Today is the last day of school. It’s a pretty relaxed day in class. The work is done, grades have been calculated, and summer fun and relaxation are calling. To entertain themselves, my 5th graders are currently building forts out of blankets, desks, and chairs. It’s fun to see them work as teams and use their creativity to make little nooks around the room.
“These forts are good!” I say silently. As soon as I think this thought, I hear the Spirit whisper, “Not all forts are good.”
Sigh. No. No they are not.
Today I’d like to talk about of unforgiveness. It’s probably the single most important blog I’ve ever written because I’ve seen first hand how damaging unforgiveness can be. If our sin is the fire that burns down a house, unforgiveness is the lighter fluid.
To demonstrate, it’s best to lay out a very true to life scenario from its beginning to tragic end. Sadly, a tired version of this story happens over and over again.
1. Someone does something to you to cause offense. Your spouse forgets your birthday. Your boss doesn’t notice the hard work you’ve done. Your mother-in-law is overly critical of your parenting decisions.
I wish we could avoid #1. But we can’t. We all have offended or will be offensive at some point in our lives because we live in a fallen world with fallen people. The problem begins when we refuse to deal with the offense in a Godly way.
2. Instead of doing the hard work of going to the Lord to talk to Him about the offense so that He can walk you through it, you hang on to the anger and pain like a shield. In this stage of unforgiveness, angry rash words are said. Those hurtful words are like salt on an open wound. Rifts begin. The silent treatment and stalemates abound. (FYI: Anger is usually pain’s bodyguard.)
You may feel completely justified in refusing to forgive another person because the offender has repeatedly shown an established pattern of hurtful behavior that does not change. You think, “I’m never going to be vulnerable again! All she ever does is hurt or disappoint me!” This is when the first blocks of a fort called Stronghold are laid. Instead of remaining open, you begin to build invisible walls to protect yourself from being hurt again. However, what you don’t understand is that unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.
3. Self righteousness seeps in somewhere along the line. You forget how much you’ve been forgiven. You stand on top of the bricks you’ve laid and proudly pronounce, “I’ would never do that! She doesn’t deserve a second chance.” Meanwhile you forget that God considers gossip and slander grievous sins. Self righteousness is incredibly offensive to Jesus because we have all fallen short of His glory.
4. The fort called Stronghold is complete. With hardened resolve you declare, “I am never (never ever) forgiving that person again. I won’t be made a fool!” This is when you check out of the relationship. You shut the offender down and totally close off your heart.
At this point, the poisonous effects of unforgiveness in your heart are starting to show. The Bible teaches that unforgiveness is a bitter root. It takes time for that ugly root to burrow down deep and grow into an ugly warped tree. So, when the root of unforgiveness finally produces ugly fruit, you are in deep spiritual trouble. A small weed is easy to pull out of your garden. A fruit tree is hard work to remove.
And what is the fruit of unforgiveness? Bitterness. Resentment. Hostility. Anger. Fear. The fruit is the stuff that rips marriages in two and incinerates churches. As it does, our malicious ruthless enemy dances victoriously around the flames and rejoices over the carnage and ash.
Like I said, if sin is the fire that burns down the house, unforgiveness is the lighter fluid that speeds up the wicked process.
Stubborn Julie is sick and tired of being sick of tired of seeing Satan win in our relationships. Christ won 2,000 years ago at Calvary, and so we should win. It makes me madder than a wet hen when our enemy gets any lost ground back.
Good Christians, in order to keep the victorious high ground God’s Son gave us through His precious blood, we have to submit to God’s command to forgive. Obedience is hard- so hard- but the rewards are worth it. As we submit to God, the enemy will flee (James 4:7).
First of all, forgiveness is not optional for a believer in Jesus Christ. To demonstrate why, the Lord Jesus told a parable that can be found in Matthew 18. In the story, a servant owned his master ten thousand talents. This amount would be equivalent to several million dollars. Because the master was merciful, he forgave his servant’s debt. However, later on, the same servant who had been forgiven would not forgive another servant a hundred denarii- or a day’s wage worth approximately sixteen cents. The master heard about this and summoned his servant saying, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” The master then threw the servant in jail until his multi-million dollar debt was paid. Jesus finished the story with this warning,
“So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
Folks, we owe God a debt we cannot possibly pay. We have sinned and offended a holy God. We are law breakers who fall short of His perfected glory every single day. However, because our Master is merciful, He sent His Son Jesus to pay for the debt we couldn’t possibly pay on our own. Through Christ, we have been forgiven. Therefore, when we refuse to forgive another, we are like the wicked servant in the parable.
