Well, as we get started, I want to ask you to go to a place that you may not really want to go, but I’ll tell you in advance it’ll be worth it. I’d like you to lean back just a little bit, be reflective, and I want you to answer this question in your mind. Feel free to even close your eyes for just a moment if it’s helpful.
Of all the people in your life to date that you would say have hurt you the most, who comes to your mind? Who’s wounded you? Who’s lied about you? Who’s walked out on you? Who’s taken your money? Who’s gossiped about you? Who sexually or physically abused you when you were younger? Who’s been ungrateful, and humiliated you in front of a group of people? Who’s said things at a Bible study or even at church that produced incredible pain and disunity, and you were made to be the person who was at fault? Who’s betrayed you?
Have you got it? I don’t mean to pull off a scab. I don’t mean to conjure up things – for many of you, some of these things are pressed down pretty deeply. I want you to follow along, and I want to read to you what I think are the most radical words that have ever come out of any person’s mouth that has walked on the earth. They’re familiar to some of you, which is unfortunate because they lose their power.
So as I read these, I want you to think about who wounded you, but I want you to think about what it would be like if you were living in an occupied country, and your possessions were being taken away from you, and you were being rejected by family members, all because you believe that this itinerant preacher was, in fact, the Messiah – the God-man that came to save the world. This is what Jesus would say to them, and here’s what He’s saying to us.
Matthew chapter 5 in the Sermon on the Mount. “You have heard it said love your neighbor and hate your enemy, but I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” And then He gives the reason why. “That you may be sons of your Father in Heaven. He causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and He sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect. The word is teleios. That’s our word for mature. It is the idea of something or someone fulfilling its ultimate design. Be mature. “Be perfect even as your Heavenly Father is perfect.”
Now as you pull out your pen and pull out your notes, I want you to write something down because you need to really get this. It is not hard to be a Romans 12 Christian. Get that out of your mind. Some of you think it’s really, really, really hard, and you’re thinking it’s been…surrender to God, and separate from the world’s values. It is not hard. It is impossible. Write that word down. Because if you don’t think it’s impossible, you’ll try to be one. And you’ll try to be one out of your self-effort, and your flesh, and your energy, and your personal discipline, and your willpower. And the people that get good at it are called Pharisees. And Romans 12 was never written to help you in your power or my power to have a stronger moral code. It was a profile. It was a picture. It was a snapshot of what happens to a person when they experience the mercy and the grace of Romans chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11. It’s a faith response.
Open your Bibles, if you will, to Romans 12. He begins to clearly tell us how to respond to the evil aimed at us in verse 14. In verses 14 to 16, he’s going to give us a positive command. This is how you respond to that person that came to your mind that I started this message with and asked you to think about. And he’s going to say here’s how you respond to that person. And I’m going to warn you, it’s going to sound ridiculous and impossible.
“Bless those who persecute you. Bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.”
He’s going to say you need to bless them, and that’s how. Then he gives a negative command. The temptation when our enemies and people who’ve hurt us…there’s a temptation. And he’s going to hit it right between our eyes. Verse 17. “Do not repay evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live or be at peace with all men. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it’s written: ‘It is mine to avenge. I will repay’, says the Lord.”
On the contrary. Here’s how you’re to treat that person that is in your mind. “If your enemy’s hungry, feed him. If she’s thirsty, give her a drink. In so doing, you will heap burning coals upon their head.” And that doesn’t mean God will blow their brains out. We’ll learn in a little bit what that really means.
And then there’s this supernatural result. There’s this thing that when you act the way Jesus acted towards His enemies – because Jesus lives in you by His spirit – and you do it in the power of His Word and authentic community, he says, “Do not be overcome by evil.” And it’s an evil world. But he says there’s something more powerful than evil. “Overcome evil with good.”
Now what I want to do in the remainder of our time is I want to break down very specifically and practically what it looks like to bless those who persecute you. That’s the first and positive command. And the command is this: “Bless them that persecute you.” That’s what you’re called to do. In verses 14, 15, and 16, He’s going to give you three specific ways to bless them.
