Love is a tremendously powerful thing -- the most powerful thing in this world. The Bible says, "Love is as strong as death..." (Song of Songs 8:6). If we were able to fill our hearts and our lives with the love of God then so much in this world would be totally transformed. I want to look this evening at one tremendously important teaching that Jesus gave constantly about love and that is the area of "forgiveness". When we've been hurt, when people have wronged us, we need to learn to forgive -- and when we have wronged others we have to learn to be forgiven. Great problems come in society where there is lack of forgiveness or where there is bitterness...The Bible says: "Try to be at peace with everyone. Let no one become like a bitter plant that grows up and causes many troubles with its poison." (Heb. 12:14,15) Jesus taught: "Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us." (Luke 11:9)
Forgiveness is so important. Someone once said: "Every Christian should have a fair sized cemetery in which to bury the faults of his friends." Many different words are used in the Bible for forgiveness, and all of them suggest that when we forgive we should also forget. To forgive means:
So when Jesus said, "Forgive and you shall be forgiven", it could equally well be translated "release and you shall be released". Many people are imprisoned by their own unforgiving spirit. We imprison others and we imprison ourselves when we won't forgive. "Release and you will be released", is what Jesus says.
Questions about forgiveness
God has forgiven us a million times more than we shall ever have to forgive anybody else. Once a small boy wrote on a piece of paper all his sins, and it was a long and solemn list. And he confessed those sins to God, and trusted that Jesus had died for him. And then he got a match and struck it and set fire to the paper, and as the flames burnt up the paper he said "Christ died for my sins", and as the breeze blew the ashes away he added, "And He carried my sins right away." And that small boy got the heart of the Cross of Jesus Christ. If God has forgiven us that, oughtn't we sometimes make a list of our hurts when people have wronged us, bring these to the Cross, remember what Jesus has done for us, and then be willing to burn that list? Forgive and forget. "Be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven us."
If as I have been speaking tonight, some of us are aware that there is someone we haven't really forgiven, it may mean that before we got to bed we may need to write a letter or even phone them up. Make a call or try to put it right as soon as we possibly can.
Bishop Festo Kivengere came to York a little time ago, and he told us a lovely story which illustrates this. One night there had been a dispute between Festo and his wife, and he had to go out to preach so he said, "Goodbye, wife" and he went out of the house. And as he went down the main drive the Lord said to him, by His Spirit, "Festo, you go back and apologise to your wife." "But Lord, I've got a very important sermon which I am going to preach." "You go and apologise to your wife. "But Lord, there are hundreds waiting for me. We are going to have a good time tonight." "You go and apologise to your wife." "But Lord, I'm almost late and they're waiting for me and someone has come to collect me."
And then the Spirit said, "All right, you go and preach your sermon, but I'm going to stay with your wife in the kitchen." And Festo said, in his usual delightful way, "There was revival in the kitchen before there was revival in the church!" And some of you, brethren, will share that that has been the way in which God has been blessing you in your own countries when you have learned with the grace of God and with humility and love to put right relationships with brother, sister -- and then God has blessed and honoured.
I wonder if there is a relationship where we need to put something right? We were taking a mission in Cornwall, in the southwest of England, and I preached in Truro Cathedral -- on this theme of forgiveness. I suggested that, after the service, if there was something to put right, to go and call someone on the telephone, write a letter, go and see them, whatever it is. If you know Truro and the Cathedral, just outside there there are quite a lot of telephone boxes, and I heard afterwards there were queues outside each telephone box of people waiting to call someone up to put their relationships right! Many relationships were put right that night. The next night there was an almost electric sense of God's presence in the service. There was a tremendous sense of the power of God there, because we had put things right.