When most of us were children we were taught that if you hurt someone else’s feelings to say we are sorry. In other words we were taking responsibility for our actions and words. We as parents want our children to learn to forgive but also to ask for forgiveness. A few months ago I discussed the fact that we are to forgive others as it is a command from the Lord. Unity is the goal of the church and Jesus teaches us that unity comes with love and forgiveness. The most loving thing one can do is forgive someone who has hurt them, not because that person deserves to be forgiven but because we let go of the hurt and we place it into the capable hands of our Lord to handle. But is that all that is involved with forgiveness? I have forgiven others and have been forgiven by others but is it reasonable to expect more from our Christian brothers and sisters who have done harm to us? I think there is precedence for our doing more than just asking God for forgiveness.
I was hurt deeply recently and I have forgiven much if not all. I know that I have placed the persons I have forgiven into the hands of God and that I can move on with my life. If the persons that hurt me are Christians I can expect that God will continue the good work in them as God has continued such work in me (Philippians 1:6). I can anticipate that there will be a day to come when they will apologize and try to make things right between us. Where do I get such a weird idea? From the Bible.
You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny. Matthew 5:21-26, (New International Version or NIV).
Jesus is speaking and teaching in this passage as part of the Sermon on the Mount. I find it rather interesting when I look at the context of this passage of scripture because it is right after Jesus’s teaching on the fulfillment of the law and that we are salt and light to the world and the list of beatitudes. This passage also is followed by Christ’s teachings on adultery, divorce, oaths, an eye for an eye, and love for your enemies. I think this is a very important passage and needs to be thoroughly understood.
There is clear instruction given by Jesus that you/we are to make things right with your/our brother or sister if we have wronged them in some way. We can glean from other scriptures that anyone can be our brother or sister. For instance Galatians 6:2 reminds us that we are to bear one another’s burdens and Matthew 25:35 reminds us that if we care about the poor and downtrodden then we are doing to them as to Christ. Jesus says that if we are offering our gift at the altar, or today we would say we are sitting in church giving our offering or making ready for communion, and we remember that there is a conflict unresolved between us and someone else we are to immediately leave the church and be reconciled.
I have found this a hard scripture to put into action. I have spoken to someone who hurt me deeply through the years and I have told them I forgive them but they have not once apologized or even taken responsibility for their bad behavior toward me. I know that I have done all that I can do after repeated attempts to not only give forgiveness but also to receive forgiveness. The giving of forgiveness has been one-sided and no reconciliation can take place at this time. So what am I to do? What does Jesus say to do or what does the Bible teach to do in such circumstances? I suspect many of you are wondering the same thing.
Part of the answer, I believe, comes from some of the passages that follow the passage we just read. I will break it down just as it is in the Bible, and look at what we all want when we are hurt, revenge. Again Jesus is speaking.
You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. Matthew 5:38-42, (NIV).
We all like to see that a person who hurts others gets what is coming to him, right? But Jesus teaches a different doctrine. He wants His followers, His disciples, we Christians, to let God take care of seeking revenge (Romans 12:19, Deuteronomy 32:35). We are to stop resisting an evil person and honestly if the person who hurt you refuses to seek forgiveness or accept your forgiveness then isn’t that being evil? I think so. We are told not to fight with them, stop trying to make them see that they need forgiveness and you need restitution, stop forcing the issue upon them, just stop! Why? Because God will take care of that situation so let God be God and people be people. But I think this is only part of what we are to do when seeking forgiveness from someone else. Let’s look at the next passage as well. Remember Jesus is still speaking.
You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:43-48, (NIV).
Once again the follower of The Way, the follower of Christ, a Christian must love everyone to include the unlovable, our enemies. Why? Because God is gracious to the wicked in this world by not withholding the rain or the sunshine even though they are evil and He wants us to do the same. By forgiving that person who harmed you and extending grace and mercy to them, you are showing that you are faithful to God and to Jesus Christ. You will be made perfect so why wouldn’t you want to forgive them and show love to them? Remember that the passage we just read is also to be followed, turn the other cheek and leave them alone; don’t antagonize them further. Let them go and realize that the writer of Hebrews is correct.
For we know Him who said, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY.” And again, “THE LORD WILL JUDGE HIS PEOPLE.” It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Hebrews 10:30-31, (NIV).
I believe that God is a big enough God to handle my situation and yours too. God will deal with the hardened heart that refuses to forgive. He can humble the proud and stiff-necked. God will require more than just someone asking forgiveness of only Him. These scriptures we have read teach us that we are responsible to more than just God for our sins against others. Yes we have committed a great sin against God but when we sin against our family, friends, business acquaintances or perfect strangers we are required to make it right with them before making it right with God, which is what I believe the first passage we looked at is saying. Otherwise why would we be asked to leave the offering on the alter and go find the person and make it right with them? Far too many people think that all they have to do is ask for God’s forgiveness but this passage makes it clear that we are to ask forgiveness and make it right with the person we have hurt.
Alright, so am I off the hook and don’t have to do anything more after letting them go? I don’t think so. If you know of a situation where a heart is hardened then I believe you are required to continue to pray for that person, pray that God will intervene and soften the hardened heart. That is part of bearing one another’s burdens. Our prayers may be the only prayers going up to God asking for an intervention of the spiritual kind. Remember that every soul is precious. Jesus came to the cross and died so that none should perish and so we too want none to perish (John 3:16). I want to encourage you, dear friend, to keep on with the good stuff, deal with the bad stuff and pray for those who are still stuck in the bad stuff.
Until next time…Katherine