What comes to mind when you hear the word bitter? For me, I think of vegetables. I don’t like vegetables, but I especially do not like green vegetables. The reason is because they are extremely bitter to me. I have been this way since I was a small child and about 20 years ago I think I determined the reason – I am a supertaster. One Saturday afternoon on my way home from work, I was listening to a call-in radio show and whatever the subject may have been, one caller called to ask why she didn’t like vegetables. When she described what she tasted, I gave full attention because her description could have been my own. The host responded that certain people are more sensitive to certain chemicals or enzymes and are known as supertasters. In my research, about 25% of the population may be supertasters which is caused by a particular gene (TAS2R38). So, my dislike for vegetables is not just preference, but is literally a genetic issue (although my mother and father both like them).
Frankly, it has been so long since I have had a green vegetable, I cannot describe the sensation. But I do remember the taste being extraordinarily bitter. In fact, one of the last times I had green beans was when we still lived in Liberty and I put about 1/4 cup (yes, cup) of sugar on them to try to eat them, and still couldn’t do it. And it isn’t just vegetables, many fruits are very bitter as well. And like the green beans, sugar will not cover the bitterness.
Sugar can cover the top and sides so it may look more appetizing, but the substance within the food (a chemical most simply referred to as PROP) cannot be masked by aesthetics. And while these ideas may be new to you related to food, we all know the same to be true about humans.
Many humans are bitter from the inside out. They may dress nice, have all kinds of amenities, or use other means to attempt to cover over their true nature, but when their essence is bitter, it will be easily identified soon enough.
So, how do we become bitter? Bitterness begins with being hurt in some way. That hurt turns to anger and the anger will eventually turn to bitterness if we do not resolve the issue. The cause of the hurt does not matter. The hurt may be the result of an accident or an intentional act by someone else, but when our hurt turns to resentment, bitterness is sure to follow. Over time, a person may even begin to choose to be bitter about any number of things which turns a person from the “sweet” image of God into something like a sour green vegetable.
The solution to avoid bitterness is to forgive. The need to forgive comes from the fact we have been hurt. But when we forgive, we allow the hurt to be removed. Although forgiving is not always easy, it is always possible – although sometimes it is only possible through God’s love and strength. Not only is forgiveness possible, it is also necessary. So, let’s look at a few reasons we should forgive and then consider how it might be done.
Forgive Because God Forgave You (Colossians 3.13)
That statement is true IF you are a Christian! That is, if you have placed your faith in Jesus, you are forgiven. God offers forgiveness to everyone, but our forgiveness from God hinges upon whether or not we claim the gift of His Son. Thus, if you are a Christian, you are forgiven, so how can you not forgive? The answer? You do not realize how much you have been forgiven!
Far too many Christians pretend their sins are few and/or negligible. But the reality is that according to God’s Word, any sin we commit means we deserve death (that is, eternal separation from God). And that death will find us in a very real place called hell for all of eternity. But, for those who have received God’s forgiveness, we will forever be with Him.
So, if we understand that God has truly forgiven us, then how can we not forgive others? Do we think our sin(s) hurt God less than the pain that others cause us? How arrogant is that thought? So, yes, God forgave you, but not only that, He paid the price to restore you. Think of what God did this way.
Imagine Person A stole $1000 dollars from you to pay Person B a debt that was due. On the way to pay the debt, the Person A loses the stolen money and cannot make the payment. When Person B realizes s/he will be repaid, Person A is put in prison. Meanwhile, you are able to determine that Person A stole your money and now hear that Person A is in jail. You go to Person B and ask how much is owed to get Person A out of jail, and Person B says $1000. You pay it and Person A is now free to leave, but only if Person A accepts that the debt has been paid by someone else – you.
That is what is amazing about God. Our sin offends Him. Yet, because of His love, He not only forgives us (our true focus for this message), He made restitution for us. We may not have the ability to make restitution for others and the wrongs they have done – particularly against us, but we do have the capacity to forgive – because God has forgiven us.
Take a moment to read Colossians 3.12-13. These verses comprise a list of how believers should relate to one another. We should be filled with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, and forgiveness because of the love that binds us together. And that love allows, and requires us, to forgive.
Forgive Because You Want Forgiveness (Matthew 6.12, 14-15)
Now we turn to the text that led to this message. Last week, we reviewed Jesus teaching on prayer in His sermon and then we discussed the Disciples’ Prayer. In the midst of that prayer is the phrase “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Those words should be clear enough – as we forgive others, we are forgiven. But Jesus wanted to make certain that this principle was understood. And this principle relates to the previous point – we forgive because God forgave us.
