Keys to Unlock the Door to Growth: Forgiveness
by Dennis Michelson
Introduction: God will add people to an incubator but will not add them to a refrigerator. If individuals harbor unforgiveness then growth will be thwarted. If churches persist with an unforgiving spirit then they may "bloat or gloat" and mistake it for growth.
1. THE FORCE OF FORGIVENESS (Acts 7 and Luke 23)
Consider the situation in Acts 7 with Stephen. As he was being killed "then they cried with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord." They crowd was doing a wicked thing but they were unified. Stephen's response (v. 60) was "And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep."
Of course verse 58 informs us as to one of the witnesses to this event, "and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul." Can you imagine the impact of Stephen's forgiveness on this young legalistic zealot who would be transformed on the road to Damascus two chapters later. I believe you can see the force of forgiveness at work. In our day it has become fashionable when a crowd cries out that Christians feel it their duty to cry out in condemnation (even louder) against the crowd.
Again, in Luke 23:34 - "Then said Jesus, Father forgive them: for they know not what they do." The thief on the cross and the Centurion at the foot of the cross were greatly affected by these words.
If we are to grow, and our churches are to grow, then we must learn the force of forgiveness.
2. THE FEAR OF FORGIVENESS
There are at least four specific fears that stand in the way of forgiveness:
(1) Fear of Insincerity - We think we have to be the judge of someone's sincerity. Remember that you are not responsible for the other person's sincerity but you are responsible for your obedience in forgiveness (Psalm 64)
(2) Fear of Vulnerability - We think we will be hurt. Matthew 5:7; 11-12 let us know that if we are hurt for doing the right thing then we are in excellent company.
(3) Fear of Likeability - You have become so comfortable not liking the person that you fear loving them then you may have to even like them!(II Peter 1 and compare brotherly kindness and love)
(4) Fear of Responsibility - Proverbs 18:17 and 25:8-10. Now we get to the bottom of the matter. If we forgive them then we may need to repent. As one person stated "marriages are hurt more by falling out of repentance than falling out of love."
3. THE FAILURE TO FORGIVE
(1) It is Disobedience to God (Ephesians 4:29-32)
(2) The Debt We Owed to God is Not Considered (Matthew 6:12)
(3) The "Debt" Others Owe to Us Is Insignificant by Comparison (Matthew 6:14-15 cf. Matthew 5:23-24)
Note: Compare the term for debt with the term for trespasses. God paid a debt for us that He did not owe and we could not pay. When we withold forgiveness for trespasses against us then it may be an indication that we have forgotten about the debt God forgave or perhaps - the debt remains. At any rate, Matthew 5:23-24 instructs us to quit playing church when things need to be made right with someone else.
4. THE FRUIT OF FORGIVENESS
Consider carefully I Peter 5:5-6 and I John 4:18-21. When we forgive, then our pride is replaced by humility.
Conclusion: A church should give more attention to forgiveness than finances. If God orders something then He will pay for it.
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