This word literally means to desire and long for God’s blessing and favor to be upon them. It’s like for that enemy… that actually their life would work out well. That if they’re married, their marriage would go deeper. If they’re a parent, their kids would do well. If they have a job, they would…it’s blessing.
And when it says the people who are cursing you, these aren’t people that are just using curse words at you. The idea of this word –“bless those who curse you”– it’s people who socially ostracize you because of your faith. It’s people who verbally humiliate you because of your faith. It’s people that in the first century in many places around the world, people who undercut you and actually persecute and want to kill you because you’re a follower of Christ. He’s saying what I want you to do is bless them.
And there are three components here. The first component of blessing others is forgiving them. This is hard. Forgiving them. If you’re to pray for and blessing is for their salvation, if God… if you want God to forgive them, guess what? You gotta forgive them. And you know that little section, sort of in – we call it the Lord’s Prayer? “Forgive us our sins just as we forgive others.”
See, the premise is going to be…and this is the key to loving your enemies. You and I have to come to the point where we really grasp how merciful…and God has not given us what we deserve. And there’s part of it where it’s a dark place you need to go, and you kind of need to look at your motives, and some things that you’ve done, and some stuff that you have begged God – “oh God, please, please don’t let me get the consequences of that one. Oh God, pick me up, and cleanse me.” And He has. And then what He’s going to say is, “I want you to do for that person what I’ve done for you.”
Now people get very confused when it comes to forgiveness because they tell me things like well, my husband walked out on me. He’s not paying any child support. Or, my boss sexually harassed me and, I went to HR and, they kind of glossed over it on this one, and so I’m living with this, and every time he makes some sort of comment – I’m forgiving him, but I feel very angry, and well, I’m forgiving him but – so how do you square this forgiveness?
Or one of my folks sexually abused me, and I’ve forgiven them, I think, 144 times, and then the phone rings, and it’s a certain time on Sunday afternoon, and I think it’s going to be them, and I get knots in my stomach, and this anger…
Forgiveness has three phases. Jot these down, please. Phase number one is a choice to forgive. It’s not emotional. It has nothing to do with your feelings. It is a choice. By the end of our time together, many of you will open a section in your Bible, and you will say I forgave blank today, and you’ll put a date because it’s a choice.
The second is the forgiving process. So you forgive, and then it’s forgiving. That’s a journey, and that journey is where your emotions catch up with the choice that you’ve made. Because you can forgive, and you do that, and you say…and the word means to release or to loose.
In other words, I’m going to take back my desire for them to get paid back, and I’m going to release them from that like God has released it. And so I’m not going to say anything negative about them, I’m not going to wish negative for them anymore. I’m going to release them to God, and I’m going to forgive them the way God’s forgiven me: freely.
And so it’s a choice. But then, when they drop off those kids, and they’ve kind of poisoned the kids against you, and then you get this letter in the mail, and you hear about this guy that stole a bunch of money from you, and he’s vacationing in Hawaii, or you read about him in Forbes, and you just go [grunt sound] . Does it mean you haven’t forgiven? No. It means you’re on the journey. And the journey means when you bless, you begin to pray for them is the journey. You pray for them.
When I first experienced this, I got betrayed in a tremendously hurtful, painful way, and I got stuck, and I couldn’t get out of it. And I had a good friend walk me through this passage and teach me how to do this. And so I started to pray. And my prayers honestly started out like this: Dear God, give that sucker what he deserves.
I’m serious. It was like Heavenly Father, take him out, you know? And as I continued to pray, the Holy Spirit was making…yeah, but that was not exactly what blessing was all about.
But, you know, part of it, too, is you need to be real with your emotions with God. I think some people think, God has this sanitized room. I got news. He can handle whatever you can bring, and what He appreciates is authenticity. And sometimes it’s painful, and it’s raw.
Read the Psalms. And then I got to where… “Oh, God, would you just help him see how wrong he is, and bring him…?” And I had to… every time I heard something about him, the anger would come up. No, I’ve forgiven him, but I’ve gotta keep processing. And it was two or three months later… “God, would you bless his marriage? Would you…” – and I began to pray.
