Last Sunday, I finished our Starting Over sermon series by talking about our need to release hurt and anger. We talked about our need to forgive ourselves and others and I have to tell you that the response I got after each service was significant. Some people wanted to share the message with others, some wanted to know when it would be available on line so they could listen again and some just said, thank you that was really helpful. I don’t usually get that kind of a response which tells me that we all struggle with forgiveness. We want to forgive others, we need to forgive ourselves and we know it is important to our lives and faith and relationships, but we just struggle to do it. So today I want to talk a little more about forgiveness and provide another tool or resource to help us forgive.
The scripture we used last week was from Ephesians 4:26-27, 31-32. Paul is speaking to a church in Ephesus and giving them some general principles about forgiveness. He says it is ok to be angry but we can’t hold on to it. He tells us we need to get rid of our anger so that the devil, or anger or those we are angry at, don’t get a foothold in our lives where they can then create more problems. He also says that because God has forgiven us, we need to forgive others. This is not just good teaching for Paul, this is what he did and how he lived and he shared his own story about forgiveness with the people of Ephesus.
Today, I want us to look at the end of Paul’s letter to Timothy. Timothy was not only a travelling companion with Paul, but at the time the letter was written, Timothy was a leader in the church of Ephesus. In many ways, these two books go together. With that in mind, let’s look at a verse near the end of his letter 2 Timothy 4:14.
We don’t know who Alexander is or what harm he may have caused Paul, but it is clear that Paul was hurt and offended. Something happened and Paul got angry, and he could on to that and stay angry or he could release it and what he tells us is that he released it. Paul put into practice what he said in his previous letter. He got angry but didn’t sin because he let it go. Paul got rid of his anger, bitterness and malice and forgave Alexander just as God, in Christ, had forgiven him. So here is a story of Paul putting his teaching on forgiveness into practice and through it we learn more of what it means for us to forgive.
The first thing Paul teaches us here is that we need to acknowledge the problem. Paul is clear that he has been hurt. Paul doesn’t cover up the problem or ignore it – he acknowledges it and as we heard last week, it is important for us to acknowledge what has been to us. The lack of details however, tells us that Paul is not interested in rehashing the problem or rehearsing the pain. Acknowledging the pain, hurt and disappointment in our lives so we can release it is vital, but we can’t relive. Talking through our problems with trusted friends is important, it helps us evaluate and process what has happened, but at some point we have to stop talking about it and rehashing it so we can release it.
The second thing we learn from Paul is what we talked about last week and the need to release it but what Paul adds here is helpful. The Lord will repay him for what he has done. Paul hasn’t just dropped the issue and walked away, he has placed the situation into the hands of God. Paul has given up his right to get even with Alexander and has asked God to deal with it. When we release our hurt and pain we need to think about it in terms of releasing it into the hands of God who will deal with it according to God’s purpose and plan.
Now let me be clear, we don’t put it in God’s hands with a desire for God to punish and crush the person, we put it into God’s hands for God to deal with it according to his will. We put it into God’s hands asking for God’s goodness, righteousness and justice to prevail. As we do this, we always need to remember that there may be someone putting us into the hands of God for what we have said or done, so it is important for us to seek forgiveness and examine our own hearts and lives as we release our anger to God.
I have shared before that in my first few years as a pastor I experienced a lot of conflict and opposition to what many of us were trying to do in moving the church forward. I got hate mail. People sent me checks with big zeros on them and it got pretty heated for several months. I will be honest and tell you that my prayer during that time was this, God if there is anyone standing in your way – take them out. I meant it too. Now let me be clear, I didn’t ask God to rub them out. I didn’t turn to God as some kind of Godfather or hit man looking for people to die, but if they needed to attend a different church – that was ok. I was also very clear with God and said that if I was the one that needed to be taken out – then he needed to move in me or move me to a new location. It was my way of releasing the hurt and pain into the hands of God and asking for God’s will to take place in that situation. The good news is that no one died, I remained in that church for another 7 years and the church grew and thrived for many years.
All of this leads us to another tool or resource we have available when we want to embrace forgiveness and that is prayer. In his sermon on the mount, Jesus said, Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Luke 6:28. Prayer is important for many reasons. First it can help us release our anger by giving us a way of putting it into the hands of God but more importantly, it is prayer that changes us. Prayer guards our hearts and lives and keeps anger from getting that foothold and prayer opens the door for the Holy Spirit to enter our lives and when the Holy Spirit enters it brings with it the fruit of the spirit which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Think about how each one of these fruits can either help us forgive others or keep us taking up our anger again.
During the time of conflict in my first church I did a lot of praying and others prayed for me and with me and while it was uncomfortable at times, I experienced a patience and peace that allowed me to keep going. I found a kindness and gentleness that did not come from me but helped me deal with all those around me. I was upset by all that was being said about me, but it never overwhelmed me and it never caused me to become so angry at others that I could not find ways to love those who cursed me. In fact, the man who sent me the check with the big zero on it and told me I was doing the work of the devil actually invited me to his home to share in communion when he was battling cancer. That kind of thing only happens because of the power of prayer and the work of God’s Holy Spirit that comes through prayer.
