1 Samuel 26:22

Sermon preached on February 13, 2011 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.cantonnewlife.org/.

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

Many years ago I remember seeing a British TV show that was about neighbors fighting over various things. It featured real life instances where neighbors would fight over things like boundary lines, overhanging trees, fences etc. It was so sad to watch because the disputes would get all out of proportion and take over people's lives. To a certain extend and they would become consumed by it and spend exorbitant amounts of money over trivial things. I don't know if the show is still around or not but if it was it would feature a situation that was in the news in December. Apparently two neighbors in Broxbourne Common, Hertfordshire, England, have been fighting in court about a vey small amount of land. When the property was divided up in 2006 the draftsman used a thick pen to mark the dividing line of the property. Now the neighbors are arguing over the exact place where their property ends. One side claims the line should be at one place, and the neighbor thinks it should be two feet away. So far they've spent 400,000 pounds (That's $655,000) in court costs and it's still not settled. The thing I learned from that show is that most often it's best not to fight with your neighbors at all.

I have a friend who was once having trouble with a neighbor over a property boundary. It dragged on for a long time. I can't remember all the details but if my memory is correct, it was over him having room to get his car into his yard—his driveway. My friend eventually had to get his property surveyed to get the boundary line correct. But even after he got it surveyed, the neighbor didn't agree with where the surveyor put the marker and one night when no one was looking, she had it moved to where she thought it should have been.

What should you do in a situation like that? Does a Christian just have to take it? I mean, that seems to be the implication from what Jesus says in Matthew 5:39–42,

"Do not resist an evil person.
If someone strikes you on the right cheek,
turn to him the other also.
And if someone wants to sue you
and take your tunic,
let him have your cloak as well.
If someone forces you to go one mile,
go with him two miles.
Give to the one who asks you,
and do not turn away from the one
who wants to borrow from you."

Jesus wants us to be people who forgive others their offenses. You'll remember what Jesus said to Peter when Peter asked our Lord how many times we should forgive someone. Peter said, (Matthew 18:21)

"Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother
when he sins against me? Up to seven times?"

Jesus replied,

"I tell you, not seven times,
but seventy-seven times."

But does that mean that we should let others walk all over us?

It does mean that in some cases. Sometimes, and perhaps in the vast majority of cases, that's the best thing to do—that's best for your Christian witness, it's best for the gospel. As Paul wrote to the Corinthian Christians who were taking their disputes to the civil authorities. He said, (1 Corinthians 6:7–8)

"The very fact that you have
lawsuits among you means you
have been completely defeated already.
Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?"

Sometimes, for the gospel's sake, it's better to let yourself be wronged. We always need to remember that we are to be lights to the world and that the important thing is not our rights, but our Christian witness.

But it's interesting with David here is that he doesn't let King Saul dictate what he does. David refused to go back to King Saul. He refused to place his life in Saul's hands. He refused to become vulnerable to Saul. He went his own way.

This raises an important question.

Did David really forgive King Saul?

King Saul's speech to David was excellent as far as showing a repentant spirit. He said, (verse 21)

"I have sinned. Come back, David my son.
Because you considered my life precious today,
I will not try to harm you again.
Surely I have acted like a fool and have erred greatly."

He seemed truly repentant and confessed his sin to David. He promised to turn from it. But David refused to go back with Saul. He refused to be reconciled, at least in the sense of rejoining him. He would not go back to Saul.

Did this mean that David didn't forgive King Saul? In light of Jesus words in Matthew 18 we might be inclined to think that. But there are good reasons for believing that David did in fact forgive King Saul. We saw a few weeks ago that David refused to harm Saul. He did not harbor any anger and bitterness against Saul. He still truly loved him, as he showed in his lament over Saul.

Thus one of the great truths that we should see from our text is that

forgiveness doesn't always involve renewed trust or full partnership.

Forgiveness is a wonderful thing. How thankful we should be for God's forgiveness. Where would you be without it. We must always try to forgive others as God has forgiven us. We must forgive freely, completely and totally. Forgiveness has different aspects to it and we must be sure to fulfill each one of them. John Murray writes, Collected Writings, Vol. 3, p. 191,

"Forgiveness is not overlooking a transgression, it is not simply to be of a forgiving spirit; it is not even the readiness to forgive. Forgiveness is a definite act performed by us on the fulfillment of certain conditions: 'If they brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him' (Luke 17:3). Forgiveness is something actively administered on the repentance of the person who is forgiven."