And then I just decided every Lord’s Supper – I would never take the Lord’s Supper until I prayed honestly and from my heart to bless this man in his life, in his marriage, in his kids. And all I can tell you is that over time he didn’t change, I don’t believe, but I did.
But see, there’s poison in your soul when there’s bitterness and you’ve been wounded. And as someone wisely said, when we refuse to forgive, it’s like we drink poison and think the other person’s going to die. Could I just make a comment? Because I think there’s a lot of confusion about forgiveness, and emotions, and well, I don’t feel like I’ve forgiven him.
Forgive is a choice, and then you bless them, you pray for them. We’re going to learn in a minute you not only pray for them, but you start doing good things for your actual enemies. Like if they’re hungry, you feed them. If they’re thirsty…and there are specific ways that you do good things for people who don’t deserve it.
But I’d like, if you would, to think about Jesus in the garden. He died to forgive you and to forgive me. And sometimes we make this – you know, Jesus loves me, this I know? Can I let you in on a little secret? He didn’t feel like forgiving you. Did you ever think of that? He’s in the garden, He’s sweating like drops – the stress – like blood coming out of His pores. And He’s fully God, but He’s fully man. He didn’t die with some S on His chest like I’m going through the motions. As a man, He could die. But as God the Son, He knew that when He was going to get on that cross, your sin, and my sin, and the sin of all people of all time would be placed upon Him. He became our sin offering.
And when the moment sin came upon Him, the Father would turn away. And for the first time in eternity, the Father and the Son would be separated, and He would experience that isolation and the price of sin.
And as that was coming… let alone getting beaten within an inch of His life, and let alone being humiliated, and stripped naked, and a crown of thorns, and being publicly displayed. We think that’s the big deal? That’s the small stuff, and it’s horrendous. And do you remember what He prayed? “Father, let this cup pass.” You know what He’s saying? “I don’t want to do this. I don’t feel like doing this.”
Forgiving and loving isn’t doing what you feel like. It’s choosing to give another person what they need the most, when they deserve it the least, at great personal cost. And when God says to forgive this person, all we’re doing is we’re stepping in the same path of Jesus, and we’re doing for this person…they don’t deserve it. Of course not. Neither did I. Neither did you. And so the process of forgiveness is a choice.
Second, forgive – forgiving is a process, and then forgiven is it’s done. And here’s how you know when it’s done. You can spontaneously rejoice at blessing in their life. I’d been praying… this was my first real battle with this. I’ve had multiple ones since. I guess the older you get the more betrayed and difficult things you get in your life. In this particular situation, it’d been about nine months since I went through this betrayal, and I was hurt and angry, and I’m taking the Lord’s Supper, and I’m praying for this guy every…I’m praying for him more than my mom, you know? Because the anger fantasies would come up, and every time they would I’d start praying for him, and blessing him.
And so it was right before I was supposed to speak, and a guy thought it would be a positive comment, I suppose. He goes, oh, did you hear about so and so? This really good thing happened to him. And I did the good Christian thing – like oh, wow, great. And my insides were going oh, yuck. Well, see I’m not done. Two years later – I don’t know why this always happens to me in church. Two years later I’m in church, and a guy walks up to me. Did you hear about so and so? I said no. He said this, this, this, and this happened to this guy. And before I could think, before I could process…joy – I said aw, that’s great. And I meant it. I stopped praying before the Lord’s Supper. I was done. I was done. Forgive, choice. Forgiving – the process where your emotions go up and down. As I bless and pray, forgiven. It’s done.
Some of you are going to get out of prison today. Some of you have been pushing this down, and that’s why you’re depressed. Some of you eat when you’re not hungry because you’ve been pushing this stuff down. Some of you have ulcers and migraines, and there are lots of physical causes, but a big part of why our bodies don’t work very well, and why we do stuff that doesn’t make sense, and we have sanctified – quote – addictions, and not so sanctified addictions. And a lot of it is rooted in this lack of forgiveness and be willing to release these people. And you can start that today.