A couple married for 15 years began having more than usual disagreements. They wanted to make their marriage work and agreed on an idea the wife had. For one month they planned to drop a slip in a “Fault” box. The boxes would provide a place to let the other know about daily irritations. The wife was diligent in her efforts and approach: “leaving the jelly top off the jar,” “wet towels on the shower floor,” “dirty socks not in the hamper,” on and on until the end of the month. After dinner, at the end of the month, they exchanged boxes. The husband reflected on what he had done wrong. Then the wife opened her box and began reading. They were all the same, the message on each slip was, “I love you.”
One of the goals that God has set for us is to live in peace with all of creation. The reality is that sometimes this can be extremely difficult and challenging. However, the writer of the book of Hebrews makes it clear that we are to “Make every effort.” This phrase suggests that not only do we have the ability, but also the power to do and accomplish is within our grasp. According to the author of the book of Hebrews when we make the effort two things happen a) we are acting in accordance with God and b) we will see God. The word the writer uses is “Holy.” To be “Holy” means to be set aside by God for the purposes of God. In essence it means something or someone has been reserved by God for special use. In this case the person who makes the effort does not lend themselves to common things, but rather allows God to use them in uncommon ways. It is easy to lose sight of God when we are distracted by and have allowed the common to engage us.
Chuck Swindoll told the story of a seminary student in Chicago who faced a forgiveness test. Although he preferred work in some kind of ministry, the only job he could find was driving a bus on Chicago’s south side. One day a gang of tough teens got on board and refused to pay the fare. After a few days of this, the seminarian spotted a policeman on the corner, stopped the bus, and reported them. The officer made them pay, but then he got off. When the bus rounded a corner, the gang robbed the seminarian and beat him severely. He pressed charges and the gang was rounded up. They were found guilty. But as soon as the jail sentence was given, the young Christian saw their spiritual need and felt pity for them. So he asked the judge if he could serve their sentences for them. The gang members and the judge were dumbfounded. “It is because I forgive you,” he explained. His request was denied, but he visited the young men in jail and led several of them to faith in Christ. It was not until the young man was willing to do the uncommon that he himself saw God.
The writer says, “See to it that no one misses the grace of God.” The reality is that we have a choice whether to forgive or not to forgive. We have a choice whether to make peace or to keep strife going. The call to “Make every effort” and “See to it” informs us that we have the ability, the power and the choice is up to us. It is part of our divine redemptive DNA. It is the grace of God that flows through and in us that makes it possible for us to do it and make it happen.
Conversely, harboring resentment and holding on to the wrongs that others have done to us is also our choice. I have heard many people say they can forgive, but they cannot forget. Here is the problem with this statement, when someone has wronged me they are clearly at fault for the wrong they have committed. Each time I replay what they have done and re-feel the pain, I am responsible for re-inflicting pain on myself. The truth is that I can forgive and forget if I want to, but I do not want to forgive so I do not forget what has been done. There is also another layer here. Although, God would honor us and bless us more if we were to forgive and forget there are some who actually derive a level of comfort from harboring resentment and holding on to wrongs that have been perpetrated against them. It seems that rather then moving on with their life, there are some people who relish the fact that they can hold something over the head of another person. There are also others who enjoy the sympathy they get as they retell how badly they were mistreated. I think that we must also keep in mind that as long as we hold on to wrongs that have been committed against us, we are not holding on to them but rather they are holding on to us.
The writer of Hebrews in this passage compares unforgiveness to a “Bitter root growing up to cause trouble and defile many.” This is a powerful visual. They say that the deeper the roots grow the stronger they hold. This perhaps helps to explain why it is so difficult for some people who have held on to wrongs and harbored resentments for so many years find it difficult to let go and move one – they have allowed the roots to grow to deep. No matter how much they try to remove or get rid of the resentments they keep coming back. Another issue is that harboring resentment and holding on to the wrongs committed against us does not hurt anyone. According to the text it “Causes trouble and defiles many.” How is this possible? The word trouble is used here in the sense of a poisonous plant that spreads its poison as it comes into contact with others. The spreading of the poison then defiles by contaminating everything around it. Unforgiveness then, is like a poison and when people come in contact with a person who is harboring resentment over time they become infected and contaminated by the spreading of the poison. In this way the carrier of the poison leads others into sin.
The text here is pretty clear that in the lives of believers and the people of God there is no room for unforgiveness. This text highlights the deadly and destructive affects of harboring resentments and holding on to the wrongs that others have committed against us. If this is not enough, let me offer you three reasons why we need to forgive and forget.
1. God commands it – As God has forgiven us we are to forgive others. Jesus was asked how many times should we forgive, seven times seven? His response was, no! We are to forgive as often as we are wronged – seventy times seventy. I have heard many people say, “but you do not know what they did.” Here is what I do know, God has forgiven the people who killed His Son. Before we came to know Christ as our personal Lord and savior, we rejected both Christ and God and even since we have received Christ we still live from time to time in open rebellion against God and God overlooks all of that continues to bless us, love us and forgive us when we ask for it.
2. Unforgiveness hurts the offended more than it hurts the offender – Think about this for people who hold on to grudges, resentments and the wrongs that have been committed against them they are stuck in the quagmire of hurt that will eventually turn into bitterness. While the offender has moved on and is living their life, the offended cannot move on until they let go. Until they let go the fruit of bitterness will contaminate every relationship until no one wants to deal with you or be bothered with you. For as much as we think we are hurting those who have offended us by holding on to what they have done, the only person we are really hurting is ourselves and those who come in contact with us.
3. If we do not choke it off at the root it will become our legacy – In his book. Lee: The Last Years, Charles Bracelen Flood reports that after the Civil War, Robert E. Lee visited a Kentucky lady who took him to the remains of a grand old tree in front of her house. There she bitterly cried that its limbs and trunk had been destroyed by Federal artillery fire. She looked to Lee for a word condemning the North or at least sympathizing with her loss. After a brief silence, Lee said, “Cut it down, my dear Madam, and forget it.” It is better to forgive the injustices of the past than to allow them to remain and let a bitterness take root and poison the rest of our life.
The issue is this how do we want to be remembered? When I think of my mother and all that she endured throughout the course of her life the one thing that stands out the most to me is that she died a bitter woman. Is this how we want to be remembered after God has called us home?
The apostle Paul reminds us, “We are more than conquerors.” Listen, if we live long enough it is inevitable that we will encounter people who will do some despicable, wicked, mean-spirited and terrible things to us. When these things happen, we need to remember, “We are more than conquerors.” There is nothing we face or experience that we cannot overcome if “We make every effort.” God in Christ makes available to His children the power of the Resurrection to His children to enable us to handle things in an uncommon way. The difference between being resuscitated and resurrected is that to resuscitate is to come back as you were there is no change. To resurrect is to give new life to that which was dead, to comeback in a different state – victoriously.
Through the power of the resurrection we can forgive, we can forget and we can comeback better than we were before the hurt with a new attitude and new life. This is the Good News.
April 24, 2010