“Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.” (Luke 6:37-38)
Today’s verse places the issue of unforgiveness into sobering context because it covers all things that are part of this critical issue in the lives of so many people. The poison of unforgiveness is the real reason why so many born-again, Spirit-filled believers are forever caged, never truly healed, delivered, set free, and made whole. One of the most powerful explanations of unforgiveness I have ever heard is that it’s like drinking a poison and expecting the other person to die. Yet it has a powerful foothold in the body of Christ.
The poison of unforgiveness is dangerous because it justifies itself.
Anyone who refuses to forgive will provide any number of reasons why they should not have to. We are taught to ‘own’ the truth of our problems and continually told that ‘it wasn’t your fault.’ While this is usually true and it’s critically important to accept and acknowledge real victimisation, it’s as important to move beyond this. The poison of unforgiveness is distilled in the process of being victimised, but it’s power lies in the simple truth that we have a right to feel the way we do.
Often, holding onto this right is what keeps us going. Our anger and resentment at the horrible unfairness of it fuels our ability to survive. We reach a place where we believe we need our justified unforgiveness in order to make it through each day. This is, in fact, a kind a of addiction – the poison of unforgiveness is our daily ‘fix,’ and we cannot imagine life without it. The tragedy is that, like any other drug, it is also slowly killing us.
The self-made cage of the poison of unforgiveness.
Each time we sip at the poison of unforgiveness, we add a bar to our self-made cage. We reinforce our own captivity and separate ourselves from the healing, deliverance, and blessings that God has available for us. Over and over again, I have heard hearts breaking with the sense of being trapped in the past, of never being able to break free, of having their lives dictated by the tragedy of their abuse. And it’s agonisingly true, because they cannot – or will not – forgive.
Today’s verse highlights the ramifications of this. A failure to forgive puts us in the place where we judge and condemn – in other words, we usurp the rights of God Himself. The poison of unforgiveness continually judges and condemns those we won’t forgive, thus compounding the problem. But the prison that is forged is our own. Our judgement, condemnation, and refusal to forgive are the raw materials that build our cage. Ironically, because we step in and usurp God’s authority, that other person gets out of jail free. ‘Vengeance is mine, says the Lord,’ but our holding onto the issue means He doesn’t act. He won’t act while we’re in the way.
Blessings are corrupted by the poison of unforgiveness.
This works in a number of ways. First, the blessings we do have are seen against the negative context of our situation. Those who drink the poison of unforgiveness find every well tainted. Everything tastes bad, nothing works out, and they are continually unsatisfied. No matter what they do, there never seems to be anything worthwhile. This reinforces their right to feel the way they do, and empowers the seemingly endless cycle of victimisation.
Secondly, we cannot receive blessings in prison. We may know that they are there, but they cannot get through to us. This results in continual disappointment, and our response is to sip again from the poison of unforgiveness. With each sip, another bar goes up, isolating us and separating us from God’s blessings even further. We blame God and everyone else, and so justify our addiction and our right to feel the way we do.
Thirdly, we place ourselves in rebellion against God by usurping His authority and not being obedient. God cannot and will not bless disobedience. It’s not that He doesn’t want to bless us, but that we have made our addiction to the poison of unforgiveness more important than His will. That’s rebellion, and it chokes our blessings.
The lie that perpetuates the poison of unforgiveness.
There is a common misconception that forgiveness implies weakness. We believe that forgiving someone means that what they did is okay. Somehow the concept of ‘giving’ to them, i.e. blessing them, means that we’re validating them and their behaviour. This is the lie that keeps us sipping from the poison of unforgiveness. This is the lie that justifies and validates our inability to let go or be set free.
The real truth is that even if God were to strike that person down with a lightning bolt and declare their sin loudly in public, it wouldn’t change how we feel. We believe that holding onto unforgiveness is what punishes the person, whereas it doesn’t affect them one bit. They live untroubled lives, and we slide deeper into the addiction to the poison of unforgiveness. Hating them is our reason for living. The lie tells us that letting go of the thing that drives and sustains us will leave us with nothing. The lie says that unforgiveness is the only weapon we have.
Freedom from the poison of unforgiveness.
The reality is that, in and of ourselves, we cannot forgive – and especially not in situations of long-term or violent abuse. Yet God unequivocally tells us that this is what we have to do. He commands us to do the impossible and the unthinkable – to set aside the poison of unforgiveness and go spiritually ‘cold turkey.’ The reality is that God knows that we cannot, and is willing to give us the grace we need. It all starts with the simple decision to forgive.
It’s a pretty scary choice, because our lives are so rooted in our situation and because the poison of unforgiveness has, for so long, been our only ‘friend.’ Essentially, the choice to forgive is choosing God rather than self, a tiny step in the ‘long walk to freedom.’ But it’s a critical choice. The moment we choose to forgive is the moment that God steps in. In other words, we make the choice and God begins to work to make it happen.
Staying free from the poison of unforgiveness.
Like anything, choosing to forgive is never a simple one-step solution. Freedom from addiction is a process and takes time. It means making the choice every day – and even innumerable times in a day – to forgive and bless that person. Every time the old feelings rise up, we must choose to forgive, to resist the temptation of the poison of unforgiveness. Each time we make the choice, God’s grace will meet our need, slowly affirming our freedom from the terrible cage that keeps us apart from His love and blessings. When we choose, God makes it happen. But the choice is ours. Like any addict, we can decide whether or not to continue in the addiction that robs us of life, freedom, health, and blessings.
Lord, grant us grace and courage today to face our addition to the poison of unforgiveness and make the right choice. Thank you that we can rely on Your mercy and faithfulness to empower our choice and so set us free. Help us to seek Your will and to be obedient, and forgive us our rebellion or where we have usurped Your authority in our woundedness.