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Worship Series: Lord’s Prayer
Worship Theme: As We Forgive Those Who Sin against Us
- CW 491: O Master of the Loving Heart
- Change My Heart, Oh God
- CW 432: I Am Jesus’ Little Lamb
- Forgive Our Sins, Lord, We Implore
- CW 498: Though I May Speak with Bravest Fire
- Father Welcomes
Message: As We Forgive Those Who Sin against Us
Pastor Jon Enter
“Revenge is a dish best served cold.” Maybe you’ve heard this heart-hardening phrase before. It not only encourages you to lash out against those who have wronged you, but it celebrates those whose hearts have turned icy-cold and numb to the thought of hurting another. You’ve all heard stories of “sweet revenge” from coworkers, from friends and from family. Maybe you’ve even told your own story of revenge. These tales are always told in grand detail for all to hear and for all to enjoy.
Why enjoy sin? Why high-five someone who fights sin with more sin? No firefighter in his right mind would try to put out a building fire by blasting gasoline into the blaze. That’s a ridiculous thought! It is equally ridiculous to try to put out a feud by blasting back in revenge. It only stokes and fuels the anger-filled brawl. As the quote goes, “You cannot get ahead when you are trying to get even.” How true!
Why do we act out in revenge? Well, because hurt people hurt people.
It’s so difficult to snuff out anger when feelings are hurt! A Japanese man unleashed his anger against a former professor whom he blamed for his denial into a graduate school. Every night for fourteen years, this furious failed student called the professor an average of ten times a night—between the hours of 8PM and 2AM. (And you thought tell-a-marketers were annoying!) He made over 50,000 harassing calls.
The Matar brothers started a feud over some tiny, ridiculous incident. John sent his brother, Bill, one of those insulting birthday cards meant as a joke. Bill sent 20 insulting cards back adding some rather unflattering words. And the war of revenge was on. John responded by sending his brother a pet rock tipping the scale at 4,000 pounds. Bill countered with 10 tons of pebbles with a note saying the pet rock had babies. The last I read, John sent a smelly surprise of two tons of fresh manure. All this because of one card meant as a joke. The joke went wrong, horribly wrong. Both brothers were too prideful to apologize. Instead, they spent thousands of dollars trying to get even with the other.
Maybe you haven’t sent a steaming pile of cow dung to someone. Maybe you haven’t made 50,000 harassing phone calls but you have dreamed up your sweet revenge. “Oh, I should’ve said this!” “Man, if only I had done that!” You may have even let your anger and your stomped-on-feelings stomp on your faith. You didn’t just think about exacting revenge; you acted! You reacted in revenge. Revenge—whether big or small, whether dreamed up or acted out—is wrong. Revenge is sin; it is our sin. When we pray in the Lord’s Prayer asking God to help us to forgive those who sin against us, we are asking God to keep us from grudges and revenge. Who is it that you struggle to forgive? A parent who disappointed or abused you? A boyfriend, girlfriend or your good-for-nothing-Ex wife/husband who cheated on your or stole your happiness? A friend who backstabbed you? Your boss who is ruthless and demanding?
The Corinthians struggled with forgiving too. In our text, the Apostle Paul instructed the Corinthians to stop the assault on someone. “Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.” (2 Corinthians 2:7) There is a reason why this person became a social and spiritual outcast. More than likely, the person here was the same one Paul wrote about in his first letter to the Corinthians. If it is the same man, he had sexual relations with his father’s wife. Paul wrote in the book of 1 Corinthians a scathing rebuke against the Corinthians because they were proud of this grotesque sin! (1 Corinthians 5:1-5) Paul told them to remove this hardened sinner from their fellowship and from their worship so he would realize his wrongs and repent. Well, the advice worked. The man crumbled under the weight of his wrongs and repented. He humbled himself before the cross of Christ and God forgave him of his sins.
The Corinthians, however, wouldn’t reinstate him. With vigilante style justice they mocked him, ridiculed him and abused him. They were once proud of his sexual sin and now they were proud of their sin of revenge. They didn’t understand forgiveness. Forgiveness means the wrong is completely taken away; it is as if the sin never happened. Since this man was sincerely and freely forgiven by God, they should have reinstated him and treated him as a fully forgiven believer just as God reinstated him into His family of believers. But they didn’t. They refused. They poured onto him extreme guilt and extraordinary consequences. If it continued, Paul knew they would’ve driven the man to spiritual despair. These Christians weren’t acting Christ-like. These Christians weren’t forgiving as Christ forgave them. They were causing him to lose his newly renewed faith because these Corinthian Christians chose revenge over righteousness!