But forgiveness doesn't always result in full reconciliation. It would be great if it did. That should certainly be our goal and we should be grieved if the result is anything less than that. By definition reconciliation is a change from enmity to friendship. But the important thing to realize about reconciliation is that it has to be mutual. It is a change that is wrought in both parties who have been at enmity. David forgave King Saul. But he knew that he couldn't trust him. David was still cautious about him. King Saul was too unstable. David couldn't be reconciled to Saul because of that. The most David could be reconciled to Saul was speaking to him from a distance.

Did the fact that David forgave Saul mean that he had to trust him and rejoin him?

Absolutely not. David forgave Saul, but he was still cautious. He was not wrong in this. John Calvin writes, (on Matthew 18:21-35)

"Christ is not depriving believers of discretion, to be foolishly credulous at the merest word…""when anyone makes himself suspect of levity and unsteadiness, we can still forgive him when he asks for pardon in such a way that we keep an eye on his behavior in the future, lest he should make a mockery of our toleration and kindness, which come from the Spirit of Christ." "Penitence is a holy thing, and therefore needs to be examined carefully."

So in certain cases caution toward the one who is forgiven is necessary. You can forgive someone without coming to a condition of trust in them.

We see the same thing from an incident in the life of the apostle Paul. In Acts 15 we learn that,

Paul refused to take John Mark with him on his journey to revisit some churches.

In what is now called Paul's first missionary journey, Paul and Barnabas took John Mark with them. They first preached the gospel on Cyprus then sailed for the south coast of what is now the country of Turkey. When they arrived there John Mark left them. We read, (Acts 13:13)

"From Paphos, Paul and his companions sailed
to Perga in Pamphylia, where John left them
to return to Jerusalem."

In Acts 15:36-41 we read,

"Some time later Paul said to Barnabas,
'Let us go back and visit the brothers
in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord
and see how they are doing.'
Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them,
but Paul did not think it wise to take him,
because he had deserted them in Pamphylia
and had not continued with them in the work.
They had such a sharp disagreement
that they parted company.
Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus,
but Paul chose Silas and left,
commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord.
He went through Syria and Cilicia,
strengthening the churches."

John Mark had let them down before and the whole incident was obviously something that greatly hindered and distracted Paul at the time.

Now, did Paul forgive John Mark? It's difficult to believe that Paul sinned by not forgiving him. The main thing that leads me to this conclusion is the fact that in Acts Luke continues to follow Paul's work for the Lord and relate how the Lord blessed Paul's ministry. If Paul was harboring the sin of lack of forgiveness, we would expect there to have been some mention of it and how it hindered the ministry. The fact that it's not mentioned coupled with the fact that God continued to greatly bless Paul implies that Paul was sinless in this incident with Barnabas and John Mark. It wasn't a lack of forgiveness that led Paul not to take John Mark with him, but it was a practical matter. Paul didn't think it was wise. I suspect he felt that John Mark being with them would not enable them to minister as effectively as they could without him.

In forgiveness there are two possibilities. On the one hand you can forgive and have a complete restoration. On the other hand, you can forgive and refuse to make yourself vulnerable again, you can refuse to have a complete restoration of the way things were before.

John Calvin tells us that sins are forgiven two ways (on Matthew 18:21-35).On the one hand he talks about where there is complete restoration. He writes,

"when we receive a brother into our favor in such a way to think well of him and be convinced that the memory of his fault is wiped out before God… [God] wants those who have fallen to be raised up by our mercy."

But Calvin speaks of a second kind of forgiveness, which does not result in complete restoration, where you do not open yourself up to becoming vulnerable again. He writes,

"If anyone does me an injury and I set aside any feeling of revenge and do not cease to love him and even repay him with benefits instead of injuries: although I may think badly of him, as he deserves, yet I may be said to forgive him. For when the Lord bids us wish our enemies well, He does not demand that we shall approve in them what He himself condemns, but only wishes our minds to be purged of hatred."

True forgiveness does not necessarily mean that there has to be complete restoration to the past condition.

You can forgive someone and still refuse to make yourself vulnerable to them again. You can forgive someone and refuse to restore the past condition. We see that in David here. We also see this principle in other places of Scripture.

