To several of my friends, listening attentively to sermons are actually weekly lessons which help us through the week.
One example is the recent sermon “Forgive One Another” by Brother Paul Wong, of our church, the Agape Grace Methodist Church, Miri.
In his quiet ways, he implored us by his well-researched sermon on this topic. It touched our hearts and made us think.
He started with this statement, “The word forgive may seem to be so simple, yet to forgive is such a struggle for a lot of us. For more often than not, we are unable to forgive others who do wrong against us or we are unable to forgive ourselves for certain things that happened in our life.”
Trapped in unforgiveness
“Many of us hold unforgiveness against oneself as a result of self -expectations. Like, I failed myself, I am disappointed with myself, I did not do what I expected myself to do. This is self-disappointment. These self-imposed expectations make us feel trapped.
When we heard that we smiled. Yes, we do feel trapped. He then elaborated, “You can be a follower of Jesus and yet have an unforgiving spirit, conditioned emotionally to live under guilt, condemnation and live in prison with an unforgiving spirit for a long time.”
“When I was 17 years old my Sister who was 18 passed away in a matter of days due to an unknown sickness. I blamed myself for not spending more time with her. As a result I couldn’t forgive myself for years. I withdrew myself from friends for quite a long period of time. This is self unforgiveness. “I should have done this or that, I should have spent more time with her. After I gave her some Pandadol, her last words to me were, “Mum will bring me to see doctor later.” I never got the chance to talk to her anymore. “
His personal testimony made us realize that we too have experiences like him and we cannot forgive ourselves.
He went on to give more examples. There are lots of freak incidents, like a Mother killing her child while reversing her car or a Mother who recklessly left her child in the car and her child died of dehydration. How do these mothers forgive themselves? Therefore, unless and until this self unforgiveness is dealt with, life will continue to be miserable and this is very real.
There was a woman who blamed the death of her husband and her son on the curse of the husband’s family. She held this hatred for the whole family to the extent that she did not allow her daughter to marry her boyfriend who had the same surname as the husband’s family. She vowed to commit suicide if her daughter went ahead. She even tried to knock her head against a wall in protest. Her life was full of hatred and unforgiveness which reflected even on her face. What a tragedy.
Who can help us when we are stuck in such captivity?
Unforgiveness affects one’s relationship with God and health.
He reminded us that the person against whom we hold our anger and hatred may not even be aware of it at all. Our unforgiveness thus affects our whole being, leading to damage to our health and life and it affects our relationship with God.
God knows our suffering and he has dealt with it
Brother Paul mentioned that God forgives our sins because Jesus has paid the price for our sins. In Biblical terms, we are reconciled with God. If our sins are not forgiven, then we are doomed to death eternally as the wages of sin is death. The forgiveness of sins not only restores our relationship with God, it also deals with our current physical state of mind and suffering and relieves us of our struggle.
As a Christian, we can have peace and joy by putting our faith in Jesus Christ because he has left this peace with us. However, one of the pre-requisites of living a life with peace and contentment is that we must learn and accept three areas of forgiveness:
1. We must receive God’s forgiveness of our sins
2. We must be able to forgive ourselves
3. We must be able to forgive others
Without forgiveness in these three areas, there will be no peace and joy but a lot of suffering, bitterness, anger, resentment, unhappiness and so on. Forgiving ourselves is the most difficult of the three and as a result, a lot of us are still locked in bondage and suffer in captivity.
Understand God’s character
Brother Paul quoted Psalms 103:8-14, “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbour his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.”
We therefore have to forgive ourselves and others.
He continued to elaborate that it is very clear that Jesus wants us to forgive others as God has forgiven our sins. The Lord’s Prayer reminds us to forgive others.
Furthermore in Matthew 18: 21, Peter asked Jesus “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.)
Jesus showed his authority to forgive sins. This is seen in many examples. “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralysed man, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven’” (Mark2:5); when a sinful woman wet Jesus’ feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair, Jesus said, “Your sins are forgiven” (Lk 7:48). After the Roman soldiers had flogged and nailed him, Jesus prayed and said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing (Lk 23:34). Jesus not only
showed his authority to forgive sins, he also practiced what he taught. He forgave those who trespassed against him. Friends, unforgiveness has dire consequences. It’s time to set yourselves free from all these bondages.
Therefore we must be willing to give up our unforgiving spirit and come out of it. To get out of unforgiveness, we need to deal with three areas of forgiveness: forgiveness from God, forgive yourself and forgive others.
And to be able to overcome self- unforgiveness, we need to search our heart and do the following intentionally:
1. Acknowledge and recognise our unforgiving spirit. If we are in a state of self-denial, no one can help us. We need to acknowledge that we have a problem.
2. Repent our unforgiveness and give thanks to God for forgiving our sins; now it is our turn to forgive ourselves and others.
3. Reaffirm our trust in the word of God. You need to accept and trust
in the word of God.
4. Accept our forgiveness by God based on the truth in his word and
act in faith.
Brother Paul shared Corrie Ten Boom’s testimony:
She said, “It was in a church in Munich where I was speaking in 1947 that I saw him. Memories of the concentration camp came back with a rush: the huge room with its harsh overhead lights, the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor, the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister’s frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment of skin. Betsie and I had been arrested for concealing Jews in our home during the Nazi occupation of Holland. This man had been a guard at Ravensbruck concentration camp where we were sent. Now he was in front of me, a hand thrust out. It was the first time since my release that I had been face to face with one of my captors and my blood seemed to freeze.”
“You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk,” he was saying. “I was a guard there. But since that time,” he went on, “I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. – “again the hand came out – “will you forgive me?” And I stood there. Betsie had died in that place – could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?
“It could not have been many seconds that he stood there, hand held out, but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do. For I had to do it – I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. “If you do not forgive men their trespasses,” Jesus says, “neither will your Father in Heaven forgive your trespasses.”
“Still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. “Jesus, help me!” I prayed silently.
And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.
“I forgive you, brother!” I cried. “With all my heart!”
For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.”
It was not her own might but God’s. Only the love of God could heal the emotional hurt and unforgiveness and set her free.
Brother Paul implored from the pulpit, “This Christmas, would you accept a gift from Christ? That is, the gift of forgiveness; whether it is forgiving yourself, a friend, colleagues or family members It is the perfect time of the year to let go of angry feelings, bitterness, and forgive one another, and find true love, peace and joy in Christ. For your own sake, you need to forgive and release yourselves. Only then can we love our God with all our heart, mind and soul with all our strength, only then can we love our neighbours. Then we can bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit that is LOVE, JOY, PEACE, PATIENCE, KINDNESS, GOODNESS, FAITHFULNESS, GENTLENESS AND SELF CONTROL.”
That Sunday many of us left the church a little lighter in our hearts. We had been reminded that forgiveness could set us free.
May God bless you with peace and joy. Continue to grow in love for God and others.
Brother Paul Wong is one of the lay preachers among the Methodist churches in Miri district. He is among the very many speakers who make his congregation think critically and very often, laugh out loud. This article is written with the help of his notes.
by Chang Yi Agape Grace Methodist Church, Miri