The words Jesus spoke come right after our request for daily provisions – including food. And, I think a link exists. In fact, I like the way John Stott said it, “Forgiveness is as indispensable to the life and health of the soul as food is for the body.” (1) As I mentioned above, to not forgive makes a person bitter. Just like food will spoil if not eaten timely, so too will a person spoil if they allow resentment to turn to bitterness and eat away their soul.
Just after the prayer model Jesus provides, we see Jesus expound on the idea of forgiveness. Verse 14 begins with the word, “For,” so this is not a disjointed thought; rather, Jesus is continuing His thoughts on prayer with a specific explanation on what He just said. Take a moment to read Matthew 6.14-15.
What if no one ever forgave you? Even for innocent mistakes. We have all faced experiences when we did something wrong or didn’t do something right, and the other person did not forgive us – even we may have tried to make amends. That happens. But how much harder is it when you know you have forgiven that person (perhaps multiple times) and they will not forgive you? It hurts...and, again, hurt can lead to bitterness so we need to forgive again.
But what if the person said, “Ok. I will forgive you IF you forgive me.” That doesn’t really sound like true forgiveness, but the condition is well understood. If you do this, then I will do that. We understand the conditions of that premise. And in Matthew 6.14-15, Jesus gives us the conditional premise for being forgiven by God. The condition is not about our forgiving God, but rather forgiving others. If we forgive others, God forgives us. That seems plain and simple. But if it is so simple to understand, then why is it so difficult to do? Because we are selfish people living on earth.
Remember, the sermon Jesus was preaching concerns the principles of life (and living) in the Kingdom. One day in the future, we will have no need to forgive when God’s Kingdom is fully established. But, in the here and now, when the Kingdom is still “at hand” (Matthew. 4.17), we will make mistakes and so will others. Thus, we need to be forgiven and we need to forgive.
Forgive Because the Result Is Peace (Colossians 3.14-17)
At first thought, you might not agree with this point. But forgiveness does bring peace to the one who forgives and can bring peace to all parties involved. Let’s return to Colossians 3. Take a moment to read Colossians 3.14-17.
First, we must remember that most of the pronouns in the New Testament are plural. For instance, in verse 15, when Paul wrote “your” it is plural which is easy to see because of the plural hearts which follows. But in verses 16 and 17, Paul uses the word “you” and in both cases it is plural. The easiest way to remember this idea is that if the letter is to a church (like Colossians then the pronoun is almost certainly plural, and if written to a person such as Timothy, the pronoun will likely be singular).
Paul is telling the people of Colossae to let the peace of Christ rule in their hearts. And he stated this command directly after reminding them of the bond that love brings, which is the verse directly after the command to forgive. Let’s make sure we have this. When we forgive it is a reflection of our ability to love as well as a reflection of God’s love which binds us together so that we (collectively) can experience Christ’s peace together. This truth is why most of Paul’s letters begin with a greeting which includes extending the grace and peace of God to the recipients.
Now, the truth is that not everyone will respond positively to being forgiven. But that is secondary. When we truly forgive another person, we will no longer experience the turmoil of the situation in our lives. But we cannot control the response of another. Romans 12.18 says, “If possible, so far as it depends on your, live peaceably with all.” Our forgiving others will bring peace to our lives and that’s all we can ask. Many times other people do not even know they have offended us. And guess what, it is likely that several people that offended by you and you are unaware. It happens. This is part of why it is foolish to harbor anger and resentment towards others. Again, it makes us bitter, and the person at fault may realize you are bitter, but they have no idea that they are the cause!
This understanding is why forgiveness is important. As we forgive, we are freed from the bitterness, the resentment, and the anger. Thus, we are at peace within ourselves and that leads to being at peace with others. But if they don’t want peace with us, then that is their issue – their anger, their resentment, and, ultimately, their bitterness.
So, What Does It Mean To Forgive?
We must realize that forgiveness is a decision that should be evident in thought, word, and deed. Forgiveness is not just a feeling, it does not mean we must forget what happened, and it is not excusing the behavior. (2)
Forgiveness is not a feeling.
Our feelings may cause us to act in some way, but a feeling is not the action itself. We may feel like we should forgive or maybe that we cannot forgive, but that is just the feeling. To truly forgive someone requires an intentional decision to be made and that decision is part of the act of forgiveness.