Sometimes we just have to pray for the person who has wronged us. I don’t know what that looks like for you, or what you are capable of saying about this person to God, but start and say something. God bless them – is always a place to start. God you take them. God you deal with them and with me. Prayer really does change situations because it changes us. Prayer changes our perspective, our hearts and our lives. When we are willing to pray – God will change the situation because God will change us.
You may not know the name Ruby Bridges but you probably have seen her picture
or this iconic Norman Rockwell painting.
Ruby was born in 1954 in Tylertown MS and then her family moved to New Orleans with hopes of finding a better life. In 1960, Ruby was one of 4 black kindergarten children who scored high enough on a test to attend all-white schools closer to their homes. These would be the first integrated schools in the south. Ruby was the only one to attend the William Frantz Elementary School and so on Nov. 14, 1960, escorted by 4 federal marshals, Ruby walked alone into school. Let me share with you what her first week was like.
Ruby Bridges’ first few weeks at Frantz School were not easy ones. Several times she was confronted with blatant racism in full view of her federal escorts. On her second day of school, a woman threatened to poison her. After this, the federal marshals allowed her to only eat food from home. On another day, she was “greeted” by a woman displaying a black doll in a wooden coffin.
Ruby’s mother kept encouraging her to be strong and pray while entering the school, which Ruby discovered reduced the vehemence of the insults yelled at her and gave her courage. (from biography.com)
What you need to know about Ruby’s story is that she prayed every day and she credits prayer as the source of her strength and peace. Ruby herself said, Talking to the Lord made it ok.
Her teacher that first year was a woman named Mrs. Henry and she would stand at the window and watch Ruby enter school with the Federal Marshals. One day she saw Ruby stop and start talking so she asked her what she said to the people. She told Mrs. Henry, I didn’t stop and talk to them. I was praying. I was praying for them.
Ruby Bridges story shows us the power of prayer when we have been offended and hurt. Prayer for others can change us. Prayer for others gives us courage and strength and a peace that nothing else in this world can give. When we are struggling to forgive and let go of an offense, we need to pray for those who have cursed us and mistreated us and trust that whatever words come out of our heart and mind and mouth will in time shape our heart and mind and life. Prayer is always the one single action that can change our lives and help us truly embrace forgiveness.
Praying for others will also remind us of just how much God has forgiven us. Genuine prayer will not just to point out the offenses of others but help us see all the ways we have offended God and hurt those we love. We when pray, Father forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing, our eyes are opened to all the ways we don’t know what we are doing and how we need God’s forgiveness. So prayer is a resource God gives us to embrace forgiveness.
As we wait for this forgiveness to truly shape our hearts and lives and as we wait for the freedom and power that comes when we embrace forgiveness and release our anger and pain, Paul wants to encourage with this thought. As we wait, as we struggle, as we pray and as we work at forgiveness – God is with us. 2 Timothy 4:16-18.
Not once or twice but 5 times Paul tells us that when he was in trouble and when he needed to forgive but struggled to do it he knew that God was with him. This is Paul’s personal testimony.
• The Lord stood by my side.
• He gave me strength.
• I was delivered.
• The Lord rescued me.
• He brought me out to a safe place.
When we are struggling to forgive or even struggling to find a desire to forgive, we can lean into God presence and find strength. When we are feeling abused and abandoned, God can deliver us and lead us to a place of healing and courage and grace. When we choose to embrace forgiveness and make it part of our lives we are never alone because God is right here with us and he helps us because it is what he wants for us and from us.
As we close today with communion it is important for us to know that God is right here. In this time of worship, in our prayers and hearts and in this meal – God is with us and God is here to help us embrace the forgiveness God has for us and the lifestyle of forgiveness God wants from us.
1. What offense do you need to acknowledge in order to forgive? Without rehashing the story and reliving the pain, with whom can you share this situation?
2. Give this person to God in prayer. Give the situation to God and ask God to resolve it and release you.
3. Pray for the person who has offended you. That prayer can be as short as “Bless them” or the prayer of Ruby Bridges, “Please God, try to forgive this person because even if they say (or do) bad things, they don’t know what they are doing. So you could forgive them, just like you did those folks a long time ago when they said terrible things about you.” (From the book, The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles)
4. Read 2 Timothy 4:16-18. In what ways can you see God:
• At your side
• Giving you strength
• Delivering you
• Rescuing you
• Bring you to a safe place
Where do you need God to assist you in these ways? Ask for his help?
To read more about Ruby Bridges, these books are available in the church library:
• Through My Eyes, by Ruby Bridges
• The Story of Ruby Bridges, by Robert Coles
Or go online to: