The Best Forgivers in Town

At some point in the distant past, whether in an old movie or television program or even a book I can’t tell you, but I recall Dr. Watson complimenting Sherlock Holmes on a brilliant deduction concerning some clue he had seen no one else had noticed. “Of course,” Holmes remarked. “It’s what I do.”

Forgiveness and grace—that’s why we believers do.

Here is one page from Ruth Bell Graham’s 1989 book, “Legacy of a Pack Rat,” with a parenthetical, explanatory remark of mine.

“Someone has said, ‘If there had not been a Stephen, there might never have been a Paul.'” (We recall how Paul watched Stephen being stoned to death for nothing more than preaching Jesus. As the stones beat the life from him, with his dying breath, Stephen prayed, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” ((Acts 7:60)) Paul never got over that.)

“A tribal war was raging in Uganda. The soldiers led a line of prisoners to a bridge over a crocodile-infested river where they could shoot them and dump their bodies into the water for the crocodiles to dispose of.

“Among the prisoners that day was a young Christian. When his turn came to be shot, he asked permission to say a word first. ‘Make it quick,’ his captors ordered. The young man looked at them calmly, without fear.

“‘I am a Christian,’ he said. ‘I am not angry with you, for the same Jesus Whom I shall see in a few moments died for you as well. I forgive you. May you accept His forgiveness also.’

“They shot him. Turning to the next in line, they recognized a man from another tribe. ‘What are you doing here?’ they demanded. ‘We are not at war.’ And he was abruptly dismissed.

“But that young man was never the same again. He spent the rest of his life sharing his new discovery of the risen, transforming Savior.

“He had watched a Christian die.” (Page 211)

As followers of Jesus Christ, you and I are not perfect, only forgiven. After receiving God’s grace, we are sent into the world to bless others. One of the best ways we accomplish this is by extending our own forgiveness and love..

We have two standards of forgiveness to offer other people:

1) As Christ has forgiven us. (Ephesians 4:32 and Colossians 3:13)

If Jesus has cut corners and hedged on His forgiveness to us, we may do the same to others. However, I call your attention to Colossians 2:11-15 for a complete listing of what His forgiveness accomplished.

2) As we want God to forgive us. (Matthew 6:12 and Luke 11:4)

So, it’s pretty well up to us. We just figure out to what extent we want to be forgiven for our sins, and then do the same to others. Nothing could be simpler.

–if you will, He will. Matthew 6:14

–if you don’t, He won’t. Matthew 6:15

The pipeline through which we receive grace and forgiveness from God is the same one through which we extend it to others. If we clog it up by refusing to forgive others, no further forgiveness will be forthcoming for ourselves. That may be the best interpretation of our Lord’s saying that if we do not forgive, we will not be forgiven.

Among the most inexplicable traits of humans that surely must exasperate the Lord is our unwillingness to give to others what Christ has so freely extended to us. Matthew 18:21-35 pictures a fellow who was forgiven an astronomical debt, but who then turned around and had a man arrested who owed him a pittance. It makes no sense. The human heart is constantly setting new records and blazing fresh trails for hardness and callousness.

“Pastor, I’d like you to pray for my brother.” My friend Leslie told of his brother going off to do military service in South Korea decades earlier. While he was there, something happened that caused the brother to sever the relationship with all his family members except his mother. “We never knew what it was,” Leslie said. “Over the years, he will not take our phone calls and our letters to him are returned unopened.”

I told Leslie I would pray for God to break the heart of his brother and save him. He said, “But you don’t understand, Pastor — my brother is a deacon in that Baptist church where you preached recently.” I was stunned.

I said, “I cannot tell you whether your brother is a Christian or not, but I do know this. Your brother has not had a prayer answered since the Korean War.”

To forgive is to absorb the debt incurred by the other. “Jesus paid it all,” we sing in church.

John Ortberg tells of the young executive who worked for IBM and lost ten million dollars in a risky business venture. He was called into the office of the legendary Thomas Watson, the founder and head of IBM for forty years. “I guess you’ve called me in for my resignation,” he said. “Here it is. I resign.”

Watson said, “You must be joking. I just invested ten million dollars educating you; I can’t afford your resignation!”

He who forgives pays. And that’s why we find forgiveness so difficult.

God in Heaven looks at you at me, sinners all, and said, “I just invested Calvary in you; I can’t afford your resignation.”

“Forgiveness is God’s invention for coming to terms with a world in which people are unfair to each other and hurt each other deeply. He began by forgiving us. And he invites us all to forgive each other.” (Lewis B. Smedes, quoted in “Love Beyond Reason,” by John Ortberg, 1998)

The only thing we have to offer the world they can’t get anywhere else is grace. If we fail to offer it, our sin is enormous.

2 thoughts on “The Best Forgivers in Town

  1. Joe,

    Wish I’d had this Sunday. We are using MasterWork and our lesson Sunday was on Grace.

    Loved this, as usual.


  2. Thanks, Joe. The story from Ruth Graham fits my sermon perfectly this coming Sunday. I was just working on it and stopped to read your blog, and there it was. Sorry I won’t be attributing you, though. I simply can’t mention your name every Sunday!


Comments are closed.