Matthew 6:15 contains the single most sobering warning in all of Scripture concerning unforgiveness:
“But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
Gulp. That’s pretty clear. Like I said, forgiveness is not optional! It’s a command. We have to forgive if we want God to forgive us. And boy do I need God’s forgiveness. I need it every single day. Furthermore, people who recognize how much Jesus has forgiven them have no problem with offering forgiveness to others. They give grace and mercy freely. Jesus said that those who have been forgiven much love much (Luke 7:47). Are you having a hard time loving people lately? You probably have unforgiveness in your heart.
I want to focus a bit on self righteousness because the Lord hates it so much. As item #3 on the list showed, self righteousness (aka pride) is always part of unforgiveness. Here are some examples of self righteous statements:
- “I would never do something like that! How could you do this to me?” This is a self righteous statement. We all have our individual issues that may not be a struggle for someone else! Remember the pesky parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector? A refresher: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:10-14)
- “I’ve forgiven you before, and you didn’t change. I’m not forgiving you again!” Golly! What if Jesus treated us this way? I’m so glad that He doesn’t!
- “I’m right. She is wrong!” Self righteous people are unteachable and are usually unwilling to examine their role in conflict. Jeremiah 2:35 says, ‘Because I am innocent, surely His anger shall turn from me.’ Behold, I will plead My case against you, Because you say, ‘I have not sinned.’” Self righteous people don’t say sorry because they don’t see their faults. But guess what? God does.
- “Well, I’m justified in acting this way (bitter, angry, resentful) because of what she did. She did this to me! She’s why I am the way I am!” Maybe this isn’t very nice to say, but this excuse is #lame. “Jesus demonstrated His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”~Romans 5:8 God did not use our sin as an excuse to treat us poorly. Because we are in Christ, we have been given a new heart and have the mind of Jesus. We cannot use someone else’s bad behavior to justify our own. Ever.
If you hear yourself saying any of these statements, run, don’t walk, to the Lord in prayer to hash it out with Him. I guarantee you’ll walk away from that conversation humbled and with a different more heavenly perspective.
Finally, I cannot talk about unforgiveness without warning about the demonic activity it brings. I once spoke to a couple who have a deliverance ministry. They have prayed for many people experiencing great oppression and even demonic possession throughout the years. This couple found that the single common trait oppressed/possessed souls share is- you guessed it- unforgiveness. Scripture supports their findings.
Ephesians 4:26 says, “”In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”
Unforgiveness is an open door for demonic activity in your house. Is there strife and division in your family? The source is most likely unforgiveness. Some sicknesses have their root in unforgiveness.
Unforgiveness is the worst kind of poison. I exhort you with all I have to get it out of your heart! If for no other reason, forgive out of selfish reasons- it’s an act of self preservation to forgive!
Believe me when I say that I understand that forgiveness is hard when someone has hurt you repeatedly. Sometimes it is impossible to forgive in our own strength. However, with God all things are possible. If you are having difficultly obeying the Lord’s command to forgive, ask Him for help. Don’t try to do it on your own. When you do ask for help, Jesus’s power will give you the grace to forgive. Christ can uproot that ugly unforgiveness tree and stop its destructive fruit from ruining your life.
Tear down the fort of unforgiveness in your heart, and tear it down quickly, for it is certainly not good!
A verse to bring the point home:
“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18:21-22)
By saying we are to forgive those who sin against us seventy times seven, Jesus was not limiting forgiveness to 490 times. Jesus was teaching us that Christians are to never limit the number of times we forgive. We should continue to forgive with as much grace the thousandth time as we do the first time. Christians are only capable of this type of forgiveness because the Spirit of God lives within us, and it is He who enables us to offer forgiveness over and over, just as God forgives us over and over.