We aren’t much different. Years ago, I remember listening to a local morning radio program in which the DJ retold the story about a childhood friend who had abused this DJ’s kindness. When the DJ returned to the airwaves, he was very upset. He told his listeners about the incident and, in a fit of revenge, he handed out this former friend’s cell phone number. The listeners filled up this guy’s message box in less than five minutes with an unhealthy dosage of filthy language.
When I was listening to the radio program, it had been over a year since the incident originally happened. As I heard the DJ talk, I could hear in his voice that he wanted to call and apologize but, to make good radio, he left it up to the listeners. If they said he should apologize, he would. If they said, “Don’t do it!” He wouldn’t. Every single caller said the DJ did what was right. “That jerk got what he deserved” was one caller’s response. Another begged the DJ to hand the number out again. Sounds like we need a scathing letter from the Apostle Paul calling our city to repent of revenge! If you had caught the program, I wonder if you had thought his revenge was justifiable.
Let’s focus on you. Is sweet revenge your thing? Or is subtle, back-handed revenge your style? Or do you just dream up fantastic ways in your mind to get back at someone but don’t actually carry it out? More than you realize; you are guilty of committing all these sinful crimes of anger. When a perfect stranger cuts you off in traffic, you don’t tap the horn. You lay on the horn and maybe let some not-so-pleasant words fly out of your mouth or you let them bang around in your head without letting them out because “The kids will hear!” Guess what...God can hear your every sinful, revengeful thought.
I’m sure you have had that former friend who stole your girlfriend/boyfriend, that bully who used to torture you on the bus, that teacher who had it out for you, that boss who was evil through and through and that coach who belittled you every chance he had. When your thoughts go back to these people who were just plain jerks to you, your blood boils again. You remember the hurt, the pain, the embarrassment. As you remember back to these situations that happened in your childhood or even yesterday, I pray you see clearly your sins. “What? Huh, Pastor Jon, what are you talking about?” They may have wronged you first, sinned against you first. I am not denying that fact. But you let yourself react to their sin against you with more sin. When I counsel people who are struggling through broken relationships and broken marriages, I always tell them, “You can’t control someone’s actions but you can control your reaction.” Revenge—in thought, word or deed—is a sinful reaction. Revenge is not sweet. Grudges and continual hurt feelings are not sweet. They stink like a steaming pile of manure. It is a foul byproduct of sin. It is gravely serious for you to understand that all levels of revenge are sin.
It is equally essential for you to fully forgive those who wronged you in the past and even to forgive those who are currently sinning against you. If you don’t forgive them of their wrongdoings, you harbor anger against them and the possibility to enact revenge. That is why Christ spoke these words. “If you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15). Christ will not forgive anger and revenge that haven’t been repented. Christ tells you to forgive to release your anger and your sinful feeling to get even through revenge. If you don’t, “Your Father will not forgive your sins.”
Please understand: By you forgiving someone, it doesn’t take away their guilt before God or release them from God’s punishment. They have to personally ask God for forgiveness to fully forgiven. Your forgiveness breaks your sin of anger and cuts away your desire to “get even”. If you harbor hatred, you strain your relationship with Christ.
There was a Christian art professor who wanted to impress upon his students the damages of revenge. He told his students to draw a detailed picture of someone who had wronged them. It had to be a person they truly couldn’t stand. The students jumped at the assignment adding horns to people’s heads and placing others into deadly situations. One person drew their deadbeat dad in a coffin.
The professor then had the students one-by-one come up the bulletin board and tack the drawing of their hated rival onto a sheet with a large bull’s-eye. The students each received three metal tipped darts and we told to do whatever they wanted. With deadly accuracy; they hurled darts at their foes’ faces. Some darts were thrown with such malicious force; they pierced through the bulletin board and its hardwood backing hitting the cinder block wall. The students loved it!
They even begged to have another round. The professor said nothing. He motioned for the student be silent. He slowly walked to the bulletin board and removed the paper bullseye. Hidden behind it was a picture of Jesus completely shredded by their vengeful throws. “When you strike others,” the professor said, “you strike Jesus.”
Friends, put away the darts of anger and revenge and repent of your wrongs. Put on, instead, the mercy and forgiveness of Christ. Through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, He gives you forgiveness for your sins and patience with those who sin against you. May this be the new phrase that you live your life by: “Revenge is a dish I will never serve again.” Amen.