43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven… 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?
There is neither a greater, nor more difficult calling by Jesus Christ, then the call to forgive even our worst and most spiteful enemies. Jesus himself exhibited this most difficult act, while hanging cold, naked and in agony on a cross. His ability to forgive those who destroyed his body and humiliated him in front of his enemies was truly the product of a life of love, trust and obedience to his Father in heaven…and only when we do the same through the power of the Holy Spirit can this beautiful and powerful fruit of the Spirit be birthed in us.
The Lord’s Prayer is, in my estimation, one of the most important passages of scripture because it consists of Jesus, the guy we pray to (jointly with his Father), telling us exactly how to pray. Every time I read it however, I get hung up on a few certain verses….
12 Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors…. 14 For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
I would much prefer it say, “forgive us our sins forever, and punish quickly and with great and unfettered vengeance, those who have dared to disagree with us or hurt us.” J
But it doesn’t say that because that is not the heart of our great God. As long as we live on this earth, we are called to love – and even bless our enemies, not just with words and gritted teeth…but in the depths of our heart. To truly do that, I believe that we must know Jesus as he is in the word, and seek to comprehend exactly what it is that he did for us during his 33 years on this planet.
There are many verses that describe the love of Christ, and his death for us while we were sinners, but to me, the passage below seems to capture his mercy, his love, his obedience and his surpassing greatness, perhaps more than any other pre-Revelation passage:
23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. 1 Peter 2:23-24
Surrounded by his taunting enemies, hanging cold and naked on a cross, Jesus Christ, the maker of heaven and earth, the one who could have called down twelve legions of angels to save him, instead chose to suffer, bearing our sins…my sick and wicked sins…in his body, so that I might die to those sins and live for righteousness…for by those wounds, I am healed. Therefore, I must, by his Spirit, also learn to forgive, and even to suffer in forgiveness, just as he did for me.
The parable of the unmerciful servant below is an excellent illustration of what exactly Jesus expects from those who love him:
21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. 23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. 26 “The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. 28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. 29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ 30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened. 32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. 35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”
The unmerciful servant sounds a bit too familiar to me. Sadly, it is like a huge, cracked mirror held up to my face.
I know that I must forgive, in the deepest places of my heart, the people who have hurt me, especially those who have hurt me the most. Why? Because Jesus has forgiven me for so much – yet I so easily forget all of the people that my gossip, slander and selfishness have maimed. I have committed so many sins against both God and man that if I truly know Jesus as he is in his word, I will seek to become even more aware of those sins, and of his great, unmerited mercy, towards me so that I might, through the spirit, share that beautiful gift of mercy with those who have hurt me.
I cannot fake forgiveness, but what I can do with the help of Jesus, is make a decision in my mind and in my heart to forgive someone, knowing that even if I still ache inside from the rejection or shame, the choice is made – and it is final. To walk in that forgiveness, I simply ask the Holy Spirit to help me love the one who hurt me and to destroy any root of bitterness growing in my heart. I also make a point of praying for the person who wounded me, never asking that I would be justified in their eyes, or that they would see things my way, but that the Lord Jesus might take hold of them and show them more and more of his love and eternal power. Really, it is the same prayer I pray for myself. And when that bitterness starts welling up like a poisonous fountain, I ask that God would send his consuming fire to burn it up…and he does. Sometimes it is a constant battle, but knowing the life, love and death of Jesus Christ through his word, and knowing the sacrifice our Father made to allow his precious son to come to earth and suffer years of rejection and abuse, makes it a little bit easier.
Each of us has been deeply and even catastrophically wounded by others, including those we love and trust. But in many ways, through Jesus Christ, those wounds are a gift in light of eternity, because they force us to seek his face, since often, only his love can salve the pain. I have also found that deep wounds, especially those caused by the ones I trust, cause me to look intently at my own sin and the hurts I have inflicted on my close friends and family. When I consider the darkness of my own deceitful and wicked heart, it truly does make me more grateful to Jesus for inexplicably saving me…vengeful, selfish, proud me…and it pushes me to desire conformity to his likeness even more, so that when I am scorned and gossiped about, I, like Jesus and through Jesus, can put aside vengeance, and instead entrust myself to the only one who truly judges justly.
While only Jesus Christ can save souls, the wounds we receive from other people, especially the deep ones can be used as instruments of mercy to draw others to him, through the power of the Holy Spirit. We must all grasp the depth of our own selfishness in order to understand the depth of the love and mercy of God, which, through his precious son, has freely offered to us all. In a small way, our human mercy, extended even to those who despise us, is an opportunity to show that beautiful and eternal gift to others who may have no other chance to see it. May Jesus Christ help me grasp my own sinfulness so that I might, through his spirit, share this great gift of mercy.
The purpose of this short life is to know and love the one true God, and his son Jesus Christ. It is not, as I often think, to avoid pain and slink into heaven as quickly and as safely as possible. It is funny how my personal journey to seek Jesus as he truly is, became harder but much more focused, intense and authentic, during and after being rescued from my greatest failure and deepest pain. What the Lord did in my heart during that time period reminds me of the story of the Pharisee and the prostitute in Luke 7:36-50, where Jesus tells the self-satisfied and scornful Pharisee, that the prostitute who is washing his feet with her hair loves much because she has been forgiven much. Were her sins worse than the Pharisee’s? Not likely – they were just more obvious. But God judges the deep things of the heart, and she was clearly more aware of her sin, and understood what a beautiful gift it was to be forgiven by God. I too have been forgiven much…may I also love much.
I strongly believe, that, in order to truly understand Jesus Christ, we must always be aware of our sin – not out of a sense of failure or guilt, but as proof that the Holy Spirit in us, since Jesus told us in John 15, that after he departed the Spirit would convict us of sin. We must continue to walk in repentance, so that we don’t become like the church of Laodicea in Revelation 3, where our love and awareness of him wanes to the point where he is just about ready to spit us out of his mouth. The closer we are to him, the easier it seems to capture sinful thoughts and deeds before they metastasize. Thus, it isn’t a burden, but a joy to live in a place where the death and resurrection-life of Jesus are woven into every aspect of our existence.
If we only love and forgive those who love us or apologize to us, then we really are no different than the world. Jesus tells us, in no uncertain terms, that in order to be forgiven by him we must forgive others…with our hearts and without condition. The only way to authentically do that is by understanding the life of Jesus Christ, who bled and died for our many sins. How can we not, through the power of the Holy Spirit, forgive those who have hurt us, making the choice to free them from the chains of guilt and unforgiveness, and freeing ourselves from the poisonous vine of bitterness?
Each time that someone who has wounded us comes to mind, regardless of whether they have apologized to us, according to the clear mandate of scripture, we are to take that thought captive, and bless them, praying sincerely, that they might grow in the knowledge and love of Jesus. That is the only way to squelch the bitter and spiteful voice of revenge that rears itself in our flesh. And as we do this, with our eyes firmly set on Jesus, we will come to understand even more deeply, the height, breadth and depth of his love and mercy towards us. Because, he did after all, bear my sin in his body on the tree, so that I might die to sin and live for righteousness…for by his wounds I am healed. May we generously extend that same love to others.