by Kyle Pope
Synopsis: Concentrating on Christ's teaching on forgiveness, Kyle challenges us to move past the bitterness and resentment that may arise in our hearts when we are mistreated.
No one likes to be wronged. Given a choice, all of us prefer to be treated with love, honor, and respect at all times. This makes us feel secure, confident, and valued by those around us. When we are treated badly, our self-image is threatened, our confidence is shaken, and there wells up within us a desire to defend ourselves and lash out in retaliation for the wrong we have suffered. When we as Christians are wronged, if God's word dwells within us, we are confronted with a difficult duty: the obligation to forgive. God's word makes it clear, "If you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matt. 6:15, NKJV). We are told to pray, "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors" (Matt. 6:12). So, if we seek forgiveness, we must clearly be forgiving people. Let's consider some questions about forgiveness.
Men and women in the world view the forgiveness of others as something that yields no satisfactory outcome. The world finds satisfaction only in retaliation. Their thinking is that of the "carnal mind" (Rom. 8:7) possessed by those who "set their minds on the things of the flesh" (Rom. 8:5). When a person does not realize his or her own sinfulness before God, neither will he recognize his own unworthiness in the face of God's offer of forgiveness through Jesus Christ. He or she will possess a "debased mind" (Rom. 1:28) that is "unforgiving" and "unmerciful" (Rom. 1:31). As Christians, we must forgive, because we have been forgiven. Anything less is a demonstration of how little we value God's mercy toward us.
Luke 17:3 tells us, "If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him" (Luke 17:3). A key thought here is repentance. In our dealings with others, we must never be so passive that we come across as if we are tolerant or willing to ignore sin. At the same time, neither must we be so "thin-skinned" that we are upset at the slightest word or deed that is done to us. The Bible instructs us to be, "swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath" (James 1:19) with a love that, "bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things" (1 Cor. 13:7). We must not allow someone's tone of voice, hasty word, or tactless comment to bring to our hearts bitterness and resentment. When we feel wronged, our first thoughts as Christians should be, "maybe I misunderstood," or "perhaps they intended it this way…" By assuming this frame of mind, we are in a more objective position to analyse the situation free from self-defensive emotion.
There will be those times when we are wronged, and yet the other person does not repent of the wrong. Does that mean we don't have to forgive? Does that mean we are justified in harboring resentment against them until they repent? Not at all! Mark 11:25 teaches, "And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses" (Mark 11:25). In this text, nothing is said about the other person's repentance. Instead, what is clear is that the person who has been wronged must put the matter behind him or her within his own mind and forgive the person who has done the wrong. This is the same character shown in the examples of Jesus (Luke 23:34) and Stephen (Acts 7:60) when both forgave their offenders of their offense towards them. This doesn't mean that the person is necessarily right with God because of our forgiveness, nor does it mean that the one who has done wrong doesn't have an obligation to God to repent. What it shows is that spiritually-minded souls settle such matters within their own mind long before the offender returns to them in repentance (if they ever do).
Harbouring feelings of resentment in our hearts demands great emotional labor and mental energy. We must continually "fuel the fire" to keep resentment burning within us. It becomes harder and harder to "set your mind on things above" (Col. 3:2) when we must continually fill our thoughts with the refuse of resentment. Forgiveness accomplishes great good in that it benefits both the recipient and the one who extends it. It frees us in much the same way as repentance does, which is said to allow "times of refreshing" to "come from the presence of the Lord" (Acts 3:19). The Israelites were warned, "You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people…" (Lev. 19:18). Christians are warned that " judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy…" (James 2:13). If we want to be forgiven, we cannot withhold forgiveness from others.
Author-Bio: Kyle Pope preaches for the Olsen Park church of Christ in Amarillo, Texas. He has written several books published by Truth Publications including How We Got the Bible. The church website is olsenpark.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.