For example, the Bible teaches that in the case of adultery, the innocent party is allowed to get a divorce. In Matthew 19:9 Jesus said,

"I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife,
except for marital unfaithfulness,
and marries another woman commits adultery."

In the case of adultery the marriage bond has been broken. The innocent party is free. They can do one of two things. They can forgive their spouse and restore the marriage relationship. That is one option that is open to them. The second option is that they can forgive their spouse and not restore the marriage relationship. They are free to marry someone else and if they do so they are without sin.

In both cases there should be forgiveness, but in one case the forgiveness does not lead to restoration of the prior relationship. The marriage is not restored. The injured party may have good reasons to move on and he or she is free to do so.

Now what does all this mean in practical terms?

First of all, it means that you truly have to forgive those who sin against you.

Don't use what I'm saying here to rationalize your lack of forgiveness. That is so easy to do and I don't want you to do it. We are so prone to not forgive and we will grasp at any excuse not to forgive. I'm not giving you that excuse. You always have to forgive. Vengeance belongs to the Lord, not us. Thus we are to rid our hearts of all malice, all bitterness, all anger. We are to love and not hate.

The One who is going to judge you on the last day can see through all our rationalizations, all our deception, all our secrets. We need to take very seriously what Jesus said in Matthew 7:2.

"with the measure you use,
it will be measured to you."

And in Matthew 6:14–15 He said,

"For if you forgive men when they sin against you,
your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
But if you do not forgive men their sins,
your Father will not forgive your sins."

John Murray writes, (p. 192)

"Our forgiveness of others is to be without limit. Admittedly it is difficult for us to forgive repeated injuries and insults on the part of the same person. But there must be no end to our longsuffering."

John Calvin writes,

"[God] wants those who have fallen to be raised up by our mercy. And this doctrine is very necessary, because by nature we are nearly all too critical; and Satan impels us to a most harsh rigor under the guise of strictness. Because of this, sadness and desperation swallow up unhappy men who are denied forgiveness."

Work at forgiving others. Make sure you rid yourself of bitterness and anger. Make sure you seek no ill for them. Make sure you love them and pray for them.

Secondly, this means that you are to use the wisdom God gave you in dealing with those who sin against you.

If someone is abusing you, continually injuring you, or misusing you, you can forgive them but at the same time refuse to make yourself vulnerable to them. David refused to trust Saul. David refused to put his life in Saul's hands. You are free to do the same in such cases.

I think one of the keys to remember in applying this is to realize that most of the instances the Bible gives us that illustrate a lack of complete restoration relate to big things. In David's case it was a matter of life and death. In John Mark's case the progress of the gospel was at stake. So I would suggest that in little things, if there is repentance on the part of the other party, complete restoration should be possible. But in bigger issues you have to exercise much more discretion.

Be wise in how you live. Be wise in who you trust. Jesus didn't trust everybody. He didn't make Himself vulnerable to everyone. As we read in John 2:23–24

"Now while he was in Jerusalem
at the Passover Feast,
many people saw the miraculous signs
he was doing and believed in his name.
But Jesus would not
entrust himself to them, for he knew all men."

Thirdly, this is where we really need to appreciate what Jesus has done for us.

David couldn't change King Saul's heart. All he could do is forgive Saul and stay away from him.

But Jesus not only forgives our sins, but gives us new hearts. He has reconciled us to God. We have been brought near to God. We are now God's friends. He has taken away our hearts of stone and though His Spirit He has given us hearts that love His Word and that love doing His will. We are His sons and daughters. We are going to be raised higher than Adam ever was. In glory we will be beyond the possibility of sinning. We are going to see His face. His dwelling is going to be with us. We are going to reign with Him forever and ever. We are God's forever.

The reason that all takes place is because Jesus embraced death for us. David knew it would be deadly to go back to King Saul, and he avoided it. Jesus, when Judas and the armed guards were coming to arrest Him, didn't avoid them, but walked to meet them. He faced death voluntarily. He did it in order to save you. That's what your King did for you.

How you should love Jesus. How you should appreciate Him. How you should dedicate your life totally to Him.

Lastly, for those of you who are not Christians, this passage shows you that you need more than men's forgiveness.

David forgave Saul, but that didn't save Saul. Saul needed to be reconciled to God. David couldn't do that for Saul. Only Jesus can do that for you. Unless you go to Him, you, like Saul, will be doomed. Go to the One who can save you.