Part 3 – Fighting Grudges and unforgiveness with forgiveness
Next to despair, grudges and unforgiveness are the enemy’s greatest weapon to derail us from our Christian walk. When someone holds a grudge – withholding forgiveness and retaining bitterness in their hearts – they damage their relationship with God. Here are four ways unforgiveness harms our Christian life:
- It prevents us from coming fully into God’s presence. “So if you are offering your gift on the altar, and there you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First, go and be reconciled with your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Reach a settlement quickly with your adversary while you’re on the way with him to the court, or your adversary will hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out of there until you have paid the last penny.” Mat. 5:23-26 (CSB)
- Unforgiveness robs us of the full Christian life. “Pursue peace with everyone, and holiness — without it, no one will see the Lord.” Hebrews 12:14 (CSB)
- Unforgiveness hurts innocent bystanders. “Make sure that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no root of bitterness springs up, causing trouble and defiling many.” Hebrews 12:15 (CSB)
- Unforgiveness destroys personal witness. How can you give a personal testimony while harboring unforgiveness in your heart?
If unforgiveness and grudges are so bad, then how come so many people hold them? There are three reasons:
- Grudges and vengeance give us a false sense of power. Consider the movie The Revenant. In that movie, the main character, Hugh Glass, pursues his foe, John Fitzgerald, to take vengeance for the murder of his son. Glass, consumed with rage, believes that the fulfillment of his life is to take revenge for his son. In the movie, there is a poignant scene where Glass has a dream that he is standing in a church. His son comes to them, and they embrace. But then his son dissolves into a black cloud, and Glass awakens to find himself in an empty, destroyed shell of an old church. Grudges and vengeance may seem to give us power, but all that is left is emptiness.
- Unforgiveness helps us to make sense of horrible things that happen to us, even though we never find peace. Consider this video:
Forest is walking with Jenny, and they come upon the house where she suffered sexual abuse and rape at the hands of her father for many years. After she left home, she went on a path of self-destruction. She had many chances to leave the past behind and start a new life with Forest – a symbolic way of leaving her past behind – forgiving her father and healing. However, she always chooses to hold on to her bitterness and unforgiveness. Holding on to unforgiveness might help us to make sense of unimaginable senseless situations, but you soon learn that there are not enough rocks.
3. Unforgiveness gives us a false sense of entitlement over others, but actually leads to our own imprisonment:
“That servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him, started choking him, and said, ‘Pay what you owe! ’
“At this, his fellow servant fell down and began begging him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ But he wasn’t willing. Instead, he went and threw him into prison until he could pay what was owed. When the other servants saw what had taken place, they were deeply distressed and went and reported to their master everything that had happened. Then, after he had summoned him, his master said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Shouldn’t you also have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you? ’ And because he was angry, his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured until he could pay everything that was owed. So also my heavenly Father will do to you unless every one of you forgives his brother or sister from your heart.” Matthew 18:28-35 (CSB)
So the remedy for grudges, vengeance, and unforgiveness is, forgiveness and grace. Consider Matthew 18:21-35:
Then Peter approached him and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? As many as seven times? ”
“I tell you, not as many as seven,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven.
“For this reason, the kingdom of heaven can be compared to a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle accounts, one who owed ten thousand talents was brought before him. Since he did not have the money to pay it back, his master commanded that he, his wife, his children, and everything he had be sold to pay the debt.
“At this, the servant fell facedown before him and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you everything.’ Then the master of that servant had compassion, released him, and forgave him the loan. Matthew 18:21-27 (CSB)
Unpacking this scripture, we see many things relating to forgiveness.
- Forgiveness is perfect love. The number 7 in Hebrew is considered an ideal number. Jesus is not saying forgive a person only 490 times, but that forgiveness is to be ongoing- never-ending.
- God forgives all of our sins – big and little. There is no sin so small that we can hide if from God. There is no sin so big that God can’t forgive us.
- There is power in forgiveness – we are set free from a debt we cannot pay
- The power of forgiveness is to be extended to others. Because God has forgiven us, we are mandated – not an option – to forgive.
Unforgiveness is intensely selfish. Forgiveness and grace reflect the heart of a servant. There is power in the spiritual weapon of mercy and grace. When we have realized the depth of which God has forgiven us, then we will want to spread forgiveness. “…whoever drinks from the water that I will give him will never get thirsty again. In fact, the water I will give him will become a well of water springing up in him for eternal life.” John 4:14. (CSB)