|We all have enjoyed at times throwing things. Frisbee, baseballs, footballs, paper airplanes.
But there’s also some not so good forms of throwing things. When I was 6 years old I was attacked by a couple of bullies on my way home from school. Their weapon of choice? Rocks.
They missed me with most of them, but one landed square right on the crown of my head. I ran screaming and crying and bleeding like a stuck pig all the rest of the way home. It hurt like crazy and took a few weeks to heal up. I’ll never forget it. The emotional scars of fear and being mistreated remain today. I’ve forgiven them, but it’s just impossible to forget.
Stoning was a common form of punishment back in the Bible days. Stones we’re readily available, free, and did the job.
Today we’re most of the time more civilized with our revenge. Instead of rocks, we use hurtful words. We maneuver to gain the advantage. We shame people. And while the damage isn’t physical scars, the emotional, mental, and relational scars left behind are just as powerful and damaging.
Forgiveness is so hard to give.
Unforgiveness feels right when we’re done wrong.
Unforgiveness is probably the easiest thing in the world to do.
And I would say that forgiveness is the probably the hardest.
I’ve spoken with so many people recently about this.
One guy was molested by his uncle when he was younger. Another lady was sexually abused by her father as a child. Another guy was kicked out of his house as a teen because his dad chose his step mom over him. On and on it goes. There’s many hurtful stories just like these represented here today. And even though the event in your life may have taken place sometime ago, the struggle to forgive and move on continues.
We’ve all been figuratively stoned and done wrong. Abused. Lied about. Mistreated. Rejected. Shunned. Belittled. Taken advantage of. Things we didn’t deserve but happened to us anyway.
Have you ever struggled with unforgiveness? Are you struggling with it now?
How many times have you wanted to take a rock and throw it as hard as you can at the person you hold something against?
How many wants to do harm to the one who’s done you harm?
Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth! Set things right. Retaliate. Show them who’s boss. Justice! Revenge!
If they belittle you, belittle them! If they hurt you, hurt them back! If they make your life miserable, return the favor!
But these actions, while we think will “even the score” and make us feel better, actually do the opposite. Because when we give place to revenge and unforgiveness, we actually rehearse the offense over and over again, ripping the wound open time and again instead of allowing it to heal.
We’ll never get over it and it will just continue to define our lives going forward.
What’s the better option? What’s the best path to take when we’re done wrong?
Last week we read the remarkable story of Stephen and his confrontation with those he labeled stiff-necked and uncircumcised of heart.
Before we move on from that I’d like to focus on the last couple of verses and see what he said just before he died and how we can use it as a template for when we’re done wrong.
This is how we can truly forgive, to let it go and move on.
If you’re struggling with chronic unforgiveness in your life, listen to this.
Acts 7:59-60, “While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.”
When we read this there’s such a disconnect between what’s happening to him and his response.
Shouldn’t he be angry? Shouldn’t he be crying out, “Injustice! This isn’t fair!”
Shouldn’t he have taken some of the rocks and thrown right back at those throwing them at him?
I find it so interesting that, throughout history when Christians are being martyred for their faith in Christ, there seems to be the same sort of grace-filled response while they’re being burned at the stake, eaten by lions, or sent to the executioner.
There’s a key here we need to grab hold of today.
Listen to what Hebrews 12:15 says, “See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”
A couple of weeks ago we talked about the spiritual profile of the 7 who were chosen to serve tables. One of the qualities was that they were “full of grace”.
God’s grace is His unmerited, undeserved, unearned favor on you and me.
A few weeks back from that we talked about “Great Grace”, which was defined as the manifestations of God’s grace through us to others. We keyed in on the 9 fruit of the Spirit as a beautiful and necessary starting point of displaying God’s grace to others.
Do others who’ve slighted and offended and abused us deserve love? Our flesh says no, the Spirit says yes. Do they deserve long-suffering? Our flesh says no. God’s Spirit says yes. How about kindness? Flesh, no. Spirit, yes.
And on and on it goes. Our flesh wants retribution. We want to settle the score. We want to hold unforgiveness and seek revenge. But the Spirit of God says, “Love, forgive, be patient, be kind.”
That’s making sure we don’t fall short of the grace of God towards others and that no bitter root grows up to defile us and cause us trouble as Hebrews 12:15 warns.
That’s what Stephen was modeling for us in his prayer. That’s what God was giving to him to help him through his final few moments of life on earth.
We can’t do this in our own strength. If we’re honest, we hate these people!
