrived in the mail.
The counselor brought the box to Billy and told him to go find the bully and share these cookies with him.
“But he’s a thief!” Billy protested.
“I know,” said the counselor, “but try it anyway.”
Off Billy went and half-an-hour later he saw him come back over the hill walking arm-in-arm with the bully. The bully was offering Billy his jackknife in payment for the cookies he had stolen. But Billy gently refused, saying, “A few old cookies weren’t that important anyway.”
As I have contemplated all week on the subject of forgiveness, I have concluded that forgiveness is about control. Learning to live in the mercy of God means letting go of our compulsion to control. Forgiveness is about having the courage to remove the barriers to relationships. Our refusal to forgive another who has hurt us may be the last bit of control we think we have over them.
I can think of no other place where you can find the strength, indeed the courage, it takes to drop old grudges and hatreds. They will eat you alive! They are a cancer on your soul.
Imagine collecting the garbage throughout your house and bagging it up. It contains old papers, cans, wrappers, but it also contains left-over chicken about to spoil, the remainder of that cantaloupe that didn’t taste quite right, and that old spaghetti from last Monday night – the refuse of a week of living. Then you take that smelly old bag out to the street, stand there for a moment, and then decide you just can’t part with it. And you bring it back into the house and throw it in the corner with the previous week’s and month’s garbage. Can you imagine? That is no way to live! But people who refuse to forgive live with just that kind of emotional baggage for years on end!
Now imagine that the church custodian came to clean the sanctuary one Monday morning. Instead of finding the usual fare of forgotten Bibles, umbrellas, bulletins covered with children’s drawings, and torn-up notes the teenagers had passed to each other instead of listening to the sermon, she found something very different.
In a middle pew on the right side of the church lay a father’s long-held grudge against his son. On the back left pew sat a woman’s profound anger at an ex-husband who sorely mistreated her. Further down the pew lay an old man’s guilt and remorse from an affair he had fifty years ago. Across the aisle the custodian found the jealousy that threatened a young couple’s marriage. On the front row she discovered an old man’s fear of death. In the corner, so small she could barely see it, lay a child’s envy of a friend’s toy. On other pews she found bitterness, pride, fear and doubt. The custodian was not sure what to with all this. But finally she swept it up, all those wounds, hurts, fears and sins, and threw them away.
And the people prayed, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.
Copyright, 2009, Mickey Anders. Used by permission.