Posted by: pastortomvabeach | June 11, 2013

Thought for the Week June 16, 2013

Back to James this week. I’ll be sharing a message that I’ve entitled “The Art of Playing God”. In the final verses of chapter 4, James discusses three behaviors that I see as being better left to God. We ought not go there because it’s God’s prerogative and realm.

There are probably a lot more areas of life than just these three in which we toy with playing God, but one that James does not address specifically here, I think is vital for our emotional, spiritual, and even physical well-being. I’m referring to unforgiveness. Paul says in Romans 12:19, Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. This is a combined quote of Leviticus 19:18, You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD, and Deuteronomy 32:35, Vengeance is Mine, and recompense… Notice that God tells us that we must not take as ours the prerogative of getting even (revenge), going so far as to say not even to hold a grudge. Why does He say this? That is not among our God given rights. It belongs to Him alone. Note at the end of the verse in Leviticus He says, I am the Lord. I think that implies, “And you are not!”

The other end of that concept is what God says we are allowed, even commanded to do. Rather than get even, we are to love others as ourselves. Think for a minute. With whom are you the most forgiving? My guess is that the answer is – yourself! Jesus came along and said that the new commandments (which were not really new) were to love God and love others. Paul said these commandments encompassed the entire law, if we put them into practice.

Why does God command us to love and forbid unforgiveness? Because He is love (I John 4:8) and because He is forgiving (Exodus 34:6-7). This was the basis of Jesus’ teaching about forgiveness, forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. (Matthew 6:12). Paul said, be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32). The underlying theme here is that God has forgiven us so much more than we will ever be required to forgive others, therefore, we must practice this grace in every situation.

Jesus gives us a powerful reason to always be forgiving. It’s good for us. In his parable in Matthew 18, he tells the story of a servant who owed a virtual fortune to a king. The king had decided to have the servant put into prison for failing to pay, but when the servant came begging for more time, the king was touched and forgave the entire debt, letting him go Scott free. Now this should have had an impact on the servant but out in the street he met up with a fellow servant who owed him a mere pittance. When the debtor could not pay he had the man cast into prison until he could pay. What’s wrong with this picture?

On learning of this the king brought the man back and scolded him severely, “Didn’t you learn anything about compassion and forgiveness? How could you receive forgiveness of such a huge debt and turn around and hold such a grudge over a little matter?” Then it says the king turned the man over to the tormentors who would torture the man day and night until he paid up.

Let me bring this down where we live. When we sit in God’s place, choose to hold a grudge, practice the art of “getting even”, we don’t hurt anyone but ourselves. Holding on to hurt, waiting for something equally hurtful to happen to the one who hurt me, worrying over the fact that they don’t seem to be hurt, all these things hurt no one but me. When I choose not to forgive I allow a hurtful situation to continue to torment me day and night. We can begin to blame others, ourselves, God, and become so bitter that it affects our emotions, relationships, even physical health, not to mention our spiritual lives and relationship with God. We are trying to do something God reserves for Himself and it only hurts us.

Forgiving on the other hand brings healing. Bruce Wilkins, in You Were Born For This, says, “Why should a mother forgive the drunk driver who killed her son? Or a husband forgive his wife for having an affair with his best friend? Or a teenager forgive the father who left when she was a baby and never made an effort to see her? Or a businessman a partner who asked for his all, then betrayed his trust? At those times everything in us cries out for justice, retribution, fairness, not forgiveness. But forgiveness heals. When we forgive after we’ve been hurt the wound gets cleaned out, the healing process begins. When we don’t forgive, it’s as if we have chosen to leave dirt in an open wound. Healing can’t happen, no matter how much we try not to think about it, no matter how much time passes. In fact, the more time that goes by, the more the destructive consequences spread.”

The effects of unforgiveness are seen all over the world, from individuals who carry hurt until it explodes in anger and violence, to entire people groups and nations who have nursed hurt for centuries and continue to wreak havoc on others. The only remedy is to let it go.

Remember how Jesus told a disabled man that his sins were forgiven and the religious leaders reacted in surprise saying, “Only God can forgive sin.” In a sense they were correct. Only God can justify someone who has sinned, which He does when we believe in Jesus. Well, the same holds true for justice. God is the only final arbiter of justice. He alone holds the right of revenge and making things right. When we try to make that our right, we are usurping His authority and literally telling Him, your justice is not good enough for me.

Forgiving does not mean the hurt wasn’t real, nor that the individual did not do something worthy of retribution, nor that I automatically must trust that person again (i.e. if someone cheats you out of money, forgiving doesn’t mean you must allow them access to your bank account). Forgiving is really not about the person who hurt or offended me. It is about me. I choose to forgive because Jesus forgave me. I decide to leave justice to God because that is His prerogative. I release the offender from owing me anything and, in turn, I am freed from the prison of torment that goes with the bitterness, resentment, anger, and hatred that bind me when I am unforgiving.

Can you see why forgiving others is so important to God? It’s not because He is jealous that we’ve taken His place (though we have). It’s because He is jealous for how much harm unforgiveness does to me. I will say on Sunday and repeat here – playing God is dangerous! Can you see why? Just a thought.

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