Growing Me, Growing You, Part 2: Prepare the Ground
On Sunday 28th October at our morning service, we continued our series Growing Me, Growing You with the topic Prepare the Ground.. In this blog you will find a summary of the talk.
To listen to the talk, please click here.
This series is about the basics of faith and growing in faith. The fundamentals that are essential to growing and becoming more like Jesus. (Part of the EBC Mission Statement)
To use a gardening analogy, our society crowds out God, leaving the landscape of our lives overgrown with things that are worthless. How can we clear out the weeds and let the things of goodness and beauty grow?
In the Old Testament part of the bible there are some very wise sayings in a part of the bible called “Proverbs” and one of those wise sayings is this:
“Love prospers when a fault is forgiven, but dwelling on it separates close friends.” (Proverbs chapter 17 verse 9, NLT)
I can tell you that’s true – I know it because the bible says so but I also know it from personal experience. Extremely painful experience. You see, the stones and weeds of unforgiveness not only stop things from growing but the darkness of unforgiveness can actually kill off something that’s been thriving and beautiful. If I were to put a beautiful plant in the darkness it would eventually wither and die.
Same things with relationships. The hard stones of unforgiveness make it hard for our seeds of love to reach and take root in otherwise fertile ground. Where new growth is happening, the weeds of unforgiveness can choke it out. And the darkness of unforgiveness causes friendships to die off. But we can fix this – happily – by applying forgiveness.
In the book of Genesis, there is an account of the life of a man called Joseph who had every reason to be unforgiving – his brothers plotted to kill him, and they beat him up, threw him down a well and then sold him into slavery. When he next saw them, he was in a position of absolute power over them – yet instead of exacting revenge, Joseph was filled with love and compassion for them – and he completely forgave them.
Joseph’s story can be read in Genesis (chapter 37 and onwards) and his story is a wonderful example of total forgiveness. Joseph put God first; and seeds of love overflowed and blossomed as a result.
When Jesus taught his disciples how to pray, he included a bit about forgiveness. “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” The Lord’s prayer, as we know it, is perhaps the most well-known passage in the whole of the bible, but less well known is what Jesus said immediately afterwards, expanding upon the theme of forgiveness, as is recorded as in Matthew’s eyewitness account:
“For 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, chapter 6 verses 14 to 15 (NLT))
A little later in Matthew’s account, we find the disciple Peter still pondering this issue of forgiveness, and he asks Jesus about it. Jesus tells a parable to convey again the serious need for us to forgive and how the undeserved forgiveness God gives us means we must respond in like manner. Failure to do so is not a good option! You can about this in Matthew’s biography of Jesus, chapter 18, verses 21 to 35: Click here
So Jesus reserved some of his hardest warnings for the issue of unforgiveness. But from Proverbs 17:9 (above) we learn that when faults are forgiven, love prospers. We can prepare the ground for love to grow by treating it with forgiveness. It’s the preparation that Jesus gave his life to, that a loving relationship between us and God could flourish forever.
God has done his part for us – at great cost. Jesus gave his life for it! The parable that Jesus told Peter is a deeply poignant parable, given that the teller – Jesus – was the price paid by the Father to cancel OUR debt. Perhaps that’s why Jesus used such stark warnings about how his heavenly Father would feel towards those who aren’t willing to forgive. Imagine you’d made that sacrifice, as God has, to save someone’s eternal life…. And they threw it back at you and wanted revenge on people who’d wronged them.
We’ve all been wronged and we’ve all done wrong. Sometimes, regardless of what we believe about God, we’re all too painfully aware of our own wrongdoing and we don’t forgive ourselves even if we (notionally) understand about God’s grace. And sometimes we harbour unforgiveness against others – which holds the other person imprisoned, perhaps, but almost certainly imprisons ourselves.
A great illustration of this is the story of Nelson Mandela, who almost incomprehensibly managed to find reconciliation not only in his own life but in the life of the South African nation after spending 27 years in prison.
How and why did he forgive 27 years of imprisonment? Because here is the lesson if you still want a reason to forgive. A reporter who interviewed Mandela wrote this –
“In another conversation I said, ‘Tell me the truth. When you were leaving prison after twenty-seven years and walking down that road to freedom, didn’t you hate them all over again?’ And he said, ‘Absolutely I did, because they’d imprisoned me for so long. I was abused. I didn’t get to see my children grow up. I lost my marriage and the best years of my life. I was angry. And I was afraid, because I had not been free in so long. But as I got closer to the car that would take me away, I realized that when I went through that gate, if I still hated them, they would still have me. I wanted to be free. And so I let it go.”
? Nelson Mandela, Long Walk To Freedom
Who do you need to forgive? Are you prepared to let it go? Do you want to be free?
Sometimes we’re told that forgiving others is a sign of weakness, and that saying sorry shows weakness. Not so! Both are signs of strength. And as regards forgiving ourselves, don’t belittle what Jesus has done for us! He gave his life for our forgiveness. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John, chapter 3 verse 16).
Questions and Reflections (for you to think about on your own or to discuss in your small group)
Is there anyone you can think of whom you have not forgiven? Think about that person or persons now – who are they and what did they do?
Are you willing to consider forgiving them? If your answer is “no” please take some time to listen to the online talk by R.T. Kendall below, or the recording of the sermon above (in the Sunday Talks part of our resources section, above)
Whether or not you are willing to consider forgiving, would you say a quick prayer about the issue – and the person(s) concerned?
Why do you think that Jesus spoke so strongly about forgiveness and how his heavenly Father would react to people who failed to forgive others? Do you take this seriously?
Are you waiting for someone to apologise, repent, or just acknowledge what they did to hurt or offend you? What do you make of Jesus’s prayer on the cross? (“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”) Do you think God heard that prayer and forgave those who crucified Jesus?
How do you feel when you think about and dwell upon the things that people have done to hurt or offend you? Do you realise that you may wait a lifetime for an apology that never comes – but that forgiveness (even “just” in your heart) can set you free of feelings that hurt you and hold you back?
Do you accept that Jesus has paid the price – in full – for your own sins? If not, why not?
Book – “Total Forgiveness” by R. T. Kendall
Online talk – “7 Proofs of Total Forgiveness” by R. T. Kendall which you can watch here: click here