To forgive does not mean we forget.
It is impossible to try to forget something. Forgetting is simply not remembering, but remembering is an action. Many people say that God forgets our sins...that is not true. The Bible does not say that He forgets them, but rather that He remembers them no more (Isaiah 43.25). God intentionally chooses to not remember – to not bring them to mention any longer. When we choose to forgive, we must choose not to remember the offenses that others have made against us.
To forgive is not excusing the behavior.
To excuse is to consider that the offending behavior did not happen. But forgiveness acknowledges both the incident and the pain it caused. Forgiving by stating the offense is actually a good way for both parties to acknowledge the offense in the midst of forgiving. “What you did was wrong, but I forgive you (because God forgave me).”
So, to forgive is to consciously decide to unconditionally release the offending party from their trespass against you. It does not mean that consequences should not be considered. It does not mean that the person shouldn’t repent (in fact, ideally, repentance would come before forgiveness). But it does mean that we must remember God has offered His unconditional love to us and all He asks to forgive us is our acknowledgement of our wrongdoings.
If We Are To Truly Forgive, We Must Do So In Thought, Word, and Deed
Forgiving in Thought
We may say we forgive someone, but we keep thinking about how we have been wronged. Ken Sande discusses the Replacement Principle which is to replace negative memories with positive ones. If you can’t think of something good about the person, think about the greatness of God (Philippians 4.4-7).
Forgiving in Word
When we have truly forgiven someone, we should not talk poorly about them. In fact, we should talk positively about them – and to them! Being positive will actually make it easier to remember their sin no more. This process may not be easy, but with God all things are possible.
Forgiving in Deed
Love. When you act in love, it is hard to remain angry. Oftentimes we may have an idea to do something nice because we love someone, but we don’t do it because we are angry at the person. Such an attitude helps no one. Put love into action and it will be easier to forgive.
How Will Having a Knowledge of the Glory of the Lord Affect This Teaching?
If we have this knowledge, we will forgive! No questions and no exceptions. In reality, it is impossible to truly comprehend what Jesus did for us on the cross. But if we come to understand the principle of what He did – that He loved us and it was for our forgiveness, then how can we not forgive others? Again, Jesus said plainly that our continued forgiveness is effectually conditional on our continued forgiving. So, if you are not inclined to forgive others, then you might want to check your relationship with God.
When we learn to forgive, we experience the joy that God desires for us. When we harbor resentment, we become bitter and angry. It may take a supertaster to realize the true bitterness that is found in certain foods, but most anyone who crosses paths with a person who is bitter can see and hear the bitterness within moments. As Christians, we have no place for bitterness in our hearts – especially if we are letting Jesus reside there.
Ultimately, Matthew 6.12, 14-15 are a testimony of the presence of God’s grace in our lives. If we are unwilling to forgive, then we must question how much of God’s grace is active in our lives. To focus on our anger towards others is to miss the point of the entire sermon Jesus preached. Our focus is not to be on others, it is to be on God. If our focus is on God, then we will reflect on His grace in our lives and be more willing to extend grace to others. But if we focus on the anger we have for others, then, ultimately, we will lose sight of our shortcomings against God. We will explore this idea further in Matthew 7.1-5 next month.
So, with that said, our JOURNEY letter for today is: O – OBSERVE
Jesus taught us to pray for forgiveness. He further explained what forgiveness is. He taught about forgiveness using stories. And He gave His life as the supreme testimony of what love and forgiveness truly are. If forgiveness was/is important to Jesus, then it should be important to those who follow Him. Therefore, we must OBSERVE His commands. We must live by His example. In other words, we must be a people who will truly forgive.
Based upon today’s message, how can we raise the bar and live on earth as it is in heaven?
NEXT LEVEL STEP(S): LOVE Which comes first – love or forgiveness? If we love someone, we should find forgiveness easier. But if we forgive someone, we can often love them better. Thus, we must love to forgive and we must forgive to love.
This week, find ways to love anyone who has wronged you. The action may be small, but it should be tangible. Maybe it’s a word, maybe it’s doing a favor, maybe it is a gift, etc. But find a way to show love in order that you might soon forgive.
J. R. W., The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7): Christian Counter-Culture (Leicester; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 149.
section, down to the question about the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, is
an adaptive summary from chapter ten of Ken Sande’s book. Sande, Ken. The Peace Maker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2004), 204-223.