But the famous “love chapter” of the Bible, 1 Corinthians 13:5, says this, “(Love) does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.”
How many has a Rolodex in your mind of all the past wrongs done to you by others? You pull them out, rehearse them, feed them, and remind yourself of how wrong you’ve been treated and how much you disdain the offender.
The root of bitterness continually gets watered by our unforgiveness and anger, and we produce a fruit of offense that is the furthest from Christlikeness as we can possibly get.
Was Stephen modeling the love of Christ? You bet! But it was Christ’s love THROUGH him being displayed. Stephen wasn’t some super spiritual Saint. He was a man, like you and me. But he yielded his hate and unforgiveness to God.
Hear me today! We don’t have the capacity to love our enemies. We have the capacity to HATE them. Only Christ’s love through us can love them.
If we ever think it’s our own love we muster, we give ourselves credit instead of Christ IN us! There’s no good thing in any of us save Christ.
If we can muster our own love, we don’t NEED the love of Christ. But we DO need the love of Christ, because our love, even in its most earnest & pure form, is incomplete.
Jesus explains this with a teaching that is counterintuitive to our flesh. Luke 6:27 says, ““But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,”.
He also says in Matthew 5:44, “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,”.
Doing good to those and praying for those who are your enemies and who hate you and who persecute you isn’t a very popular teaching today.
We see just the opposite promoted throughout our culture today, from politics to TV shows to music lyrics, everyone’s getting back at everyone else.
Social media and the Internet has even made revenge somewhat anonymous. People create fake user names and swoop in to shame and harass and ridicule others. Cyber-bullying is very real and people, under the cloak of anonymity, tend to be more violent and hateful because there’s very little if any repercussions, all the while being able to dish out their hateful revenge on anyone and everyone they feel has done them wrong.
But society isn’t our roll model. In fact, there’s very little left in society that I would exalt as a worthwhile roll model for us to follow.
We live in a hateful, unkind, vindictive generation. But being IN the world doesn’t mean we need to be OF the world.
That’s where we look to God’s Word, God’s Spirit, and God’s Son to guide us.
God’s Word is our foundation. In it we find the solid, dependable, life-giving truth to instruct us.
God’s Spirit is our strength. He helps us walk out what’s in God’s Word.
God’s Son is our roll model. He gives us opportunity through His life in us to perfect God’s Word in our lives.
We love through God’s perfect, pure, grace-filled love.
You may be saying today, “I just can’t forgive the wrongs done to me.”
If that’s true, you’re walking on very thin ice today. In fact, your walking in deception. In fact, you’ve created your own little god, just like those Stephen confronted.
Listen to this. Just after Jesus shared the perfect prayer, what we know as “The Lord’s Prayer”, He said this in Matthew 6:14-15, “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.”
That’s a tough one.
We create our own little gods when we say, “God has forgiven me but I won’t forgive others.”
If you are holding unforgiveness in your heart against anyone, based on this scripture, you are also living in sin.
If you were to die today, you’d die in your sins. And anyone who dies in there sins will not see God.
Is that sobering enough for you?
Remember the parable Jesus told of the man who was forgiven a great debt, a debt he could not repay, but then went out and threw the other guy in jail for owning him a few bucks in comparison?
When the first guy heard of it, he threw him in jail until his debt was paid (which was never, because the debt was so large it was impossible to ever pay it back).
Same with us. Our sin debt is impossible to ever repay. Yet the beautiful, undeserved act of grace God showed us by giving to us His most precious and prized possession, His Son, should motivate us to forgive others their relatively small debt to us.
Have you been offended? Abused? Taken advantage of? Done wrong?
Welcome to the club!
Jesus prayed a remarkably similar prayer to Stephen as He was hanging on the Cross. Luke 23:34 says, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
If anyone in all of history had the right to not forgive, it was the perfect Son of God.
When the accusers were facing the woman caught in the very act of adultery and Jesus stepped in between them and her, He said, “Let he who has no sin cast the first stone”.
He could have. He was the only one without sin. But He didn’t.
Instead He said to her, “Your accusers are gone. Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”
Let me encourage you to do the same.
Forgive. Let it go.
Really, you’re hurting no one but yourself. Your offender has gone merrily on his or her way. It’s you who’s stewing and brewing and rehearsing your hurt and all tied up in knots because of it.
Give it to the Lord. Forgive as He’s forgiven you. Undeservedly. Unconditionally. Completely.
Take the rock of offense you’ve been holding all this time, and instead of throwing it at your offender, lay it down before the Lord at the altar of your heart and give it to Jesus.